By- Aribam Bishwajit
Imphal, Aug 17:
Nestled a mere three kilometers from the heart of the conflict zone, where the valiant ‘village defense volunteers’ from the Meitei community stand guard against suspected Kuki militants, stands a resilient institution of learning: Phayeng High School. This unassuming establishment, located along the Uripok-Kangchup main road, has become a sanctuary of education for students hailing from Phayeng, Kadangband, Kangchup, Ireng, and various other neighboring regions. Yet, the shadows of violence and the echoes of unrest have cast their long reach even into the classrooms of this institution.
Once a place where the harmonious symphony of nature and the chatter of students filled the air, Phayeng High School now bears witness to a discordant melody of gunshots, bomb explosions, and the wails of ambulances. The ongoing turmoil in Manipur has not only scarred the landscape but has also left an indelible mark on the psyche of the students. However, amidst this tumult, the school remains resolute, refusing to bow to the adversities that surround it. In an environment where continuity of education could easily be dismissed as secondary to safety, Phayeng High School holds its ground. Today, its attendance roster boasts around 140 names, each a symbol of hope and defiance in the face of adversity.
However, beneath this exterior of perseverance, the school grapples with an internal crisis, one that is less visible but equally critical: a staggering shortage of teaching staff. This challenge becomes starkly evident in its primary section. Instead of a full slate of educators, there is but a lone teacher, valiantly juggling the myriad responsibilities of instructing students across five distinct grades.
At the helm of this educational vessel navigating stormy waters is Headmaster Angom Tomba, himself an alumnus of Phayeng High. For Tomba, the challenges posed by the ongoing conflict outside are mirrored by the hurdles he faces within his school’s walls. “Ideally, we’d have five educators for our primary section. Now, it’s a singular effort,” he notes with a hint of melancholy. His dedication to the cause is evident in his personal efforts, as he’s taken the extraordinary step of hiring and financially supporting a teacher from the local community. The school has 10 teaching staff, including the headmaster.
Reflecting on his own days of study at Phayeng High, Tomba’s vision is crystal clear. He dreams of transforming the institution into a paragon of excellence, comparable to the most esteemed schools in the state. With earnestness, he calls upon the authorities to bolster the institution’s ranks with qualified educators, listing the pressing needs: four arts graduates, three science graduates, and a team of five primary teachers.
Despite its challenges, Phayeng High School has become a refuge for students in the region. This academic year has seen its student population swell to around 180, as the institution opens its doors to those displaced by the conflict. Yet, the shadow of the teacher deficit looms large. Many potential admissions have been deterred upon discovering the acute staff shortage, with some students retracing their steps, seeking education elsewhere.
The school’s geographical location introduces another layer of complexity. For students from Kadangband village, a mere three kilometers away, the journey to school has morphed from a leisurely walk to a perilous trek through a conflict-ridden zone. With bullets from suspected Kuki militants a tangible threat, this once simple route now stands as a daunting barrier, isolating entire communities.
This narrative of adversity finds voice in Telheiba, a tenth-grader at Phayeng High, who highlights the academic voids resulting from the school’s staff crisis. “Subjects crucial for our board examinations, such as social science, chemistry, and mathematics, lack dedicated educators,” he shares with a tone of concern, urging the authorities for prompt intervention.
As Manipur continues its quest for peace, Phayeng High School’s story is emblematic of a broader narrative that encompasses many educational institutions situated in volatile regions worldwide. While overt conflict and violence undeniably leave their mark, the subtler challenges, like teacher shortages, can silently erode the foundations of education. Yet, in the face of these myriad challenges, institutions like Phayeng High School remain unyielding, championing the undying spirit of education and the power of resilience.