Conflict of Interest, Question Mark on School Education, Future of Society: Manipur issues

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By Amar Yumnam

One serious social challenge Manipur has been facing and which the people have been talking of the necessity to control is the depth and spread of corruption. The quality of or rather lack of it in infrastructure, the low level of effectiveness of governance, the non-emergence of new employment opportunities, the emergence of ethnic fractionalisation, the falling attractiveness of the society to the youths, and what not cannot be discussed and explained without taking the prevailing corruption scenario in Manipur. When corruption prevails, it is always the poor who are the losers. First, in any corruption context, the poor always spend a proportion of their income in a much higher way than the rich do. In other words, the income distribution goes in favour of the rich. Secondly, in most instances, the rich can outpace the poor in the capability to pay bribes. This implies, the poor can turn out to be the defeated in the race for upward social mobility in a world of corruption. Third, if the poor endeavour to outdo the rich in the capability to bribe, the resultant expenditure would not only be wasteful but the resultant satisfaction would be much lower than the wasteful expenses. Fourth, above all, the resultant social outcome of corruption is never rise in efficiency and social stability. So it is always in the interest of a society to work for control and eliminate the hold of corruption on social outcomes. This is where the biggest challenge lies in Manipur. The admitted social desire is always contradicted by individual and household level manoeuvres. Otherwise, as an example, it is hard to understand how the head of institution in the highest seat of learning in the land seems it to be his primary duty to protect his spouse’s interest than the institutional interests in this land where presumably anti-corruption is the admitted macro behaviour.

Education is one social sector with the best of possible social impacts. First, education has the capability to lift the poor out of their predicament. Second, the social equalising and social uplifting power of education is unmatched. Third, education is the only means to maintain social stability and sustain the forward movement of any society. But all does not seem to be well with the education sector of Manipur today. For some years, about a decade, we have been happy at least with what has been happening in the school education sector, but unfortunately this also seems to be sick from within.

The large social infrastructure for education created by the social devotees of the 1950s and 1960s has all gone to irrelevance, witness the massive decay of all the local schools which had produced all the decision makers today. In school education, the Grade X and the Grade XII examinations are considered to be the most critical and the most important turning point in a person’s life. These examinations seem to be the manifestation of the quality of the society a few years down the line. Till about a decade ago, the biggest two social worries were the massive non-learning and non-teaching in all the local (and government consequent upon nationalisation by the provincial government) schools and the large scale indulgence in unfair means in the examinations. In order to take care of the first worry, private schools, slowly in the beginning but picking up fast, started appearing in the scene and an atmosphere of semblance of education provision was created. However, the second worry continued to plaque the system. The society and the change agents in it were firm and quick to respond to this. The large scale indulgence in unfair means in the examination in the format prevailing a decade back was brought under control almost to the point of elimination. A sigh of social relief was visible.

But this was not to be for long. Today the systemic disease seems to have come back in a more sophisticated manner. Before I come to this, let us put before us what is getting unfolded with every possible starkness. In recent years, the cases of very high performing students in both the Grade X and the Grade XII examinations from Manipur (in both provincial and central boards) failing to clear their college examinations around the country are on the rise. This puts a strong credence to the talks of bribery for high performance results in these examinations; this talk is much more intense in relation to the latest rounds of results. I only wish these were only rumours but the unfolding outcomes speak otherwise. If these were true, the consequences would be bad for Manipur. There has been a rising trend of Manipuri youths getting placements around the country and around the globe in jobs commensurate with their academic qualifications. The unfolding scenario can slow down and put a stop to this positive trend and the result would be disastrous for a society unable to create new employment opportunities. Secondly, it would exacerbate the poor-rich divide. It would be predominantly a case where the rich can outperform the poor for no positive reasons.

Assuming most likely that these fears were true, we need to ponder why such a scenario should emerge in Manipur. The large scale private tuition and the teachers involved in that necessarily create an issue of conflict of interests. Since the question papers and ultimate evaluation of the answers scripts were also performed by the teachers – many of whom are very highly demanded private tutors – there naturally would be a conflict between their interests as teachers and as private tutors. Secondly, because of the rising competition in the capability to bribe, there could be an effort by the rich to pave the future of their children right from the school examination onwards. In this the poor might also be indulging out of envy and wasteful worry for the future of their children.

Whatever the case, we need to be sure socially as well individually that the present scenario is an absolutely unsustainable one and would go against the interests of the society itself. With sure and fastening linking up with South East and East Asia, the only means for carving a place for ourselves and survive with our heads held high is through a robust education system. The challenge before us is how do we do it.

(Amar Yumnam is the Director of Center for Manipur Studies and Prof. of Department of Economics, Manipur University)

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