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Present status of Hmar education: What lies ahead

Thursday, March 10, 2011

/ Published by VIRTHLI
~John H. Pulamte, Manipur

The term ‘Education’ used here mainly refers to that system of education introduced in India by the British and the Christian missionaries since the last part of 18th century and which many authors and educationists called ‘Western Education’ or ‘Modern Education’. The super structure of this form of education consists of the organization of schools, colleges and universities wherein the formally prescribed courses of teaching in various fields of knowledge are conducted under planned curriculum and syllabus in an articulated manner stage by stage.

The introduction and development of Modern Education among the Hmar peoples of Manipur, Mizoram, Assam and elsewhere practically begins with the arrival of the reverend Watkin R. Roberts in Senvon, the biggest Hmar village of southwest Manipur on February 5, 1910 and then spreads from there in a short span of time. Though some Hmar villages in the then Lushai Hills (now Mizoram) had Christian converts before 1910, schools are not yet officially established in their villages as was seen in southwest Manipur. It may be noted that the chief of Senvon, Kamkholun invited Roberts to come to his village to tell them about the story of Jesus as mentioned in the Book of John which Roberts dispatched sometime before to the chiefs of all the Lushai villages north of Aizawl. But, what the chief and his subjects asked Roberts on his first arrival in Senvon was not to establish a church nor, a missionary centre but, a primary school. Roberts did oblige with that request and soon afterwards sent three volunteers among his students in Aizawl. Official statement and other reliable records tell us that these three native teacher-evangelists reached Senvon on May 7, 1910

Christian missionaries who had already set up their base in the then Lushai Hills began the yeoman task of giving modern education to the Zo tribes which includes the Hmars from the very bottom of reducing their language to writing in such a way that the system they introduced could be readily adopted by the people meant for. The original script introduced by the reverend F.W. Savidge and J.H. Lorraine, the first two official Missionaries in the then Lushai Hills used diatrical marks in some alphabets. It is as follows (in Capital letters) –
A, AW, B, D, E, F, G, NG, H, I, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, R, S, T, T (pronounced as ‘thraw’), U, U, V, Z, CH (pronounced as ‘Chaw’): (Lorraine JH, Dictionary of the Lushai Language, Calcutta Asiatic Society, 1975 (Reprint), p. v)

Rev. Edwin Rolands, who came a few years after Savidge and Lorraine made slight modifications of the above script and was being appreciated and approved by the formers. It was as follows (in small letters): a, â, aw, b, ch, d, e, ê, f, g, ng, h, i, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, t, u, û, v, z.

In sharp contrast with other parts of India, where education was started for the children of the workers of the East India Company and also ‘to make clerks to act between the rulers and the ruled’, and the most important aim of which was ‘to create a group of people who may work as mediators between them (the Englishmen) and the common people’, modern education among the Hmars, right from the initial stage was meant for the native people. Besides, education in this part of the land was purely with religious purpose. The people were taught the three R’s in preparation for Bible reading and understanding of writing and simple arithmetic for their daily religious exercises.

The Hmars are presently settled in compact mostly the northern areas of Mizoram covering about 36 recognized villages and 35 villages in southwest Manipur which are adjacent to each other; some portion of Jiribam Subdivision of Imphal East district and more than a dozen recognized villages in the town area of Churachandpur district. In Assam, they are one of the major hill tribes living in the Barak Valley districts of Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj in South Assam and have a significant presence in the North Cachar Hills and Karbi Anglong districts of the same state.

Hmar was officially recognized as Scheduled Tribe in the said three states as well as the state of Meghalaya. Hmar is also permitted to be used as Medium of Teaching up to Middle School level in Manipur and Assam and as Major Indian Language up to Class XII level. The same advantage is yet
to be achieved by those in Mizoram though effort is being made. Both Manipur University and Assam University, Silchar has also permitted Hmar to be studied as Major Indian Language in the Graduation level.

As per records and information available, there are altogether 17 High Schools, 40 Middle Schools and 60 Primary Schools in the 36 Hmar dominated villages of Mizoram. There are also a good number of Mission schools and run and managed with donations from outside India. In the 45 recognized Hmar Villages of North Cachar Hill (Dima Hasao) & Karbi Anglong districts of Assam, there are 5 government full fledged High Schools, 4 Govt. Aided High School and the same number of Govt. Aided

Mission H/Schools. Besides, there are 50 Govt. LP Schools, 10 Govt. ME School, 13 Mission Schools and 8 Aided Schools and 3 Private Schools. Though the Hmars are the major Hill tribes living in the plain districts of Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj of South Assam, the presence of quality government or mission school is almost nil except in Hmarkhawlien and its adjoining areas where the only government High School (Union High School) is located. There are also some 3/4 quality Mission schools which are in fact rely upon by more than 90 percent students of the area.

