‘When I was sworn in as Education Minister in the Hemant Soren government in January this year, people mocked me over my educational qualification’, says Jagarnath Mahto

A break of two decades from the classroom could not dampen the spirit of 54-year-old Jagarnath Mahto, Jharkhand School Education and Literacy Development Minister, from wearing the hat of a student again. Last time he stepped into classroom was when he appeared for the matriculation examination in 1995. Driven by the urge to complete his education, Mr. Mahto decided to jump headlong into the world of learning despite his advancing age. He spoke to Satyasundar Barik on his rather curious journey.
Congratulations for resuming your studies. What made you decide to return to the classroom after so many years?
When I was sworn in as Education Minister in the Hemant Soren government in January this year, people mocked me over my educational qualification. They were taunting as to what a matriculate Education Minister can do for Jharkhand. According to them, an Education Minister must lead by example. I was very hurt. I resolved not to respond by issuing mere statements, but by action. So I took admission in XI standard in Devi Mahto Inter School at Nawadih in Bokaro district, which I had helped set up in 2005.
Tell us about your educational journey and why you had to leave it midway?
I belong to a poor farmer family. I passed my matriculation examination in the year 1995 from Nehru High School at Telo in Bokaro. Many people have written that lack of resources had become a hindrance to my continuation of studies. It is wrong. There are many examples of great personalities overcoming poverty to achieve new heights in their lives. I could have also found an answer to the issue of financial crisis. But, there was a bigger challenge before me. I joined the separate Statehood movement led by Sibu Soren and Binod Bihari Mahato.
Do you repent discontinuing your education?
No. I have realised a bigger dream. The creation of Jharkhand as a new State has reduced the backwardness of the region. Had the State continued under Bihar, I would not have dreamt of making it to higher echelon of governance. Now, I am a Minister and contributing my part to shape the future of Jharkhand.
Now, you have already taken admission in a school. How will you do justice to your duty as an Education Minister, which is a very demanding job, and role of being a student?
I have accepted the challenge that I will study hard as a student and facilitate education for all as the Education Minister. Besides, I will also carve out time to till my land as a farmer. I am confident of fitting into each role. I have the backing of my Chief Minister who always lays emphasis on education.
Did you ever feel that lack of higher education was a hindrance to executing your official duty?
Never. I have been in public life for over two decades. I have seen the condition of our education system from a very close quarters. As a Minister, I have brought all my experience into play. While my role is to give direction and ensure that peoples issues are reflected in policies, the bureaucracy takes care of process nitty-gritty.
Will the other Ministers who have not completed college education take a cue from your decision? (As per Jharkhand Election Watch, four other Ministers have just passed matriculation.)
There is no age for learning. One can get education at any point of time. But, going back to school is my personal choice. I cannot tell about other Ministers. They will take a call on it.
What is your observation on the status of education in Jharkhand?
The governments education system in Jharkhand needs a lot of improvement. Government schools have been neglected for long. Children coming to government schools require motivation and attention similar to what is being provided in privately-run schools.
What are the steps you are planning to take to improve school education in the State?
For providing quality education, the Hemant Soren government plans to set up model schools having all modern facilities in each of the 4,416 panchayats. The Chief Minister is also very keen on the project. Once a detailed project with financial implications is worked out, we will be in a position to tell you about fund requirement and its availability.