It is very rare to hear politicians in this country talk of education as a priority, that too of education catering to the imperatives of the day and not of the kind that has lost its purpose. New-age education for the youth today who have a set of aspirations quite different from those of the older generation calls for new ideas too, ideas that are radical, innovative and pragmatic. This is more so of politicians in the Northeast who are far more preoccupied with petty political squabbles than with issues that matter to the youth of the region starved of real, meaningful education. So when someone from the bewildering political universe here harps on what real education must be and be functiol insofar as the ture and direction of the time are concerned, one must sit up and take notice.
Heed the Conrad Call
On October 19, a Meghalaya MP did precisely this. Speaking at the 9th tiol Conference on Education for School Principals and Education Administrators at the Don Bosco Institute of Magement, Guwahati, Tura Lok Sabha MP and tiol People’s Party chief Conrad K Sangma said that education ought now to get rid of its stereotypical mechanical dimension and evolve holistically with focus on practice-oriented learning. A very constructive and in-sync-with-time suggestion indeed, which this newspaper in this column has been calling for in recent times as well. He has rightly stressed the need for empowering teachers and education administrators so that they may come up with practical solutions to the maladies afflicting the education system. So far we have had mostly theoretical solutions at the many conferences and semirs on education, with nothing tangible emating out of the many such shades of intellectualism. Sangma is talking of practical solutions – solutions that are workable, within the arc of implementation in the backdrop of the existing infrastructure and region-specific needs and priorities, and dividends-yielding.
Secondly, he has pointed to the role of teachers that would be so crucial to the overall development of a child that sans such role the child would merely cram notes to produce these in his answer script without knowing anything at all or without really appreciating what his teacher has taught him if anything has been taught in the right manner at all. A whole essay can be written on what role a teacher must play at the school level, but what is perhaps paramount is whether he has the ability, trained or otherwise, to motivate his students, arouse curiosity in them, and make them think creatively or out-of-box. Such teachers, unfortutely, in government schools – mostly those in rural areas where education can be the most empowering tool – are a rarity. But this is what we want. Thirdly, Sangma has talked of the importance of digital space and the realization of this importance by teachers. “Teachers should make the best use of technology and eble the students to learn faster and better,” he said. There is no gainsaying that technology is a game-changer in today’s world, and it is more so when it comes to the teaching-learning enterprise that has the most important role to play in the making of an empowered society, a knowledge society that the Sam Pitroda-led tiol Knowledge Commission had dwelt at length when the UPA was in power. Much water has flowed down the Brahmaputra since then, but technology is still alien in most of the government schools in rural areas. Since “technology has ebled us to access a wide variety of information and pedagogical tools”, to quote Sangma, its use in schools, mostly in the state-run ones across the Northeast, cannot be overemphasized. But how pro-active have the State governments here been? We are talking of government schools, not the private ones in which technology has penetrated to a satisfactory extent. And fourthly, the Tura MP has urged the State governments to work in tandem with “like-minded organizations and stakeholders” so that the best of educatiol facilities are ensured, with the thrust also being on regular teachers’ training programmes and orientation courses. It goes without saying that most teachers in government schools are not adequately trained to teach, not just to lecture – the best of educationists across the world have repeatedly pointed to the difference that does exist between a teacher and a lecturer in their research works on education along with educatiol psychology. The teachers in question are not really oriented so that they take on board their students by infusing in them interest and innovation as they embark on the track of learning and of eventually becoming human capital in the future. This is very, very important.
All said and done, it now remains to be seen whether the State governments of the Northeast, which is in dire need of quality education – education that will generate quality human resource that is employable, mere degrees without the necessary skills having to only add to the unemployment scourge – and which deserves to be at the rightful place on the map of the Indian knowledge society in the making, would wake up to the reality of the day and churn out fresh and radical ideas as outlined by Sangma in the domain as crucial to the making of a truly empowered Northeast as education is in the real sense. It will doubtless entail hard work and an education vision informed by a discourse resulting from discussions with educationists, public intellectuals concerned with the cause of a meaningful education system, and other stakeholders in the game, including education entrepreneurs, some of whom are doing excellent jobs. Visits to some of the best private schools in the country, such as the Doon of Dehradun and St. Joseph’s of Darjeeling, for an on-the-spot knowledge-gathering exercise to implement it in this region could be an excellent idea. Some new ideas and it will help shape an entirely new and knowledge-vibrant generation. The Northeast deserves this. Its time has come.