In the Hmar dominated areas/villages of Manipur, there are 5 full fledged government High Schools and some 13 Junior High Schools. Out of these, just 2 or 3 Schools have a semblance of a school with the rest of them being there in the name and on paper only. So is the other 25-30 lower level government schools under various names and grades with no visible physical activity in and around the school. Christian missions under various names and denominations are also still active in the field of education in Manipur and still run and manage about 15 English Medium Schools and some 30 Vernacular Schools. The main aims and objectives of these school however, is not quality education but only to make the students understand the basic 3 R’s and thereby making them to be able to read the Bible and Hymn Books in the churches. They are stated to be in this financially unenviable task due to unreliable government schools particularly in the interior and remote villages. These different churches employed some 220 teachers; their educational qualification and aptitude in teaching is however not something to be proud of.

The more important and relevant issues the Hmar Schools are encountering at present are briefly stated here as follow:

Wrong Concept of Teaching Profession
One of the most unfortunate situations the state of education is witnessing not just by the Hmars but all throughout the region is that everybody, right from the administrators to the common man considers the profession of teaching as just another job in the market meant for earning monthly salaries. What is more important to become a teacher is not about having the talent or aptitude and interest in the teaching profession but, of the money and influence one have to those who matter most in the process. Teachers who were once upon a time accorded topmost rung in the society and known as ‘gurus’ no longer command such respect and reverence in the present days. On the contrary, many government school teachers posted in the Hmar areas today command respect not because of the services they rendered towards education, but because they are better off with money. Politicians are scared of them because they sponsore candidates in elections; churches and its members dare not say anything against them as they need their contribution and loan from them off and on. They have influence in the day today functioning of the village, the church and village and tribe level social organizations.

Absenteeism and Substitution of Teachers
Many government school teachers posted in the Hmar dominated areas just refuse to stay in their place of posting and performing their assigned duties citing one excuse after another. Many of them illegally engage unqualified locals in their behalf by paying a meager amount of Rs. 700/- to 1500/- per month and that too, not counting the summer and winter holidays. This illegal practice is usually done with the tacit approval of the village chief/chairman/president or school management committees. It is understandable if a senior and outdated teacher who have just a couple of years for retirement is substituted by a fresh and energetic graduate, but not so if a Science Graduate teacher is being substituted by an under matriculate and unqualified person.

Lack of Infrastructure (teaching & non-teaching staff, building, teaching aids, etc)
Though the state as well as central government pumped in huge amount of money towards education under various schemes and project, it is found that most government schools in the Hmar dominated areas, be it in Manpur, Mizoram or Assam are still without proper classrooms, laboratory and lavatory facilities, benches and desks, blackboards and dusters and other teaching aids. In the age of technology where computers are the basic requirements for students there is no computer facility in most of the government schools particularly those in the interior and remote areas. Besides, the lack of adequate trained and qualified teaching staff particularly those of Science and Math has also greatly hampered the smooth progress and functioning of all these schools. This shortage of teachers is more acute in the interior villages where there are no private schools. With the fast pace of changes and development in the field of education, the teachers have to be constantly trained and updated to familiarize with the innovation in curriculum, examination system, the methods of teaching, etc. The ‘inability of the government school teachers to adapt to these new developments and innovative ideas are definitely one of the many reasons for the failure of many government schools in the high and higher secondary level Board Exams.

Political interference
Political interference in the day-to-day functioning of schools greatly hampers the smooth and successful functioning of government schools not only in the Hmar villages but throughout the region and country. Transfer and postings of Headmasters and teachers are usually done without considering the interest of the schools and students but that of the politicians, bureaucrats, officers and the teachers. When everybody knows that recruitment, postings and transfer of teachers is best to be affected in the beginning of an academic year, the same is usually done with interference from the higher ups during mid academic courses. This always have a great bearing on the normal academic functioning of a school. Headmasters alone cannot make the school function smoothly. They need the fullest cooperation from teachers, villagers and all concerned. There are many instances and situations where a headmaster of a school dare not take any displinary action against his subordinate staffs only because that staff have a strong political back up and background. There are also many cases of teachers who got themselves transfer along with their post because of their influences and maneuvering in the head office.

