By Amar Yumnam
Two strong conclusions are emerging from recent research on development around the world. One, the trend and level of complexity of a society explains the relative development position as well as the capability to evolve towards superior levels of development. Two, openness to trade is a prime explanatory factor in development performance. These are not mechanical processes by any means. The rising complexity of a society is to be tackled by a rising capability of the people to handle complex issues. Similarly, opening to the economic relationships with the outside world cannot be based on generation of mechanical capabilities among the population. Both complexity and openness are to be handled by the generalised intelligence of the population. Mechanical capability does not possess the innovative capacity to face any new situation and generate new ideas. Such a society would be characterised by rising idea gaps as compared to other societies and would lag behind at increasing speeds. The biggest worry is that Manipur is fast following this trajectory of mechanical approach to everything.
How Manipur has landed into this kind of a trap of pseudo-development? We need to answer this question without further social delay. Before we come to this, we need to be very clear of one thing. The sustenance of the Manipuri society till today is not because of the development interventions of the Indian government, but because of the historically path-dependent general intelligence of the population. This intelligence has never been a mechanical one but one based on an absolutely dynamic resilience of the population to respond to the complex situations as they emerge from time to time. Now this social feature is fast disappearing.
The character of this fast social deterioration is to be found in education. One common phenomenon today is the booking for private tuition for the coming year, I repeat, coming year. Recently, I heard of advanced booking for tuition in 2014 for students who would be in classes V and VI in that year by paying a sum of five thousand in Indian currency per student. This is the surest testimony to the murder of education in Manipur by converting it into a purely mechanical process. Education is never meant to be rendered in a mechanical way. It involves much more than the rod-learning of the lessons in the prescribed text-books. Mastering the text-books is to be done in a very humane way with all-round development of personality of the child to be a good human. But the direction in which school education is evolving towards in Manipur amounts to deleting the humane component; it is fast becoming a mechanical process. The danger of this is that the core intelligence of the people and ipso facto of the Manipuri society would be jeopardised by this process. In the long run, Manipur might remain but not the Manipuris.
This calls for a complete social debate on what is happening to education in Manipur. There was a period when somehow education at the school level was a happening thing in the real sense of the term. Even if the traditional schools have died out thanks to the strong patronage of the government, the private schools were filling up the social void by providing at least a semblance of education. Now even this also is being compromised by adoption of mechanical approaches to the teaching-learning process.
This recent decline in the character of school education in Manipur was preceded by a trend of non-education in the colleges right from the mid-1980s. It has been long since education has disappeared from the colleges in Manipur. The absolute decline in the number of students getting enrolled in colleges has now been reversed, but education as it should be has yet to happen. This collapse at the college level is also accompanied by failures at the tertiary level as well. We are teaching students at the highest levels in different streams of subjects. But the two years of education at this level serves very little purpose in building the capability of the student to ingrain the subject in her/his psyche and make it a part of her/his articulation on any issue. With all whatever efforts we put in, our focus gets dissolved at making the students remember some topics. We have not yet designed our approach to make the students enjoy the flavour of the subject being learned and thus move much beyond the memorisation of topics. Since the students have not nurtured a capability for appreciating the flavour of the subject, at the end of the day they do not develop any capacity to articulate on anything on the basis of what has been learnt. Further they have not developed the capability to read a book in totality.
So we have failed our education in every stage. At the school level, it is fast becoming mechanical. At the colleges, we have it not happening. At the tertiary level, we get lost with the topics without ever knowing the subject as a whole. But we cannot afford, individually as well as collectively, to make such kind of a situation to persist. We have to address the disease aggressively and in a fast way. I would talk of at least three interventions for the three stages as mandatory interventions today. First, there is no alternative to reviving the local schools – non-functional for long under the government patronage – into absolutely modernised centres of nurturing the kids for the brighter future. Second, now there is an opportunity to transform our colleges. The central government has announced a scheme on a mission mode for transforming the higher education in the country. We must take this opportunity. But we should not see this as the scope for appointment for additional faculty only. Time is now for evolving a package framework for taking the colleges in Manipur towards global competitiveness. We already have senior and experienced academic administrators and academicians in Manipur. We should form a High-powered Committee of them to identify the interventions needed in the colleges of Manipur to face the demands of the future. Third, there is a need for a serious deliberation for ways to orient the capability of tertiary education towards nurturing the capacity of students to enjoy the flavour of the subjects learned instead of the current memorisation of topics.
Ultimately education is the present as well as the future of any society. Manipur should be alive to this truth.