By Batschem Myrboh
Shillong once prided itself as the educational hub of North East India. Many prominent personalities from different walks of life not only in the region but even other parts of India have had their education in Meghalaya. Thousands of young people from across the region (NER) migrated to the city to gain knowledge and learning and indirectly contributed to boosting the local economy. But decades of visionless, directionless, and corporate-dominated politics have led to successive governments ignoring the importance of the education sector as an instrument of state human resources and socio-economic development. The criminal neglect and apathy towards education has cost the state immensely in terms of economic and human development. The current education scenario paints a drowning education system that requires serious attention to address this malaise. Rescue mission is the need of the hour and hence the government must have a strong educational apparatus manned by the education department with a minister of education who undertakes rescue work as a mission. What is frightening is that if we make mistakes in this election, we will soon reach the stage where it will be almost impossible to undo the situation. One may wonder why I make this value-laden statement, which I will try to answer.
Meghalaya has fewer government schools and far too few government colleges. What is more concerning is the quality of these settings. With few exceptions, government institutions are infrastructurally fragile and academically unstimulated and neglected. While the rich feel nothing of this disgraceful state of government institutions, the poor are severely affected by the high cost of private sector education. The deplorable state of government institutions, especially primary schools in remote villages, partly explains the high school dropout rate for which Meghalaya is notorious, and this is particularly true in the case of Garo Hills. Until recently, Garo Hills relied heavily on government primary schools. While baby steps are being taken in infrastructural development; no attempt has been made to improve the teaching learning process, which should have been the main focus. It seems that successive governments were happy to allow these institutions to die a natural death in order to pave the way for the privatization and commercialization of education.
The government-backed institutions are the backbone of the education system in the state at all levels. But successive governments have treated the teaching staff of this category of institution poorly. In addition, the government introduced too many types of subsidies in aid systems. One wonders how burdensome it is for the government administration to run these institutions. Forced by the government’s apathy, several teachers’ associations launched numerous agitations that have spoiled the educational climate in the state by disrupting the regular flow of teaching activities in educational institutions. Instead of being warring factions, the government and teacher unions should put their heads together to improve the education scenario in the state. But none of the education ministers showed any interest in working with the teachers towards the common goal.
Private educational institutions are mushrooming without any proper planning. This problem is exacerbated by the unplanned expansion of financial aid to the management of private educational institutions. But the question is how the support will be extended. Examples are clear indicators that financial support is never based on logic and reason, but on politics and favoritism. This has created a condition where educational institutions are set up where they are not needed, leading to a waste of valuable resources. But who cares? Politics is served.
The state government allows the private educational institutions to operate more or less on the laissez-faire principle. There are no rules/laws to govern the operation of these institutions, including teachers’ salaries and fees. While some manage to thrive on exorbitant fees charged by students, others, especially in rural areas, survive mainly because teachers provide services at unlivable salaries. What kind of education can we expect when teachers, even at the university level, are paid a monthly salary of less than ten thousand? Successive state governments with different education ministers belonging to different political parties have failed to implement subsection 2 of section 11 of the Meghalaya School Education Act, 1981, which states: “The scale of pay and benefits and other prescribed benefits of the employees of a recognized private school shall be determined by the state government by general or special order issued from time to time in this connection”.
Teacher qualifications and training are a major concern for Meghalaya. It was on September 3, 2001 that the National Board of Teacher Education notified the NCTE (Determination of Minimum Qualifications for the Recruitment of School Teachers) 2001. But it seems that the Meghalaya government paid no heed to these regulations. Schools continued to recruit teachers who did not have the required qualifications. As a measure to meet the required standard (HSSLC at 45 percent together with Diploma of Elementary Education) and to solve the problem of insufficiently qualified teachers in primary schools, the government conducted a special Higher Secondary School Examination in 2015. a formality to allow them to use the D.El.Ed. The teachers earned the HSSLC certificate with a second division on the way the Jews received “manna” from heaven as told in the Bible.
Further, the issue of underqualified principals and teachers serving in colleges, especially government colleges, remains unaddressed even today. Many directors and faculty are appointed without holding the qualifications set by the University Grants Commission. This partially explains the decline of higher education in Meghalaya, to the extent that none of the colleges have been classified as A and above by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) as of 2018.
The functioning of the Meghalaya Board of School Education (MBOSE) leaves many people baffled. While the questionnaire leaks that previously plagued the board had been addressed, concerns about the quality of the prescribed textbooks remain. One wonders whether there is a well-composed committee of experts that decides on the prescription of textbooks. Also whether the prescribed manuals are subject to control/assessment by the experts. Furthermore, the level of the MBOSE exam leaves much to be desired. Exam determines to a large extent the quality of education and without exam reforms the quality of education-learning cannot be improved. At present, teaching in Meghalaya is focused on dictation of notes, with little emphasis on experiential and critical learning.
Recruitment is a major problem that hinders education. Corruption and nepotism are the order of the day where merit is systematically undermined. The state of Meghalaya is deeply indebted to the teachers whose actions in the recent past led to the exposure of the white ink scam in primary school teacher recruitment. The functioning of the Meghalaya Public Service Commission appears to be well below expectations and the cause of this malaise is the non-isolation of politics. The mere appointment of members of the Commission raises serious questions about its efficiency. Committee appointments are usually based on politics rather than merit. What can you expect from such an institution? Recruitment in government-backed institutions is also not free from nepotism. There is an urgent need to end the scope of favoritism in the recruitment of teachers. Wrong recruitment spoils the future of not a few, but hundreds or even thousands of students, and the damage continues for decades. No effort to improve education will bear fruit if the quality of teachers is compromised. Nepotistic selection and appointment results in an inefficient, poor, irresponsible and inexplicable work culture.
Due to the lack of proper planning, higher education in the state is experiencing an unbalanced growth. The schools that have sprung up like mushrooms need more teachers. But the state is seriously lacking in sufficient growth of B.Ed. colleges. Currently, many students from Meghalaya depend on online courses from out-of-state universities for their B.Ed. rank. It is a sad state of affairs that even today Meghalaya fails to establish professional, technical and adequate vocational training.
The sad state of affairs in education has consequences for the quality of the students. This is evidenced by the unsatisfactory performance of the students of Meghalaya in the national level exams and competitions. A recent example is the student’s performance in the Central University Entrance Test for postgraduate admission to the Central Universities. If North Eastern Hill University decides to discontinue the extra weight given to local students during admissions, I fear they will be denied admission and the campus will be overrun by out-of-state students. Furthermore, I fear that the hasty establishment of the state university without proper planning to circumvent the CUET will serve no purpose. On the contrary, the move by the Conrad government could lead to a spiraling decline in higher education.
Who will save education from total destruction? Experience has shown that money-influenced, constituency and MLA scheme oriented voters who elect corporate politicians, constituency and MLA scheme oriented representatives are unable and unwilling to offer any solution. This category of voters and representatives has no vision and mission for the common good except for themselves. Time will tell if voters have become wiser in the 2023 election to change our future for the better or stay the same or get worse, exacerbating the problem to a point where the education system we prided on is no longer comes back.
(The author is Assistant Professor, Political Science, Synod College and former Secretary General, Meghalaya College Teachers’ Association).