Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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Manipur Needs to Revitalise its Schools and Here are Some Ways to do This

Screen shot of a news item by UNI

Now picture this: 11 AM, Sept.1, 2020… Under a grand colourful banner declaring re-opening of schools … a beaming Chief Guest delivers an eloquent speech in the company of VIPs, local dignitaries, government officials and a battery of media … About 5 km away in a big private school one student coughs, has a breathing problem and slumps in the class-room! In a flash everyone disappears, with mothers and fathers fleeing with their frightened wards. Some brave teachers would…

Within an hour all schools, offices, shops and entire bazaars in the whole of Manipur get closed down!

The blaming game starts. Scapegoats are sought! Critical Analysis of what happened would be aired that evening itself!

Parents would not dare send their children to school again …And they’d swear to never again pay school fees!  So-

Manipur And Its School Education: The Coronavirus/Lockdown Effect: A Time For All Schools, Both Government And Private, To Put Their Shoulders To The Wheel And Work Together!

That is a long title! But hear me out… even though you must be ready for a heavy dose of criticism, mainly directed at State Government Schools, for what this writer thinks is one of the main reasons for (a) private schools to come into existence, and (b) for their inability to do full justice to the potential that the spirit of private enterprise usually comes with, though it more often than not, comes at a price!

[This writer will resort to a listing system for getting the message across!]…

  1. The providers of school education in Manipur may be divided into Government (State) and Private (including Missionary schools).
  2. Anyone who has seriously looked at School education in Manipur has to admit that there is a severely shocking and extremely poor RETURN ON INVESTMENT (ROI)…vis-a-vis government schools! This needs to be addressed immediately!

[Here I truly wish the Government would have the courage to publish the number of schools it runs, the number of teachers it employs and its monthly salary bill, leaving aside all other expenditures! One sincerely requests the state government to put this information in the public domain!]

This writer is of the opinion that the trouble is…the State – and its people – have been simply sweeping this absolutely serious matter of massive-bordering-on-the- criminal-expenditure under the carpet for far too long. Whereas, Manipur cannot afford this colossal waste of scarce resources!

