TODAY -

Should learning cease with the closure of schools
- Exploring the alternatives -

Thangbiaklian Hangzo *

 Re-openning of schools in Imphal areas after lockdown :: 27 January 2021
Re-openning of schools in Imphal areas after lockdown on 27 January 2021 :: Pix - Shanker Khangembam



As the State continues to reel under the menace of Covid-19 pandemic, much of the economic activities except for health care and essential commodities have come to a standstill.

Although not featured in the 'essential' category, the disruption of the learning of our younger generation comes to mind. And the word 'learning' is intentionally used here to disassociate from the word 'education' which is often linked to our instutionalised system by default.

The Education Department, Government of Manipur often comes out with certain guidelines and directives in terms of fees, salaries and the mode of learning which often glibly states of 'online classes'. Since this is the first time our generation has faced disruption and unsettlement on this scale, the Government or private workforce, either in health, education or other sectors are as much confused and inexperienced as any guy next door, not that they are incapable.

And the solutions espoused are often untried and untested except for the primary battle in the health sector for which we have fortunately found vaccines.

The frustration of parents of students, especially primary section, who have to cope with their new found responsibility to assist their wards at home for the assignments delivered to them for their 'online classes'.

The additional economic hardships posed by the state of affairs, and the need to have gadgets and internet connections of which majority were never savvy of for use at that level; the dilemma of whether or not to admit and pay fees for the classes they never had; the declining income due to the pandemic; the continuation of learning for our younger generation is at stake.

In this trying circumstance, it becomes a clarion call for "student organisations" to explore an alternative to balance the economic hardship caused by the pandemic, the need to ensure safety of the children and the larger community, and the 'essential' need for learning of which the young folks are deprived of for more than a year, and will shortly be two, if the situation does not improve.

Although I do not pretend to be an oracle at this, nor do I say that I am the only one who is concerned, there may be ways the student organisations could help in the welfare of students of which learning is the primary purpose.

And without denying the fact that each have already did what they could have in their own capacity.

I remember, maybe a couple or more years ago, Siamsinpawlpi, the Paite Students' Welfare Organisation, initiated a novel concept called "Unau", which literally translates as sibling, in the pursuit of enhancing the holistic development of students.

The idea probably stems from the 'Alongsiders International' who in 2003 birthed Alongsiders Cambodia (previously called Big Brothers and Sisters of Cambodia), in partnership with the youth department of the Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia where hundreds of young Christians faithfully walk alongside one vulnerable child "each in their own communities". And the movement has spread into a dozen provinces of Cambodia where one generation is being equipped to reach the next.

The idea is for a more mature big brothers and sisters to walk alongside someone younger in "each of their own communities" to help them learn and grow.

In practical terms, each student organisation have their grass roots level presence in the community - units, branches, blocks. Volunteers could be raised to walk 'alongside' students in their respective communities to give an hour or two each day, an alternate day or even once or twice a week to assist and ensure adherence and progress in the learning of their school curriculums.

To lighten the load, core subjects may be identified - Maths, Science, languages or what each organisation determines as core. In addition, one 'alongsider' could cater to one or more than one depending on the number of learners in the community.

Regardless of its origin, the idea could become an alternative mode of learning in this unprecedented circumstance for the welfare of students, especially the primary ones, if the concept is tweaked and adjusted to suit the present scenario.

This would significantly relieve parents, especially who are incapable of administrring full orbed supervision required by online classes. It will also be an opportunity to exploit the untapped skills of helpful young people and will enable the continuation of learning for the otherwise deprived children whose future is at stake. And to top it all, the students' organisations will be fulfilling their primary purpose - working for the welfare of the students.

Even if, and when, normal school resumes, this could become a significant add-on to the learning of our younger generation for whom our posterity depends.

Social and political activism are means by which students learn how to work with government and its systems, and is undeniably one element of grooming ourselves for the future. However, the very rudiments of our education is placed at a near impasse by the circumstance and it is unjustifiable for students' organisations to remain a mute spectator.

The unprecedented nature of the pandemic probably requires solution beyond the ordinary, something extraordinary, may be. Just a thought.


* Thangbiaklian Hangzo wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on July 23 2021.



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