Give me space, will give lessons
IFP Editorial: School Fagathansi Mission has been introduced with an ambitious objective to give renewed thrust towards the improvement of government schools both in terms of physical and manpower infrastructure.
We are indeed glad that the state school education department has come up with a standard operating procedure (SOP) for re-opening the schools in line with the guidelines of Union Education Ministry. It is divided into two parts. One, health, hygiene and safety. Second, learning with physical and social distancing. Fair enough. The intent on safety is clear, even though the implementation part is going to be tricky for lack of resources and adequate infrastructure in our schools. The first hurdle would be providing adequate space for maintaining physical distancing. The present number of classrooms in our schools would not be enough to put physical distancing into practice. For those government schools with only a few students spacing would not be problem, but for some reputed government high schools or higher secondary schools there simply would not be enough classrooms to implement the SOP. More so, in the case of multitude of private schools with thousands of students on their rolls, which are today run like factories or broiler farms. Many of them are commercial ventures for some self-styled educationists.
Some of the private schools are even styled in the form of composite farms with its own paddy fields, vegetable and fish farms, poultry and piggery units for catering to the hostels run by the school establishments. In providing adequate space for physical distancing, the private establishments would certainly be hiking the school fees. It would be the same with the school van services. And the burden would fall on the parents and guardians. So, while strict enforcement of the SOP in private schools is required the main focus of the government now should on development of infrastructure of government schools. If need be, we may take advantage of the special Covid-19 requirements to seek additional funds. When AAP came to power in Delhi it vowed to make government schools better than private ones. They achieved this success by improving infrastructure (no stinky toilets), giving dignity to teachers, constituting school management committees and by involving many good NGOs for innovating learning methods. In 2015, there were only 17,000 classrooms. In just three years, AAP added another 8,000 classrooms; 11,000 more classes are under construction. Once completed there will be 36,000 classrooms.
In Manipur, the government has experimented with the concept of developing model schools from amongst the government schools which turned out to be a success in some areas. Tragedy is, the lessons learnt from the model school experiment was not followed up. However, the present government picked up the torch by starting the ‘School Fagat-hansi Mission’ in 2019. The scheme has been introduced with an ambitious objective to give renewed thrust towards the improvement of government schools both in terms of physical and manpower infrastructure. A government school in every assembly constituency of the state was selected for development as model schools in the first phase under the mission. All these schools would be run and developed in a uniform pattern.
While expressing hope that the new mission would garner the trust of the people towards government schools, the chief minister had said that all model schools would have classes from pre-nursery to Class 10 and no teacher would be transferred from these model schools for at least three years in order to maintain stability in teaching manpower. In addition to the existing School Management Committees, selected schools under the mission would be managed by re-defined Managing Committees headed by circle MLAs concerned, the mission statement said.
Now the question is, why only the model schools? With the experiences of the model school system past and present, at least some lessons have been learnt. With its resources, the state should be able to evolve a comprehensive policy on the basis of the experiences gained with the help of renowned educationists. The government can use the pandemic to better its own schools, by improving the infrastructure and making the schools more welcoming. We must start learning the skill of turning disasters into opportunity.