  1. The onus of addressing the horrible ROI – the biggest challenge facing Education in Manipur – is entirely in the hands of the State Government!
  2. If … and once and for all…the State Government takes up this challenge on a war footing, then our poor State shall – at one stroke – save hundreds and hundreds of crores of rupees every single month …money badly needed by a cash-strapped state like ours!
  3. This ‘one’ stroke if … and only if … thought out carefully and implemented magnanimously … (perhaps, as a NO- EGO-PPP, as is going to be suggested below by this writer) … this ‘one’ stroke could lead the way to a resurgent, splendid and great Manipur!
  4. Mind you if the government cannot tackle and sort out this issue honestly and efficiently, then the government should seriously – very seriously – consider closing all government schools in Manipur…and simply have a very very non-lucrative Department of Improving Private Schools, Manipur/DIPSM!
  5. One possible alternative is to order the closing down all private schools in a time-bound manner … say all within the next 2-3 years. During this ‘closing down period’ the ‘born again government’ institutions should work like mad to make all government schools work well enough to provide parent-and-student-satisfying education. The ‘born again’ government schools would then somewhat justify the crores and crores spent on them every month! …And for a better ROI!
  6. However, Nos.6 & 7 above, are, among others, politically incorrect, and most unlikely to happen! In such a situation, something entirely different and not ever thought of before, has to be thought of and made to work for the sake of (here) Manipur’s school education!
  7. Whatever and howsoever, the bitter pill all Manipurians have to acknowledge and swallow is that under any circumstance, the State Government will be unable to meet the colossal challenges in managing Manipur’s school education…more so as brought to the forefront by the current Corona pandemic and its Lockdowns.
  8. However, if the Government – through some obstinate, proud and powerful individuals – think they can meet the challenges successfully, then it will be a case of delusions of grandeur and utter insincerity. Because their decades old track records say they cannot manage at all!
  9. At this juncture, this writer states plainly to all Manipurians, that, sadly, there is no love lost between the two entities – Government and Privates – who, ironically, are doing the same job, using the same tools and systems to deliver the same goods … namely ‘school education’! It, however, is of great significance that their respective ROIs have frighteningly contrasting results! This is something one should not gloat over and the other should not rub it in! Instead Corona says: Put your differences aside and come work together…be part of the solution, not be the problem!
  10. This is not to say that this writer – who himself co-founded and runs a small private school in Churachandpur, in memory of his mother – thinks the private schools of Manipur are good enough to provide all-round and the ideal school education that the State desperately needs! Far from it. But given the situation Manipur has landed itself in…they were the only alternative! (And cannot be ignored, as has been the case for over half a century!)
  11. Having said that, the significant truth is that 98% plus of the private schools are just doing the job of the non-functioning (okay, this writer will even use the word ‘failed’) government schools!
  12. Further, the privates – in general – are constrained by un-ending problems and issues that make them just stick to providing the basics of education …the basics that are not too costly to manage!
  13. Let me expand on Nos. 13 & 14, above:
    • By and large, private schools came into existence in the state capital/Imphal simply because, even the best of the government schools in Imphal town, could not cater to the growing ‘educational’ aspirations of the people of Imphal!
    • In rural areas of the Valley (Imphal Valley) and in the Hills of Manipur … private schools came into being to simply replace and make up for the non-functioning ‘failed’ government schools!
    • In many ways – this simple ‘replacement origin’ – itself sealed the fate of the private enterprise right from the start. This is to say that the poor populace – more so in the villages – could not pay the monthly tuition fees that a private enterprise must need to grow with the times. Further, even today, private schools are poor in the villages and hills of Manipur!
    • This is not to say that private schools in Imphal Valley or the Hill District HQs/important towns in the hills are all poor! The truth is that there are some private schools – say about 10-15% of them – that are well-established and well-off. However, the majority – say about 50-60% of all private schools – though long-established are not rich rich! They do not – as many critics tend to believe – laugh all the way to the bank! It is just that they are well-managed and look prosperous because they – long ago – learnt the difficult art of stretching a rupee to unimaginable lengths!
    • It is not an untruth to say that anywhere between 30-40% of all private schools in Manipur just about make ends meet…with some among them in dire straits…especially in rural Imphal Valley and, definitely, in the remote areas of the Hills!
    • Now, a painful and disgraceful truth about private schools is that they can exist only because their teachers are paid poorly! This writer will go to the extent of saying that private school teachers are made to be exploited! Repeat: made to be exploited!
  14. On ‘MADE TO BE EXPLOITED’:

First, private schools charge monthly tuition fees of anything between 200/- to 2000/- per month! … all depending on where the school is located… and as a consequence of physical location, the salary of a teacher will range from as low as 1,000/-pm to 15,000/- per month (generally speaking…ie Not taking into account any seniority).  Repeat, the location of the school decides the pay range too!

Second, the reasons for measly salaries are too obvious and need not be elaborated…except to say that …in spite of utterly poor salaries the private schools, private teachers and the private management try their level best to provide that which the government schools and government teachers miserably fail to provide. This is where the tragedy lies ie.  govt. Schools have a very poor work culture, even though their teachers are handsomely paid… compared to their hard working/ exploited private counterparts! [Here, this writer admits that even government salaries are not paid regularly… oftentimes paid 2-3 times only in a year! But they are paid, eventually…whether they teach..do not have students..or do not have buildings..hence there are thousands of ‘teacherless schools’‼!]

Third, to cut a long story short, and believe it or not… private school education is the cheapest, probably in the whole world! Let this be explained like this: If a private school charges 1000/- as monthly tuition fee, that works out to about 33/- per day! That is why this writer is emboldened to say: Private school education is the cheapest in the world! Because, for 33/-a day a-fee- paying parent can, today, have 2 cups of tea and two puris (but no paan!) per day‼! That is how low cost …how cheap private school education in Manipur is! Society should, therefore, realise that for their 2 teas and 2 puris one child is being ‘educated’! And that from a collection of 2 teas and 2 puris their child’s teacher is being paid her/his monthly salary! Is it fair to put the onus of paying salaries solely onto the private management?!?

