EDITORIAL: Monopolizing Education

In this knowledge driven era, where everything is about tapping human resources and everything is based on specialized knowledge, the most dangerous thing that can happen to a society is when education becomes the monopoly of some private individuals, trusts or some organizations and a look at the present scenario in Manipur will leave no one in doubt on the question of where Manipur exactly stands in the world of education. With the Government schools going to the dogs during the last many, many years, it has been left to the private players, especially the Missionaries in the earlier period, to fill the void and provide what is universally known as education in the rest of the world.

Not only did the Missionaries provide education, but they also extended help and aid in the form of free education and boarding to quite a number of under-privileged children, who are Christians by faith. As the years went by, slowly and gradually other private parties entered the scene and in no time Manipur was flooded with private schools. There was also a comical touch when it came to the names of the schools as almost all the private schools had the prefix St or Saint. Fortunately this obsession with this prefix has been exorcised, but the mushrooming of so many private schools in the State, especially in the valley district means that education, as it should be understood and defined in its universal  context, has become a rare commodity.

With parents realizing the futility of sending their children to Government schools, all those who can somehow afford it make it a point to head for the more prestigious schools to get their child admitted. This is where everything that can go wrong seems to have gone wrong. Kapil Sibal, the Union Minister for Human Resources Development, is not a fool to come out with the clause that no child should be subjected to any test when seeking admission at the primary level. There are reasons for this clause to be incorporated in the Right to Education Act, and without elaborating, let’s just say this makes sense for subjecting a child to a test or an interview when he or she is seeking admission at the primary level absolutely makes no sense at all.

If the child already knows his T from the O or can tell a giraffe from a zebra and can say 2 plus 2 is equal to 4, then what does primary education in the formalized context, such as institutionalizing it in the form of schools, stand for? The wisdom of this clause in the said Act has obviously not sunk into the heads of many of the private schools authority or maybe they are yet to think out of the box and see what system can be applied to see who gets admitted and who misses out while seeking admission at the primary level. With so many children lining up for admission to some of these reputed institutions, which naturally have a limited intake capacity, we can understand the position of the school authorities, but the huge gap between the demand for seats and the intake capacity should not be an excuse for subjecting a child as young as 4 or 5 to an entrance test or be scrutinized in an interview.

It sounds cute and definitely helps break the ice when a non-local personality, like the Prime Minister or a big movie star or a personal of international fame come to Manipur and say, ‘Khurumjari’, in their peculiar accent, which by the way is the equivalent to the ‘Namaste’ in the Hindi speaking parts of the country. Likewise, we as adults see something definitely cute and innocent when a 4 or 5 year old picks up some words in English or Hindi and say it with an accent which only they can speak and perhaps understand, but the reverse is the fact that there is nothing cute or innocent when the same child has to face a complete stranger and answer in an alien language, English, in this case.

Again, it is known to all that coaching or private tuitions for a huge sum to get through the admission test at the primary level has become the norm and teachers of some of these reputed schools are known to coach or teach these children and prepare them for the set of questions they may have to face in the examination hall. This sucks, if not for anything, but for the very fact that the seeds of learning by rote are embedded in the psyche of the young child from the very beginning. After all, how much can we expect a child of 4 or 5 to comprehend things in its entirety? It is with this knowledge that the Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal thought it best to insert the “no admission test” clause in the Right to Education Act but passing an Act is something very different from implementing it at the ground level and this is where the role of the respective State Governments steps in.

The mad rush for some of these private schools is also another example of the Government wittingly or unwittingly handing over the baton of education to certain sets of people and thereby creating a market like scenario, where monopoly becomes important survival kit. It is time for the private schools, especially the Mission schools, that they are here to impart education as is understood universally and not trudge the path of cheating oneself. This is when elitism begins to creep into the class rooms and classification of students on the basis of their background or what their parents do and how much they earn, has nothing to do with education. But can we blame the young kids, if such a situation comes to pass, because these criterions were factors at the time of admission? It is time the Government cracks the whip and comes down with an iron hand against all the schools which have not followed the guidelines of the RTE.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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