Monday, August 29, 2011

Community participation and education in State

It is a known fact that if it is not for the initiative made by various Faith organizations and the community, the education scenario in the state would not have been like it is now. So, before the government even contemplates on the idea of encouraging community participation in education, in the so called public private partnership, the people of Meghalaya had already moved a step ahead to provide education to their children. It is the community which took initiatives in starting the various educational institutes from lower primary to college level and in many cases it is the (faith based organization) FBOs and the community which run the educational institutions.

Higher education in the entire State has opened up thanks to the state universities which cater to the need of thousands of students in the state. The state universities have started courses of studies in various disciplines to cater to innumerable needs of modern education. But the pertinent question is the standard or quality of the course studies offered by these universities. I am not questioning the credibility of these universities but my question is to the state government. Does the education department have any kind of mechanism in place to regulate and monitor the functions of these state universities? Something like the UGC for the central universities, or is it a free for all kind of a thing? Does the state government have any system to ensure that the students are not duped and the course of study they registered is up to the mark and worth the money they paid for?

Not only state universities provides higher education in the state, there are also innumerable institutions which offers different course of studies, does the government has any mechanism to check whether the courses offered by these institutes are up to the mark and whether they have qualified teaching faculty? Has the education department conducted any kind of inspection on these institution or universities and scrutinized the kind of courses study they offer? The state government can perhaps manage and control the state universities because the universities were created by the resolution of the state assembly, but the question is what about the numerous institutes which offer variety of course studies particularly in the state capital?

The state of affairs especially in the education sector in Meghalaya is that everything is concentrated in Shillong. We have every kind of educational institution of every shade opening shops in the state capital, but in the rest of the state particularly in Jaintia hills district, the educational opportunity that is available is not beyond graduation level. Till now there is very little scope for post graduation studies in district. The Pnar of Jaintia hills are said to be enterprising not because of those who own coal mines. There is no innovation whatsoever involved in mining coal or limestone. The rich coal mine and lime stone owners have not innovated any new business venture; their only investment is in buying property in Shillong and the metros and register themselves as government contractor and suppliers while few join politics. There is no creativity involved in that. In my opinion the enterprising people of Jaintia hills are those who foresee the future and started educational institutions to cater to the need of the future generation of the region. These Institutions were initially manage and funded by the entire community and in most cases the state government came in later to support these institutions; little though it be. For instance the Nongtalang College was started with a contribution made by the entire village by paying extra one rupee per kilogram of the rice they bought each month from the village fair price shop and I consider that innovative.

If we take the institutes of higher education into consideration, to begin with the only government college in the district which is now rechristened by the incumbent education minister as the Kiang Nangbah Government College was initially started by the community. Then we have the Nongtalang College, in Nongtalang and the Jaintia Eastern College in Khliehriat all these colleges were started by some enterprising people of the community. And the support these colleges received from the government is in the form of an ad hoc grant which has remained so for so long. The people of Jaintia hills have also started a law college known as Khad-ar Dalloi Law College, the college recently celebrated its silver jubilee in which the education minister government of Meghalaya Dr. RC Laloo was the chief guest. The very meaning of the word jubilee is to celebrate but the sad fact is that the gathering was informed that the 25 years old institute is on a verge of collapse. Those present in the gathering were informed that the academic council of the North Eastern Hill University (NEHU) has decided to withdraw the provisional affiliation of the college to the University. To add to that there is no financial assistance coming forth from the government to support the college and enable the management to hire qualified teachers. In the 25 years of its existence the college is entirely funded by the community and the state government is yet to contribute to the recurring expenditure of the college despite the college having a sprawling campus and a building. The three mentioned colleges were purposely started to cater to the needs of the students whose parents cannot afford to send their kids to study outside their villages or town and if the state government is not supporting these college is it not a case of denying the student their basic right to education?

During the silver jubilee celebration of the Khat Ar Dalloi law college Dr. R.C. Laloo Minister of education GoM, in his response to the request for support made by the management of the college ducked the query by saying that he would not like to comment on something that he did not know. But what Dr Laloo seems to have forgotten is that he has been minister of education for many times now and if a professor in a university who was also a minister of education several times over can still feign ignorance of the nitty-gritty of the education department of the state and the University from which he still draws his salary then only God can help Meghalaya. Or does it mean that every time there is cabinet reshuffle, a minister has to unlearn whatever he has learned from the previous job before he takes on the new portfolio?

This is the state of affairs in Meghalaya where we have a problem of plenty in the city of Shillong, but in the remote towns and village there is a need for huge government support to ensure equal opportunity for all the students to continue their education. In the case of Jaintia hills district, the community has already led the way for the government to engage in the process by supporting the colleges in the so called PPP mode, but that is not forthcoming as of now. The state government is taking shelter in the excuse of ‘financial constraint’ and refuses to support or in the cases of the two rural colleges enhance the salary of the staff of these colleges.

It is also ironic that despite the presence of cement companies in Jaintia Hills District none of the cement companies has come forward to support these colleges. Even the state government has failed to make it dawn on the companies that it is imperative that they contribute to the development of the area in which they operate. As of now it is the office of the deputy Commissioner which holds the key to decide where the conglomerate of cement companies invest in. If the government of Meghalaya considers education as it top priority, it is time to make the companies invest in education as one of companies’ corporate social responsibility obligation and thereby make companies CSR contribution transparent. The companies enjoy tax holiday and 58 subsidies. It is time that the companies show some respect and contribute to the welfare of the state. (The writer is a research scholar and an elder of the Unitarian Church)

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