The concept of Education

Toki Blah
Toki Blah

By Toki Blah

It’s intriguing, but the system of education in the state of Meghalaya seems to be something those in power would like to keep permanently under wraps. Of late, however, anxiety over the subject has managed to spill over into the public domain. People, especially parents, are concerned because our education system is failing to deliver. There is alarm because those in charge of the system appear to be least bothered. So what is education? In a nut shell it can be said that, education is the process of acquiring and imparting knowledge. In its modern and school level context, real education facilitates the joy of discovery and learning by exciting the imagination. Stimulating the imagination increases curiosity. The written word is simply a tool to satisfy that curiosity and education facilitates our ability to use this tool. Therefore when rote learning replaces the need to stimulate curiosity in the mind of the student; when education fails to incite curiosity for the unknown; when children and students find the class room dull and boring; then obviously the education system is not working. Obviously it lacks appeal. This has been happening in Meghalaya for the last 40 years. Tragically instead of attempting to redress the defect, managers of education in Meghalaya have given it a new twist.

A blame game takes place. “The child is to blame” is a common refrain within the education system of Meghalaya. “It’s the inborn stupidity of the child”. “The Tribal child’s inability to cope with science and maths”. “The insipid background of the rural Tribal student”. It’s frightening simply because everyone accepts it as Gospel. Its sheer rubbish of course; total humbug, designed to divert attention from the real issue. The real issue is the growing inability and disinterest of the teacher to infuse, impart and stimulate student interest in the class room. In most schools the teacher is not trained to teach. The teacher is there for the job and salary which in turn is linked to the teacher’s ability to finish ‘the course’. ‘The course’ has become omnipotent. Schools have a target to achieve and in this mad rush to finish ‘the course’, the overall interest of the child; the sole reason for the existence of the Education Department, the Schools, the managing committees and the teachers – is forgotten. ‘To finish a course’ has become the objective of the education system. There is only one word for it – ridiculous!

If one is ready to accept the above premise then accepting its corollary should not be difficult. If the student is no longer the centre piece of our education system, then who is? In Meghalaya it’s the teacher. Teachers rights; their entitlement; their service conditions have now taken centre stage. This is not to say that school teachers have no rights. Far from it, as the plight of the teaching staff is an issue that the Education Department has routinely and continuously preferred to ignore. Low pay; untenable working conditions and poor training are some of the genuine grievances. Teachers however are able to organise themselves into associations that can give voice, a strong political voice, to their grievances. The concern of this write up is something else. Who is there to articulate the concern of the voiceless student; the unseen undergraduate? Student bodies of the state have seen fit to represent the political aspirations of the state rather than the grievances of their student constituencies. In the absence of a patron, students and education in the state are left to the tender mercies of clueless and visionless politicians. Obsessed only in retaining their chairs, such people have no interest in the Department they head. For how long can we, as students; as parents; as worried citizens tolerate such nonsense?

It’s time we accept that Education in Meghalaya is something involving everyone but where no one really knows what it’s all about. Total confusion prevails! Students themselves are badly informed as to the reason they have to attend schools and the need to obtain an education. Somewhere along the way there is this vague belief, shared by both parent and child, that an academic certificate is the guarantee for a secure Government job. It’s no longer true and simply results in people finishing their studies and not knowing what to do next. Opportunities exist but how to avail of them? Intermittent and sporadic attempts to redress the problem through one day career counselling courses have begun, but these need more focus and coordination. Career counselling cannot be confined to one day exercises between the student and the counsellor. It requires stakeholder interaction where parents, teachers and counsellors can network with each other for a longer period of time. Parents need to be brought in because it’s the future of their children that is at stake. Perhaps the local community can also be roped in. They too are stakeholders in the future of their youth. How to do this requires out -of- the -box thinking. Govt can facilitate by investing in think tanks that can come up with strategies to make education relevant and meaningful to the needs of our times.

Let’s look at another aspect of education as it exists in our state. There is this high dropout rate especially in our rural areas. If statistics are to be believed, and why not, Meghalaya has the dubious distinction of having a 70 % dropout rate in school education. The reasons for this high dropout rate are numerous, but the most basic, is student lack of interest, in pursuing further studies! If the beneficiary of education, in a welfare state, loses interest, then there must be something fundamentally wrong with our education system. It’s an issue that should have rung alarm bells in the corridors of power; should have raised the antenna of our political representatives. That it has not implies two crucial lapses in our governance system. Firstly, it indicates that education in Meghalaya is not a subject that elected representatives consider important enough to raise on the floor of the Assembly. It’s not juicy enough; it hardly features in the local press, so why bother. Secondly, the abysmal budget allocation given to this critical component on human resource development would indicate that it has very low priority in the Governance scheme of things. In the forthcoming Assembly session a stormy debate over the NGT ban on rat hole coal mining is sure to happen. One is not so sure whether any legislator would raise the issue about a third rate and irrelevant educational curriculum that continues to run amok among our children?

It’s obvious we just can’t go on this way. It’s just as obvious that asking for futuristic and more proactive Education Ministers is just not feasible. Our political system is just not geared to come up with such quality products. Yet, no reason why we can’t have more committed, better trained and more dedicated educationists. We can reorient the mind set, the capacity and the vision of our teachers. There are ways on how their self esteem and self respect as educationists can be reinstated. One way is to redesign and restructure the B.Ed courses. The rest of India is already following a 2 year B.Ed course. It’s only in Meghalaya that the out of date, one year B.Ed course, is still being followed. A 2 year course would increase the internship period for trainees giving the trainee more school and class experience. It would afford more time for the development of better teacher student sensitivity. It would inculcate a holistic approach towards development of teachers. Why then is NERIE struggling for the last three years to start this ambitious 2 year B.Ed course for teachers in Meghalaya? It would be sad indeed if Red tape and Babudom are allowed to take precedence over a felt social need in education.

There is urgent need to question the educational system we follow. If Pedagogy is a science that aims at the full development of the human being through acquisition of knowledge; if education is not only about the ability to learn but the readiness to allow knowledge to change us into better human beings; then the opposite is – education that doesn’t bring in a broader and fuller understanding of life, is meaningless. Sadly Meghalaya it appears has opted for the opposite. At times one is struck by the irony of finding an unlettered, illiterate villager who is more rational; more logical and more farsighted than a PhD Gold Medallist! Worse, the acquisition of an educational degree most times is taken as academic sanction to stop learning; to stop reading; to put an end to curiosity. Nothing can be more tragic than to tell oneself there is nothing more to learn. But it’s happening in our society and it will kill us. Educationists therefore have to come up with a new sense of direction for the education we are forcing on our children. The hope is that it’s not too late.

(Author is President of ICARE, an organisation that focuses on issues of governance and can be reached at toki@neline.com).

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