Education in Northeast
- Part 2 -

By:- Partha Jyoti Borah *

Educationists argue that it is best to teach the child in its mother tongue. However, in the Northeast there exist thousands of dialect. The problem arises when a child speaking a dialect as his/her mother tongue is imbibed with the education in the official language of a particular state. (For instance Manipuri in Manipur).

The NCF has insisted on "three language formula" emphasising the children's mother tongue (even the dialect) as the best medium of instruction. According to the NCF the trait of multilingualism improves "cognitive growth, social tolerance, divergent thinking and scholastic achievement."

In the contemporary society, English is seen as the language of upward social mobility and Hindi is imposed for national integration. In non-Hindi speaking states like Assam where children come from diverse dialectal backgrounds, the Assamese language remains the lingua franca and the three language formula becomes four language problem for the vast majority of students who do not speak Assamese at their homes.

These children are often trapped in the political movement of identity crisis where language plays a major role. There is also an extreme lack of a cohesive effort on the part of the government in implementing the different dialects as the medium of instruction.

The statistics of matriculation result of the Secondary Education Board of Assam (SEBA) have seen a rising trend with the increase in the pass percentage. The state government attributes its "effective policy" of regularising the teachers' post. According to the government, it has regularised 36,583 posts of teachers and fulfilled 18,339 teaching and non-teaching vacancies under the Department of Education.

However, the result also reveals a startling fact about the growth of private players largely in English medium schools and the downfall of vernacular medium government-run -schools as the major stake of rank holders in matriculation exam comes from the privately run English medium schools where government does not have any major say in terms of appointing the teachers.

However, the government never forgets to hijack the credit (read discredit) of the much hyped matriculation result which is extensively covered by the media. The fate of unsuccessful candidates in the matriculation exam is never taken seriously. The school education should incorporate modules on vocational and professional studies so that self or industrially employable candidate could be generated.

There is also a disturbing trend of sharp decrease in the enrollment in science courses in the Higher Secondary and college levels in Assam. A minimal number of 12,000 to 15,000 get enrolled in the science courses in HS level. It gets squeezed to 15 to 20 students in a major course of science subject in every college.

Former Vice-Chancellor of Gauhati University Prof Amar Jyoti Choudhary attributes it to the lack of infrastructure in the college and university level. He blames the government for not releasing sufficient funds. (See related interview).

This is also one of the reasons including job insecurity etc for the massive exodus of students from the Northeast to the other colleges and universities outside. The favoured destinations are Delhi, Pune and Bangalore. This results in the loss of human resource and sustenance of mediocrity in the Northeast.

In a recent incident during the tenure of Prof Choudhary as the VC of Gauhati University, he tried to fill up 110 vacant posts. However, only 60 posts could be filled up because of lack of competent candidates. A survey by a Jorhat based vernacular newspaper revealed that approximately 10,000 students from Assam book one-way tickets to cities like Delhi, Pune and Bangalore for higher education.

Even if a student spends a minimum of Rs 4,000 per month to incur the educational and accommodation expenses in those cities, the expenditure for three consecutive batches of student for one year amounts to a whopping Rs 144 Crore which is not a very good sign keeping in mind the debt ridden economy of Assam. The figure is higher for Nagaland and Manipur.

There are also incidents of students being caught in the unholy nexus of education mafias. In a sub-judice case, one Neeraj Baruah (name changed) had opted in a Delhi based MBA institute for a regular management course through an agent in Guwahati. But after reaching the institute he discovered that he was enrolled in a distance learning programme.

The institute also charged him with a compulsory hostel fee for two years (!). There are many such cases where students pay their admission fees in Imphal or Guwahati for various professional courses in private institutes in Delhi, Bangalore etc. When they reach the institute, they find the institutes running from a small house in a residential area.

Better job prospect drives the students to opt for such institutes. In the universities of Northeast barring a few courses in Gauhati University and Dibrugarh University, placement cells are non-existent. Universities of the Northeast being the knowledge generating entity for the society have miserably failed to generate employable students with a sense of entrepreneurship in them.

Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Guwahati which has hundred percentage placement record, however, enrolls students through an all-India entrance examination for undergraduate and post graduate courses. In undergraduate courses only few students from Northeast could qualify in IIT.

When the nation is striving (!) to assimilate the 'Northeasterns' into its 'mainstream' socially, politically and economically, through various policies, a certain educational reservation in terms of the place of birth is the need of the hour for the Northeast.

When education has to be everyone's prerogative, the private institutes are succumbing it to a commodity of rich and elite with its rocketing fee structure. On top of that, to encourage private sector investment in university education, the state government has enacted the Assam Private University Act, 2007.

No doubt this law would allow the establishment of self-financed private universities without a burden on the state exchequer in terms of funds or land. But such educational growth without any regulation in fee structure will only give rise to an unruly nexus of private financer (read education loan) and education mafia.

Assam's two prominent organisations Asom Sahitya Sabha and Sankardev Sangha have come up with two private universities. Sanga's university will provide professional courses extending from BCA to MBA, besides dealing with research on the philosophy of Sankardeva.

"The syllabus for the professional courses will also incorporate a paper on Sankardeva and his philosophy" informed Secretary of the Sangha Hariprasad Hazarika. The Asom Sahitya Sabha's university, on the other hand, will focus on "cultural studies".

In Manipur the education scenario can't be the worst than the prevailing one. When the government schools are hitting duck one after another in terms of pass percentage in the matriculation and higher secondary level, the privately run schools largely by the Christian missionaries are doing well in the state.

Private tuitions, especially, for the science subjects in the higher secondary level and coaching centres for engineering and medical entrances are the only flourishing industries in Manipur.

Government's apathy in stemming such educational minting machines and insurgents' interference in the sector are pushing the whole sector in to a quagmire. In a recent incident, an Imphal based coaching institute reportedly has to give a whopping amount in lakhs to the insurgent groups to open a junior college.

On the other hand, the Manipur University is, perhaps the only university in the country to have a paramilitary camp in its campus. In both these cases students are at the receiving end.

Worth mentioning here is, when approximately 7 years back Manipur was striving to get rid of the mass copying and cheating in the matriculation and the higher secondary examination, Democratic Students Association of Manipur (DESAM), which is believed to be an offshoot of a powerful insurgent group came in heavily, adhering punitive action to those indulging in such unscrupulous activities.

It has also banned private tuitions by the teachers of the government run schools, which is largely believed to be the reason behind degeneration of quality education in those schools.


* Partha Jyoti Borah is Editor, The Northeast Voice, an English Monthly published from Delhi, and regularly contributes to . They can be contacted at nevoice(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was webcasted at on 29th April 2009.

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