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Education in the limelight

When education hits the headlines, it is usually for good reasons. But not this day.

Hearing that Tsirangtoe Central School has no classrooms to deliver academic lessons to the students is disheartening. Weeks after the schools opened, the children come to the school every day, bask in the sun for unnecessarily long hours, and when the last bell tolls in the evening, leave the campus grounds.

What is even more unsettling is how confident and comfortably laidback the school’s teachers sound. Perhaps their long years in the profession is the reason behind the kind of optimism they hold in the face of the challenges confronting the school and the students. Co-curricular activities are being conducted and, by the time the classrooms and other facilities are ready, the academic sessions will be in full swing. Such optimism, especially when it concerns the education of some 600 students and when the stipulated time for teaching and learning is running out, could be misplaced.

We are talking about just one school here. There could be other schools in the country facing, more or less, the same problems in varying proportions.

The question this issue begs is: why is this happening? Weighed against the state-sponsored facilities in the central schools, this particular problem may be considered too isolated and minuscule to deserve national attention. But our inability to probe into it and furnish a convincing reason for the shortcoming justifies our special attention. This problem may well be a microcosm of a larger situation. Hence, this discussion.

Planning, or rather the inability to plan well, has been a missing link in our grand scheme of things. And often, this problem is dogged by failure in implementation. A number of problems we are grappling with today such as the rising youth unemployment, growing rural to urban migration, increasing import of food items, and consistently sub-standard school textbooks are a testimony to this failure.

School reforms are always welcome because they signify that we have lived and seen our deficiencies, that there are better opportunities and standards that we can and must aspire for. But there was no need to rush, to hurtle away with the idea of central school. If the idea was to address the shortage of teachers, it has not been successful. Nor has there been a notable change in the quality of education. This decision is now coming home to roost.

How do we address this problem? Who do we hold accountable? And, more importantly, is doing all of these enough? This is the challenge we are compelled to face today. Parents are obviously worried, and so are the children, because there is little else they can do in such a situation.

What is apparent is that we are facing the problem of a disconnect between policymakers and educationists. It could have been a different story a few decades ago but we have come of age. We have no shortage of experts, specialists, and professional manpower in the sector. Short-term adjustments must not find a place in the bigger national dream, especially when the matter in our hands is education and the future of our nation builders.

The reality is that we cannot downplay the problems we have created for ourselves. Because we have brought the problem upon ourselves, we have the moral responsibility to address it. And that will take courage to look inward first.

In the meanwhile, when are the students of Tsirangtoe Central School getting their classrooms, uniforms, and all the other state-sponsored benefits? The nation must know.

The last thing the education ministry should do is get hurt and disgruntled by the bad press it is getting but rise to the moment by recognising its failures and make amends.

Education is a sector that must be driven by free public discourse because everybody has a stake in it. Otherwise, we are doing a disservice to the younger lot who grow up in the image of the very system we the adults are responsible for or guilty of building.

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