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.