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In need of a robust education policy

Aristotle Lyngdoh

For the first time perhaps in the history of education in the state, the long awaited Draft Policy on Education is now available on the public domain. Since it is at the drafting stage, I believe that all those who are concerned with the system of education in the state should share some insights and put forward their views and opinions in this regard. It is a remarkable effort by the Education Department that in just a span of few weeks after the new Government assumed office the Policy has been promptly uploaded to the internet for public observation. In short, the Policy is expected to address various key  issues that are critical in building a dynamic education system for the state. But unfortunately as it appears, the Draft Policy is just another coat of paint on the wall loaded with statements which are subjective in nature. I cannot say how people feel about the Policy, but I doubt that such Policy will be a satisfactory one, or that it will make any difference to the present situation. The contents and term of reference of the Policy itself reflects a mixture of copy-paste concepts and statements. The indigenous approach and contextual factor is missing from the entire document. Since it is the Government‘s prerogative to review policies now and then, those who are responsible to do the job have hastily painted another new look without a thoughtful investigation on how and what should be educated to the children of the society.

The much expected Education Policy, should, in fact define the holistic goals of education and to answer questions pertaining to the purpose of education. It is a vision document that should also serve as a source of direction and guidelines on the nature and type of curriculum that should be designed for the school children. Education is not just a process of transferring knowledge and learning, but the system of education is like a vehicle that drives civilization and society to improve their way of life and to maintain their own development. It can also be called the engine of holistic growth for the nation, a growth that transcends every area of life be it health, agriculture, etc. For instance, if we look at the health sector of our state and the overcrowded hospitals, we cannot deny the fact that the overall health performance is not satisfactory. The national health ranking for different states in the country as released by NITI Aayog on February 9 this year has figured Meghalaya among the list of poor performance states. It is far behind other small states such as Mizoram, Manipur and Goa. Should this trend continue or should the status improve when all children in the state have become doctors or nurses?

When it comes to health problems and sicknesses that affect mostly the rural population, the primary reasons are simply ignorance and poverty. It is a cycle that entraps poor people intensively and education is the only key to unlock this cycle. Failure to maintain a healthy lifestyle such as eating habits and types of foods always leads to various complications. This is an outcome of a lifelong practice of unhealthy living which is common in the rural lifestyle. Sometimes it is pathetic to learn that people who are graduates and matriculates are still lagging behind in this particular area of preventing occurrences of sickness and diseases. So can we call that system of education holistic? Even after certain period of schooling people still remain illiterate on how to maintain their health or livelihood. As far as prevention of diseases and sicknesses is concerned, school teachers have a tremendous role to play in assisting this mission for long term achievement. But does the present system of teaching and content have the scope to do so? If this is possible, I believe the health scenario in the state after few years from now will drastically change to a better picture. It is here that we can say that the purpose of education has also served the needs of the society or nation.     

It is understood that the objectives of education vary from person to person and for that matter should the Policy attempt to make it uniform as in the present system. The Draft Policy as it appears has nothing new and strategic which can revolutionize the mentality of the learners. And for those who have advocated for a robust education policy will indeed be disappointed by such outcome. The reason is simply because the approach has not developed to any logical precision. For instance, the policy has mentioned several times about quality education but in reality the policy did not define clearly what should constitutes quality education. The parameters to indicate the level and type of quality education should be clearly stated to bring uniformity and to reduce the possibility of deviation from basic truths. Simply by mentioning quality in the policy document will not serve any purpose. At least some models of quality schools and education systems must be exemplified.

But what exactly does quality education imply? For those who are acquainted with the term quality service, the essence of quality is not only about infrastructures and facilities, but more on the nature and style of delivery of teaching services to the learners. Another aspect that needs to be inculcated in the people’s mind is that quality is not free and there is a price for it. In general, people are rushing for admission into private institutes because they have the impression that somehow there is quality education in these institutions. Therefore, the pertinent question in everyone’s mind is the type and quality of teachers. In the state where there are nearly 15,000 untrained teachers at the primary level, the concept of ‘quality’ is totally meaningless. Hence the present content of the system too and the curriculum in particular are not designed for any trained teacher to improvise the various training skills and strategies acquired during training in order to provide clarity to the learners on the subject matter.      

Another aspect worth examining is whether private institutes should also fall within the purview of the Policy. When it comes to this, one should not look at private schools from the parochial view of profit making. In reality, there are many good things that private schools have contributed towards the welfare of students and society as a whole such as character building, self esteem, co-curricular activities, etc. A robust education policy is one where no matter at what stage or standard a child graduates from he/she always have some skills in life to sustain himself/herself. The Policy should also pave the way for the identification of talented children in various fields right from childhood.

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