That Manipur`™s institutions of higher education are not in good shape is today a truism. It is evident from the current turmoil in its colleges and universities. Sections of the college teachers are on cease work strike, paralysing classes. Students are restive and some have gone on rampage. It is likely, if the situation is allowed to go uncontrolled, the problem will reach crisis proportion. The government must therefore, on a priority basis, seriously begin negotiations with the agitators, and come to workable and amiable understandings with them. As in all negotiations, the approach from all parties must be defined by a spirit of accommodation, or the ability to see and understand the genuine needs as well as the limitations of the other. At the moment, this does not seem to be happening. The foreknowledge that in the end the only real victims will be the students is depressing. It is they who have everything to lose both in the tussle between teachers government, as well as by their own periodic explosions of anger at the way their education is being put to jeopardy by those who are supposed to be ensuring its health.
Stepping back a little to take a look at the broader canvas, there can be non gainsaying that in the entire education scenario of Manipur, it is only the higher education sector which has still not been able to find a firm footing. The school sector too would have been equally bad had it not been for a revolution of sort introduced by Catholic schools in the 1960s and the cascading demonstration effect it has had resulting literally in hundreds of excellent private schools blossoming to serve as alternatives, nay replacements, for government schools, most of which had become condemned beyond redemption to putridity by corruption. Today, it is a blessing that parents can have their children complete their schoolings at home without any worry their wards would miss quality education. And indeed, on an incremental basis, children of elite and commoners alike do prefer schools in the state to those outside it. It is also heartening to note, in the competitive exams for entrance to the most preferred professional trainings, namely, medical and engineering courses, home grown students are beginning to have the lion`™s share. The same cannot by any stretch of imagination be said of college and university studies. Parents who can afford the cost, still prefer to send their children away to colleges outside the state. What a pity indeed.
Something must be done to affect a change of course away from this dismal affair. Perhaps the current crisis is an opportune time to make such a beginning. In all negotiations towards this, what must remain in sharp focus is the raison detre for the grand mission of education at all. Ensuring good education for students is what is sacrosanct, and not the hegemony of the government in deciding what education should be, or the material welfare of the teachers. In the school sector, it has been more than adequately demonstrated that lowly paid teachers were outperforming government teachers with comparatively hefty monthly pay packets, underscoring the point that it is institutional administration and commitment to teaching which ensures quality in the end. Since the entry of private parties in the college sector is unthinkable given the present circumstance, perhaps one way of ensuring this commitment is to make everybody involved a direct stake holder, linking their own fortunes to the rise and fall of the fortunes of these institutions. This could be done for instance by making it mandatory, or at least normative, for government officials and college teachers to have their children study in colleges at home, unless they are pursuing subjects not offered here. This way, nobody who can make the difference can afford to be so casual about students losing out on their class hours, or facing the possibility of losing an academic year. When these officials and professionals send their children away to other states for studies, which a good majority of them would be doing, and then fight over their claimed stakes in their places of employment, it would amount to the exercise of power without responsibility, where each has everything to gain by posturing hard, and nothing to lose.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam