Thursday, November 30, 2023

Bridging the gap

In the long list of governance failures accumulated across the decades in Nagaland, the dismal learning levels of students in our schools should count as one of the most persistent and unfortunate. But then again, given the prevailing priorities, this hardly comes across as a surprise. The primary focus of school education programmes in the country has been on inputs ~ construct physical infrastructure, recruit teachers, provide study materials, increase enrolment and encourage retention. As a national policy, it was assumed that once the inputs were in place, the outcomes would follow automatically. So, the biggest deficiency with our school education system is its one-size-fits-all approach. Classroom instruction is designed to cover a prescribed syllabus in a single-track mode to all students in a class, overlooking the wide variations in learning levels among students. This is most likely to leave stranded those already lagging on learning levels ~ which unfortunately forms the vast majority of students in each class. With each passing year, as the learning gap widens, these students become passive and disinterested spectators in class and finally drop out. Education is often heralded as the key to progress and development, but in Nagaland, the road to educational equity is still fraught with potholes. The state of education in Nagaland warrants a long-needed critical examination, focusing on access, quality and the need for innovative approaches to drive meaningful reforms. Access to quality education is a fundamental right, yet the chasms in this access within Nagaland are concerning, to say the least. While there appears to be some movement towards improvement, however minimal, most of our remote areas still find themselves isolated from the promise of quality education. Students in these regions often have to travel long distances to reach schools, most of which are in a state of disrepair. Quality is equally important as access and the state of education in Nagaland leaves much to be desired in this regard. The quality of teaching and learning in many schools falls below acceptable standards. Trained teachers, especially in remote areas, are in short supply. The curriculum often lags behind national and global standards, limiting the exposure of students to diverse knowledge and skills. Assessments and examinations frequently prioritise rote memorisation over critical thinking and practical application. This approach stifles creativity and problem-solving abilities among students, hindering their preparedness for a rapidly changing world. Innovation is the cornerstone of progress in the education sector. However, Nagaland’s education system has been slow to embrace innovative approaches. The adoption of technology for remote learning and digital resources is lagging behind, even though the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the urgency of these measures. Innovative pedagogical methods, vocational training and extra-curricular activities remain underutilised, stifling students’ holistic development. It is essential that our education reforms move beyond rhetoric and take concrete actions. To address the issues of access, the State Government must invest in building and upgrading schools in remote areas, improving transportation infrastructure and ensuring the availability of well-trained teachers. Quality can be improved by focusing on teacher training, curriculum modernisation and assessment reform. Encouraging a more interactive and experiential form of learning, rather than rote memorisation, can foster creativity and critical thinking. Innovation in education should be a top priority. The integration of technology in classrooms, teacher training in digital pedagogy and a diversified curriculum that includes vocational skills are all avenues worth exploring. Nagaland can learn from successful education models in other parts of the country and the world to adapt best practices to its unique context. Our education system is at a crossroads. While there are efforts being made, the State must take a more critical and innovative approach to address issues of access, quality and innovation. Only through comprehensive education reforms can Nagaland unlock its full potential and ensure that every student has the opportunity to excel, regardless of their location or background. Education is the bridge to a brighter future and it is high time Nagaland builds that bridge with commitment and resolve.