An open letter to Honourable Education Minister Mr. Okendro

Dayanidhi Huidrom *

Education Minister M Okendro
Education Minister M Okendro
Pix - TSE

Dear Honourable education minister,

Let me start with a pessimistic note: Education in Manipur is in mess. A complete mess!

*Except a few schools, most of the govt schools upto high schools are in chaos and debilitated conditions. Forget about electric or water line, (modest) toilet is even a luxury.

* Teachers are given a free hand not to go to schools. With no accountable system in place, why should they bother? (Better they look after their kids at home!).

List is long. Very long.

The acute shortage of quality in government schools widened the gap between rich who can afford to priced private schools and poor who wish to transcend poverty through education. Expensive private schools are apparently the hallmark of quality. Deteriorating public schools made them so.

After all whose parents don't want their kids to send to best schools? The fundamental malady of our society, in my view, points to this divide. With no good schooling, kids are unlikely to fit in this high competitive world. Even their own dreams could not be fulfilled due to sheer lack of basic knowledge and confidence. At the microscopic level, it leads to frustration!

Recent development/ announcement by Education Minister Mr. Okendro is of particular significance in today's context. Though he didn't talk anything substantial, his intention seems to be very encouraging. For the first time, I see minister is looking for change.

I have a friend who is a teacher in a junior school in a hill district but stays in Imphal. At the most he goes 2 times a year. When I was in a govt school a teacher proudly declared that she got hefty salary no matter how her students performed. These suggest one thing - govt job is like a fixed deposit. Inability to link his/ her career to his/ her performance is itself a disaster.

My first suggestion therefore is to create a mechanism that links between the two. Performance metrics are too wide to include viz. teachers' attendance, students' level of understanding, pedagogy, etc. In most private schools, teachers make lesson plans and check by headmaster before they take classes. It's not so easy to monitor teachers but certainly feasible. A suggestion by a student organisation to install biometrics is appreciable. Performance should ultimately extrapolate to their salary/ performance. Acute problems demand drastic measures.

One of the ideas, I got recently is called Social Impact Bond (SIB), a new concept start practicing in US to address the problems of funding gap and inefficiency of NGOs in US. In SIB, an intermediary attracts money from the market and invests in NGOs projects based on merits. Another third body monitor the performance of the projects and only if NGOs meet the performance level, federal govt return money to the investors through intermediary. This is a win-win situation for investors and federal govt in meeting the social objectives but what it underlies is that 'performance matters'. In Manipur we may need hybrid model in addressing present primary education mess.

Second issue plaguing the education sector is administrative system. Like every department, red tapism and corruption are the spoiler of noble programs. Food for the mid day meals are not provided in time because money is not sanctioned! Will painting of school building help? Absolutely not. Red tapism and corruption can only be reduced (if not eliminated) either by changing the mindset or bringing technology and administrative reforms. Changing mindset would be rather idealistic.

Administrative reforms are realistic and achievable. In the nutshell, the interface between officers and the public should be reduced and time frame for service delivery should be fixed. IT (information technology) is the solution. Why should not you consult with IT firms like TCS or Infosys? Corruption in railways ticketing and telecom sector has largely been solved by IT. Why not in Education?

Recent announcement by Education minister that children of govt schools teachers won't be allowed to admit in private schools seems to be an impulsive thinking. It may amount to breach of democratic principles and, to my mind, not a far sighted decision.

There is a larger issue to all the problems - how can you expect a great result from teachers when the appointment was itself was done through nepotism, money and politics? A gentleman of one of the most politically respected family and also a functionary of a leading political party once indicated he was too busy with selection of teachers in Ibobi 2nd regime. How come a man nowhere connected with education dept or govt involved in such act? Height of politics!

Even, many of the teachers are involved in other businesses like contracts, tender, etc. If not how can they get back the hefty money they paid to get the teaching post? In many cases, money was borrowed at heavy interest. May I ask you sir - Do you have the guts to free education from politics and corruption? If yes 30 % of the problems are solved.

Education to me is not about grades but fairness and honesty. Please don't worry when govt high schools don't produce many first class holders. We should rather worry if teachers are really concerned about schools and students. We should rather worry if kids are really going to schools with enthusiasm to learn something new.

I would also suggest to commission a high powered committee of intellectuals to advice him because getting something substantial, data backed input demands time and money. What he could get best, through voluntarily written suggestion, is a sketchy suggestion from social activist or concerned citizens.

We wish you all the best. Hoping we could achieve under your leadership.

* Dayanidhi Huidrom contributes to regularly.
The writer can be contacted at daya(dot)sym(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was posted on June 20, 2012 .

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