Enhancing the relevance of higher education in Manipur

P Sharatchandra Singh *

Director of Education (University / Higher Education) Building in Imphal; March 2013
Director of Education (University / Higher Education) Building in Imphal; March 2013 :: Pix - Deepak Oinam

The world is constantly changing. Given the challenge of coping with change - rather managing change - we need to develop creative strategies for shaping the future of human civilisation. This emphasis on the future is critical.

Alvin Toffler, author of FUTURE SHOCK, wrote, "The individual needs new principles for pacing and planning his life along with a dramatically new kind of education. He may also need specific new technological aids to increase his adaptivity. The society, meanwhile, needs new institutions and organisational forms, new buffers and balance wheels."

The individual's sense of the future is crucial to coping with change. Reading alone is not sufficient for the students. Various games have been designed to educate young people about future possibilities and probabilities. Science fiction has immense value as a mind stretching force for the creation of the habit of anticipation.

Toffler asks: "We offer our children courses in history; why not also courses on 'Future', courses in which the possibilities and probabilities of the future are systematically explored." What about asking students to write their own "future autobiographies" in which they picture their future role image ?

Robert Jungk, a leading futurist-philosopher of Europe, said : "Nowadays almost exclusive stress is laid on learning what has happened and has been done. Tomorrow ..... lectures and exercises ought to be concerned with scientific, technical, artistic and philosophical work in progress, anticipated crises and possible future answers to these challenges."

It is worthwhile for anybody to live and die an educated person. The more the number of such persons who share the passion about the future the society would become far better equipped to meet the impact of change. We need to create an education (system) that will generate such curiosity and awareness. Education must shift into the future.

What is happening in Higher Education in Manipur ? The idea of broadening the horizon of human mind and producing "perfect citizen" as reflected in State Plan 2012-13 was found quite appealing. The task is daunting and the challenges are formidable. Keeping all this in mind, one may suggest certain interventions.

Rationalisation : Many institutions are starved of resources - money, infrastructure, teachers and students. The situation is pathetic and harmful. External factors like globalisation and comparative advantage (outside Manipur), coupled with internal deficiencies in (higher) education system, factored in student migration.

It is high time to measure the strengths and weaknesses of each of the institutions, decide parameters of performance appraisal with 100 per cent objectivity and act without any prejudice or (political) bias. Reform initiative to discipline teachers through biometric device, which is generally used for much more complicated purposes, would have moral, legal and technical implications, especially when it involves monitoring the conduct and capturing thumb impression of hundreds of teachers without following any legally sustainable operational procedure that addresses the three implications.

When many among the teachers welcome and understand biometric device as a potential reform tool, there is no reason why it should have been misused to create an atmosphere of mistrust. Teachers deserve respect like the Gurus in ancient days.

Vertical and Horizontal lntegration

Higher Education has become a casualty of a chronic problem of disconnect between institutions. University Grants Commission, Universities, Departments, Business & lndustry, Colleges and Hr. Secondary Schools hardly meet each other. Stonewalling of integration and collaboration needs to be avoided. Colleges remain shut half of the day's waking hours. The society will be benefited by encouraging institutions/agencies in public sector as well as private sector to utilise the colleges in shifts for other productive public purposes.

Creating and Sharing Knowledge Pool

The institutions are at different levels of development, and their needs and demands are different. lt would be an excellent idea to create a 'knowledge pool' with resource persons drawn from surplus institutions to cater to the needs of deficit institutions. Besides, academic exchange programmes will promote knowledge sharing and sense of fraternity among the teachers as well as the institutions.

Revisiting lnvestment Strategies

Planning and lnvestment should be solely demand-driven. Contractor oriented ventures create wasteful public expenditure. Most of the institutions are resource-starved. Swimming pools (which will never work) and brick fencing of huge institutional premises are indications of priorities misplaced and scarce money wasted.

lt will be a good idea to create common facilitation centres - well-equipped laboratories, libraries, auditorium and sports infrastructure at select locations to be shared by different institutions. lnvestment in soft infrastructure will strengthen interactive process of teaching and learning - e-learning, e-library (instead of the old fashioned ritual of buying books annually) and virtual classroom. Since the colleges are practically without electricity, laboratories and computer-aided systems have remained dysfunctional. The Department could sensitise MANIREDA or collaborate with other funding agencies and service providers to use solar energy to sustain laboratories etc.

The institutions and individual teachers should be encouraged to access funds available with UGC, ICAR, ICSSR, Ministries, NEC and other funding agencies in private sector for research and extension projects in which the students are involved.

Changing pedagogy : Education in a knowledge driven world, which is already flattened by a strong brainwave, needs to be reoriented keeping in view the imperatives of 'SCALE' (thinking big), 'SKlLL' (professionalism) and 'SCIENTIFIC TEMPER (experimenting with truth - research, discovery and invention).We need to encourage 'out-of-box-thinking', imagination and innovation among the students.

Conclusion : The time has come for a total self-review or reassessment of our achievements. What is required is a critical but impartial reassessment made not by the politicians or the bureaucrats, not by technocrats or trade union leaders, but by the people themselves.

We need to ask the stakeholders :
"What kind of a world do you want in the next ten, twenty, or thirty years from now ?
What about initiating a plebiscite on the future ?
To make the plebiscite meaningful, we must explore all options that can make the best kind of education possible.

* P Sharatchandra Singh, (IAS Retd.) wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on October 02, 2013.

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