By Amar Yumnam
Manipur has always valued education; the parents have all along been concerned about education of children. This is more so about the valley than in the mountains. But the last three decades or a little more something has been terribly wrong with school education. The characteristic decline has been so terrible and has refused to evolve towards a better scenario. Fortunately, we now observe a certain application of mind and effort towards developing an atmosphere of positive change in the school education sector. This change is encouraging for in it we find winds of society-wide collective application of mind and effort rather than the highly selfish orientation of the last few decades. While the parents have so far been largely crypto-moralistic in their children’s education (holding a private morality at heart but manifesting another morality in public), yet we now discern signs of change in such values. Since the prevailing value orientation would certainly hit a road-block after a stage and a societal value would be needed for social transformation to occur and collective advancement, the people have started feeling the gap. Individual achievements have value only in a social context seems to have dawned on the social realisation.
Here I do certainly feel nostalgic about the days of my own schooling. Here one name of an old lady long gone keeps recurring. I would certainly take her name for she did play a great role in shaping my education. My inehal Kangjam Muktarei was not a school teacher at all. But her casual inputs as and when she sees me on social behaviour have served me as the long term assets for personal positioning. I am referring to this for it did have a context of larger education impartment in our schooldays.
Schooling during our days was fundamentally and invariably meant attachment to the local schools. This attachment was in multiple directions. The teachers would be attached to the students and vice versa. The locality would be indistinguishable from the school. All were connected. Education was unavoidably connected with sports in the locality. For instance, football in my own home locality cannot be thought of without the training inputs by a player of a leading team of Manipur to students of the local school, thanks to a teacher from the team’s home. I did play the game and table tennis all because of happenings in the school. All the local boys and girls were all connected socially and scholastically. Every adult would take interest in the education of every child in the locality. Differential scholastic performances of the children were not objects of envy, but of appreciation and pushes for emulation. The school would be the pivot around which the hopes, efforts and commitment of the locality would move.
In other words, it was the instrument for sustaining and putting to productive use the social capital of the locality. Every group activity would be an occasion to perform in celebration as “social service” irrespective of whether the particular activity related to the school or not. The ethos of the locality and the ethos nurtured in the school would certainly converge. This is why I say that the advices of the lady long gone from this world still remain as fresh as the lessons in the classrooms.
But this convergence of social interests and school ethos seems to have left us at our peril for the last thirty years or so. The recent achievements of students at different grades have brought about the rethink among the populace in relation to what is the prevailing feature of school education. The timing is important in social policy making. This is exactly where the enthusiasm of the new minister of education in Manipur is refreshing. The recent discovery of critical employees of the government being found absent from office and the books meant for students lying dumped in a room are all significant indicators of the disease afflicting our school education sector.
We have allowed education and sports to get disconnected unlike the rooted picture of Manipur. We have made the local schools disconnected with the evolution of the local society. All these have made the schools irrelevant to the local society. Both sides forgot each other. But the relatively costlier emergence of new schools on private funding has not created a new social capital in place of the one died along with the decline of local schools. Students were increasingly made to be selfish and aloof in character rather than the traditional sharing in “social services”. Instead of the old common concern of all the adults for all the children in the locality, there has emerged a kind of stealthy care for own children for better private tuition. The traditional role of the school has been replaced by an atmosphere of private tutorship. Social capital through the medium of school education has given way to private interests.
In this context, there is now the imperative for the large local level receptions for performing students in ten and twelve grades and the enthusiasm of the new minister to converge. We necessarily have to think of the roots for the decline of the local schools and evolve methods for contextual improvement. We know they cannot be regenerated in the old way, but regeneration we have got to do along contemporary lines but with the old values. We have to find means for reconnecting sports with education. We must discover the mechanism for making school education an instrument for revitalising social capital. Manipur is fast moving towards a direction where only force and violence count and nothing else. This however cannot take the society far. If we allow the present trend continue further, reversal of the prevailing picture would be very difficult. Non-reversal would be as well very risky and could lead to civil war. The time is now for responding to the societal mood and thus herald a new beginning, unless we choose to collapse to paraphrase Jared Diamond.