Fourth, on the other hand, government school education in Manipur is terribly expensive, probably one of the most expensive in the whole world! For instance, a 20-year old government school in the Hills, now has lean-to sheds ready to fall as classrooms …or have newly and hurriedly constructed structures that everyone knows will not last two monsoons! Many critics have been saying that government schools are either a ‘student-less, teacher-full’ school…or is ‘student-less, teacher-less’ …or is a ‘student-less, teacher-full building-less’ school! Or, anyway appoint them for ‘teacher-less schools’! Schools where, mind you, mid-day meals/ MDMs are served once in a blue moon! It is significant and ominous to note that MDMs are provided to government school students…even though the majority of students, say in a village, attend the struggling private school in the village!

Fifth, let us stop this tirade against government schools, before too many skeletons fall off every almirah and every shelf, or even falling walls‼…Because there are many government schools in remote areas (remote can even mean just off the main road, 25 km from the heart of Imphal…or 05 kilometres from a hill district HQ …or located in a village you can only reach by walking for a day and a-half over two ranges and across two hill streams‼!) …

Let us start the sentence again to accommodate one more skeleton: There are just too many government schools where the so-called teachers are substitute teachers, probably arranged by the chief and headmasters in the know of officials who-do-not-know (‼) These substitutes are paid a pittance…about 1/10th or 2/10ths of what the actually appointed one draws as salary per month! All these convoluted arrangements are made so that the one appointed (who this writer refuses to call a “teacher” though appointed as one) can live elsewhere and do whatever she/he wants to do!

So, sixth…as the past decades, especially from mid-60s have proven, without an iota of doubt, private school students have been performing far far better than government school students! This has resulted in a defensive government that tends to take to offensive tactics, at every given opportunity, when dealing with private schools! Perhaps, believing that offense is the best form of defence!

Conversely, private schools have taken so much pride in their decades-long continued ‘successes’/ supremacy that they tend to look down upon government efforts in school education! So, there exists…nay…persists a love-hate relationship…nay a situation that is deplorable and shameful on all stakeholders!

Seven, therefore, this is what we have: Instead of any positive relationship we have something terribly sad and shameful! All adding up to something extremely bad for education in Manipur! How bad the situation is …is being brought to the fore by Covid-19! How urgent and imperative it is for the involved parties – here simply put as the Government and the Privates – to put their shoulders to the wheel… TOGETHER…and UNITEDLY OVERCOME…OR FALL DIVIDED! At this stage, if Manipur does not put the past behind and re-start everything to do with school education … Manipur will lose a golden opportunity that Coronavirus and Lockdowns have forced upon us! This writer uses the strong word – forced – because the pandemic and its lockdowns are to be taken seriously….very seriously by all stake-holders, especially the managers of the school system (both governmental and private) and the students and parents…ie the whole of Manipurian society.

  1. GROUND REALITY AND OUT-OF-THE- BOX SUGGESTIONS: Most importantly, the ground reality today demands out-of-the-box thinking. Simply because our usual way of thinking will not get us anywhere. We have start from scratch… on a clean new slate!

But, first, what makes up the ground reality?

  • Coronavirus/Covid 19 is not going to go away that easily. My take is that worse is yet to come! Especially, as a scientist classmate, informed that: The weight of one SARS Cov-2 (Covid 19) virus is of the order of ato grams (10^-18g), which means that all the viruses infecting all the people in the world weigh around 1 gram only! 1 gram of virus has brought all humans on earth to their knees!

Yes, less than a gram of this virus has knocked the living daylights out of us! And continues to scare us! In fact, it would have been easier to deal with nuclear bombs exploding, machine-guns firing the whole day and jet fighters screaming overhead as tanks bulldoze the countryside!

