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 a semblance of 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 ongoing debate on quality education in Manipur. The question is, must education be all about formal education only. The obvious answer is `no` but said in many different ways. 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 November 24 as the International Day against child abuse. 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 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.
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, electrical mechanics, blacksmith, goldsmith 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. This is not to say formal education can be done away with for anybody. It should not be too. But what is called upon is for education curriculums and schedules to be restructured so that formal education reaches out to those in these non-formal educations (apprenticeship) and not the apprentices having to bend over backwards reaching out to formal education. 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 MA, 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 has become senseless. 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 much education as what they would have done picking up a Ph.D degree. Nobody can say for instance that Pete Sampras did injustice to himself for opting to leave school young to concentrate on a career in Tennis. 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.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam