Laying foundation of School Fagathansi Mission : A noble venture

Yangsorang Rongreisek
News of launching of School Fagathansi Mission by the State Govt of Manipur on the 17th August, 2019 must have been a great relief for parents/guardians who have no other sources of income in the state with the hope that they will be able to send their wards to the sixty govt high and higher secondary schools in the next academic session. Bigger news is that primary classes will be added to the said schools for the first time in Manipur, and for the purpose, more than Rs.80 Crores has been earmarked as announced earlier by the Hon’ble chief minister of Manipur. What a pain relief it is as of now after years of decadence detected in govt schools in Manipur!
In 1995 too, the department of school education of Manipur selected sixty schools for model schools, a venture said to be the pilot project by deploying most experienced and dedicated teachers in the schools for imparting quality education to pupils without financial involvement. How was it to be feasible without financial involvement? On the contrary, certain teachers’ association objected to the posting arrangement of teachers complaining that there was no most experienced and dedicated teacher or less experienced teacher just as the project kicked off. A petty sum of rupees one lakh only was reflected in the state budget for the whole schools for a year. The idea of such a venture originated from Halim Choudhury, the then Commissioner of Education of Manipur with the noble objective of giving face-lift to selected schools in the first place. The Pilot Project came to a grinding halt after a few months of the start of it without achieving anything. It only ended in a fiasco. It was a bureaucratic initiative without obtaining the cabinet approval. At first, the venture seemed to be quite attractive and gainful—that was fanciful.
In the current initiative, the Hon’ble Chief Minister had declared that sufficient infrastructures like classrooms, decent school campuses, sufficient school furniture, outdoor gymnasiums, separate toilets for boys and girls and drinking water facilities as per the Right to Education norms will be provided to the schools. But all the high and higher secondary schools in Manipur had already acquired almost all the basic needs under the RMSA. The only problem here is the question of maintenance. What the Hon’ble Chief Minister has not included in his declaration is the need to construct auditoriums and compound walls for each high and higher secondary school which has no such infrastructural facilities. Auditoriums and compound walls are so important in modern day schooling that the two items should be included in the program. Truly, the Mission is the gift of the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Manipur, Shri Nongthombam Biren Singh, and the Hon’ble Education Minister, Shri Thokchom Radheshyam Singh is also never less in the venture.
It is to be reiterated that this writer in his article published in The Sangai Express on the 23rd August, 2013 had pointed out that there were only twelve regular Headmasters of Govt High Schools for the whole of Manipur as against 184 sanctioned posts of headmasters in the department in 2013. Consequently, the department promoted eighty Asst HMs/Headmasters of Jr.High Schools appointed in 2014 to the posts of headmasters of high schools setting aside Recruitment Rules as a onetime measure in view of exigencies in the high schools. When all posts of principals and vice-principals of Govt Higher Secondary Schools have almost been filled, there are now only six regular headmasters of Govt High Schools in Manipur. Three of them will be retiring in the early part of 2020. In the more than three hundred Govt high schools in Manipur some asst headmasters and mostly graduate teachers are functioning as Headmaster in charges. As per the amended Recruitment Rules of 2008 for appointment of headmasters of high schools, those Asst Headmasters of High Schools/Headmasters of Junior High Schools who have completed three years of regular service in the grade are eligible for promotion to the next higher posts. The remaining Asst Headmasters of High Schools/Headmasters of Junior High Schools appointed in 2017 will be eligible for headmastership of high schools in 2020 only; this too will be done only if the department gives attention to formalities for such appointment. In the circumstances, the department will find it difficult to appoint even a hundred headmasters of high schools for more than three hundred high schools in Manipur. In addition to this, what has not been looked into is that a large number of govt high schools have no accountants, clerks, peons and chowkidars who are ministerial staffs. They carry out office works which are manifold. It is hard to imagine that a headmaster will function as the bill clerk, the runner and the drawing and disbursing officer of a high school and at the same time, he will devote to teaching work.  What is to expect of such a high school in Manipur?
