Education is not about competition or merit it is about development

Ninglun Hanghal *

Sarva Shiksha Abiyan (SSA) in New Lamka, Churachandpur district
Sarva Shiksha Abiyan (SSA) in New Lamka, Churachandpur district

Private schools and academic institutions are mushrooming in Manipur, both in the hills and valley. The costs of learning in these private institutions were high and are concentrated in the urban areas. Though there are government schools in both urban and rural areas, private schools were a preferred choice. Parents, who could afford, send their wards to these private institutes, rather than government schools.

Most of the primary government schools are situated in rural and semi rural areas in Manipur. These schools were functional but it has only primary level standards/ classes. Moreover these rural primary schools have no concrete infrastructures and facilities. Reportedly in most cases either there are no teachers or if any, were on a contract basis.

It may also be mentioned that most of these government primary schools were shut down in conflict areas - interior villages in the hill areas, such as Churachandpur district. These are mostly during the early and mid 90s during the peak of insurgency and ethnic tensions. Once shut down these schools never bounce back. Furthermore these rural schools are mostly occupied by security forces in conflict and violence prone areas.

As far as admissions to schools are concern, no doubt, all children in the villages were enrolled in these government primary schools. Apparently they are still small for agricultural activity and other domestic chores. At times children were sent to these shabby schools as the parents were out in the Jhum ( shifting) cultivation fields the whole day. After completion of primary class they have no opportunity to go for higher education as it will requires to leave the village.

For those who could afford, go to towns and cities for higher education. But for those who can't afford were left behind. Most importantly girls do not go for higher education. Beside poverty, when they attain teenage they become helpful for house hold chores and agriculture/cultivation work.

It is also alarming to note that in recent times there has been a massive migration from rural areas into the towns and cities. This migration is not for education but for livelihood. Gouzamang Guite , Executive Member of the Churachandpur Autonomous District Council told this writer that there is a huge migration from interior villages into Lamka town - the District headquarter .

Sarva Shiksha Abiyan (SSA) in New Lamka, Churachandpur district
Sarva Shiksha Abiyan (SSA) in New Lamka, Churachandpur district

According to Guite these migration is due to the fact that their main occupation- Jhuming cultivation - is the unstable , besides the requirement of hard labour. Socio political conflicts are another reason, he said. Therefore there has been a continuous movement out of the villages into the city / towns, observed Guite. Earlier only those who are well off moved to the urban areas from rural villages , but today there is huge migration of people who are below poverty line, basically with a hope that they could earn some income in towns and cities. Some hoped for better education for their children while most of them just throng into the towns and urban areas for a living.

Most of the villagers, though, when they arrive in the towns or urban city ended up as vegetable or roadside vendors, domestic helpers, rickshaw pullers ( three wheelers ) etc. Sending their children to schools thus became an unrealistic dreams, said Guite, when these villagers could hardly sustain only two square meals a day , education became secondary . Though there are numerous schools and academic institution available, they could not afford to enrol their children due to the high expenditure.

There are many drop out children due to migration and unstable livelihood even after they come into towns, said Guite. Furthermore, given this context Guite stated that several socio-economic issues are interlinked in this situation.

Talking of education in the Hill areas of Manipur , Guite who goes all the way out to the extent of providing land, to initiate the first ever Sarva Shiksha Abiyan (SSA) in New Lamka, Churachandpur district - , feels that it is not only about enrolment in schools or sitting in a class room , it is about development and social justice.

"Education is not only about merit", said Guite. Education is the fundamental rights of children, he asserted. The very concept of education as a competition also needs to be re-looked , otherwise it is deepening the hierarchical divide within the society feels Guite. A residential school such as SSA is an attempt for promoting social justice through basic education, he adds. In a situation of poverty particularly in the hill areas of Manipur , Guite said SSA is one of an alternative development.

The Sarva Shiksha Abiyan was launched in 2004/05 in Manipur to ensure enrolment and provide education for children in the age-group of 6-14 years under the provisions of Article No. 45 of the Indian Constitution and 86th Constitutional Amendment Act. SSA was conceptualised to bridge social, regional and gender gaps with the active participation of the community in the management of schools with the purpose of providing useful and relevant education.

In the current scenario where competition is the mantra, where government schools lack far behind the private institutions, both in terms of quantity and quality there is huge challenges for Guite, where SSA do not have much opportunity to compete with private schools.

Guite is not deterred , SSA in New Lamka with classes from 6th to 8th standard has completed two years he says with confidence, "there are over 100 students already, and there is a huge demand from communities for more enrolment and up-gradation" said Guite. Speaking enthusiastically of SSA as a community based center of education and learning , a passionate Guite stated that the SSA New Lamka ensure that there are teachers for all subject. There are also an equal number of male and female teachers.

Interestingly, the SSA New Lamka residential school enrolment has more number of girls. The free education has provided an opportunity for girls.

As per Guite's observation and findings , the SSA system of compulsory and free education has an indirect positive impact apart from academic learning. He explained that a poor family who send their children to SSA for free education are saving their small income, "apart from a welfare approach, it is an investment, children are our future" said Guite. There is a need to change the very meaning of Education - that is an all round development- and the mis-conception of government schools, feels Guite.

It may also be mentioned that the UN Millennium Development Goal report 2014 release in July last year shows India's poor performance. India figures in the top five countries with extreme poverty. It is extremely important to note that enrolment in schools have considerably improved but simultaneously high drop out rate. Only 1 % of Schedule Tribe girls in rural India passed class 12th. Drop outs students are mostly in conflict areas, finds the UN report. Moreover about 50,000 girls became mothers at the age of 15-19 in rural India.

* Ninglun Hanghal wrote this article for
The writer is with The Sangai Express and can be contacted at hanghal(dot)ninglun(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was posted on January 30, 2015.

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