Can education sector in Garo Hills be revived?

By Biplab Kr Dey

TURA, March 21: Education has always been a chapter in the state which has divided opinions. While many believe that the sector is doing fine, most feel that the time to ensure a wholesome development to the sector in Garo Hills is not only imminent but wholly necessary. The latest belief in the Garo Hills region is that of the latter.
Known for everything else other than education, Garo Hills has over decades of neglect, been completely fending for itself and coming back a cropper. For a base, just look at the annual pass figures for the region since the past 3 decades to understand where the region stands even within the entire state of Meghalaya. The overall pass percentage in the state has actually been dragged down by Garo Hills and by a huge margin
In 2022, the region secured an overall pass percentage of just over 34. This is not only lower than the other parts of the state but almost half of anything other districts have achieved. To say that Garo Hills actually ‘drags’ the overall figure down is an understatement.
So what really ails the region in the education sector?
Firstly infrastructure has been the most prominent issue that needs to be immediately looked at. Schools without buildings, windows, doors, chairs, roofs have been a common feature in all 5 districts of the region.
The next step would be to ensure immediate recruitment in the LP and UP sections of government and government supported schools. It is criminal on the part of the state to deny its youngest residents the right to a wholesome education – something the current government as well as the previous one led by the same combo have done. In some cases for over 3 years and counting.
“There have been many schools without teachers for more than 3 years and some without infrastructure for decades. This has been an ongoing feature of the state of Meghalaya and it is shameful to say the least,” felt Maxbirth Momin, social activist from Tura.
We tried to understand from some senior academicians as to whether there could be a silver lining to the education sector in Garo Hills and this is what some had to say.
For Fr Bivan Mukhim, the sector can definitely be improved but only if there was serious intent shown. Fr Bivan is the principal of the Don Bosco College in Tura and has been keenly following education developments in the region.
“Firstly we need a good education policy. Then we need a good education minister who understands the education scene in the state especially in Garo Hills. To attract students into schools, good infrastructure is an absolute must,” felt Fr Bivan.
He added that teachers needed to be appointed based on their qualification and not on nepotism.
“Regular checks by education officials in all government schools of Garo Hills are a must. There also needs to be incentives and help provided to private schools and for higher education. There is also a need to create skill based education institutions and stress on students to face interviews, review their smartness and open them up to the reality of the world,” he added.
Another senior academician from Garo Hills, who wished to remain unnamed, felt when one spoke of education in Garo Hills, attention was immediately drawn towards the dismal state of primary and secondary education in the region.
“Without going into any kind of witch hunting one must realize that to revamp the state of the education sector is a collective responsibility which ought to be shared by teachers, parents and administrators. Like all other sectors,the education sector too is rooted in logistics and human resource,” felt .
“The dilapidated state of the buildings, which pass off as schools in the rural areas, seem to be crying for an urgent overhaul. Coupled with that is the teacher deficit. If schools continue to run just on the services of a single teacher or two teachers at the most, then education in such schools becomes a tall ask. To improve secondary education, one must improve primary education. It is only a sound foundation right at the onset which will determine how far a child will go,” felt the educationist.
For him, the foremost importance needed to be given to the teacher – student ratio while adding that giving teachers extra duties like census and election not only eats into their work routine but affects their performance as teachers as well.
“Such an opinion may stir a hornet’s nest and earn the administration’s ire, but truth be told, let the teachers teach. With the introduction of the NEP 2020, which will impact both secondary and higher education, it is high time the administrators take a call on this,” felt the educationist from Tura.
For former principal of Tura’s Sherwood School, Tyrone D’Brass, the first step that is required is to set up more B Ed colleges in the state to cater to the thousands of untrained teachers so that they are ready to work with the students for better education.
Further he felt that the state has lagged behind in comparison with Assam which has almost 200 such colleges to cater to the development and education of trained and qualified teachers.
“We just have five in the state and that is not enough. Further there also needs to be a serious discussion on the implementation of the NEP 2020. Personally I feel it will push us back rather than forward. While the focus on local languages is a good thing, English cannot be forsaken as it is universally understood. Every stakeholder, including teachers, scholars, parents, elders and everyone whose ward will be impacted by the NEP needs to have a serious discussion. Of course, firstly the state has to work on a serious basis for the sake of education in the first place,” said D’Brass.
The educationist further had some advice in terms of trained teachers, who he felt needed to evolve with time and this is where the Continuous professional development (CPD) will need to be implemented in heart and soul.
“The state can adopt the AAP model for Delhi schools wherein wholesome changes were made to not only make education in government schools more attractive but also rewarding. Government schools have progressed leaps and bounds through the AAP intervention. A similar approach is required in our state as well,” he felt.
A senior Education department official, who wished to remain anonymous, felt that the focus of the state government has to be on infrastructure first.
“The quality of primary education also needs to be stressed if you want things to change in Garo Hills. There also needs to be more higher secondary schools in the state to cater to students and a reduction in the number of school categories. Regular teacher salaries are also a must and so is also the opening of more degree colleges in the state,” felt the official.
A myopic view of the state of the entire situation in Garo Hills will not help anyone as the entire situation needs a more expanded view. Continuous neglect of the education sector in Garo Hills has left only a few places of education doing extremely well while others struggle to pass.
Unless all acts of the government actually look at education as a means to better understanding and not an act that can politically empower, Garo Hills continue to languish as the unwanted 5th cousin in a state that has been dominated by politicos from Garo Hills.

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