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“Slipstreaming” Meghalaya: A note to our next CM

By T Fightingstar Mawlong

To the potential next CM,

Two things I know well about you. One, you are one of those hard-working political leaders. Two, judging from the nominations, you are also an experienced political leader, so I’m sure you must be aware of how people vote. Generally speaking, people in Meghalaya vote a particular candidate because of one or any of the following reasons: 1) we like the candidate’s charisma although he is no leader or visionary 2) we are not impressed or convinced with the candidate we vote, but he will do 3) we can’t stand the other candidates so we will rather have this candidate win even though we aren’t expecting any good from him/her either 4) we know nothing about the candidate, not that we care,  we vote him/her for the cash, and 5) we are sentimental voters, we vote in a heartbeat for someone who patriotically campaigns on “Khasi first” or on “Garo first” or some other minority issues.  So most of us vote for the person we, deep inside, really don’t have much hope to lift Meghalaya up. Or so to say, we vote for the heck of it.

 Play better than the others in above points, you will sail through. Never mind the issues. And don’t bother with the ideology.

 But then again, it wouldn’t hurt to genuinely bang on some critically important issues, would it? After all, it might give you those thousands of bonus votes to help your party win. Also perhaps, down the line, you’ll be remembered as a legendary CM of Meghalaya.

Now speaking of issues, you should understand that the ‘grand and elusive’ economic problem in our state will remain ‘grand and elusive’ for a simple reason that education is failing.  No country or region can bypass slow development with a decrepit education system. In fact. I’m sure you could instinctively feel that. But instead of seriously working on the education sector, as a state we are busy exaggerating how many jobs this or that scheme would create, or what and how many schemes would come our way. States like Himachal Pradesh or Kerala aren’t waiting to revamp the economy with some fancy central schemes. They aren’t standing still. They aren’t playing for a second place. They’re leading and putting more and more emphasis on education. So do you feel okay with the ‘catch-up later on’ attitude of our State?

 With regard to our education sector, the numbers are not so pretty to look at.  We started late and so, understandably, we’re well behind other states, but if we remain content with the ‘catch-up later on’ attitude in education, then Meghalaya will never be able to level up even with neighbouring states. The All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) of the Ministry of Human Resource Development reveals that between 2010 and 2016 there has been a very little progress in Meghalaya’s education sector, unlike other states. For instance, the number of college per lakh of the population was 16 in 2010 and 18 in 2016, a jump of only 2 in six years, which is way behind the national level (23 to 28), not to compare with top-performing states like Himachal Pradesh (from 38 to 47). While in many states the pupil-teacher ratio has reduced, for instance in Himachal Pradesh it has reduced from 21 to 19, in Meghalaya it has increased from 18 to 21. And let me remind you of the report of ‘India Rankings 2017’ under the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF): there isn’t even one General Stream College from Meghalaya in the top 200, whereas there are many from Assam. So aren’t we a shame claiming Shillong to be the educational hub of Northeast. For the record, students from Manipur, Nagaland etc flock to Shillong mainly because of a relatively peaceful and safe environment here. But at the end of the day, I agree, numbers are just numbers. In fact, there’s more to our decrepit education other than the awful statistics.

Here’s a little example to help you visualize the malady. Last September I went to drop a friend of mine to Ampati HS School on his first day as a lecturer there. It looks impressive for a government school. When we first entered the school compound I could see the innocent students looking quite excited on seeing us. Perhaps they were thinking that they are getting two new teachers (I later learned that there have been no mathematics, chemistry and physics teachers for months). In my interaction with the students and a lone Science teacher on that day, I realized that the rate of teachers’ absenteeism is quite high in this higher secondary school. Apparently, teachers from remote areas attend school on alternate weeks only or even less. I roughly calculated the working days of a certain higher secondary teacher in this school to be anything between 120-140 days only in a year. One can, therefore, understand the poor learning outcomes when a teacher would crash coursing the entire syllabus of, say, physics in more or less just 120 days.

The absurdity of a teacher rushing through a huge syllabus for personal comfort is disturbing, to say the least. If you think about it, these teachers are robbing the future of the young generation. I can only imagine the same scenario in many other government schools in Meghalaya if not all. And I dare say this is a scam that is far worse than the infamous Meghalaya Education Scam. So will our next CM be brave enough to do something about it? I know it is a great challenge, but if you won’t, probably no one else will.

With regard to our development, you can’t deny that the elephant in the room is a poor quality education. You can say that a decrepit education system is one of the biggest gaps between where Meghalaya wants to be and where it is now. The question now is, will that gap be like a vacuum to pull you along, to inspire you to find the innovative solution? Or will you choose to remain indifferent and arrogant!

I don’t know if you have heard of a Physics concept called “slipstream”. The slipstream or drafting or momentum-diffusion is the pocket of reduced pressure immediately behind an object that is moving swiftly through the air. This pocket is also moving with an object carrying other particles with it. When another vehicle moves directly behind the first vehicle, it got caught in this pocket of fast-moving space and experiences a large reduction of resistance while simultaneously being pulled forward by the first vehicle’s momentum diffusion (the spread of momentum). Physics says that riding in the slipstream allows one to keep pace while using approximately 30% less energy.

          If you are confused, let me redefine slipstream simply as the “optimal pathway toward the desired destination”. Now in every economy, there are many slipstreams created by different sectors. But the fastest slipstream is the one that is created by an education sector. You, therefore, ought to understand the value of education and accordingly prioritize it as the first vehicle of development. If education sector is progressing at a good pace, all other sectors can keep pace with 30% less energy. So just imagine the benefit when all sectors are closely riding together with education at the front!

 I appreciate the incumbent CM’s initiatives on education like ‘LEAP Meghalaya’, but if we are serious with frog leaping Meghalaya from where it is now to where we all want it to be, then, frankly speaking, fancy initiatives are not the solution. We need a serious and comprehensive revamping of our education sector, from kindergarten to college level. And we need to make education collaborative and innovative to the best possible extent. Are you able and brave enough to do this?       

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