Whistleblower's musings... Then some trivia. Write to me at ranjanyumnam@gmail.com

Saturday, November 21, 2009

5 wackiest ideas in school reform

(That’s not going to happen!)
By Ranjan Yumnam
I have been thinking about how we can do to improve school education in Manipur for quite a while, and who won’t think about schools when no one is going to school and education has been put on hold as if it were a commodity that can be bought anytime at one’s own sweet will. Of course, admission into schools and books can be bought but nothing can compensate for the vibrancy of receiving education in the classrooms.
After family, it is the schools and the teachers that prepare the future generation with essential life-skills and familiarise them to the core values of a society, like love, respect, tolerance and social-mindedness. With the current impasse still stuck like an arrogant mass of chewing-gum entangled in the hair, I am beginning to think in ways that only a character in Harry Potter could have thought. Here are my five wackiest ideas to rev up school education.
1. Throw away the textbooks: Yeah, I wrote it right. As kids, we had to literally buckle under the heavy load of books and notebooks in our rucksack. While weight of the books can be back-breaking and physically hazardous, quantifying education in Kilos on our back is retrograde and sends out the wrong message that education is narrow and limited. Education has no limits and no boundaries; you can’t hit a sixer in education, because knowledge is boundless. The goalposts keep shifting and the horizon of intellectual exploration is infinitesimal. Yesterday’s genius is tomorrow’s jokers. Albert Einstein’s theories will tumble someday like a pack of cards in the hands of a clumsy child, mark my words. My point of contention is that textbooks are not sacrosanct. They are only a pointer to discussions and further analytical thinking. Textbooks are like the bricks in the wall, a mental block. If we have excellent teachers, We Don’t Need No (Textbook) Education. The small print not only cramps the children’s outlook but also confines their learning to just what some potbellied professors prescribed as what we need to learn. That defeats the very purpose of education. Education is all about learning to think for ourselves and not to kowtow to some indoctrination of the current fad of what education should be. Our children need exposure to more exciting sights and sounds in the form of project works and practical hands on training. Our kids should be groomed as innovators and not just some fools regurgitating arcane mathematical formulas and Victorian English idioms. Schools education should be conditioned as an ice-breaking flirtation with the subjects of one’s aptitude which he/she can major at higher level. Take my example: I am a middle level administrator and the value of Pie that I learned in school never mattered to me in the course of my work. In fact, it will never be of use to me. Conclusion: learning in schools should be fun—a sensitisation and a socialisation process that is not supposed to be a Rote and Rot system.
2. Abolish private schools : Private schools create an oasis of privileged education in the desert and by having two sets of educational institutions; we are artificially dividing the students into two classes of humanity: Government school students and private school students. Education should be equitable, and I am saying it not because I am a Marxist but I dream of a system where everyone is assured of an equal and decent quality of education, irrespective of which family background a person is born into. Having only Government schools will also mount pressure on the State to improve the quality of its education delivery system. The State will be duty-bound to provide a uniform standard of schools system, owing to the lobby of parents, teachers and most important, the kids themselves. Let’s disown private education.
3. Fire all Government teachers : Nationalise the private schools but privatise the teachers and schools’ management. Fire all of them, if need be. Let teachers earn their salary, not steal it. Who told them in the first place that they are entitled to their pay-checks like the birthright of a princess? No work, no pay should apply to all teachers to curb the absenteeism that is rampant in schools. And with no Government teachers, qualified contract teachers will, of course, be the norm and they will compete like jealous lovers. They should love the kids anyway.
4. Make education democracy-free zone : This is the most politically incorrect statement but is also a nice way of saying “get rid of politicians”. Democracy is a doubled-edged sword. While it purports to bestow power in the people’s hand through their representatives, the same system also sabotages the ultimate welfare of the people. Instead of promoting a society based on merit, patronage and nepotism has taken over, courtesy democratic constraints or obligations of pandering to mob’s whims. As in so many other sectors, electoral politics has killed the rational planning of education.
5. Make education compulsory and free : Make the world unlivable for the uneducated. Deny them their passports, telephone connections, PDS, NREGS jobcards, whatever except on rare cases of mental retardation or physical disability. You talk of civil rights and liberties, I talk of empowering people. Make dropping out of school painful and nearly impossible. For this to happen, school education should be fully residential and free. Education should not pose a burden on families. It should be a liberation movement without blood and gunshots.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Pregnancy taste

How many kids you want to have? This is the question that population researchers have been asking, and as expected answers vary from one country to another—and within a country, from one society to another. One very interesting fact emerges out of such surveys: the number of kids a woman gives birth to is always one more than she would normally want. The reasons could be illiteracy, lack of access to contraceptives, male domination or recklessness in bed.

