Thoughts on Education in Manipur

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By Rajkumar Bobichand
The literacy rate of Manipur increased from 12.57% in 1951 to 79.85% in 2011. The total number educational institutes in Manipur increased from 538 during 1950-51 to over 4300 now. A good number of people now can qualify for Indian civil services. Significant numbers of people from Manipur are working outside within India and abroad. Significant numbers of people from Manipur excel in many fields. Parents who can afford to send their children outside Manipur to learn the knowledge and skills to get better jobs when they finish their education. Even those who live on hand to mouth send their children to private budget schools in Manipur with the hope that they will get better education and can compete with their compatriots from rich families. Now, the pass percentage of secondary and higher secondary is higher than the earlier. From these, can we say that the education in Manipur goes in the right direction?

Education is not just memorization and quantification. Education is much more than that. In Manipur, with most of the school education increasingly under siege by a host of businessmen and conservative forces, it is imperative for educators to acknowledge and understand the empowering and democratic potential of education.

We see that most schools are now dominated by instrumentalist and conservative ideologies and run by administrators who often lack a broader vision of education as a force for strengthening civic imagination and expanding democratic public life. One consequence is that a concern with excellence has been removed from matters of equity, while higher education – once conceptualized as a fundamental public good – has been reduced to a private good, now available almost exclusively to those with the financial means. It seems that, when it comes to the elite of business culture and society plagued by corruption, ignorance about education now ranks as a virtue. Money and material forces command everything.

Public education fares even worse. It is evident in the takeover of public education now seems taking place among the ultra-rich. Dominated by pedagogies that are entirely instrumental, geared toward memorization, conformity and high-stakes test taking, most schools have become intellectually dead zones and punishment centers as far removed from teaching civic values and expanding the imaginations of students as one can imagine.

Where has gone the educational movement guided by both passion and principle to help students develop a consciousness of freedom, recognize authoritarian tendencies, empower the imagination, connect knowledge and truth to power and learn to read both the word and the world as part of a broader struggle for society, justice and democracy? For growing minds to develop and assert a sense of their rights and responsibilities to participate in bringing change in the society and not only swept away by the change; governing and not simply being governed by prevailing ideological and material forces.

Education should offer students the conditions for self-reflection, a self-managed life and critical agent of the society. Pedagogy is central to a formative culture that makes both critical consciousness and social action possible. It helps learners become aware of the forces that have hitherto ruled their lives and especially shaped their consciousness. We should know that pedagogy at its best is not about training in techniques and methods, nor does it involve coercion or political indoctrination. Indeed, far from a mere method or an a priori technique to be imposed on all students, education is a political and moral practice that provides the knowledge, skills and social relations that enable students to explore for themselves the possibilities of what it means to be engaged citizens, while expanding and deepening their participation in the promise of a substantive democracy.

We should not forget critical pedagogy is to afford students the opportunity to read, write and learn from a position of society – to engage in a culture of questioning that demands far more than competency in rote learning and the application of acquired skills. It should be meaningful in order to be critical and transformative. This means that personal experience becomes a valuable resource that give students the opportunity to relate their own narratives, social relations and histories to what was being taught. It also signifies a resource to help students locate themselves in the concrete conditions of their daily lives, while furthering their understanding of the limits often imposed by such conditions.

Thus, critical pedagogy insists that one of the fundamental tasks of educators is to make sure that the future points the way to a more socially just world, a world in which critique and possibility – in conjunction with the values of reason, freedom and equality – function to alter the grounds upon which life is lived. We must always remember that education cannot be neutral. It is always directive in its attempt to enable students to understand the larger world and their role in it. Moreover, it is inevitably a deliberate attempt to influence how and what knowledge, values, desires and identities are produced within particular sets of class and social relations. Central to critical pedagogy is the recognition that the way we educate our youth is related to the future that we hope for and that such a future should offer students a life that leads to the deepening of freedom and social justice.

We must not see poverty and unemployment to the failing of individual character, laziness, indifference or a lack of personal responsibility. We need to view such issues as complex systemic problems generated by economic and political structures that produced massive amounts of inequality, suffering and despair – and social problems far beyond the reach of limited individual capacities to cause or redress. There are still many lessons to be unlearned and learned.

Therefore, critical education was a basic element of progressive social change and that how we think about politics was inseparable from how we come to understand the world, power and the moral life we aspire to lead.

 

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