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Educating Manipur: The Education District Way

On September 17, 2010 I just managed to attend the post-lunch session of the Seminar, ‘˜Manipur: The Way Forward’. My first impressions? It was well organized, but deserving of at least three days, to be fair to the speakers and expectant participants. And expectations were high. Anyway, it was well attended. Classic Hotel was better than I ever imagined. The Conference Hall was pretty comfortable, and judging by the cups of good tea I got the two meals I missed must have been good too. However, that I came back as good as empty-handed (I missed the pre-lunch sessions), as far as ways to go forward is concerned, was quite a letdown. Considering my car’s wear and tear as I had to speed on the State’s sad road to its ‘˜second town’. Plus the 700/- for fuel in a pumpless (!) land. Of course, getting let down is something one has got used to. But that too is getting boring. Can’t there be any change? ANY change for the better. Even if it is only replacing the word ‘˜alternative’ with Dr. (Fr) Linus Neli’s ‘˜additional’. Can we start with that? It doesn’t cost anything, but we all know the power of one ‘¦ even just one word.

And as one sped back to Lamka through a mostly dark and empty nightscape, two things struck me: We couldn’t think of going forward because we like to go around. Something we are very adept at. Secondly, or should that be the first ‘¦ there is a clear divide. We could smell it in that cool air-conditioned hall. But we don’t want to see it. The million dol’¦. Oh! Why don’t we do something about it? How long can we go on and on, and on? Not minding to line up like unperturbed Brits’”minus the newspaper and umbrella’”in half-a-mile 4-abreast queues near a petrol pump!

Reaching Lamka at 10 pm, just as lights came on made my day. Assured of 2 hours of light I can use my good old battered laptop for the next 5 hours. Three cheers! Hooray! So I have before me IFP’s 13th August, 2010 report on’”’338 excess posts detected in primary teachers appointment in six ADCs.’ Also before me is TSE’s 11th September, 2010’s visual horror, and accompanying write-up on Sangshak Government High School. To the credit of the editor’”in this cost-conscious times’”the write-up is in bold print, first page, bottom right. Both items, a month apart are an insult toeducation and the people of the land!

Such revelations are not new with anything to do with education in Manipur. In fact, everything that gets exposed is probably only the tip of the ice-berg, whose unseen 7/8ths’”before any rectification takes place’”melts and mingles with the rest of the sea of non-work that Manipur is drowning in. The difference being that unlike a drowning man who struggles, Manipur’s ‘˜drowning education’ just does not resist, but surrenders to its watery grave. In brief, Education in Manipur, from Primary to College level’”the way it is being managed by the Government’s Education Department (Schools & Hr. Ed)’”is something to be ashamed of. Therefore, every right thinking son of the soil must wake up and try to do something positive ‘¦ because Manipur’s very future is at stake.

This calls upon every Manipuri, ESPECIALLY every government teacher, headmaster, principal; everyone sitting in the Directorates of Education; every parent, no matter how poor or illiterate; every student and student body, from plains to hills ‘¦ EVERYBODY must do their constructive bit. Before it is too late. And I mean TOO LATE!

To be constructive and positive needs absolutely new ideas. Because that which we have been following, ever since Statehood, has simply not worked. I make my suggestions below for the love of the land and its people, especially its under-privileged children, our own ‘˜children of a lesser god’. Fortunately I have the freedom of dreaming of ‘˜Educating Manipur’ differently because one is far removed from our infamous ‘˜10 per cent club’. Whereas, ‘˜differently’ is evident from starting every recovery work by climbing down to the base of the ‘˜education ladder,’ till one foot is firmly on the ground, the other confidently on the last rung, while the hands tightly grip and gathers the strength, to pull up determinedly on both rails. And looking up make for the top, one rung at a time!

This pre-requisite descent to the base, in order to start one’s climb, is the end product of years and years of dreaming big things through big things for Manipur. Big things simply do not work! One has settled down to this line of thinking because one has come to realize that our Manipur is ‘˜too small to be big’. And worse, our Manipuri egos make us ‘˜too big to be small’. So it is to these unfortunate traits that I ascribe the cause of our State’s downfall; our inability to come together to rise above unbounded pettiness in every ‘˜people-field,’ including and especially in things to do with ‘˜education’. Hence, these down-to-earth thoughts’”

First Thought:

Another way of describing Manipur’s pitiful and bleak educational scenario is that we are in a chaotic sea of educational troubles. In this sea, the powers that be are hell bent upon much-publicized inaugurations and foundation stone laying functions, bombastic speeches and controversial appointment sprees.  Why don’t they realize that it is these that are the features of that unrealizable dream of big things through seemingly big things? Whereas, the simple small solution is to get down-to-earth and then purposefully get smaller and smaller, meaning, like downsizing from sea to lake to pond. Yes, we need to scale back to a pond, because, all said and done, a pond is surely easier to look after, manage, clean’”and if need be’”drain, repair, refill and begin afresh.