  • Social distancing, washing our hands with soap, wearing masks and so on must become habits we follow without further thinking!
  • Lockdowns … containment areas and strict policing are going to be administrative measures we have to get used to! Now, finally, an old slogan must come to life: ‘Discipline Makes a Nation Great’! Perhaps ‘great’ means: Making a Nation, a People Live!

There seems to be no other way…even if we might rejoice when vaccines are available!

(iv) The real reality is that too few of us are trained to deal with the pandemic… Hence the tendency is to react in panic!

Second-OUT OF THE BOX, AN OVERVIEW:

(a) One of the essentials of ‘Out of the Box’ is that all activities that humans have gotten used to – from education (say ‘schooling’) to office going to employment (or engaging in livelihood activities, like farming, working in factories or hotels or travel/tourism) or trade and commerce, or the performing arts or entertainment/ acting, modelling or sports, or ….. all activities have to be fitted strictly into a 5-day week! Briefly, man has to live and work passionately, madly Monday to Friday and be on total lockdown Saturday and Sunday. Two full days of lockdown for quality family time, or individual leisure and battery re-charging! No road-travel, no railways, no flying, no catering, no picnicking, no golfing or surfing, no fishing or hunting … NOTHING for two days … and the Himalayas shall be seen clearly from beyond Jullundar, our rivers cleaner and clearer, air pollution history and birds, bees, deer, foxes and dolphins and turtles will slowly but surely come to share space with man… Glaciers, lakes, seas, oceans, meadows and forests will prove themselves as nature’s beauteous handiwork, and so on and so forth … as it ought to be!

(b) With less cash flow economists would have to re-look and redefine what wealth is, what progress and development are … some things that shall compel economists to un-learn to learn! They must come up with something that is not gauged by ‘more and more’, as in the old economy! What they come out with would, at last, actually make Dignity of Labour a noble and rewarding service!

(c) Naturally the essential services would be spared their overwork and over-time burdens. In fact, soldiers, police/traffic cops, fire-fighters, health-workers/nursesand doctors and waste-managers would have real shifts/rosters that would enable them also to enjoy quality-family-life-and-times …

SUGGESTIONS FOR MANIPUR’S NEW SCHOOLING, 2020 PLUS

[1] NEED FOR ‘NO-EGO-PPP’/NEP: Unlike past announcements of PPP, this time round the Public-Private-Partnership must be where ego does not come in as spanners in the work, and spoil everything! This time round all must be equal partners ie. No Ego Partnerships-2020, here shortened to NEP-2020!

Importantly, the focus is on egoism…in that, there shall be no room for ego in the providing of education!

There are strong reasons for ‘no ego’! The Minister, Commissioner and officials of the Department of Education should realise they are ‘heading’ a wasteful Department with no ROI…that they should have been shutdown long long ago had there been any accountability! Hence, they have to join as humble partners. Likewise, the Headmaster/HM (or promoter) of a highly successful 2000 plus enrolment High School should not feel more important than a remote-village HM struggling to look after 200 students … nor the Head of a big, pretty successful government H/S feel superior to a private school HM…because, in spite of huge pay packets, their actual ROI is akin to robbing the state exchequer blind!

And so on to parents of many private-school-going- children…many of whom are themselves non-performimg government school teachers … or has a son or daughter not going to their place of posting by paying a pittance to a substitute … Or or and or… Now these parents should realise their saying they do not want to OR they cannot pay fees to their ward’s private school because schools are closed and life is difficult in these Covid times! They know fully well that private schools depend entirely on tuition fees for paying the salaries of their teachers! They do not seem to realise that the tuition fees they do not feel like paying works out to 2 teas and 2 puris a day! What is worse is they keep mum about government schools and teachers who do not teach, who send substitutes… do not have enough students in their building-less schools…and yet get good salaries for no work! [Are not consciences pricked?!]

Whatever, and in short, all of them have to humbly come together, to serve the people of the State by burying their hatchets and their egos and simply respect each other to work for the greater good!

[2] Covid tells us… share …share… share! That must be the new mantra and thus earn the respect of each other and all others!

