The recent statements of intent by Education minister, M Okendro, on the matter of revamping and rejuvenating government schools is encouraging. One of the statements said the government would be singling out eight of the best and reputed government higher secondary schools and as a start, and sharply focus government attention on them. This will include bringing in the best teachers on its payroll to teach in them. This is a very good idea. The government does have very qualified teachers, especially among the younger lot recruited in the past few years. Unfortunately, the school system has decayed so badly in Manipur, thanks to unthinking official corruption in the past that most of these teachers are left sitting idle with no students to teach. Indeed, it is a reality that except for the desperately poor, few or no parents send their children to government schools at any level, primary, secondary or higher secondary. While at the high school and primary school levels, the situation is next to impossible to revive, things are a little better at the higher secondary level. The eight schools that the minister named, such as Johnstone, Tamphasana, CC etc, still draw students at the higher secondary level, and to some extent are an alternative to private schools which not all parents can comfortably afford. Given a committed administration, competent teaching staff and up to date teaching infrastructures, there is no reason these schools cannot regain their lost reputations. As in the earlier experiment of starting a few model government schools, they can become a hit too.
There is something else we like to suggest to the education department. If these schools improve and win the confidence of parents and students, they will ultimately be flooded with entrance applicants and there will be no way the school can accommodate them all without sacrificing quality. Since these schools are brand names, they will continue to hold the attraction. Therefore, as in the case of so many extremely successful franchised private schools, such as Delhi Public Schools, what the government can do here is to have different campuses of these eight schools spread out to more places instead of trying to revive little known schools, who reputations, if they at all had any, had been destroyed beyond salvation. As for instance, other than at the original location opposite the Kangla western gate, there could for instance be more Johnstone School campuses in Thoubal, Kakching, Chandel etc. The pool of best picks of teachers meant for these schools can also be made intra transferable within the same Johnstone chain, so that the entire staff will have a sense of attachment and belonging to the particular institution and name. Since there will be other such chains of elite government schools, a healthy competition probably would also result for the betterment of school education in the state as a whole. This initiative can start with the government higher secondary schools for this sector is not dead yet, therefore easier to rejuvenate, but ultimately the experiment must be taken to both the high school and primary school levels.
The other statement was made by the minister recently on the occasion of the declaration of the matric examination results, where again government schools performed dismally, except for the saving grace provided by Jiribam where government school showed encouraging signs of improvement. He said teachers in government schools which consistently fail to produce students who can clear the BOSEM conducted Class X and COHSEM conducted Class XII exams, will be given voluntary retirements. This will indeed be a good step. It will first of all serve as the kind of prodding necessary to put non-performing teachers on their toes and improve their efforts. If this prodding still does nothing, then retiring off these teachers and replacing them with younger and better qualified teachers will be fit to purpose. These teachers who are thus retired off will not be left with nothing in hand for they will have a pension to live on, and the school system too will have the benefit of fresh blood and energy. If these initiatives are pursued with commitment, we are sure within a generation of school going children, government schools would have risen from their moral debris once again. Nothing can be better for Manipur than this. In a situation where parents can take for granted good education for their children, their energy and resources can begin to be directed at other creative pursuits. Children who cannot afford education in private schools too will then be on the same stead as children of richer parents in the preparation for life ahead. Nothing can be a faster way to an egalitarian society than availability of good education for all.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam