Corruption of lairik-laisu
- Part 1 -

Erendro Leichombam & Biju Leishangthem *

In 1962, US President John F. Kennedy welcomed a group of forty-nine Nobel laureates to the White Housesaying:"I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."

Thomas Jefferson was a Founding Father of America and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, whose revolutionary ideals literally shook the world,and brought down Empiresto their knees. The Jeffersonian democratic philosophy can be summed up thus, in his own words: "[There is] no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society other than the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power."

Education is an agent of social evolution, it is the path to liberation from oppression; it empowers us to achieve a just, and free society. An educated mind will ask critical questions, and it takes ownership, and ultimately takes action to find solutions. Without education, a talented and trained population may end up merely as useful utilitarian tools.

A plethora of studies have confirmed the strong correlation between development and education. Needless to mention that the world is moving fast towards a "knowledge-based society," where nations that invest on education secure their future, and prepare to meet complex challenges ahead. The need, therefore, for greater emphasis on education is all the more today.

During the colonial period, the primary objective of Western education in Indiawas producing "Brown Englishmen or Cheap Clerks." The big question today, therefore, is: has there been any substantial change since? Unfortunately, it seems, the colonial hangover continues in our educational system. As a result, India does poorly in most of the International comparisons.

On PISA (Program of International Students Assessment) rankings, an important tool for measuring educational systems, and on QS University rankings, India sits at the bottom. Even the so-called premier institutes of India such as the IITs and IIMs do not find a decent place in these rankings. The main reason for suchmiserable performance is the emphasis on rote learning; a modelpoor in critical and conceptual learning but focused on achievingmarks/grades/ scores—what is often referred to as "teaching to the tests."

What, then, is the state of education in Manipur? Before we even analyze the quality of our education, before we examine its content and quality, from the outset, we must observe if our primary school system, the base of the pyramid on which rests all our human resources, is performing the bare minimum functions it is designed for.

According to data collected between 2010 and 2016 in Manipur (ASER 2016), we observed that on average nearly 44% of all govt. run primary schools had 60 students enrolled or less. The figure is even worse for lower primary schools (Class I to V) where nearly 74% of all schools had an enrollment of 60 students or less. As of today, over 70% of all primary students attend private schools in Manipur, while only 26% remain in govt. schools.

Of this remaining 26%, the student absenteeism rate was 42%. The data is clearly pointing to a few facts:
(1) Each year more students are switchingfrom govt. schools to private schools in Manipur;
(2) That policy makers keep pouring a disproportionate chunk of our budget into a massively leaked bucket;
(3) These schools primarily benefit the "teachers" who are on the govt. payroll without accountability or performance;
(4) Families are spending more on primary education, while still paying taxes to cover for these dysfunctional govt. primary schools.

There are about 3,400 primary and upper primary schools in Manipur (Class IVIII), which indicates that about 1,500 govt. schools are"operating" with less than 60 students or less and an average 20-25 teaching and non-teaching staffs each. Nearly INR 50 Crores are spent for primary education alone annually. While the exact number of primary school teachers is unknown, a rough estimate put the figure above 30,000.

Even beyond this number, ongoing govt. teachers' recruitments and their sickening scandalous process continue. The same data confirms that at any given school day, nearly 50% of the teachers were missing from their jobs, and that 49% of the schools were not implementing the mid-day meal programs. The menace, most probably, runs much deeper, and the reality is much worse.

The authors, of this piece, visited several randomly picked govt. primary schools to incorporate as case studies. During such visits, these schools had far lesser teacher turn out. At one school, teachers were seen playing ludo while the students were left completely unattended, left to their own devices. At one of the bigger govt. schools, the teachers hurriedly cut short their morning assembly and huddled the kids into a classroom when we tried to click a picture of the dismal gathering (hardly 7- 8 students).

In such schools, teachers often inflate the number of their student enrollment, and attendance, to give a rosier picture. Teachers conspiring with each other to sign off their attendance logs with fake signatures during their absence are common. Proxy teachers are a norm in rural and hilly areas. It was observed that over 80% of teachers in Ukhrul district alone were proxy teachers.

This is the reality of primary education in Manipur. An educated population must ponder these:
(1) What happened to half of the meals intended for our children?
(2) Have we become such lowly thieves that we are stealing food from the mouths of children?
(3) If a school has failed to enroll even 20 students, why havethese teachers maintained a deafening silence? Are they allowed to speak up and protest only when their salaries are delayed?
(4) That a culture of entitlementhas trickled down to the primary school system; and most importantly
(5) We are fostering a beneficiary economy; the very teachers who are supposed to shape the future pillars of our society are becoming corrupt beneficiaries of undeserved privileges.

This is truly the tragic state of education in Manipur today enmeshed with a culture of selling our individual sovereignties, our democratic rights, for breadcrumbs. And the current Manipuri political oligarchy feels zero incentive to reform our educational system because the status-quo benefits them, it disempowers the population and monopolizes this "depository of the ultimate powers" to themselves.

We should be enraged by such lowly thievery. We need to stop turning a blind eye, shrugging it off with an apathetic attitude that it's someone else's job. It's truly the "tragedy of the commons," which in economic theory is defined as "a situation, within a shared-resource system, where individual users acting independently according to their own selfinterest, behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling that resource through their collective action."

Education begins with the mentors, it starts with the respect and priority we placed on teaching professionals. Only anenlightened crop of teachers can spawn a generation of enlightened population.If we take the example of Finland, teaching is considered the most admired profession next only to the medical doctors. Finnish teachers are required to get atleast a master's degree (5 years of training) with specialization in research and classroom practices at the elite schools.

Finnish teachers are given complete autonomy to innovate and experiment, freeing them from regulations or red-tape. Nationally designed curriculum serves more as a guideline than a strict prescription. Teachers are encouraged to experiment with new approaches in order to improve learning, such as "self-assessments" (students write daily narratives on their learning and progress), "peer assessments"(students are guided to offer positive feedback and constructive suggestions to each other), and personalized learning; a teacher teaches the same group of students for years building mutual understanding, stronger bonds, and greater accountability.

** The article is an excerpt from PRJA's weekly discussion meetings—Wakhaloi Meepham

To be continued....

* Erendro Leichombam & Biju Leishangthem wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on June 27, 2017.

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