Sunday, December 12, 2010

Private Tuition & Sectarian Education System

This year is no different from last year. Post July 23 Kwairamband Killings, students were sitting idle in the Manipur Valley when annual examinations were round the corner because of the indefinite class boycott imposed by some students bodies demanding justice to the broad daylight fake encounter last year. This time, it is not any student body that is calling the shots but a grand association of teachers, appropriately named Council of Teachers’ Association (COTA). In total disregard to the fate of tens of thousands of students, Government school teachers under the banner of COTA have launched an indefinite cease work strike, again demanding ‘justice’ in the form of implementation of the 6th Central Revised Pay in toto. Strangely, there is no vocal outcry from any quarter till date even as the teachers are virtually holding their own students at ransom in pursuit of their demand, a much fattened pay. Unlike the previous year, no guardians’ association has come forward to raise a single voice of concern for the hapless Government school students though some student bodies have issued a few strong worded press statements. Just as much as their demands are justified, we cannot miss the insensitivity of the teachers toward plight of their own students. As rightly said, “teachers are architects of the nation”, we don’t expect such callousness on the part of our esteemed teachers. Yes, if we should talk about irresponsibility and insensitivity, no doubt, the Government always tops the list. This article is not intended to find faults of anybody but is aimed at highlighting the woes of the Government school students.
Whether it is class boycott or cease work strike, it is mostly the Government school students who are suffering the worst. Their more fortunate colleagues reading in private schools are little affected by such disruptions for they have the privilege to go to private tuition centres or hire private tutors. On the other hand, the Government school students are literally abandoned by the Government and their own teachers whereas their parents could not afford private tuition. The end result is an unassailable disparity between these two groups of students. This is most glaringly reflected in examinations conducted by the Board of Secondary Education Manipur (BSEM) and the Council of Higher Secondary Education Manipur (COHSEM). Government schools drawing blank in BSEM and COHSEM conducted exams is neither surprising nor inexplicable.
Culture of private tuition
Since the past decade, groups of parents thronging at the gates of tuition centres or private residences of teachers have become a common sight. Presence of parents at such sites seems to have a common purpose, Yenning guesses, a mission to ‘educate’ their children through private tuition. Parents’ escorting their children to the tuition centres is another inescapable sight. This is a new found tradition visible in almost all localities of Imphal and greater Imphal. Thirty years back, private tuition was reserved for a privileged few who were academically not so bright. Even then, private tuition was largely confined to one or two subject(s). Over the years, private tuition or coaching has become an integral part of formal (school) education system in Manipur. With students going for private tuition for each and every subject, private tuition or coaching is fast acquiring the status of a parallel schooling system. There are many compelling and not so compelling factors for the rise of private coaching system in parallel to the formal schooling system. Frequent bandhs, boycott and other disturbances are some of the compelling factors. Here, we cannot overlook the heightened sense of competitiveness. It is really painful to see that private tuition is assuming the character of a tradition in our society. We do agree that private tuition equips students better to face examinations. At the same time, it evokes a question of fairness. Whereas the level of competitiveness is rising year after year, the arena of competition is shrinking reciprocally. Competition and sense of competitiveness has already become an exclusive domain of private and mission schools only. These exams have become so lopsidedly unfair that students of Government schools have been thrown out of competition. This fast growing tradition of going for private tuition gives unfair advantage to those students who can afford while victimising many poor students. If private coaching raises the level of competitiveness, it is also one major factor for the increasing number of High School drop-outs. A notion seems to have been imbibed by the students that it is impossible to pass Board and Council exams without going for private tuition. To many poor parents, both in rural and urban areas, private tuition is a luxury they cannot afford. With the culture of private tuition spreading like a plague, many families are struggling to send their children to private tuition sacrificing other basic requirements of the family.
Nurturing dependency mindset
Private tuition has many inherent demerits, producing serious implications on multiple aspects of our social life. However, by virtue of its sheer relevancy to the education system, private tuition centres are gaining prominence at the expense of public schools. The shift in the education pattern is that schools are there to conduct exams and issue certificates, while the actual teaching and learning is done in private tuition/coaching centres. Schools have deviated asunder from their sacred purpose of imparting education to students. Growing culture of private tuition is a manifestation of parents’ dissatisfaction with the educational performance of schools. The rising popularity of private tuition and coaching centres has its roots in the Indian education system where marks secured in the examinations are used as the sole criterion to measure a student’s abilities. This system of judging a student’s potential and ability defies the very purpose of schools, which is to prepare students for examinations and more importantly for life beyond. Again, private tuition contradicts the aim of education, that is, to make students think and nurture their innate potentials. Underscoring the flawed education system which has deviated quite afar from its intended line, the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) recommended in 2005 that education should be for nurturing multiple intelligence in order to fructify the full potential of each child. And this has to be supported by a constructivist approach to learning and a flexible, scientifically designed student assessment system. “Performance should be portrayed in a portfolio revealing his/her total being. This can include domains such as life skills, academic/non-academic and vocational subjects, personal qualities”, CABE recommended. Private tuition/coaching operates in total contradiction to such recommendations. In other words, it stands to mould students to secure maximum marks in examinations. Guided by this objective, private tuition/coaching feeds students with ready-made answers/solutions. With private tuition assuming central role in the school education system of the State, students have been accustomed to a culture of spoon-feeding. The culture of spoon-feeding is robbing away the thinking power of our young students. Students are not allowed to exercise their mental faculty to tackle a problem and arrive at a conclusion of their own because teachers in coaching centres are ever present to supply them with ready-made answers. This slowly cultivates a mindset of dependency among young students where they cannot think of solving any new problem without teachers’ assistance.
Poor students, the victim
Even if one likes to blame teachers and parents alike for the malaise stunting the mental and physical development of our students, Yenning believes the crux of the problem lies in the all pervading system in which only marks matters. The infectious growth of private tuition/coaching that we see in Manipur is the spill-over effect of the system followed all over India. When mark is the only criterion for admission in higher educational institutions including technical ones, it is only natural for students, teachers and parents to focus on securing maximum marks. With majority of parents disillusioned with the performance of public (sic Government) schools having failed to generate marks to the scale demanded by higher educational institutions located outside the State, a fertile ground was bred for gradual ascension of private tuition culture over formal schooling. Much earlier, mission schools run by Christian missionaries and other private schools, which mushroomed in the later phase, have disqualified Government schools from being educational institutions. It is now a fact that education sector (up to higher secondary level) is one sector in Manipur, which has been fully privatised. And now, private tuition culture is fast emerging parallel to the formal school education system in Imphal valley, if not in the whole State. Perhaps, this could be the beginning of ‘double-privatisation’ of education sector.
Either it is general strike, bandh, blockade or curfew or class boycott by student bodies or cease work strike by teachers, it is the Government school students who could not afford private tuition that suffer the worst. Not only, are they thrown out of any academic competition, they are also denied any meaningful education, thanks to the myriad disruptions that come round the year. Here, one cannot miss the prefix ‘indefinite’ that comes along with these disruptions, and most unfortunately this has evolved into a sort of fetish. Coupled with these disruptions, the growing culture of private tuition, Government school students have been literally put out of reckoning. Even as all the odds are heavily stacked against the poor students, neither the Government nor the teachers nor the society seems to have any empathy for these underprivileged students. Rather the Government seems to be encouraging this unfair and flawed system. As for the education system in practice, it is quite sectarian at the best.

This article was posted on The Sangai Express on Sunday, December 12, 2010

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