In just over two years of his stint, the chief minister has opened 100 primary schools and 16 degree colleges in the hill state, a move that Dhumal dismisses as a 'political gimmick'
If former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal is to be believed, 1,117 schools in Himachal Pradesh have only one teacher each. Indeed, schools outnumber teachers in some parts of the state. But that has not prevented Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh from going on a spree of opening new schools and colleges.
In just over two years of his stint, the chief minister has opened 100 primary schools and 16 degree colleges in the hill state, a move that Dhumal dismisses as a "political gimmick".
Political observers say the move comes at a time when the government has completed almost half its tenure and could be aimed at beating two-time chief minister Dhumal in his own field. A former lecturer in English, Dhumal enjoys immense popularity in the state for his efforts towards promoting education.
The Congress government is focussing on improving medical education too and has promised to start three medical colleges announced by the previous central government by next year.
The chief minister says criticism would not deter him from going ahead with improving the standard of education.
He said he did not mind opening a new school in far-flung areas, even if there were just two students.
In any case, the newly opened schools in remote areas attract a good number of girls, he added.
"We have notified 16 colleges in the past two years after making budgetary provisions of Rs.5 crore each as our endeavour is to impart quality education," the chief minister informed the assembly.
Literacy level in Himachal Pradesh is among the highest in India. It has 82.8 percent literacy rate. It is 89.53 percent for males and 75.93 percent for females.
Dhumal says the government has gone overboard by opening new colleges without ensuring adequate infrastructure and faculty.
Virbhadra Singh pointed out that Y.S. Parmar, the state's first chief minister, opened a degree college in Rampur town where there were just 18 students and 23 lecturers.
"The student-teacher ratio continued for two-three years. At that time this issue was discussed in this house too...
"At that time Parmar said if we want to spread education, we have to open more temples of education. Today that college has around 2,500 students."
The chief minister, who also holds the education portfolio, said the student strength in the new colleges has spiked.
He said in the past two years 100 primary schools were opened, 160 primary schools were elevated to the middle level, 233 middle schools have become high level schools and 225 high schools have been promoted to senior secondary level.
Officials said the state, with over 6.8 million people, has 10,738 primary, 2,292 middle, 846 high and 1,552 senior secondary schools besides 86 degree colleges.
Dhumal retaliated that there were 1,117 schools in the state with just one teacher each and 6,786 schools with only two teachers each.
He said the quality of education was so poor that a majority of Class 5 and 6 students in government schools were not able to comprehend textbooks meant for students of Class 1 and 2.