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E-Pao! Education - PARENTS, TEACHERS and QUALITY EDUCATION

PARENTS, TEACHERS and QUALITY EDUCATION
By: Deepak Chabungbam*



The importance of education is best driven by the Chinese proverb that says:

"If you want to think one year ahead, plant rice If you want to think 10 years ahead, plant trees But if you want to think 100 years ahead, give education to people."

The all-important question is: How successful are we in delivering quality education to our students?

Quality education means that the majority of the students, if not all, is able to meet the expectation of the "Minimum Level of Learning". It means stimulating creative thinking, developing problem-solving skills and life skills and laying emphasis on application of knowledge.

Let us first look at some statistics. The literacy rate of Manipur (68.87%) is one of the highest in the country. However, this figure is extremely deceptive because the dropout rate in the state is one of the highest in the country. As compared to the all India average of 36.3% in the Classes I-V group, the dropout rate in Manipur is 64.5%. That means 64.5% of the students leave studies even before completing Class V.

In the Classes I-VIII segment, the dropout rate in Manipur is 70.6% while the all India figure is 52.7%. The percentage of students who do not complete Class X is a high 71.5%. This, in short, means that though the literacy rates are high, the levels of education are not high.

The latest national survey, the 6th All India Educational Survey conducted by NCERT, reveals a number of interesting facts:

  • Out of a total of more than 13,700 primary teachers in Manipur, only 45% are trained. The all India corresponding figure is 85%.

  • Out of more than 7000 upper primary teachers, only an abysmally low 35% are trained. The all India corresponding figure is 87%.

  • Only 46% of some 5700 secondary teachers in the state are trained while the corresponding figure for the whole country is a high 91%.

  • Out of the 600 odd higher secondary teachers in Manipur, only about half (51%) are trained whereas for the country as whole, 83% of the higher secondary teachers are trained.

A big state like Tamil Nadu has 100% trained teachers. Also, in smaller states like Himachal Pradesh and Goa, 90% of the teachers are trained.

A distinct feature of the educational scenario in Manipur is that we have a large number of temporary and adhoc teachers-a whopping 88%!! The North East average is only 36% while the all India figure is only 20%.

Another it-happens-only-in-Manipur phenomenon is the existence of more number of teachers in position than the sanctioned posts!! Out of 27,313 sanctioned posts, there are 27,433 teachers in position. It speaks volumes about the ingenuity of our ministers.

As a result, the student-teacher ratio is one of the lowest in the country. For example, against an all India average of 40 primary pupils per teacher, we have only 14 primary students per teacher.

The bottomline: in spite of an ample number of teachers and high rate of literacy, the quality of education leaves much to be desired.

I don't want to enumerate the things that the government ought to be doing for these are quite well known and, considering the track record of our governments, such things are unlikely to be executed with the kind of urgency that is warranted.

I want to focus on one important aspect of a strategy to deliver quality education to our students. This article is not about what the state should be doing but about what we, as individuals of the community, can achieve on our own.

The first and foremost thing is to recognize that we cannot leave everything to the government as we have been doing for so long. If we have to make major headways, we have to start involving ourselves more deeply into the education of our children. Equally importantly, we have to start thinking in terms of enthusiastic, highly motivated and more importantly, highly competent teachers and head masters.

And we should realize that teachers cannot be motivated by unleashing waves on terror on them. Nor will quality education be ever achieved if student bodies go out of their ways to try to change school curriculum or to recommend textbooks. Such measures will only act as poison for the supposed purpose for which they are undertaken.

To me, the biggest issue regarding the state of education in Manipur is the "cumulative lack of accountability". We read in the newspapers every year that the pass percentages in the Class X and Class XII examinations are dismal. Who is accountable for this? Teachers, students, parents, community, student bodies?

On the other hand, who is responsible for the consistent successes of the missionary schools and some private schools? Teachers, students, parents, community, student bodies? The answer lies in the concept of "learning guarantee".

A critical component of the way of learning in missionary schools (they are actually "schools with a mission") and in some other private schools is the achievement of what Mr. Azim Premji, Chairman of Wipro Ltd. calls "learning guarantee".

