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Teacher’s Day reminds us that we must think how to translate education for all into action. Ambedkar told us to educate, agitate and organise for the survival of our democracy. Indeed, education of citizens is the first prerequisite for the growth of democracy. Unfortunately, education especially higher education has been made accessible only for the high income groups in our country by letting profiteers hijack it and by allowing astronomical increase in the fee structure that keeps many deserving students out of the college campus especially the technical ones. Since educational scholarship is not enough to meet the demands, the lower and middle class have practically been thrown out of the higher educational institutions.
Now parents are to cough up a new form of dowry if they want to give their children higher education that can do justice to their school board marksheets and aspirations. This new version of educational dowry has gone up to such a level that only those who belong to the very creamy layer of the society can afford to pay. Thus the capacity of parents’ credit cards has become a more important factor in our higher education system than a student’s marks in his or her merit card. Many students commit suicide when their parents fail to finance their education. On the other hand, we see that one of the reasons of Nordic countries becoming the happiest countries of the world is their providing free education to all. At least those students whose parents are not well off, must get free education including higher education in our country. Moreover, we need enough good quality public schools that can give their private counterparts a run for their money and to vigorously pursue the midday meal scheme to arrest school dropout rate as well as malnutrition among our children.
Where’s the new Education Policy?
The much talked about Education Policy for the State of Meghalaya might have been framed but till date it is yet to be placed before the state cabinet for its approval and to be officially announced by Meghalaya Government. In fact the process of framing the much needed policy was initiated way back in 2008 when Manas Chaudhuri was the then Education Minister. Why it took so much time to adopt the Policy I really wonder. Let us wait for it to come out officially and see whether it will be a masterpiece that will guide education in the state to new heights. As a corollary to the above, I wish to point out here just a few primary reasons why education in Meghalaya is in shambles. The first and foremost reason is poor infrastructure right from the primary level. Those who have visited the village schools throughout Garo, Khasi and Jaintia Hills will know the stark realities. Where are the decent school buildings, the midday meal buildings, the sanitary latrines, water supply and the playgrounds? In majority of the schools these are absent. The second is many schools have poor enrolment; at times even below ten school children, Attendance is also poor with high school dropouts. In the beginning of the scholastic year there may be twenty children but this number keeps on decreasing and by the time of the final examinations only eight or nine children are left.
Again when the next academic year starts the number of students keep decreasing. The third is high absenteeism of school teachers. Teachers come to teach only 10 or 15 days a month without any accountability. Worse, there are many teachers who appoint proxy teachers in their place and pay them a fraction of the salary they earn. The evil is still prevalent and the school Managing Committees the DSEOs, SEOs, Parents’ Associations etc do not follow up and take corrective measures. Then the bulk of primary school teachers are still untrained. Now how much can we expect them to deliver? Compounding the problem we have the perpetual non-receipt of salaries for months together by the teachers especially those from the SSA schools. It is also important to point out that there are no refresher (short training) courses for school teachers conducted by private agencies of school trainers or by the Education Department. Another important aspect that must not be missed out here is that there is no inspection of schools by the DSEOs, SEOs and other officials of the Education Department in spite of the fact that we have so many schools in the state. Without inspection how do we know the internal affairs of the schools and how can they progress academically in the right direction. It pains me to mention here that the performance of the Government Schools are the worst in the State whereas the salaries of such teachers are not only very high but they are paid on time. I presume the new Education Policy might have already provided a panacea to these and other ills that plague education in Meghalaya.
Is the Sweeper Line issue forgotten?
When I picked up the newspaper on Sept 5, 2018, I was sadly reminded of the Them Iew Mawlong issue of May 31, 2018 when trouble broke out between the local people and the residents of Sweeper Line. The reason behind the trouble brought to the fore an issue that should have been dealt with strategically by successive governments. It was an issue that was revived after twenty years of inaction. And now the delay and the lackadaisical attitude of the state government towards the matter is a cause of concern.
With the passage of time, people residing in Sweeper Line have multiplied and resulted in a number of altercations with passers-by who experienced high-handedness and brawls while passing through the area. Besides, the place has become very congested with many houses and commercial establishments side by side. The place is unhealthy and unhygienic and not conducive for the people to continue living there. When Shillong was in the throes of agitation for days, I was hopeful that this time with the newly formed state government in place, the matter would be addressed and solved once and for all. Alas! even after three months, the High Level Committee is yet to complete its work and submit its recommendations to the State Government. Today, the road from Them Iew Mawlong through the Sweeper Line towards Bimola Pharmacy is still heavily guarded by police personnel who are stationed there to ward off trouble. Vehicular movement is banned through that area. At a glance it looks like as if the Government has handed over the colony to them. I also wonder why Government is stopping vehicular movement through this lane and thereby creating more traffic congestion all along the area.
In those few days of agitation, people were injured, property was damaged, students were affected and the poor and daily wage earners lost their livelihoods. Shillong was thrown out of gear, above all, creating fear psychosis especially amongst the people residing along that area. The point is whether the NNP-led, MDA Government is really determined to solve the matter or will it follow on the footsteps of its predecessors. Only time will tell!