Education is drowning: Who will rescue the sector?

By Batskhem Myrboh

Shillong once prided itself as the educational hub of North East India. Many prominent personalities from different walks of life not only in the region but even in other parts of India had their education in Meghalaya. Thousands of youth from across the region (NER) migrated to the City to acquire knowledge and learning and indirectly contributed towards boosting the local economy. But decades of visionless, directionless, and business-dominated politics produced successive governments that ignored the importance of the education sector as an instrument of human resource and socio-economic development of the state. The criminal neglect and apathy towards education has cost the state immensely in terms of economic and human development. The current educational scenario portrays a system of education that is drowning, and that requires serious attention to address this malaise. Rescue Mission is the need of the hour and hence, the government has to have in place a strong educational machinery manned by the Education Department with an Education Minister who takes rescue work as a mission. What is frightening is if we make mistakes in this election, we will soon reach the stage where it will be near impossible to reverse the condition. One may wonder why I make this value-loaded statement which I will try to address.
Meghalaya has fewer government schools and far too few government colleges. What is more worrying is the quality of these institutions. Barring a few, government institutions are infrastructurally fragile and academically unstimulated and neglected. While the rich do not feel the pinch of this disgraceful condition of the government institutions, the poor are badly hit due to the high cost of education in the private sector. The deplorable condition of the government institutions especially at the primary level in far-flung villages partly explains the high rate of school dropouts which Meghalaya is infamous for and this is particularly true in the case of Garo Hills. Garo Hills till recently was highly dependent on government primary schools. While baby steps are made in infrastructure development; there is no effort to improve the teaching-learning process which should have been the main focus. It appears that successive governments were happy to let these institutions die a natural death paving the way for the privatization and commercialization of education.
The government-aided institutions are the backbone of the education system in the state at all levels. But successive governments have met out a step-motherly treatment to the teaching staff of this category of institutions. Moreover, the government introduced too many kinds of grants in aid systems. One wonders how burdensome it is for the government administration to administer these institutions. Being forced by the apathy of the government, different teachers’ associations launched countless agitations which have spoiled the educational environment in the state by disrupting the regular flow of educational activities in educational institutions. Instead of being warring parties, the government and the teachers’ associations should put their heads together to uplift the educational scenario in the state. But none of the education ministers showed any interest to work together with the teachers towards the common goal.
Private educational institutions grow like wild mushrooms without any proper planning. This problem is compounded by the unplanned extension of financial aid to the management of private educational institutions. But the question is how the aid is extended. Instances are clear indicators that financial aid is never based on logic and reason but on politics and nepotism. This has created a condition where educational institutions are established where not needed thereby leading to the waste of valuable resources. But who cares? Politics is.
The state government allows the private unaided educational institutions to run more or less on a laissez-faire principle. There are no rules/laws to regulate the functioning of these institutions including the teachers’ salaries and fees. While some manage to thrive based on exorbitant fees charged from students, others especially in the rural areas survive mainly because teachers render service with unlivable salaries. What kind of education can we expect when teachers even at the college level are paid a monthly salary of less than ten thousand? Successive state governments with different education ministers belonging to different political parties have failed to implement subsection 2 of section 11 of the Meghalaya School Education Act, 1981 which states, “The scale of pay and allowances and other prescribed benefits of the employees of a recognized private school shall be determined by the State Government by general or special order issued from time to time on this behalf”.
Teachers’ qualifications and training are a grave concern for Meghalaya. It was on September 3, 2001, that the National Council for Teacher Education notified the NCTE (Determination of minimum qualifications for recruitment of teachers in schools) Regulations, 2001. But it seems the Government of Meghalaya paid no attention to these regulations. Schools continued to recruit teachers without having the requisite qualifications. As a measure to fulfill the required norm (HSSLC with 45 per cent along with Diploma of Elementary Education) and to overcome the problem of underqualified teachers in primary schools, the government conducted a special Higher Secondary School Examination in 2015. The examination was conducted as a formality to enable them to pursue the D.El.Ed. The teachers acquired the HSSLC certificate with a second division in the manner the Jews received “manna” from heaven as narrated in the Bible.
Further, the question of under-qualified principals and teachers serving in colleges, especially government colleges remain unattended even today. Many principals and teachers are appointed without possessing the qualifications laid down by the University Grants Commission. This partly explains the decline of higher education in Meghalaya to the extent that none of the colleges are graded in the category of A and above by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) since 2018.
The functioning of the Meghalaya Board of School Education (MBOSE) leaves many people baffled. While the question paper leakage that plagued the Board earlier had been addressed, the concern regarding the quality of textbooks prescribed remains. One wonders whether there is any properly constituted expert committee that decides on the prescription of textbooks. Also, whether those textbooks prescribed have been subjected to scrutiny/review by the experts. Further, the standard of the examination conducted by the MBOSE leaves much to be desired. Examination to a large extent determines the quality of teaching and unless there are examination reforms, the quality of teaching-learning cannot be improved. At present, teaching in Meghalaya is notes dictation centric with little emphasis on experiential and critical learning.
Recruitment is a major issue that beleaguers education. Corruption and nepotism are the order of the day where merit is directly undermined. The state of Meghalaya owes tremendously to those teachers whose actions led to the exposure of the white ink scam in the recruitment of primary school teachers in the recent past. The functioning of the Meghalaya Public Service Commission, it seems is far below expectation and the genesis of this malaise is its non-insulation from politics. The very appointment of members of the Commission itself raises huge questions about its efficiency. Appointments to the commission are mostly based on politics rather than merit. From such an institution what can one expect? Recruitment in government-aided institutions also is not free from nepotism. There is an urgent need to eliminate the scope of nepotism in the recruitment of teachers. A wrong spoils the future of not a few but hundreds or even thousands of students and the damage recruitment continues for decades. No amount of effort to improve education will bear fruit once the quality of teachers is compromised. Nepotistic selection and appointment result in inefficient, poor, irresponsible, and unaccountable work culture.
Due to the lack of proper planning, higher education in the state has an unbalanced growth. Mushrooming of schools requires more teachers. But the state severely lacks adequate growth of B.Ed. colleges. Presently, many students from Meghalaya have to depend on online courses from universities outside the state for their B.Ed. degree. It is a sad state of affairs that even today Meghalaya fails to set up professional, technical and adequate vocational institutions.
The sad state of affairs of education has impacted the quality of students. This is revealed by the unsatisfactory performance of Meghalaya’s students in the national level examinations and competitions. A recent example is the student’s performance in the Central University Entrance Test for post-graduation admission in the central universities. If North Eastern Hill University decides to discontinue the extra weightage given to local students during admission, I fear that they may be deprived of admission and the campus will be flooded by students from outside the state. Further, I fear that the hurried establishment of the state university without proper planning aimed at by-passing the CUET will not serve any purpose. Rather, the step taken by the Conrad government may lead to a spiraling decline of higher education.
Who will save education from completely drowning? Experiences have shown that money influenced, constituency and MLA schemes-oriented voters who elect business-politicians, constituency and MLA schemes-oriented representatives are incapable and unwilling to offer any solution. This category of voters and representatives is without a vision and mission for the general welfare except for themselves. Time will tell whether voters in the 2023 election have become wiser to change our future for the better or remain the same or become worse where the problem will be pushed further up to a point of no return the education system that we prided ourselves on.
(The author is Assistant Professor, Political Science, Synod College and former General Secretary, Meghalaya College Teachers’ Association).

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