In other words, smaller means leaner and fitter, thereby suggesting less or no baggage. That, if I may say so, is the path to that broad exciting road called real education. And this time round, even while we are still plodding on a path to leads to the road, our powers-that-be can genuinely use terms like ‘˜quality education’, till date so elusive. So elusive because apparently’”in the case of education’”a very very small fraction of the 15 paisa out of a rupee that the late Rajiv Gandhi talked of, actually reaches ‘˜education for the masses’ of Manipur, SSA notwithstanding! Thus, it becomes imperative that we have to reverse the 63 years old much-vaunted ‘˜trickle down effect’. For reasons known to all of us the quite natural trickling down has just not happened. What happened was endless ‘˜tricking’ by the spanners in the works’¦ the most change-makers themselves.

Picture this: These days our ‘˜governmental and educational’ high and mighty like to inaugurate ‘˜model’ this and ‘˜model’ that residential or high school etc. These happen to be inaugurated with much fanfare, usually and most illogically, in and around Imphal. Or when our powers-that-be are suddenly jolted into ‘˜appeasement mode’, then one is inaugurated at a Hill District HQ. The above fanfare fetish is all eyewash amounting to nonsense. Here, one is not talking about the tasteless appeasement, but the idea of the ‘˜model’ that is invariably being inaugurated at the State Capital, or perchance a district HQ!

However, the truth is that both Imphal and/or the Hill District HQs already have a fair number of ‘˜model’ schools, without ever appending the word ‘˜model’ anywhere near their names. The only sin is that these real and working models’”almost ideal’”schools almost always happen to be wholly private or mission managed ones. These private centers of learning are easily recognized by the long queues, come admissions time. Ironically, our Governmental and educational ‘˜highs’ simply pretend such centers do not exist, and so go on opening ‘˜models’ that we’”and they’”all know will be model failures the day after, if not on the same ‘˜inaugural’ evening! So on the matter of the reversing of the ‘˜trickle down effect’ i.e. the ‘˜bottom up effort’ ‘¦ why can’t the following happen?

1. If at all the government wants to inaugurate their ‘˜model’ schools, why can’t they do so in a really remote village, say X or Y or Z, that are 100 plus km from Tamenglong District HQ or Ukhrul HQ or Churachandpur HQ or Chandel HQ? Or, if they take democracy too literally and are biased to numbers, they could at the very least ‘˜establish’ a fair number of ‘˜model’ schools at ‘˜remote’ village A or B or C that are as ‘˜remote’ as 10-15 km from Thoubal District HQ or Bishnupur HQ, or 5 km east of Imphal East HQ or 5 km west of the Imphal West HQ! (You can’t go too much more than that lest you land up in the Hills, i.e. according to the original boundaries! Is that a punch to the solar plexus?) Or, actually remote at 220 km from Imphal East, at Jiribam!

Unfair as ‘¦ Sorry, biased as ‘˜this writer’ may sound, the fact is that these remote or ‘˜remote’ villages are the ones that need the ‘˜models’! Definitely not Imphal, the Capital of a State, nor a district HQ in the Hills! If such could be opened, they could be scaled down so intelligently that with the same resources the powers-that-be could establish 2-4 mini-models in remote/’remote’ areas. (NOTE: I use the word ‘˜establish’ because, somehow, ‘˜inaugurate’ suggests a ‘˜model’ for only a few hours, whereas ‘˜establish’ sounds more pukka pukka and long lasting).

Whatever the case may be, the sine qua non is that my small ‘˜pukka’ start implies having a few really good, really small village ‘model’ schools, really very far away, like in village X, Y and Z, or even at A, B, C (that are very near but very far even in the Imphal Valley!)

