TODAY -

The conundrum of college education in Manipur

Kongkham Biplob Singh *

DM College of Commerce, Imphal in October 2012
DM College of Commerce, Imphal in October 2012 :: pix - Banti Phurailatpam



Recent reports in the leading local newspapers pertaining to the state's education sector, or the deficiencies thereof, are rather disheartening. Reports of students of a certain college going on the rampage, venting their anger over lack of toilet facilities were preceded by reports only a few days before, of students being crammed like poultry chicken in another girls' higher secondary school.

Also, a few months ago, the Education Minister had to placate and reassure various student unions and organizations boycotting the undergraduate semester exams for want of better facilities and redress of several other grievances. The proverbial last straw seemingly comes in the form of class boycott and closure of administration by students' union of a certain college over the government's failure to release pending scholarships. Perspectives and viewpoints on such issues may differ, but these events and incidences bespeak of the conundrum that education in general and higher education in particular in Manipur has become of late.

Firstly, acts of vandalism by students, or anyone else for that matter, is no doubt a condemnable act and those responsible must be dealt with punitive deterrence. But underneath such acts of fury lies a larger picture that needs urgent attention and redressal. Today, it is the infuriated students of one college, but it may well nigh spread to other colleges and student associations. Is a high-handed, iron-fisted submission of agitating students genuinely demanding basic and rightful infrastructure the solution to the larger problems lurking underneath?

Sadly enough, managerial, personnel, financial and infrastructural inadequacies have become the hallmark of higher education in Manipur. The exodus of a huge number of students to states outside Manipur for higher studies year after year is a testimony to the glaring and rather uncomfortable truth that something is amiss with the system as a whole. Let us not put the blame on the state's unfavourable law and order situation alone.

Agreed that established destinations like Delhi, Kolkata. Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad etc. are academic hotspots and many institutions there are sought after by students from all over India. But is it not alarming that this continued exodus of students to other states is to our own peril ultimately. Is it not high time that Manipur starts developing a sound, qualitative higher education system that can instill faith and retain the best brains in the state itself.

Let alone the students, in most colleges of our state, even teachers have to make do without toilet and running water facilities. Many college libraries are run without librarians and assisting staff, and bookshelves are in acute need of new and relevant books. In a bid to expedite change and keep pace with new developments, ICT tools such as computers, projectors, smart boards and broadband internet etc are being introduced in several colleges. However, the absence of simple amenities like proper power supply or technical staff defeats the entire motives behind automation of the teaching-learning processes. One can easily imagine the irony of being in an ICT enabled, internet connected room, bereft of electricity, roofs leaking, windows broken and just outside - flooded slushy roads.

Proper recruitment and staffing is the backbone of any organizational structure. The state government's ludicrous indifference to severely understaffed ministerial ranks in higher education has led to interestingly hilarious outcomes. Staff shortage and the reluctance to fill vacant posts imply that the available few are compelled to perform multiple tasks simultaneously. Grade IV employees and peons are in many instances found performing accounts and clerical tasks. Teachers with numerical acumen preparing tax and pay bills is not uncommon.

Sometimes the work is done with dexterity, at other times it leads to colossal errors. Such practices may be tentatively ingenious but ultimately it leads to overall mismanagement and inefficiency. One need not wonder about the thousands of errors the Manipur University makes in times of registration, marksheet and certificate distribution. Wrong names, dates of births, roll numbers and in many instances erratic certificates and marksheets certifying fathers to have passed in the exams their sons and/or daughters have appeared in, are rather the norm than the exception. Human errors are inevitable but when the scale and enormity of such errors reach such proportions, one can't help but wonder with a childlike ignorance and wait for the system to take its own course.

The introduction of semester system in Under Graduate courses in Manipur is another anachronism of sorts. Without any choice based credit component, semester systems are a mere half-yearly break-up of the previously prevalent annual systems. Complete absence of internal assessment and mandatory attendance norms has brought about a culture of absenteeism among college students everywhere in the state. Extreme delays and the inability to declare semester results in time is also another area of concern. Very often, even while on the verge of filling up examination forms, students usually do not receive marksheets of the previous semester. It creates confusion and doubt among students and denies them room and time for improvement in subjects they otherwise fared poorly.

Recent introduction of biometric attendance systems for teachers and staff in several colleges is one step in the right direction but is not without its own loopholes. It ensures punctuality, confinement at the workstation during established office hours and has a restraining effect on irregular personnel. But the complications facing college education in Manipur goes far beyond mere confinement of teachers and ministerial staff. Physical confinement is one thing, but willful dedication is another calling. It is not easy to abruptly uproot a long established culture of ad-hocism and nonchalant dereliction through biometrics or superior's stern orders.

After all, education is the most integral determinant of a society's overall development process, and like every other component, it is a part of the larger social system. It has a reciprocal as well as cause-and-effect relationship with a society's character, its institutional strengths and frailties. Failings in the larger system manifests itself and has serious implications for the education system as such. Hence, systemic faults call for systemic solutions. It won't help dragging the simplistic blame game amongst teachers, students and administration. Indeed none of the three are inert or isolated entities that are immune to change and transformation. Improving and sustaining an effective, sound education system requires active, loyal and dedicated participation of all stakeholders which includes students, teachers, government and the society at large.

In recent years, except a few IITs, Indian universities arguably find no place among the top 200 list of world rankings of universities by reputed global surveys. Parameters of such rankings have been disputed but questions have been raised on the standard, originality and innovativeness of the Indian education system in general. Without doubt, India has a small but sizeable elite class of highly gifted academic professionals comparable to the best in the world. Juxtaposed against this microscopic elite are the teeming millions of graduates, post-graduates and even research scholars for that matter. We have the numbers but whether these numbers have the requisite quality befitting their respective qualifications is debatable.

The same is true about Manipur, albeit at a far smaller scale. A careful self-introspection as to where this puts Manipur on the education map even at the national and regional level is essential. Manipur has a small population but Manipuris are extremely resourceful and many from the state have brought laurels in diverse fields of academic activity. We are able competitors among the best and the brightest minds in the nation. But can we say with earnest confidence that the academic elite hailing from our state are mostly homegrown. Is it not high time for Manipur to start indigenization of higher education systems and avoid overdue dependence on other states?

Education being a continuous process requires continual attention and sustained development at all levels. A sound higher education system is unimaginable without correspondingly strong elementary, middle and senior school systems. Will it not be happy tidings for all if we invigorate and improve our educational infrastructure, manpower, resources and ensure self-reliance by embarking on a rigorous institution building processes? The task is not as easy as it sounds but it is a task none of us can afford to ignore. For all it takes, and for the time being, we may as well start with running water and cleaner toilets, and yes, a few more peons and clerks and cashiers and watchmen.


* Kongkham Biplob Singh wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao (English Edition)
This article was posted on August 25, 2013.


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