By Rahul Chatterjee
Every year after the SSLC results of MBOSE are declared, there is a sudden spurt in the concern for the state of affairs in schools of Meghalaya and particularly those in the Garo Hills region. While I agree there is cause for concern, my dismay is about the pace at which the concern dies out and business returns to normal. Time and again the lack of basic infrastructure in schools in Garo Hills and the state in general has been highlighted as one of the major causes behind the dismal results in Garo Hills particularly. It is true that if a child does not feel the motivation to go to school diligently every day, then nothing else will work.
Among several measures that need to be taken to motivate a child to attend school in preference to anything else, one measure certainly is a good happy-looking spacious school building, with enough space not only for conducting classes comfortably but also for sports, the arts, creative pursuits in science and basically an environment where dreams can take shape and be nurtured. The special place that school life has in each of our hearts can never be overemphasized. The years spent in school upto age 18+ are the formative years of any child where the seeds for the future are sowed. A botched up schooling life has a long-term effect, and in many cases a permanent negative impact on the future success of the children passing out of such schools. Of course, there are more ways than a school building to botch up school education. But let’s look at basic infrastructure first.
Through the Asian Development Bank (ADB) project “Supporting Human Capital Development”, a little more than a hundred schools in Meghalaya got a modern, spacious building along with classroom furniture, smart-class equipment, science laboratory, library facilities and the most important drinking water and toilets particularly for girls, with access for CWDs. There are close to a thousand secondary schools in Meghalaya, more than half of which are government-aided private schools where 71 per cent of the state’s students are enrolled. Most are from poor tribal families. So, attending to just over one hundred schools through the ADB project is like a drop in the ocean, but certainly a much appreciated effort. This project needs to be replicated across the state on a war footing with utmost urgency, and there is nothing new in this suggestion.
My concern is also about the administration and the faculty who are meant to turn cold empty buildings into places where children can learn with fun, without fear; places which attract the children more than wide open spaces and the myriad sounds of forests or angling or simply whiling away one’s time. It is extremely unfortunate that COVID came just after a large number of teachers of Meghalaya were trained in the best practices from across the world, and at a time when they were all ready to implement their new skills in their respective classrooms. The lockdown for two consecutive years and the lack of opportunity to implement the learnings has certainly resulted in the training getting a lot jaded. While crores were spent on training teachers, the desired output from the same could not be derived. Of course, there were those exceptional teachers who adapted themselves to the new situation and continued to be as effective as possible. A short quick recapitulation of the training and standardization of practices across schools, I feel, would go some way in improving the scenario in Meghalaya.
Is that all? No, certainly not! The all important “School Climate” and “Classroom Climate” are two facets of the same coin that play a huge role in enticing students to attend school. If children don’t want to come to school because studies happen in schools, which are boring in their eyes, then we should bring them to school through the lure of games and sports, art, music, anything. Just make them come to school. Unless they come to school, teachers don’t get the opportunity to influence them. It is an established fact and there are several studies that have found learning to be more effective when it is fun for children. This is where the skill of the teacher comes in. While some are naturally gifted and inclined towards making every class special, it is a skill that can be learnt, and has to be learnt. There are also those situations where children are afraid to go to school. The climate isn’t conducive. Is this the place where the problem lies?
It certainly is a sticky topic to talk about. I feel the easy way out of this is to provide a golden handshake to remove those teachers who no longer find the spark in teaching. Unless the system is cleaned and unless fresh life is breathed into these institutions, no amount of training or infrastructure will help. We need an army of dedicated, motivated, skilled teachers who will look after the interests of education in the state and who in turn will be looked after by the government. If a dignified exit is provided to all those who don’t feel the motivation anymore or are physically incapable to take on the rigours, then both politically and socially there will be no repercussions. In fact, it will become an opportunity to revamp the entire education system. But care must be taken to ensure a good deal to those who opt for the provision. In the long run, it will certainly be profitable for the cause of education and for the government, financially and politically.
While this sounds like only the faculty were to be blamed, the school administration cannot be exonerated. In some cases, bad decisions, inflated egos, high-handedness, flagrant disregard to existing rules of Government of Meghalaya have resulted in demoralising large sections of the dedicated faculty, many of whom are too old to secure any other job. Streamlining administrations of schools to make them effective, while adhering to existing rules will go a long way in boosting the morale of a large section of teachers. While giving approval to names of members of SMCs, care must be taken to ensure that such members can bring value to the school. In light of the impending implementation of the New Education Policy, the role and structure of SMCs is well defined.
Another area of concern is the regular non-payment of salary to teachers. This has a very profound negative impact on the performance of teachers. When teachers don’t get paid for as much as three months at a stretch, the mental stress and agony, the despondency that one goes through can only be felt by one who goes through it. If results are expected from teachers, there must be accountability from the other side as well.
There is plenty of room for improvement as far as education in Meghalaya is concerned. The need of the hour is pragmatism, practicality and a burning desire to change the scenario for the better and to change it fast. Every life that is untouched by quality education, is a life lost from the elite workforce of the future and what is painful is, it adds to a life wasted, for which we as the adult population will be held accountable by posterity