Apprenticeship as Education

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There is a well-known unwritten rule about rules. It simply says, know the rules well enough to creatively break it. It sound rather absurd, but one supposes its logic is derived from the fact that while rules are absolutely necessary in bringing about order in every walk of life, no rule can cover everything about any walk of life either – hence the need to go beyond the rules without debunking the rules altogether at some point or the other. This rather oxymoronic notion seems now ready to be called into play in the perpetual debate on quality education in Manipur with virtually no tangible results. The question is, must education be all about formal education only. The obvious answer, all of us have been told in some way or the other, is “no”. This acknowledgement for instance is why schools and colleges emphasize on the need for extracurricular activities. But what about in the extreme cases of alternative education advanced as a total or near total substitute for formal education? The question comes to mind as the world observed Teachers Day last fortnight and will be observing International Day against child abuse on November 24. It is not a surprise at all that so many think employing children in various physically trying professions must constitute child abuse. The most cited examples are children employed in motor vehicle workshops and other skilled jobs. Should not there be some exceptions? For one thing, in many of these jobs, it is not only a question of employing children as in exploiting cheap, unquestioning, labour, but also a lot about apprenticeship where these children are taught skills on the job so that they are prepared for make a profession out of the training to keep the family hearth burning in adulthood. It is a tricky question, but given strict monitoring that exploitation does not happen, and that the children thus engaged are not deprived of formal school education in addition to their apprenticeships, the answer ought to not be a simple yes or no.

The need, as one sees it, is not to generalize all kinds of child labour as abuse. If they are employed for unproductive, non-educative menial jobs such as dishwashers in restaurants or floor scrubbers, and for the profit and benefit of their employers alone, then obviously it would amount to abuse. But not every child job profile is or can be of the nature. The motor vehicle workshop case is a fit example. It is because of this tradition of apprenticeship education that Manipur today can proudly boast of a rich human resource of skilled labour in areas such a motor and electrical mechanics, blacksmiths, goldsmiths etc. Many of these skilled hands have had no formal education, yet they have a self-made job although they would be automatically disqualified to white collared categories of jobs. But one has mentioned earlier, this is not to say formal education can be done away with for anybody. It should not be too. What is also called upon is for education curriculums and schedules to be imaginatively restructured so that formal education can reach out to those in these apprenticeships. They must be made to learn the letters alongside their apprenticeship so that they will have a broader scope to enhance their skills through not just practical experiences, of which they would have acquired in plenty, but also from the inexhaustible knowledge banks accumulated through the ages in books.

To each according to his potential, must be the motto. It is not essential for everybody to be masters, or Ph.D degree holders. These should be for those inclined to and have the aptitude for academics and researches. Not every job must be white-collared ones either, but unfortunately this seems to be the popular notion in the present times. Because this is so, so many of the traditional professions, of which there are many in the state, are systematically withering away. Everybody today wants a government job and the rest do not anymore count as a job. Compare this to some of the famous and prospering traditional professions such as in Europe. One can at once think of the tradition of Scotch Whiskey making. Some families have been in the profession (business) for over four centuries. Under the circumstance, the perfection they have reached is also not altogether unimaginable. Sports professionals too leave formal studies early and consider their professional trainings as education, as valuable as a masters or Ph.D degree. Nobody can say for instance that Lionel Messi did injustice to himself by opting to leave formal education young to concentrate on a career in football. The same can be said of so many other extremely successful professionals. Formal education is important no doubt, but let it not exclude all other non-formal skill learning process as exercises in illiteracy.

Source: Imphal Free Press

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