The concept of "learning guarantee" lies beyond the fragmented view of the education system as is generally understood. It is not just about the number and quality of teachers. It is not just about how the Government is playing its role effectively or not. It is beyond the issues of a "Mid-day meal programme" or "Training of teachers" or "the kind of text books" that are to be followed.

"Learning guarantee" consists of more serious and deeper issues such as understanding of the pedagogical processes in the class room, clearer understanding by the teachers of what competencies are to be developed among the students, the class-room practices that bring out the best among the children in the most non-threatening and exciting manner, the competitive spirit that the school is able to create, the parents' untiring interest in their children's learning, the pressures created by an active and lively parent-teacher interaction for better delivery of learning in the school. It is a social process as well as a high quality management process.

Learning guarantee is about fixing accountability of every key stakeholder that can influence learning and education. Learning guarantee can be achieved through a robust, healthy and dynamic interaction between parents and teachers.

When I was in school (Don Bosco School, Imphal), I remember getting "home-works" on a daily basis. I remember the students used to bring their completed home-works, which were done with generous help from our parents or private tutors. I also remember the letters that the school headmaster invariably used to write to the parents or guardians of the students who fail to do their home-works. And of course, if you default consistently, either your parents or local guardian will be called to the school for an interview with the headmaster.

If you are absent or if you come late to the class, you have to compulsorily bring a written application signed by your parent or guardian spelling out the reasons for the absence or unpunctuality. If the instances of your absence or unpunctuality exceed a certain limit, your parent or guardian has to personally meet the headmaster.

Home-works or leave applications are not the only instruments through which the teacher-parent interaction is instutionalised. There are Parents' Day functions, Teachers' day functions, Talent-search competitions, Sports' day etc through which the teacher-parent interaction is further strengthened.

A few years back, when all the major missionary schools were forced to close down because of certain differences with some insurgent groups over "donations" and the careers of thousands of students were at stake, it was the parents that saved the day. A parents' association was formed and the parents worked night and day to try to find a solution to get over the impasse. The association held regular meetings, chalked out strategies and conducted negotiations on behalf of the school managements and the students. That is a shining example of what parents' associations can achieve.

Parents should come forward not only during times of crisis but also to constantly monitor the performance of the both the student and the teacher. They should take up a more pro-active role in their children's education.

Commitment and attitude of the teacher can be fostered by accountability. Accountability, in turn, can be effectively enforced through parent-teacher associations (PTAs). Through these associations, parents will also become equally accountable for the performance of their children.

Instead of flaying the state for the umpteenth time for its failures, we should ask hard questions now: Given the shocking state of government schools, can we trust the state to deliver quality education? Quality education needs autonomy from the state. The reform of education in Manipur has to begin necessarily with the conviction that schools have to become accountable to parents and neighborhood instead of to bureaucrats. We have to fight for the autonomy of our schools and make teachers responsible to parents. A far-away central authority cannot ensure accountability. Parents should come forward and get involved in PTAs.

In America, the best schools are in communities where parents are involved and PTAs are strong. Wherever this American idea of community initiative has been tried out in India, such as in "Village Education Committees" in Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh or by voluntary organizations in other parts of India, it has made all the difference. The shining example is, of course, Kerala where 65% of the schools are private schools-where substantial parent-teacher interaction exists.

The student bodies will do a great service to society if they can play the role of a catalyst in setting up of PTAs in schools across the state. The initiative for setting up PTAs can come from local clubs, voluntary organizations, NGOs and even Meira-Paibis.

The PTAs can hold, say, fortnightly meetings, and assess, monitor, scrutinize and evaluate the performance of the students and the school management. The educational standards that schools are required and expected to maintain can then be established with the full participation of parents and not merely by the authority of administrative bodies.

Needless to emphasize, the setting up of PTAs will cost hardly anything in terms of money but admittedly, it will take some amount of common "social will". Can we stand up to the challenge and make a decision that will change our collective destiny? We cannot afford to say no.

The community and the parents must take keen interest in the education of our children. Education is the foundation upon which we have to build our society. It has to be our first social priority. It is an investment, which has the biggest multiplier. So, let us invest into our future with our heart and mind.


* The writer is an officer of the Indian Revenue Service and readers are free to comment
on this article at dchabs@yahoo.com


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