Myth or Reality: A grim picture of children's education in Manipur

Data reflects huge ‘learning deficit’ among large proportions of rural children in Manipur. Most of the government schools in the state enroll no students at all.

New Education Policy 2020 emphasizes certain key areas of India's education system. It aims to do away with the present rote memorizing practices and pushes on critical thinking and critical analysis. With the introduction of (5+3+3+4) pedagogical structure, it aligns on par with global standards. NEP is likely to focus on a multi-lingual, play-based and activity-oriented method of teaching at primary level. It recognizes the importance of early childhood education and primary level learning of the children. And, by 2025, every student in Grade 5 and beyond must achieve foundational literacy and numeracy. It is, indeed, a welcoming step for the greater development of children.

Ground reality of learn-ability among children
“The Policy recognizes the learning crisis in language and mathematics during the primary school years. For the state of Manipur, ASER (rural) 2018 report clearly shows a grim picture in “learning deficit” among a large proportion of children.

Report highlights- “Only 67.5 percent of Std V children can read Std II level text” which means 32.5 per cent of Std V children cannot read Std II level text. And “50.5 per cent of Std V children can operate division calculations” which means half of class V children cannot operate division calculations. Also, “70 per cent of Std V children can do double-digit subtraction”. Still, 30 per cent of Std V children are not able to do double-digit subtraction. In short, ASER data reflects—a huge ‘learning deficit’ among large proportions of rural children. So, it is most likely that a learning crisis happens; which is happening in our state too.

Learning deficit both in government and private school

Most of the government schools in Manipur enroll no students at all. In fact, teachers usually look out for children to enroll in their schools. Moreover, government schools are widely neglected and parents usually send their children to nearby low-cost private schools. There exists a “Trust deficit” towards the nature of government schools. Teacher absenteeism, ineffective inspection mechanism, lack of engagement with local communities, bureaucratic lethargic on grievances redressal, may be a few reasons for poor enrollment of children in Government schools. It is highly likely that the NEP objective of Regular Learning Assessment is a distant dream.

As many as 70 per cent of rural children falling in 6-14 age group in the state attend private schools in Manipur. Learn-ability of children in a private school, is still questionable. As per ASER Report 2018 in Manipur, Percentage of Children in Std V who can read Std II level text in government and private schools are 50.6 percent and 74 percent respectively. Also, the Percentage of Children in Std V who can operate division in government and private schools are 38.4 percent and 55.2 percent respectively. In rural private schools, 26 percent of children in Std V cannot read Std II level text and 54.8 percent of children in Std V can operate division.So, there are still large proportions of children in private schools,which are facing ‘learning deficit’.It is evident that private schools outperform government ones. Even if we enroll 100 percent of children in such private schools, it is doubtful whether we may able to achieve universal foundational literacy and numeracy by 2025.

Menace of sub-contract para teachers

Sub-contract para teachers or Proxy teachers are common practices in remote villages, especially in the hilly areas. Regular teachers hire a local person as their substitute in the school, paying certain minimal remunerations. In few villages, village heads unknowingly promote para teaching system, without having second thought on its counter-productive, which results in  high levels of absenteeism among regular teachers. It is an accepted practice and is a perennial one. But such para teachers are untrained and lack proper subject-knowledge. Such practices may be the result of lenient teacher transfer policy mechanism as well as an inappropriate teacher recruitment system.

Mid-day meal and government school infrastructure
• ASER (rural) Report 2018:  

% School with  Mid-day meal in 2018 is 46.4

% School with  No Drinking water in 2018 is 88.9

• Availability of quality learning materials

% School with  Library in 2018 is 9

% School with  Electricity connection in 2018 is 55.6
% School with  Computer in 2018 is 9

The mid-day meal programme is to ensure the nutritional health and well being of children. But, only 46.4 per cent of schools serve mid-day meals to children.

The current mid-day meal programme may need tremendous efforts to be strengthened as it adversely affects the attendance of children.

How can we ensure the wellbeing of children when schools have very few usable toilets and almost no drinking facility, let alone safe?

Nevertheless, almost all schools in rural Manipur lacks the basic facilities for education. With such indifferent facilities, would the State be able to meet the NEP objectives of universal foundational literacy and numeracy by 2025?

Parental and Community role

ASER Report 2019 shows- “Mother’s Education level has a positive correlation with Children’s performance on Early Language, Early Numeracy Task, and Cognitive Tasks”. Also, mothers who had been exposed to higher levels of education, tends to send children to Private schools. In the case of Manipur, parents spend huge sums on their children's education. Even the poorest of the poor parents in the state, will always find means to send their children to private schools in the hope of receiving proper education by their children. And, only a small fraction of parents, sends their children to government schools, due to extreme poverty. It is the result of rigorous parental efforts that learning outcome in the state is, somewhat, satisfactory. Such a learning outcome is at a tremendous expense of parental income and the state exchequer plays minimal role.

NEP emphasizes on the involvement of local stakeholders in children's education. Active involvement of the local community in children's education will have a significant impact. Many primary schools are inactive due to unscrupulous implementation of the School management committee. Nevertheless, people are less aware of the importance and the purpose of the Right to Education act, 2009. There is a need for rigorous awareness among masses regarding their role in Children's education. It is high time to awaken the masses to make them realize the need for a solid foundation of our Children's education.  

NEP has the potential to transform the learning abilities of children. It focuses to connect education with real-life situations. The method seems more practical and viable. It also aims to do away the current rigid, water tight systemof education with a more flexible approach. Further, it emphasizes the importance of local stakeholders on children's education.

The policy is laudable and hopes to provide a positive direction. The state may need homework to do - whether state resources are capable to achieve universal foundational literacy and numeracy. Also, how can the policy be effectively implemented after thoroughly observing the local situations as education is a concurrent subject? Despite that, it is yet to see the feasibility; its impact on children and do away with the ‘learning crisis’. Henceforth, it is the right time that NEP brings such major reforms as traditional rote learning hinders the critical thinking abilities of masses.

First Published: Aug. 2, 2020, 10:10 a.m.