The good news is, all over the world, the fertility rate is falling below the replacement rate of 2.1. As we know, fertility rate of 2.1 is the magic number that causes the population to stabilise at a particular point while producing enough numbers of children to sustain it. In India, the southern States have achieved that kind of fertility level, but northern behemoth States like Bihar and UP seem to be runaway baby factories and adding numbers to their population like mad.

What is significant and the point which I want to highlight in this article is the correlation between the fertility level and well-being and prosperity of the society—or family, if we take the smallest unit. It has been borne out by several studies that falling fertility goes hand in hand with rising standards of living. What is the effect and what is the cause of this phenomenon? One social experiment was conducted in the Matlab district of Bangladesh, where the researchers divided it into two demographic groups. One group was provided all sorts of family planning assistance and tools; and the other (control group) was left on its own without any access to birth control strategies. The outcome was, the households with access to birth control witnessed a marked fall in the family size and rise in the living standards. Just the opposite happened to the second group.

It is crystal clear then that family size does matter. If you want to enjoy life—and as the LG ads would want you to say “Life is Good”—then have fewer babies. And this makes sense too as our society has changed. Our grandfathers used to depend solely on agriculture and the vagaries of monsoons. Now that is not the case. From an agrarian society, we have slowly made a transition to a service economy, where education, sanitation and employment in tertiary sectors have become more important.

For instance, a family owning a large swathe of paddy field with no tractors and mechanical devices in the 19th century was justified in birthing more kids because of the advantage of getting more hands that outweigh the cost of feeding the extra mouths, but it is uneconomical and plain foolishness to have a large family in the modern age. Education, for one, costs money, and if the trend of bandhs and strikes continues unabated, you might want to send your wards to pricey foreign educational institutions. No prize for guessing how much you have to fork out to provide that kind of world class education to your kids. Same goes for the cost of maintaining a decent standard of living like enjoying good nutrition and pleasures of life. It is simple arithmetic.

It is not so simplistic either if you throw in the dynamics of politics of democracy as is being practiced in India. While I vouch for We Two, Our Two, the Good Life, Good Standards of Living line, there is another school of thought which contends that minority groups like us should not worry about standard of living for the time being but keep making babies to boost our population.

This, in fact, is a pregnant argument. Even in China which has an authoritarian regime, minority groups are beyond the purview of its One Child Policy. There is a genuine fear that larger groups might gobble up the tiny ethnic groups and eliminate them from the face of the Earth.

That is our dilemma. We are faced with a very difficult trade-off between attaining a quality lifestyle pitted against the larger common issue of collective survival as a society with its own distinct identity. Democracy has to share the blame for giving rise to such a situation.

Democracy rewards numbers and the numbers translate into power. UP and Bihar are being rewarded for their runaway population growth allowing them to usurp more political mileage and bigger pie of resources, while well behaved southern States like Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have seen Central grants reduced over the years and possibly fewer MP seats in the future. It is unfair; while we try to control population explosion, the rogue States are given prizes and the performing States are being whipped.

Bihar has the highest fertility rate at 4 followed by UP at 3.8. This has great implications for the whole population of India since these two States are giant elephants of the Indian population.
At present, Manipur has a fertility rate of 2.8 against the national average of 2.7. So what model should we follow? Imitate Bihar and risks plummeting further into chaos and erosion of social fabric? Follow Kerala model and risks being penalized?

As with education, I would rather go for quality than quantity. It’s better to have quality human capital that can compete with the world than raise a bunch of semi-literate, poor and angry uncontrollable freaks that would lead to more law and order situation and pollute the world’s ecosystem.
And by the way, if we look at the human history, it is amazing how much change one person can bring in the world, for good or for bad. We just need a good leader, some more superstars in sports, arts and culture, and then jack up the education system to produce confident players in the global intellectual and economic arena.

So don’t listen to the population bigots. Keep your family small and make your State proud by producing model citizens. From More to Moods!