The first ‘sharing’ is to do with salaries! This writer proposes what most government servants would find preposterous and objectionable. But listen: there was never a pandemic like now! Covid pressurises the implementation of NEP-2020! It pressurizes all government teachers, staff and officials of the Education Department that from now on they are morally bound to pay what they owe to the private sector…a sector that has been doing their work for more than half a century! It is time for them to follow the Sikh response in times like this: Aajkal DENA ka samay hein, LENA ka nahin!

This writer proposes that a sum of Rs.5000/- to 10,000/- be ‘contributed’ every month by the said government teaching and non-teaching staff towards a corpus fund (or a kitty) that would go towards meeting the salaries of private school teaching and non-teaching staff! The details simply need to be worked out! [(1) With this ‘moral fund’ the government cannot say they do not have the money to ‘fund’ such payment. (2) With this private school parents can pay 50% of tuition fees without batting an eyelid…because their child’s private school and its teachers have been trying out some form, or the other, of ‘on-line’ classes, though fraught with difficulties! And so on…

The second ‘sharing’ is to do with classrooms! Simply put, social distancing necessitates that a normal classroom that once accommodated 40-50-60 jam-packed students during pre-Covid days, can now hold 10-15-20 students at the most! Thus the need to ‘share’ classrooms…no doubt requiring massive planning! But then social distancing is one of our only protections!

The third ‘sharing’ is to do with the teaching community who have to rise to the occasion and put all differences – and difficulties – aside for the common good! The combined strength of government and private teachers is needed to meet the number of classrooms being used ..because every classroom used has to have its teachers coming and going with every sounding of the school bell, as per routine! (Note: Now it is number of classrooms used, and no longer number of students jam-packed in a room. Covid does change things!)

The fourth ‘sharing’ is to do with administrative ‘powers’, distribution of workload (read that as the number of classes to be taken by a teacher)…and such other ego hurting and energy-patience straining situations that are bound to rise. For this, again, humility, respecting others and plain and simple sincerity (read that as transparency) are primary and fundamental. Significantly, our little world of Manipur is to be conditioned by Covid has to be in control…there being no room for selfishness and arrogance at all!

The fifth ‘sharing’ is to do with commitment to and involvement in a common vision. There will be unexpected and expected challenges and difficulties which all Manipur has to face and overcome. Critics and detractors will abound, but the stakeholders must have a dream..a vision..

Manipur must rally behind: We shall overcome!

The hope is that with ‘sharing’ (there will be others) the teacher-student ratio would probably be in the region of 1: 7-10! This extremely good and favourable ratio would surely help Manipur achieve that ever-elusive quality education and help make up for lost time!

[3] The other imperatives: There are many other highly important issues that need to be discussed and planned for. Some are mentioned very briefly below-

(i) To start with the concentration should be on classes IX and X initially because the sheer logistics of it all needs time. Initially concentrating on IX & X would give the PPP of NEP-2020 some time to work out the intricacies of ‘sharing’ …

Then, about 2 months later when things are settling into a rhythm …classes VI, VII and VIII could join IX & X.

(ii) The dilemma of classes below VI could be solved by: No more formal schooling for them in 2020.  Promote all!

(iii) Some schools are carrying out a Mapping Exercise to see the possibilities of the child’s own teachers trying a form of Home tuition with the aim of ‘keeping in touch’ with one’s own students, and at the same time, preparing the parents for Home Schooling!

(iv) The myth of ‘on-line’ may be resolved by the government providing all students of Manipur a non-Chinese 7-10” tablet. Only then can we talk of ‘on-line’ classes. Tillsuch a time, it remains a myth!

END Piece:

As is the fashion in our otherwise beautiful land, this writer’s suggestions of additional classrooms and gifting of Tablets to all students could lead to contracts and supply orders… This must not be!

For as said earlier:

Aajkal DENA ka samay hein, LENA ka nahin!

(With inputs from H.Mangchinkhup Chief of Bungmual Village, Churchandpur district.)

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