Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Innovation in Education

By HH Mohrmen

This is not an advertorial or a paid article for Avenues. As a matter of fact whatever I write be it in Khasi or English I write out of a sense of conviction. Although I know Mark Stone the proprietor of Avenues and was acquainted with him through the few meetings that we had about four years or so, but that was it. I lost touch with Mark and had not met him since then and there was no communication between us after that. Mark’s brain child – Avenues which was initially started with the objective of training students to speak fluent English with correct accent and effective communication skills, has now expanded its operation to include Image makeover or grooming and etiquette. It was also said that the success of the recent Miss Shillong show organized by the Meghalaya Fashion Society is partly because of the venture the society made to rope in Avenues training academy to prepare the contestants for the show. According to media reports the contestants admitted that the entire grooming to prepare them for the show is an experience of a life time and the image makeover has in fact helped prepare them for life. How I wish I had the opportunity as a kid to learn the skills Avenues is providing to its learners now.
I have few personal experiences of relevance to the subject. I was a young man in the year 1989 and was fortunate to get financial support to continue my church ministerial education in England. And honestly, even the trip for visa interview in Kolkata was only my second trip to that city and my second visit to a place beyond Guwahati. Looking back, there are times when I felt like Crocodile Dundee. And because I was not familiar with Kolkata, I was not able to meet the person Sheba Travels had arranged to help me prepare for the interview at the British High Commission which is just a few blocks away from the Meghalaya House in Russell Street. Anyway, I managed to locate the British Consulate and get the interview at the appointed time since Sheba Travels had already submitted my visa application and the required documents for interview were intact. What is relevant to the write up is that the interview was not as the person in the Consulate had expected. The reason was of my own making. I could barely understand his heavily accented English. Fortunately, I already acquired a sponsorship and the interviewer had no other option but to grant me a student visa for six months stay in England. But, before allowing me to go, he said something like “I don’t know how you will be able to study in England when you cannot even understand English.” That was my first experience of culture shock and it began while I was still in India. If academy like Avenues had existed during those days in Shillong, I would have been the first to register for the course that would save me the embarrassment. And I am sure the courses and workshops the Academy provides will definitely equip me with the skill required for the interview.
The next incident that I would like to share is with regards to table manners. I was a young man from Jowai a small non-descript town; had my education in a government school in town and thereby had no training whatsoever on English etiquette. I did not have to wait long to receive my first lesson in table manners and ironically that happened on my very first dinner in England. Because of jetlag I slept like a baby and had no dinner on the evening of my arrival in England and it was arranged that the very next day I would travel with Rev. John Clifford in his van to Scotland. On that very evening I had dinner with John’s family which his ex wife had graciously prepared. On the dining table, I was given to sit next to John’s daughter Naomi. I said earlier that I did not even know that there is such a thing as table manners before I embarked on my journey to UK. So when dinner was served, I did not even have a clue what I am supposed to do with the cutlery before me on the table. I knew not if I should hold a fork on my right hand and a knife on my left or the other way round? I thought for a second and then decided it is easier to just copy Naomi. Smart move I commended myself. Then John who saw me copying every move Naomi made, asked me “Mohrmen are you left handed?” I said “No I am not.” then John immediately replied, “well Naomi is.” Dear me! I was caught on the wrong foot. On many occasions I offended my colleagues in the institute dining hall by passing my soup bowl or my plates while some of my friends at the table were still eating.
Well, now people who plan to travel abroad can take the course that institutes like Avenues offers to prepare them for the trip. Avenues has indeed opened up new opportunities for learning, which is not part of school or college curriculum in the state.
One of the very few institutes of higher learning in the state with innovative ideas is the Martin Luther Christian University, but unfortunately in spite of the efforts that the University had made, it has become a target of negative publicity from many quarters of society. Instead of focusing our attention on the courses and the services that the University has to offer to the learner and the state, we waste our time debating on the question of ownership of the University. Is it not true that there is a Khasi saying which says that we should judge the tree by the fruit that it produces? (bishar ia u dieng da ki soh kiba u pynmih) Our elders were right when they said “people only hit the tree which bears fruit” (ki briew ki kawang maw tang ia u dieng ba seisoh). While other Universities are still functioning like industries whose role is simply to issue degrees, MLCU under the leadership of its vice chancellor Glenn Kharkongor has not only come up with the idea of creating the department of indigenous studies in the University but it was able to persuade the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council to pass the Bill for preservation and promotion of Khasi Indigenous medicines. The Bill will go a long way in enabling the University to start a course of study and conduct further research in Khasi indigenous medicines and it will also help improve and modernize the traditional healing system prevalent in the state. In my opinion this is what is expected of a University, – to innovate and come up with new ideas that will help the community and the state and not merely to increase the number of young people with degrees queuing for a white colour job in the government employment offices.
I mention this because I also am involved with the department of Indigenous Studies of the University and I hope to be able to make a little contribution towards this noble endeavour. My area of interest is indigenous religion and culture of Jaintia Hills and I think it is not an over statement to say that there are still enormous avenues for studies in the department of Indigenous Studies. The University’s effort to preserve, protect and promote indigenous studies and culture is a step in the right direction and I hope is not too late for MLCU to embark on the mission. Since we have lost most of our traditional wisdom and culture, I hope MLCU’s efforts will help protect some of these ancient wisdoms for posterity.
Now that the dust has settled, I hope the University’s detractors will let the University do what it is expected of it; that is to produce young people who can contribute to the welfare and development of the society and the state. I also hope MLCU will not follow the beaten track and spend its time and resources just to increase the numbers of young people with diplomas but more importantly that the University will help stir young minds to innovate and bring change in the society.
(The author is a research scholar and social thinker)

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