Blank Boards and a Bleak Future

In a longstanding quest to be heard and honoured, grievances of teachers have not been alleviated, yet they march on, in a pursuit for their rights and dignity, writes Esha Chaudhuri

By Esha Chaudhuri

As every year, September 5th is marked as a day commemorating those who impart knowledge and mould personalities of younglings in schools and institutions. This year too, the day is here. However, not all is agreeable at ground zero, as a section of teachers have been agitating for dignity and respect for their rightful salaries which has been met with deaf ears by the government. 

In light of the political backdrop, Sunday Shillong asks whither its teachers? Not in the classrooms, certainly. Most have taken to the streets day and night, relentlessly agitating for their share of justice. Taking cognisance of the solemn state of affairs, Sunday Shillong engages with those who have been treading this course of resistance.

A blot

On the joyous annual observation of Teachers’ Day, a series of mixed reactions by teachers from the various groups comprising Federation of All School Teachers of Meghalaya (FASTOM), Meghalaya Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan School Association (MSSASA) and deficit teachers association surfaces. An otherwise celebratory day, now seems muffled by the ongoing protests.

On the occasion of teachers’ day, Asst. Lecturer and Spokesperson, FASTOM, Mayborn Lyngdoh R comments, “Personally, I feel Teachers’ Day is  a wide context as it’s not just about academics, but about people who choose to make a difference to build a sustainable better future.”

Refocusing attention on the apathy of the government, Lyngdoh adds, “We see the government spending crores in festivals abroad without revenue while pushing the builders of human capital to the brink of breakdown, only shows how materialistic and blinded the ministers are with greed.”

Presenting two sides to the occasion, Joint Secretary, FASTOM, Devinia Syiem surmises, “The meaning of Teachers’ Day has not changed for me when I look at my students. They have always continued to shower their love and gratitude to us. I feel blessed and proud to be a part of this community. On the other hand, when I look at the government’s attitude towards teachers in our state I feel that we are applauded only on this day in the whole year.”

Echoing Syiem’s point of view, General Secretary, FASTOM, Andrew Lyngkhoi reiterates, “Celebrating Teacher’s day is a happy occasion to some and a sad reminder to many when teachers are neglected for their services.”

Lyngkhoi furthers the state of affairs of the profession by stating, “Teaching as a profession in our state is considered a lowly one where teachers are paid the lowest regardless of any category or degree they hold. Teachers are remembered by the state government only on teacher’s day, census records and election duties. Unless education is taken seriously by the government the celebration has no meaning to the teachers because failure of the government in educational planning is the failure of the students and the entire state as a whole.”

Expressing his standpoint, President of All Meghalaya SSA School Teachers’ Association, Lasforious Marngar adds, “For me, as a teacher I do not feel much about the day’s celebrations because it is the government’s failure to fulfill our dues on time, and the enhancement of salaries.”

Struggles 

Disgruntled teachers with their impending salaries have persisted for days and months on the streets hoping for a door of mercy to open up for them. This has had a bearing on their personal, emotional and mental spaces leading up to an agonising situation.

Disappointed with the absence of fair play, Lyngkhoi says, “During our protests we faced many challenges but to give details of every challenge is quite impossible. These challenges arise because of the adamant nature of the government where nothing was resolved for many months. We were compelled to take drastic steps like spending sleepless nights on the streets and facing threats from the government itself.”

Laying emphasis on inner resilience, Lyngdoh comments, “We knew that we were up against a mighty stubborn government, and we were prepared physically and mentally. The biggest challenge however was more of an internal battle to convince oneself and the fellow teachers not to lose hope, be patient, and to trust the process and have faith in the Almighty.”

On behalf of the teaching community, Syiem says, “One of the biggest challenges during the protests is that at times we tend to lose hope and convince our fellow teachers otherwise.”

Arduous journey 

Sunday Shillong delves into the journey of resistance undertaken by the bravehearts, who have been persistent in pressuring the government to hear their pleas. In the midst of it, they (the protesting teachers) and their personal lives have taken a backseat. 

Elaborating on the roles of persevering teachers Lyngdoh says, “We started our protest after the Boards Examinations. We had a sit-in demonstration outside of the MBOSE Office for a month. To not lose track of our students, we had 5 teachers on rotation every single day. We the leaders were evaluating papers at MBOSE, Shillong. This paved the way for us to be able to monitor everything without losing track.”

“The battle we had with the government actually made us better human beings and better teachers. We were out there on the streets, teaching the kids to stand up for one’s rights practically and not just in theory. We learned patience, compassion, love, respect and how to be kind in the worst possible circumstances.” adds, Lyngdoh.

Syiem, who has been a teacher at St. Anthony’s Higher Secondary School, Pynursula, remarks, “Our continued resistance would not have lasted had it not been for the sacrifices that our fellow teachers, who have left their families to be with us on the streets thus neglecting their duties towards their children.” 

She adds, “Seeing the cooperation of our fellow teachers in the fight for our rights gives me hope to go on even in the worst circumstances. I am overwhelmed to see all the love and support that people showered on us through their contributions and by visiting us. I am ever grateful to this society for acknowledging our fight.”

Commenting on the perception of teachers, Lyngkhoi says, “The continued resistance has greatly affected the teachers’ image and education in Meghalaya. It has affected us both mentally and physically. Especially those teachers who have been absent from home and away from their children and the overall health being another, because of our irregular diet and the sleepless nights.”

A bleak Future?

While the discomposure persists and piecemeal assurances are yet to be secured, the dilemma leaves teachers in despair regarding the future of education in the state.

Lyngdoh comments, “Meghalaya is turning into a corporate state. As a teacher, I am scared to even fathom the future.” 

Syiem says, “The government’s lack of reciprocity only shows that they are not interested in the future of the state. They say teachers are the backbone of society, but if this is how you treat your backbone it would break and collapse. If these problems are not addressed, teachers in Meghalaya will continue to take to the streets in the fight for their rights which perhaps happens only in Meghalaya.”

Lyngkhoi remarks, “Assessing from the adamant nature and delayed examinations of the state government it seems like they have no interest at all in improving education in the state. If this attitude lingers, the teachers and the students will share the same burden – teachers at present and students in the future. However, the students are the worst to suffer, they are becoming the victims of fate, the most deprived in the long run. There is no denial to the fact that education in Meghalaya has deteriorated in quality.”

As Sidney Hook once said, “Everyone who remembers his own education remembers teachers, not methods and techniques. The teacher is the heart of the educational system.”

In a bid for dignity and respect, much is lost – a profession’s pride coupled with jeopardising a whole generation’s future. Whose gain lies in this?

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