Wake Up Education Minister: The Alarm is Ringing

By PR Lyngdoh (A Crying Teacher)

The unsavoury and unsympathetic attitude of the education department to the sad plight of teachers in our state has played out in the happenings of the last few months. Almost every day there are news items, editorials and social media posts about the pathetic state of education in the state. Even though a bright spotlight is shining on the Department it is unable to see the mess that it is in. This situation does not bode well for the education of our children. That the school education system in Meghalaya is the worst in the country is undeniable. If this generation is lost because of poor education, our grandchildren will be no better off. There is no point in blaming the previous government. No doubt, many systemic problems are long-standing but this government has had almost five years to set things right. Instead, the downslide continues.

The PIE Index
The Performance, Infrastructure and Equity (PIE) Index, published in July 2022, reflects both outcomes and processes pertaining to school education in India. It is built on the foundation of earlier indices from UNDP, UNESCO, and NITI Aayog. Data was drawn from the National Achievement Survey (NAS) 2021 conducted by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), and 2021 statistics prepared by the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA). These are authentic data sources, which the Education Minister cannot dismiss or deny.
Apart from learning outcomes, the PIE Index reflects the state of school infrastructure: electricity, water, computers, toilets, library and medical checkups. It also reflects the differences in academic performance based on social factors, such as gender. The full report can be accessed at https://www.orfonline.org/research/pie-index-2020-21/.
Overall, Meghalaya ranked lowest in the country. In fact, it is the lone occupant of the Level 5, the bottom category. All other states are in higher categories. Meghalaya ranked lowest in Mathematics and English and in infrastructure (including computers). Sikkim and Manipur were the highest in the Northeast. The PIE results are not surprising as they reflect similar results from The School Education Quality Index (SEQI) of NITI Aayog.

Not much needs to be said about the sad state of MBOSE. The low pass rate, the dearth of science schools, the substandard textbooks, the abysmal facilities, and the dismal state of teacher training have been time and again brought up in the media. NCERT has provided recommendations for the approaches to schooling of tribal students, but little has been heeded. The poor quality of school education is one of the prime reasons for the high dropout rate. MBOSE needs a complete overhaul.
The SSLC pass percentage of 57% is among the lowest in the country. Compare this with Kerala 99%, Jharkhand 96%, Sikkim 94%, Karnataka 86%, and Manipur 76%. According to the Unified District Information System for Education Plus for 2019-20. Tripura, Sikkim, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Madhya Pradesh, Assam have more than 25% dropout.
What happens to these vast numbers of failed students. After studying for 10 years, they are rudely shunted out of the system. Some repeat, most of them fail again. They fall into the cracks of society: labeled as failures or dropouts, doomed to a life of unemployment, poverty, drugs, militancy or vagrancy. Is there no alternative education for them? The newly announced National Higher Education Qualifications Framework provides the opportunity for new strategies, but our Department of Education is completely bereft of ideas.

Higher education
Up to now, the Meghalaya Private Universities Regulatory Board has been a silent spectator to higher education, disoriented and lost in the rapidly changing landscape of higher education. The MPURB Act 2019, is an ill-devised and self-restrictive document. It exists merely to regulate private universities and has no constructive or supportive role for higher education.
There are no imaginative clauses in the Act and most of it is a fallback to UGC regulations. The creation of the MPURB seemed like a knee jerk response to the CMJ University scandal, and its main job seems to be about preventing such scams. Meghalaya was one of the early states to promote private universities, and could have been a leader in this sector. An opportunity to create a body that would shepherd and guide the young private universities was lost.
The Meghalaya State Education Policy 2018, though a brief document has some noteworthy provisions. Perhaps the MPURB could use these provisions to carve out a useful place for itself. Though the policy envisages the creation of a State Higher Education Council (SHEC), this body has not materialized. Several roles have been assigned to the SHEC which the MPURB could take up. One is the intention to compile data on higher education in the state for the purpose of creating a ‘sound perspective plan’. A second provision is to “come up with a framework for the promotion and enhancement of standards of research”. Another provision is to “design and offer need-based leadership programs” for administrators and faculty.
A proactive MPURB could bring the private universities together through seminars and workshops to promote and enhance higher education. There are many ready-made topics for these conclaves: NEP 2020, SDGs and education, online and blended learning, and marketing higher education to the region and neighbouring countries. Perhaps the new committee could begin a new page.

Private education
The private sector provides a significant portion of education at all levels in the state. Many private institutions have a long record of high-quality education that draws students from all over the region. Some of the newer private universities have already contributed to the expansion of higher education in the state by innovative courses and strategies and are drawing students from neighbouring states and countries. Without these private players, education in the state would be an arid desert. These institutions deserve to be supported and nurtured, rather than criticized. They could bring pride and prestige to the state. The State Education Policy provides for public-private partnerships in higher education presumably to attract investors and to expand existing institutions, and here lies another opportunity for progress.

Empathy and compassion are needed
The cold and uncaring manner are daggers of discouragement for the teachers. Comments on social media from responsible citizens are spreading. One post says, “Attn: Education Minister…Sad state of affairs…my heart cries out…is this what we want… teachers to the streets…exposed to the elements?”. One response was, “Heartbroken to see teachers facing this crisis. May God be with you in this time of hardness.”
Compare this with the recent story of the Manipur minister, Thongam B. Singh. He saw a picture of an eight-year old Tamenglong school-girl cradling her two-year old brother in the classroom of Dailong Primary School, because there was no one at home to babysit her brother. He visited the family, and promised to pay the girl’s educational and hostel expenses till she graduates. She is already admitted in one of the best schools in Imphal. The girl and the minister have won many hearts and she has promised to study hard.

Rather than making an effort for partnership with educational institutions, the Education Department takes an adversarial attitude. A case in point is the recent protest at the Secretariat by teachers. In an effort to appear firm, the Education Minister donned the role of Home Minister, made threats, further exacerbating the situation and it was only the diplomatic interventions by the Deputy Chief Minister and the Chief Minister that eased the tension.
Perhaps something can yet be salvaged. Firstly, reach out to experts by convening advisory panels, and holding consultations. These conclaves must include stakeholders in education, experts from the private institutions and truly motivated individuals, rather than bringing in outside consultants, retired bureaucrats or academicians only from the public sector. These discourses must yield a gap review, a needs analysis and blueprint for action. Secondly, set up a body composed of local stakeholders and neutral experts who will monitor the progress of education in the State based on measurable indicators and who will continue to guide the Education Department towards the fulfillment of stated outcomes.
There needs to be a mindset of partnership with institutions, teachers and parents for the development of good education in our State, rather than being at loggerheads with all stakeholders. If all work in tandem, surely brighter days can lie ahead.