Sunday, March 7, 2021

Coronavirus Cogitations: Reality of regress

Monalisa Changkija

Today I spent a couple of hours going through stuff on social media and the conclusion I arrived at is very simple ~ we direly need to shape up our education system in Nagaland. This, of course, is not a new discovery; this opinion has been there for a very long time but alas we haven’t seen any change or improvement. True, the number of educational institutions, right from the primary to the university levels has increased exponentially since statehood but in terms of quality, there is a lot left to be desired. This column is woefully inadequate to discourse on the multi-faceted dimensions of our lamentable education system so I will cursorily mention only 2 points: (1) however technologically savvy our kids are, they still need to be properly taught the 3Rs; (2) while technology is a great tool of disseminating academic education, I get the sense that we are focusing more on technology than on imparting knowledge. So today we have kids who are very savvy in accessing information about various subjects but they are unable to analyze and build on the information available to them. So, if you talk with most of our kids with impressive degrees on numerous disciplines, they are quite lost on the fundamentals of their subjects therefore they repeat what has already been said. So I feel that we are short-changing our children by not instilling in them the spirit of enquiry and the scientific temper. The other aspect we are short-changing our kids is by not instilling in them the habit of reading. The fact is without reading, learning remains incomplete. Then of course, there is that issue of language. If one is not well-versed in language, all the reading a child does will be lost on her. Much needs to be said about the quality of education in Nagaland but suffice it to say that by not focusing undivided attention on the quality of education, we are bringing up a handicapped generation of youngsters and this does not augur well for our future.

Because of the novel Coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic, at the moment we are solely focused on health issues and our healthcare delivery system. But without a solid and unassailable education, it is very difficult to sustain a strong and impeccable healthcare system.  The fact is that knowledge is the basis of success in all spheres of human endeavours ~ and the rest then automatically follows. We keep lamenting that we don’t have a Medical College. In a recently published article titled: “Arunachal gets its first ICU as Covid-19 exposes NE’s health woes”, published in The Federal, Samir K Purkayastha writes that last month a research paper published by the Observer Research Foundation states: “Northeast India has a supply gap of 36,009 registered doctors. Also, there is a 66% gap in the supply of trained nurses. There is 1 nurse per 1,483 people which is higher than the national average of 890 and it does not meet the WHO prescribed norms of 3 nurses per 1000 people”. As regards the requirements of more Medical Colleges in the Northeast, the same paper states: “… a major hurdle for setting up of medical colleges in the region is that sufficient number of qualified doctors may not be readily available for appointment as Professors, Associate Professors and Assistant Professors. As per the Medical Council of India’s guidelines, to become even an Assistant Professor, one has to publish at least 4 research papers in national and/or international journals. As India has only a handful of medical journals, it is difficult for the doctors of NE region to publish so many research papers…” I wonder why qualified Northeastern doctors do not, or are unable, to write 4 superlative research papers, which any national/international journal would publish. I think the problem lies in our education system, which doesn’t instill in students the discipline, patience and perseverance required to pursue and document time-consuming knowledge. The imbibing and pursuance of knowledge is a very long and lonely process ~ so quality education also demands the strengthening of mental and psychological stamina.

These are days of SMS language and brief Twitter messages but should durable quality education be sacrificed at the altar of these tools of communication and networking? What kind of education have we imbibed when we ourselves cannot discern between quality education and tools of education? I get a lot of feedback that my articles in this column are too lengthy. But if a person cannot read an article of less than 2000 words, how can s/he read tomes of books prescribed for school, college, university and research courses? Am I to surmise that the person has not read the books prescribed for her/his course but have managed to pass with the “sure success” kinds of help books so abundant in the market? So then we must necessarily question the quality and calibre of the doctor, nurse, engineer, teacher, administrator, legislator, policy-maker or any other professional. The core component of health care, education or any sector is human resource so if today we are confronted with deficient development infrastructure we have to look at our education system and the values it imparts. And, to look at our education system and the values it imparts, we have to look at our society and the values it upholds and nurtures. I know this Naga girl, who is totally illiterate. I asked her whether she had ever gone to school to which she replied in the negative. I asked her why. She replied: “I didn’t think it was necessary to go to school. I thought when I grow up, things will come to me naturally and I will know everything.” My heart broke because she is a very intelligent girl and could have contributed so much to our society. This is exactly what breaks my heart about our education system too.

To compound matters, after we grow up we actually believe that we know everything. But the minute we believe so, the minute we stop inquiring and learning we stop growing intellectually. When that happens, all segments of human endeavours and efforts stagnate and soon come to a standstill ~ consequently, we dream and talk of progress but live in the reality of regress. Nagaland now needs to start at the very beginning right from crawling ~ to be able to walk and run. We must hunger and thirst to learn and put good use to what we learn. Nagaland needs a leadership that will inspire us to imbibe genuine love for knowledge. Otherwise we will continue to live in the dark cave of ignorance and be overwhelmed by its consequences ~ which doesn’t need to be listed and elaborated because we live with them.

Reports say that our COVID-19 patient, now still at Guwahati, has tested negative for the fourth time and is expected to be discharged from hospital by today. He may have been discharged ~ at the time of writing this. If these reports are right then we owe big time to Assam. We owe big time to Assam anyway because of taking care of our health needs for decades. By the way, according to the aforesaid article in The Federal, the NEC had observed that due to the lack of proper health facilities, people from the Northeast spend around ₹120 crore annually outside the region for medical treatment. I cannot over-emphasize the dire need of a quality education system and a first-rate healthcare delivery system in Nagaland more.