2. Secondly, why cannot the Government swallow its pride and actually work with the generally more successful private/mission educational endeavors? Why treat them as pariahs, when they are very much playing the same game, on the same field and following the same set of rules, but walking their talk 24×6? Not to mention following the same syllabi and taking the same Board or Council or University examinations, in which they stand heads and shoulders over government institutions! Need one say that the two arms of the same body of education are co-joined by nature (of work and aims etc.), only to be intentionally severed or estranged by the government! Whatever for?

To top it all, as good as all the state’s resources budgeted for education – even if it is only 2-3 paisa of the ‘˜Rajivian 15’ ‘“ are hogged entirely by the absolutely non-performing government institutions! The irony of it all is that the government needs the private sector more than the latter needs the government. Meaning, the private sector’s fair statistics, performance, and every other factor that forms the basis of financial jugglery are used to fund and prop up the ailing white elephant called ‘˜public education’! This writer is not after ‘˜that’ money per se, but states that as long as this unnatural estrangement continues the ‘˜body of education’ will remain handicapped, nay, deformed. And, mind you, one is not talking of PPP yet!

Second Thought, the ‘˜Different Way’ to Go About It:

We can start growing smaller, but surer by-

(1) Dividing the Departments of Education (here I go again) into two Departments: (a) the Manipur Hills Education Department (& Service) and (b) the Manipur Valley Education Department (& Service).

(2) To draw maximum benefit from such small is beautiful Departments, we must have two separate Ministers, two separate Secretaries/ Commissioners, two separate Directorates and two separate budgets etc., so that there can never be any sort of inter-transfer, or ‘˜overlapping’ (a word very applicable and relevant today). It would also actually help if the offices and buildings of the two Departments/ Services are as far apart as possible – one being deep in the Hills and the other in a far corner of the Valley. [Note-(i): One is avoiding even the mention of ‘Imphal’, because our powers-that-be flaunt all rules to have everything inside a 6×4 area around the CM’s Bungalow, not minding even if it is in the middle of a rich wetland that Shri Jairam Ramesh from Delhi would be thrilled to protect as an ‘˜eco-treasure’! Whereas the CEO Manipur just sees it as a good opportunity to ‘˜pat’ himself (pun intended) on the back! Anyway, my main message is: ‘˜Go rural’].

Third Thought:

As we know our land and our people pretty well – and if we still want to do something positive about education in it ‘“ we realize that the above two Departments/ Services are still too big for us! My solution to that lies in further decentralization. For instance, the Hills Department/ Service must be made smaller still ‘“ but still under the Hills Department/ Service ‘“ to be made more focus-able and manageable. Hence, we must have further sub-divisions, like (i) Manipur Hills Education Deptt/Service (Chandel District), (ii) MHED/S (Churachandpur District), and so on. Likewise, in the Valley: (i) MVED/S (Bishnupur District); (ii) MVED/S (Imphal East District) etc.

I trust my point about knowing our people well will be accepted when I say that the overwhelming majority of school ‘“ even college ‘“ teachers are already serving, or are trying their best to serve, in or within their own Districts only. After all you won’t find a Paite teacher in a Mao village, or a Tangkhul teacher in Tipaimukh, if you get my point. On top of that there are quite a big number of teachers who prefer to be posted at Manipur’s Timbuktus, so that they can engage a substitute and go on doing their own thing in their home-town! They too only confirm my point. I rest my case. So, let’s do what I am suggesting because that is what everyone wants!

Fourth Thought:

Yet again, I fear that in almost all cases, ‘˜District’ is still too big for us, or physically too far away (e.g. Imphal West vis-a-vis Jiribam, Churachandpur vis-a-vis Tipaimukh/ Henglep/ Thanlon etc.). Consequently, in keeping with both (a) the ‘˜backward integration’ aspect, and (b) our endemic problem of a peculiarly shameful feature, viz. ‘˜the majority of government teachers are not going to nor will they be ever staying in their hill/ village posting, especially the remote ones, we could further have MHED/S Churachandpur ‘˜HQ Zone’/ ‘˜Singhat Zone’ or MVED/S Imphal East ‘˜Jiribam Zone’ etc.

It is not denied that all this, as good as, amounts to a ‘˜District Department/ Service’, or, in other words ‘¦ an ‘˜Education District’. (I hope this is close to what Mr. Pauzachin Simte, a dedicated government teacher of Churachandpur District, was thinking of when we had our last discussions two months ago).

Fifth Thought: ‘˜Education Districts’ (EDs):

Orissa has 75 ‘˜education districts’. Why can’t we have 9? Nine only that could bring in the sea-change we need so desperately. However, as Orissa is Orissa and Manipur is Manipur, we can tune our EDs somewhat differently.