If at all the Hon’ble Chief Minister and the Hon’ble Education Minister of Manipur are aware of this fact, those senior trained graduate teachers of the department can be promoted to the posts of Asst headmasters of high schools/Headmasters of junior high schools before their retirement in 2019 itself and many of them will retire in the early 2020 from services.  In the School Fagathansi Mission, the right pattern of staffing or proper staffing is the key component in school education. In this regard, except for 3 or 4 high schools, no high school selected for the MISSION has regular headmaster.  It won’t be possible to hold DPC for appointment of headmasters of high schools anytime soon as well. It may be noted how all these happened. All sorts of irregularities were there crippling the promotion process for long. All the misdeeds were committed when junior graduate teachers occupied the seats of Headmasters of High Schools, Deputy Inspectors of Schools, Principals of Higher Secondary Schools and even the seats of Zonal Education Officers against all norms and recruitment rules, making mockery of school education in Manipur. This had greatly demoralised senior and selection grade teachers working under junior teachers blocking preparation of seniority list. Teachers eligible for appointment to the next higher posts had been in the doldrums ever since the irregularity multiplied. As it was, the directorate was in a fix unable to proceed further to frame seniority lists of different categories of teachers in time due to unabated political interferences delaying the conduct of regular DPCs. This mismanagement severely affected high schools in particular as discipline could not be maintained among the teachers in the matters of control and supervision. Such being one of the factors for govt high schools to become mere enrolling offices for years in Manipur, the present govt is expected to ban such practices of the past to streamline school education as a part of the Mission when children of low income groups mostly end up in govt schools.
Till the early 80s, Govt high schools were better managed, and working discipline was very much intact. By the missionary zeal of the headmasters of Govt High Schools in the era, the capacity of the students could be enhanced rapidly through internal assessment, constant counselling and other similar techniques, something like the present CCE enforced in high schools. Graduate Teachers of that time were quite committed to the profession respecting their headmasters and senior teachers in the schools. They worked on the Text-Books even harder than the students. Because headmasters of the era could work independently without much interferences from higher ups. Headmasters of yesteryears were able to exercise some of the powers vested in them. It was an advantage for guidance in school education. The department, too didn’t adopt an over centralised approach, rather a cordial relationship was built between the Directorate and the Headmasters. In this way, govt high schools could gain confidence of the parents greatly.
Addition of Primary Classes to the programme of the School Fagathansi Mission is praiseworthy. The Primary Stage or Nursery Stage is the foundation of children’s knowledge, skills and behaviours. At play schools, children are exposed to a lot of basic learning activities that help them to get faster learning and develop their self help qualities like eating food themselves, dressing up, maintaining cleanliness and learning to sing prescribed rhymes. It is a wonderful world they are in. On completion of pre-nursery education, children are set to the primary stage. The age limit for admission to pre-nursery is 2 to 3 years and that of the primary/nursery is 3 years in all India contexts. The same is for Manipur. It is the finding of an investigation that pre-primary education in the country is not a fundamental right and in rural India, pre-primary schools are rarely available. In cities and big towns, there are many established players in the pre-primary education. The demand for the pre-primary schools is growing considerably in small towns and cities but still only 1% of the population under the age group of 6 is enrolled in pre-schools. As for Manipur, once the primary school classes are started in the model schools, parents/guardians in thousands will storm them for admission of their wards.
In short, learning and teaching in pre-schools/primary stage is purely of great care and constant support which over the time the child comes to command for itself. In a kids’ world, what they like to get up with are fresh and shiny things. So, the existing old and middle-aged lecturers/teachers assigned to teach in the higher classes won’t feel like teaching in the primary stage classrooms. The only solution here is to recruit fresh bloods that are trained in nursery education and are able to sing rhymes will be suited to the task. Kids also like fresh faces and active guidance—not the ones that can hardly move. For this, the department may initiate the exercise for recruitment of primary teachers by framing new recruitment rules. In doing it, each of the sixty high and higher secondary schools selected for the mission will be fit to call a model school in the making. Forget about the financial involvement in the recruitment of fresh set of primary school teachers. That will be negligible.
In Manipur, students are still not getting the due of a decent education in the poorly managed govt schools when many a school of both the hill districts and valley are empty. But there are viable govt schools, too. In the case of high and higher secondary schools, there have been a lot of improvements as per the examination results of 2019. What has got to be done right now is overhauling of the structures of primary to elementary schools on a war footing basis. On the one hand, private schools that do offer a marginally better quality of education have had their freedom to charge hefty fees. The owners of these schools do what any business does and they adjust the product or service they provide to match the price they are charging in which the state govt have no say at all.
Thus, the divide between the children of the haves and the haves-nots will continue to grow for many more years to come. Like any other complex problems, the complexities that have taken decades to emerge, the challenge of providing a high-quality education to Manipuri children can only be solved through coherent, consistent and relentless attention from political decision makers such as the chief minister and the education minister. Of course, they are doing it now and it is believed they will move forward faster wholeheartedly until the actual target is struck. The writer can be reached at Yangsorang [email protected]