By: Amar Yumnam
Imphal, Sept 9:
In my previous input in this daily, I had emphasised: “Education is something very contemporaneous. The education the children need today should be provided today; it can never be postponed to the next day. Education is such a sacrosanct input to social advancement that it should be made available to all the children of each age group without leaving anyone out. Further, education has a spatial dimension unique to it. While a drug transported from Churachandpur can be caught in Kangpokpi, it cannot so in the case of education. Education of the children in a village in Ukhrul has to be provided in that village itself and it can never be replaced by education provided in a village in Mao. This provision of education to all the villages has to be marked by simultaneity. This temporal, spatial and demographic coverage would decide the future social scenario and determine the higher education to be provided. The success or otherwise of our ending as an Open Society or a Closed Society as Karl Popper envisaged in Volume I of his classic The Open Society and Its Enemies would be determined by what happens to our education. This envisioning is given in a shorter form by Eliot Cohen in his 2009 book, Critical Thinking Unleashed, thus: “In his classic book The Open Society and Its Enemies, philosopher Karl Popper distinguishes between two types of societies—one “open,” the other “closed.” An open society, he says, “sets free the critical powers of man,” while a closed society stresses “submission to magical forces.”
I had made these statements in full consciousness of the politico-administrative context of today’s Manipur. Unlike in the previous term, the Minister in charge of looking after Education in the present term is not only qualified but also possesses commitment and capability to apply his mind to the issues confronting Education in Manipur today. But what is afraid is that the fracking indulgence of the present leadership might have decapacitated the Minister of Education to pursue his visions for addressing the crisis (I use the singular term for the challenges facing this sector are all interrelated) facing the sector he has not only to look after but to take care for enhancement of social capacity to take the people and the society to an imagined future – the future where the past is not forsaken but incorporated to the imagined future in full knowledge of the unfolding technological world.
The reports of problems confronting the Education scenario of Manipur have been dominating the headlines of Manipur news media. The latest is of the Heirok Higher Secondary School where the students have come out protesting with placards displaying inter alia “Let Us Study Properly”, “No Education Without Teacher” and “No Teacher No Future”. The judiciousness of these slogans can only be accepted but not countered. Now these demands are also coupled by the news covering the statements of the parents expressing their poverty compelling them to send their children to the government schools instead of the costlier private schools where somehow education happens one way or the other. Education is the only sure means for social mobility, and the poor parents must definitely have imagined a future where their children would move upward later in their life on the strength of the education they would acquire today; imagine their pains in the light of the unholy scenario.
But allowing the school problems, particularly the lack of teachers coupling the service uncertainty of the existing ones, to persist amount to ensuring a deepening social inequality in the future. The primacy as well as urgency for providing utmost attention to Education have also been reinforced by the recent disturbances caused by the COVID19. In order to comparatively appreciate the issues of Manipur (since there has been no attempt to sponsor evaluative studies), let us see what has happened around the world. Bokat-Lindell, a staff editor of the New York Times, reports in the 7 September 2022 of the paper: “the pandemic’s toll on children’s education varied a great deal both among and within countries. In middle-income Latin America and South Asia, for example, schools were closed much longer — for 75 weeks or more — than those in high-income countries in Europe and Central Asia.
As a result, students in Latin America and South Asia missed about 12 months’ worth of learning, McKinsey estimated, while students in North America missed only about four months’ worth of learning. In the United States, high-poverty schools tended to spend more time learning remotely, as did Black and Hispanic students, which had the effect of widening economic and racial gaps: On the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, Black students lost 13 points in math, compared with five points among white students. According to Andrew Ho, a professor of education at Harvard and an expert on education testing, each point lost on the exam translates to about three weeks of learning. So a student who lost three points in math could catch up in as little as nine weeks, while a low-performing student who lost 12 points would need 36 weeks.”
A report of the Centre for Education Policy Research at Harvard University, NWEA, and CALDER at the American Institutes for Research published in May 2022 and titled Consequences of Remote and Hybrid Instruction During the Pandemic writes: “Since the pandemic started in March 2020, multiple reports have highlighted large declines in students’ math and reading achievement as well as widening gaps by race and school poverty. If allowed to become permanent, such losses will have major impacts on future earnings and intergenerational mobility.” And “the shifts to remote or hybrid instruction during 2020-21 had profound consequences for student achievement. In districts that went remote, achievement growth was lower for all subgroups, but especially for students attending high-poverty schools. In areas that remained in person, there were still modest losses in achievement, but there was no widening of gaps between high and low-poverty schools in math (and less widening in reading).”
Such are the additional burdens imposed by the pandemic in any society even in the advanced countries like the United States of America. One can readily imagine the costs that must have been imposed in a society like Manipur’s where the relative governance quality is also highly questionable. Even if we confine to the relative examination only to India, it must be accepted that the social absorption capacity of shocks is much poorer in Manipur than say in Mumbai/Hyderabad/Delhi. Ipso facto, any carelessness to the issues of education today would be much costlier in Manipur than elsewhere in the years to come, and this in turn would increasingly compromise the future capability to address the issues today. It should also be remembered that the learning crisis has been there even before the recent pandemic.
I would certainly reiterate that Emphasising Education more than anything else is imperative in Manipur today. While, for example, the War on Drugs is only a way of addressing localised problem and chasing after certain individuals and groups, the case of Education is altogether different. Education is to be provided today and the need for this is both wide and deep. War on Drugs is a case of chasing the mice eating into our rice-stocks, the problem of education is one where a Tiger is getting ready to engulf the whole society. Which one Manipur endeavours to face head-on on a priority basis – the Mice or the Tiger?