The West Bengal Chief Minister’s pledge to provide a largely indeterminate number of Madhyamik and Higher Secondary candidates with tablets and laptops is well taken.
There is arguably time enough for a rather different mode of preparation as both exams are now scheduled to be held next June, going by the education minister Partha Chatterjee’s announcement on Wednesday. However, the seemingly benevolent plan may have hit the reefs in the immediate aftermath of Mamata Banerjee’s announcement.
Apparently, the scheme wasn’t worked out incisively with the companies concerned. These have now expressed their inability to supply so huge an order on time. It would be deeply unfortunate if one segment of government schools is taken care of and many of the non-government or state-aided institutions ignored. Two reasons have been proffered by the computer industry.
One, increase in production is not possible given the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Second, not all companies are engaged in the production of tablets on a large scale because they are never too sure of the general demand. Some of the companies have informed the government that each of them could supply 15,000 tablets a month.
There is, therefore, a stark disconnect between demand and supply. Hence the decision to provide Rs 10,000 each to students to enable them to buy digital devices though it must be admitted that many of the private schools are functioning as thriving corporate enterprises that boast air-conditioned school buses and classrooms.
Academic excellence is quite a different matter. To begin with, only Class 12 students will be the beneficiaries of the state’s (revised) decision to transfer Rs 10,000 each to the accounts of 9.5 lakh students who will appear for the Higher
Secondary exam after six months. On 3 December, the Chief Minister had announced that tablets would be provided to Class 12 students in the 14,000-odd government or government-aided schools and an estimated 636 madrasas.
The second facet of the announcement lends no scope for an election-eve communal spin. The state has been informed by the companies concerned that they are in a position to supply a maximum of 1.5 lakh tablets. To that must be added the Centre’s contretemp not to avail of Chinese products. Hence the prompt decision to provide Rs 10,000 to every Class 12 student.
A matching promptitude ought to mark the transfer of money, quite obviously a fair amount in terms of non-budgetary expenditure in the education sector. No less critical is to put in place a mechanism to ensure that the funds transferred for students’ welfare is not misused. The deepest tragedy will be a possible misuse of public money in the season of exams.