(Aha, aha! A word of caution about the abuse of ‘˜differently’: We must refrain from pulling the rug from under our feet, through clever inserts like the Sixth Schedule’s nemesis, the infamous ‘local adjustment’.  Or, today, after 20 years (!!), by empowering our elected District Council Members to become glorified collectors of electric fees (and I feel shy to mention their other ‘˜powers’). These young political novices have been boosted by the ‘˜uncontested’ badge and are now being lulled by the tried and tested ‘˜mithai’ trick, in the form of ignition keys to silky SUVs from smugly beaming old wily politicians).

Simply put, to me the term ‘˜Education Districts’ suggests ultimate decentralization and downsizing – from sea to lake to pond. Once small and manageable we can, at last, hope to see the death of some evils that poison education in our state. We could have:  No ‘˜overlapping’. No ‘˜transfers’. No ‘˜political’ or ‘˜bureaucratic’ interference and so on. There would, instead, be a good chance of auto-response, auto-repair and auto-rationalization, for better education for our district’s children/ students. We would also have almost immediate, accurate and transparent MGEL, and salaries could be credited directly into a teacher’s individual bank account ‘¦ all in black and white, just a click away, and all in the public domain. Decentralization and de-mystification is surely too good to be true. But what the heck, it is a new idea and perhaps its time has come.

Sixth Thought:

The next obvious thought is that each Education District must have its very own District Education Core Committee (DECC), comprising of the District’s home-grown, home-focused-world-conscious ‘˜think tank’ made up of its own educationists and concerned inhabitants. Meaning, actual stake-holders. The DECC should have the Deputy Commissioner as its Chairperson and the senior-most college Principal and the ZEO (Schools) as Co-Secretaries and so on. A District’s education ‘“ everything ‘“ would fall on the shoulders of this Committee and the Sub-Committees it empowers.

A word of caution: It would be ideal for all Imphal-centric politicians (including our MLAs) to voluntarily leave their District’s education to the real and immediate stake-holders, in the care of the DECC. The real and immediate stakeholders would, this time round, include the elected MDC Members of the Hills (or Panchayat Members in the Valley), till they prove otherwise.

NOTE: (i) The exclusion of MLAs – requested with folded hands – is strictly based on the fact that under their 38 years old post-1972 dispensation, ‘˜education in Manipur’ has fallen into despair’s deepest pits! And all they have been doing is, every once in a while, appoint thousands of teachers who, by and large don’t teach, proving, (as humorously put by Dr. Dallian Haokip of Blue Star Academy, Churachandpur, during a Seminar organized by the 27 Sector, Assam Rifles on 12 May, 2010, that the government thinks that their job/ role in education starts and ends with ‘˜appointment’ of teachers!

(ii) The inclusion of MDC/Panchayat Members is suggested as it is hoped and expected they will truly care to raise education at the grassroots level, viz. in the villages, including the remotest. Faith in them is reposed because they ought to be living in the District and not at Imphal, the home of our MLAs. If, however, they too follow the footsteps of our MLAs, then they too should be approached, with folded hands, and asked to step back and let the DECC and the other stockholders (only) take up the dynamic and exciting challenges thrown up by the RTE.

Seventh Thought: Smaller and Smaller Plans:

The real and immediate stake-holders can start their small, smart and achievable plans by-

(a) The DECC drawing up their District’s not-over-ambitious VISION-2020. This Vision must be district-in-the-context-of-the-demands-of-the-global-village-specific. It must be realistic yet bold enough to ensure that the district’s public and private endeavors are co-joined, or married by arrangement and consent. That they walk and strive together, walking hand-in-hand ‘¦ public, private and Mission/ Church schools (and colleges), all walking to and fro from the remotest village to the district HQ and back. Notably, the Vision must be the District’s own. Importantly, everything must be put in the public domain.

(b) Making a very detailed and frank mapping and collection of relevant statistics of all educational institutions of the District ‘“ private, mission, public ‘¦ all ‘¦ and putting such information in the public domain. With such a data base and actual visits-cum-inspection, the selection of centers of learning (that would necessitate closures, re-location, clubbing etc. can be apportioned.

