School on a Phum: Innovative Learning Place

Dr. Ingudam Yaipharemba *

First floating School at Langolsabi, Loktak  :: 2nd February 2017
First floating School at Langolsabi, Loktak :: 2nd February 2017 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam

Loktak Lake is nature's gift to the people of Manipur; the lake is also ancestrally interwoven with history and rich culture of Manipur. Many families survived with resources reaped from the lake, may it be aquatic resource or a place of habitation on phum/phumdis. When the Loktak Lake (Protection) Act 2006 implemented, authorities destroyed many hut built on phum that rendered many families homeless.

The burned ones are mostly fishermen's who thrive in the lake for daily livelihood. After the eviction, their life gets scattered and sources become dwindled, leaving little income to send their sibling to school for formal education. The evictions indirectly affect the child's education.

The Loktak Floating Elementary School, a community initiative school for dropout's children in Langolsabi Leikai of Champu Khangpok floating village in the northern part of Loktak Lake elucidate a belief of enlightenment among many underprivileged children and others.

The floating village takes a journey of 1 1/2 hour to reach the choice of land area on their boat. Instead of travelling to the nearest school that might consume time and money, the village community and concern NGO's emerge together to establish a primary school in the vicinity on a phum itself. Thus, the Loktak Floating Elementary School was born on December 2016 and formally inaugurated on World Wetlands Day on 2nd February 2017.

Geographically, the school is on a phum in the middle of the Lake. To reach the school from the nearest comfortable land area which is Ningthoukhong Project Gate, a travel time by wooden boat of 1 1/2 hours is needed. Other than the Project Gate, there are two spot, one is Nachou and another is near IIIT Ningthoukhong. Although, three different spots are available, the choice spot for their embarkation & debarkation is Ningthoukhong Project Gate due to adequate availability of surface transport to another part of the town and Imphal city.

There are government as well as private schools in the nearby land area in Thanga, Ningthoukhong but the children have to transverse a long distance on the boat themselves and consume a good time on the journey, therefore the parents decided not to send the children to the school. Another reason is the lack of income, after the Loktak Lake (Protection) Act 2006 implemented, the fishermen drastically reduce income owing to eviction leaving little for their siblings to send to the school instead the children help the parents in the daily chores and fishing activities to earn extra income.

The Loktak Floating Elementary School target to admit 40 students ranging from Class I-V, though, presently only 25 students were admitted including 9 girls. The school has no proper infrastructure such as desk, table, but planning is on ways to make the floor of the school wooden solid to equip the required furniture. Right now, bamboos were used to make the flooring and carpet topping to give a usable stage. In the classroom, two blackboards were used as a basic teaching mode.

In spite of improper facilities, the school is a blessing for the floating villager's kids that inculcate an environment of learning process and breeding education among them which tends to eliminate gap period for the children. Imparting the dropouts and providing a beacon of hope for education is the very purpose of establishing the school.

For effective transportation of the children from their village to the school, a wooden boat costing Rs 1 lakh 20 thousands having a capacity of 20-22 persons have been purchased by People Resources Development Association (PRDA), but due to crunch of the fund, life jackets have yet not been purchased yet.

An interesting aspect of the School is that besides providing primary education to the dropouts, it also caters adult education to the illiterate adults of the floating village numbering 40 or more; mostly women and few men, some of them are from nearby Khomjao. Currently started, the women belong to two self help groups of the villages namely Champu Self Help Group, Langolsabi and another is Langolsabi Ngamee Lup.

The participating women age ranges from 25 to 60 and some man are about 70 years old. For the Adult education program, an amount of Rs 1 lakh is donated by Manipur Rural Bank (Nambol Branch), from that amount necessary requirement of the education has been met in addition to fishing material and solar lamp for the night school. Still, there is a regret of inadequate lighting at the night schooling. After the school, the learners pursue their fishing activities at the lake. It is a classic example of learning and earning together.

The Governor of Manipur, Dr Najma Heptulla donated 40 school bags, text books and note books required, for up to Class V. The Governor's gesture in improving education by contributing to the study materials to the Loktak Floating Elementary School children is a noble effort to spearhead the cause of education in Manipur. The education at the school is free for the students and the two Teaching Volunteers received an honorarium of Rs 3000 per month from the NGO, PRDA under a project title "Empowering Local Vulnerable Community for Sustainable Development" funded by Action Aid India.

Assimilation of provisions of Right to Education (RTE) to the floating school has been discussed. As soon as any related scheme gets available the School can be covered under the preview of India's Right to Education Act giving full benefits to the students. It is the aim of the Floating school that the dropouts can be cater basic schooling for a couple of years and when their parents' income again attains good posture, the students can be transferred to the school of choice for higher schooling. Now, for the time being the dropouts are given schooling at the floating school.

There is a desire to have a small floating playground, suitable enough for kids play and recognition from the Manipur Government. If such floating playground came up near the school, it will be again a trophy for the School and the villagers. The Government recognition will develop the school further. The dream is high for the School and the dedication are exemplary. The more solar lamp is planning to install at the school and if the resource is enough to buy a solar powering system; computer facility will be provided at the school.

It is very interesting to know that the adult along with education utilised the school as a community hall for meetings. For the floating villages which are incapable to build a public hall, the school act as a multipurpose venue. What the villager wants to have in their village is an Anganwadi facility or a Kid Day Care Centre to cater their young ones, when both the parents went for fishing activities at the lake the young ones were left alone at the house, protecting with a 3 foot bamboo makeshift so that the kids stay inside the house and not wander around. It is a common practice to safeguard their children in the floating village.

Since the school as well as the village fall under the core zone area as prescribe under the LLP Act 2006, no human settlement is permitted at the lake within the core zone. But after due consideration for the time being, the school is formally running with success and the Governor's interest for the school further more strengthens the foundation of the school in the core zone. There is wide believe that concerning the unique nature of the school, concern authorities might have a soft hand in the establishment.

On the other hand, the fishermen have every responsibility to protect the fragile ecosystem of the lake and minimized pollutions. Loktak Lake is the face of Manipur and the home of many aquatic animals as well as many foreign migratory birds. So, the fishermen in particular must safeguard the ecosystem and act as a first line of defence against the man-made pollution. People living near and within the lake drained their waste into the lake, causing a great concern for the authorities also.

* Dr. Ingudam Yaipharemba wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at yaipha2009(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on June 23 , 2017.

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