Poor Educational Environment and Too Many Social Activities
The Maduliar Commission of 1953 points out that, “Many children, now seeking education, come from homes where there is little of an educational atmosphere. Hence, they got little or no opportunity for supplementing the education given at school”. The above observation is also true in the Hmar areas and villages across the region. There are too many social and religious activities among these people that have its effect on the progress and performance of the students. For instance, in most Hmar villages, all the seven days of the week has a church service wherein parents and other grown up members are supposed to attend. Parents in such a way have less time to give and devote to their children as they are almost fully engaged throughout the week. On the social front, whenever someone in the village or locality die, the school has to remain close for the day. In the night, all youths are bounded to attend the traditional singing and mourning services for a minimum of three nights. Many educationists and concern parent have now questioned the efficacy of attending so much religious and social programs and activities by the parents and elders in the society.

Modern Education reached the Hmar peoples alongside Christianity. While the latter had uplift and ameliorate the Hmars and made them at par the rest of the world, modern education has not done enough mainly due to their own folly and mismanagement of the educational affairs. The few successful government officers and bright students who could cross the all India level competitive exams are too rare in relation to their population. Most schools in the Hmar villages are in pathetic condition. It will however be of no use if one tries to find faults and blame one another. It is the responsibility of each and every individual, leaders and elders to try and find out the ways and means to address this perennial problem. Here are some options:

Community Participation
Willing participation and involvement of the community in the day to day administration and functioning of educational institutions has off late been much advocated and even successfully implemented in some states of the country including the state of Nagaland. The Hmars have experienced these sort of practices till the early 1950s but had to abandon it with the coming of the state government albeit without much preparation and planning according to the need and demands of the local villagers.

The state governments must also seek the support of the Church, NGOs and private bodies and work for the betterment of the present position and system of education. They can give room and opportunities to each other by stepping aside in areas where one can play more effective role. All mission or private schools in villages where good and effective government school is functioning can be abolished or transferred to another village where such government school is not available and vice-versa. Informal amalgamation of government schools, withdrawal of mission schools, incentives to performing teachers, identification of bright and prospective students, local participation and devolution of power are some of the more important points to be noted in order to give fresh life to the dying system.

Residential Model Schools
Though Education has been the responsibility of the state, and huge amount of money has been pumped in by both the union and state government towards the same under various programs and scheme, it will be suicidal on the part of the tribe if no effort is made from their side.

Highly experience and qualified teachers must be recruited to teach in these schools and offered attractive pays and perks but for a limited period say, 5 years and extended with increase benefits base upon their performances. The Headmaster must also be hired on ‘contract’, but by giving full power and charge even to the point of suspension and re-recruitment of staffs. The advantage of having these community schools will be inclusion of certain co-curriculum or extra curriculum activities related with the tribe, its history, culture, the ever relevant principle of ‘tlawmngaina’, an untranslatable term binding all to be hospitable, kind, unselfish and helpful to others: a moral force which finds expression in the self sacrifice for the service of others, etc and which will definitely be of help for the community or tribe in the long run.

Highly professional and dedicated individuals must however come together and formed a ‘Board’ in which all different churches and civil societies participate and look after these schools in a way. This Board must preferably be headed by one senior educationist or someone who have enough experience in the field with adequate salaried staffs.

Vocational and Job oriented curriculum
One of the most important reasons for the introduction of modern education among the Hmar peoples was to make the new Christian converts to be able to read and write. Considering this aim, one can say that the education among the tribals of Manipur in the first half-century of the 20th century was quite successful. However, in a period where the aim of education was beyond the 3 R’s, the aims, methods and system needs to be change according to the needs and situation. Vocational and job oriented subjects must be included in the curriculum so that learning is a joy for the learner. The curriculum should be reformed and modified as per the needs of the community and the locality. It should be made more practical and useful. It should be diversified and flexible to cater the interest and aptitude of the students. The curriculum should be closely related to the social life of the students so that it may help in developing the capabilities of the students. Vocational subjects should be introduced as far as practicable especially in the secondary stage.

Every problem has a solution and so, the problems being faced by the Hmar peoples with regard to Education will definitely have ‘a way out’. With the legislation of Right to Education by the union government in 2010, more financial and manpower resources will definitely put forward by the the union as well as the state governments concerned. The success and failure of this ambitious scheme along with the already existing scheme such as Mid Day Meal, SSA, RMSA, etc will all depend on how the people concerned, the intellects, student and civil societies understand the issue and contribute their might towards the issue.
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