Getting Schooled in This Indian State Might be Harder Than you Think


Rohit Kataria, Contributor

Under fire for a slew of reasons, the public education system in the U.S. is often a target of major criticism. Yet many fail to acknowledge that it is actually quite strong internationally. The American education system is the primary reason that the U.S. is the leading source of human capital in the world, which contributes to the extreme employability of the American population both at home and abroad.

It would follow that there are several countries on the opposite end of this spectrum. One such example is India, where the average literacy rate is 74%. This means that roughly one out of every four adults in the country are unable to read or write. The situation is even worse when looking at the Indian state of West Bengal. Although this state has an average literacy rate of 76%, there exists a large disparity in literacy rate between men and women, as well as between the urban and rural populations.

Due to this disparity in education amongst the students of West Bengal, there has been a push from government leaders to help improve the state’s quality of education. Tapan Bandyopadhyay, a native of West Bengal, wanted to help combat this problem by providing a quality English education to students in West Bengal. In the early 2000s, he founded a school in Sagar Dwip (an island off the coast of West Bengal), soon to be named Reshma Banerjee-Kataria Academy.

Vanderbilt Political Review sat down with Tapan Bandyopadhyay (virtually) to learn more about the importance of having strong educational systems in West Bengal, with a focus on the study of English.

This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

Kataria: What led you to start Reshma Banerjee-Kataria Academy?

Bandyopadhyay: My basic policy thinking was to alleviate poverty through education. That was my main thinking.

With the lack of education being such a big concern in West Bengal, what do you believe is the most important aspect of a quality education?

The most dangerous situation is when people cannot speak English, cannot read English properly, or cannot pronounce words.

Why do you believe that knowing English is important for these people?

Because this is an isolated island, separated from the mainland. And they cannot get a job on the island itself because land is limited and the population is growing up and up and up. So they go to get out to get a job, and they have to be competitive. They have to go to the mainland and, without English, they cannot communicate with those in other states. So, I am trying to prepare them for job markets throughout India, not just the few jobs available on the island. And without English, they cannot learn any other things, many other important things which are needed by the industries.

What was it like starting a school in West Bengal? Could you tell us a little bit about your journey?

Well in the beginning, we had a lot of difficulties because when we started, we also had a church on our campus. Sagar Dwip, which is a pilgrimage for the Orthodox Hindu religion, has religion as the main business over there. When we started, we faced many Indians saying, “Oh if you go to that school, they will make you Christian,” so on and so forth. That was number one. Number two was that we could not get suitable teachers. Whenever I tried to select potential teachers, nearly everyone failed, although they are graduates. These applicants graduated from college, and they were still way below the standards. So I sat with the teaching candidates for more than one and half years, and I had to spend about four to five hours every day training those teachers. We could utilize them only after training them for one and half years. So it was difficult to get if we wanted quality.

Do you have any final thoughts or comments you would like to share?

I have a dream that the students in our school will become brilliant and our school will be one of the best schools in all of West Bengal. That is our desire and our wish and by the blessings and mercy of my Lord Jesus Christ, it is quite possible.