(c) This is the critical part: Plan, budget; Budget, plan ‘¦ by working on the basis that all funds for anything and everything to do with Education, from all sources ‘“ Central and State ‘“ are to be put at the disposal of the respective DECCs. Not Imphal’s! Imphal should only disperse funds and wait for utilization certificates, which they should monitor/ inspect. This allocation of funds includes SSA funds. All this, again, must be put (and constantly up-dated) in the public domain. Logic: If there is nothing to hide, why should we see shadows?

(d) A series of massive extensive and intensive awareness campaigns must explain the District’s Vision to its (the District) people, so that the old-vested-interest-resistance to things like closure of a village or veng/ leikai school, its abolition or downsizing the number of schools, clubbing some schools/ colleges with re-locations etc. are not only accepted, but encouraged ‘¦ so as to make ‘˜quality education’ a district and village reality! The guiding principle being: the immediate stakeholders know best the real lay ‘“ and real want ‘“ of the land, so let them be on the front seat telling the driver where to go.

The main thing is that small is easy to plan, implement, monitor and modify/ change if the need arises. If the above suggestions are accepted, it would be the beginning of real decentralization and empowerment to benefit the real grassroots.

Eighth Thought: On ‘˜brain drain’:

‘˜Brain drain’ too takes place in the districts, with good students leaving villages to come to private schools in the HQ or to Imphal or Shillong or Delhi and so on. And trained government teachers working in private schools or running private tutorial centers far away from their place of posting and so on. The DECC should evolve strategies not only to retain but attract the best of students and teachers, and facilities inside their own Districts and right into the villages, where India, nay Churachandpur too lives. So down the ladder, or in the smallest pond, should begin the strengthening to make remote and marginalized villages vital cogs.

How could one reverse the drainage? It is suggested that a small start could be made by having a system of ‘˜Voluntary Exchange Teacher Scheme’ from HQ to outlying and remote villages, and vice versa. This exchange would have to include private/church school teachers and government ones exchanging. Because ‘¦ because there is so much to learn from one another. The Catholic and a few Church/ Mission schools that have a network (doesn’t matter if it is small) could start straightaway. Like Don Bosco, Churachandpur could send 2-3 to DB/Thanlon who in turn would send 2-3. Or, Ebenezar Academy, New Lamka could exchange with its church school at Singzawl deep on the Guite Road. And under the DECC the Catholics could go to EBC,  RPC to Salvation Army, EFCI to NEIGM etc. etc. Easier said than done. But the new was never easy! Looking at the brighter side, just multiply that and one could go to seventh heaven with the possibilities. And one day, ‘Elementary, my dear’ could be a reality! Wow!

The over-all aim is capacity building, capacity building and capacity building. Through the untried sharing, partnering, and innovating, with everything by example. We’d then evolve/ progress to inter-district exchange of teacher and taught for one whole, or more, academic year.  Brain drain would be checked. In its place there’d be ‘˜brain circulation’!

Ninth Thought: A Few Nitty Gritties:

The Sub-Committees of the DECC would fan out into the District to build a consensus on issues/ matters like ‘“
(i) A Common Academic Calendar tailored to suit the place and its own ‘˜distrizens’. Of course, the Academic Calendar shall keep in mind the Examination Calendar of the Board of Secondary Education, Manipur, and the Council for Higher Secondary Education, Manipur and Manipur University.

(ii) Flexible Working hours within the District, to cater to all walks of life and customs in the District.

(iii) School and College life should be full of Competitions that must be played on a level playing field, with maximum participation. (I insert this because this year, for the first time, courtesy a dream Deputy Commissioner, a district-wide series of inter-school competitions was held. Many schools could not participate because one had exams, the other was about to start it, and another had just started their holidays with the teachers busy with corrections ‘¦ Under the DECC some sort of basic uniformity could be worked out. And thousands of students in every District could get a chance at developing life skills etc. Of course, detractors would say, fund problems. They are the problem, not funds. Rest assured, with sincerity there’d be more than enough!

End Thought:

Everything is easier said than done. Yet nothing is impossible, if we are serious about wanting change. A truism (or silly-ism) is: change cannot come without changing. But changing does not mean transferring and posting the same people around to do the same old things in the same old way. Actually changing would show us the future is not out there but right here, for us to take into our hands. Now. And there’d be no need for my Tenth etc. Thoughts. However, there’s a need to end with the words of Mahatma Gandhi ‘“
‘We must become the change we wish to see in the world’.

As we are talking about Manipur, a very very small state, it ought not to be that difficult! Let’s give it a shot. Straight, not a-round.

*The article is written by T Vunglallian.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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