Educating Manipur : The Education District Way
- Part 1 -

T Vunglallian *

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 organised, 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 let down. 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 to education 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 Manipurian, 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 realise that our Manipur is 'too small to be big'. And worse, our Manipurian 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-publicised inaugurations and foundation stone laying functions, bombastic speeches and controversial appointment sprees. Why don't they realise that it is these that are the features of that unrealisable 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 paise 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 happens 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 model—almost ideal—schools almost always happen to be wholly private or mission managed ones. These private centres of learning are easily recognised by the long queues, come admissions time.

Ironically, our Governmental and educational 'highs' simply pretend such centres 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' ie 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, ie 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!)

Secondly, why cannot the Government swallow its pride and actually work with the generally more successful private/mission educational endeavours? 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 24x6? 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 paise 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!

To be continued....

* T Vunglallian wrote the article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on October 20 2010.

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