India’s North-East Region (NER) is a long belt of eight states ─ Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim. Each state in this region is home to at least one international border. For instance, Arunachal Pradesh is surrounded by Myanmar in the east, China in the north and Bhutan in the west; Mizoram shares its borders with Bangladesh and Myanmar. Sharing international borders comes with its own costs on the state and its citizens; the NER has suffered from problems of illegal cross-border movements, law and order, security and insurgency.
In order to tackle such problems and alleviate the plight of its citizens, the central government of India and respective state governments have shown great interest in the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE). National-border tension and marginalization are issues of national interest and more and more youth from the NER are bidding farewell to their hometowns in search of employment and quality higher education.
The Centre’s Large Helping Hand
In 2010, a committee set up by the Centre estimated that INR 2310 billion would be required for the implementation of the RTE across five years in the NER. The central government agreed to share the cost in a 68:32 ratio between the Centre and states, whereas the agreed ratio for the North-East region was 90:10, with the Centre footing the major chunk of funds.
In implementing its plan, some of the steps taken to promote education through the RTE are:
- Strengthening of Teachers Training Institutions: The Centrally Sponsored Scheme of Restructuring and Reorganization of Teacher Education was initiated in 1987 to take forward the National Policy on Education, 1986. The Scheme intends to improve teacher education alongside the development of overall education in all Indian states, as per the guidelines of the RTE. It also attempts to address the major problem of untrained teachers in India’s East and North-East regions. Where other states received a total budget of INR 500 crores over three financial years to put this scheme into full force, the NER was given 50 crores over two financial years, separately.
- National Programme of Mid-day Meals in Schools: In order to increase enrolment, retention, attendance and the nutrition level of children, the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education was launched on 15 August 1995, as an initiative of the Centre. At this point, this scheme covers children studying at the primary level across all public schools in the country, keeping in line with the RTE’s mandate. The total amount allocated for the Mid-day Meal Scheme increased from INR 11,830 crores in 2012 to INR 13,215 crores in 2013 without any change in the 2014 budget for states across India. But the amount allocated for the North-Eastern states increased from INR 1,194 crores in 2012 to INR 1,321 crores in 2013 through an increase in the General Education Budget of 2014.
- Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA): SSA started as a nationwide campaign to bring education to all in 2001 and has been fairly successful in the North-East region of India. The states were given adequate funding and good infrastructure. For instance, Mizoram received a total of INR 1,14,25,000 in 2001 for its Saiha district and capital Aizawl by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). The funds allocated for NER states have also increased from INR 2519 crores in 2012 to INR 2725 crores in 2013, before being integrated with the General Education Budget in 2014.
While these schemes were common to all states of India, on May 14 this year, Sarbananda Sonowal, the Chief Minister of Assam, launched Lakshya at Chowkidingee field in Dibrugarh. Lakshya is an initiative of the Dibrugarh administration, in partnership with Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (a scheme designed to increase demand for Secondary Education) and UNICEF. It is aimed at improving the teaching environment in schools and will impact 28,511 students from classes 9 to 12. Academician Nagen Saikia supports Lakshya, claiming that it will guide students to make the right career choices and contribute positively to society.
In Detail: Assam
The literacy rate in the state of Assam is 73.18%, just above the lowest-performing state in terms of literacy, Arunachal Pradesh. Section 19 of the RTE, 2009 specifies certain infrastructural requirements such as one classroom per teacher, barrier-free access, separate toilets for boys and girls, safe drinking water, a kitchen for the preparation of mid-day meals, playground and fencing around the school compound. These requirements were to be met by 31 March 2013.
While it has been said that NER has achieved near universal enrolment in schools and enhanced hard and soft infrastructure, the progress on learning outcomes has not been up to par. Due to the focus on “quantity” in terms of creating schools and providing education to a maximum number of students, the “quality” of education has suffered considerably. According to the CAG report generated on the status of primary schooling in Assam, the focus should be on performance-based assessment to encourage schools to function efficiently and deliver quality education. The importance of the School Assessment Programme suggested in the 2014 budget is great in this regard and should be implemented as a nation-wide policy to fix a system of education that has led to wasteful expenditure by focussing on mere quantity rather than the quality of education.
Marginalizing the North East Region
Despite all the provisions being made by the Centre and State governments of the NER to improve the situation of education in the region, the on-ground situation seems to be a political battle, with ideas of racism and discrimination emerging as the dominant players.
Nido Tania, a 20-year-old student from Arunachal Pradesh was murdered in the Indian capital by shopkeepers as they allegedly shouted racial slurs at him in 2014, adding fuel to the already flaming fire of racial discrimination against people from the North-East region of India. More recently, Higio Gungtey, a 22-year-old student from Arunachal Pradesh was assaulted by his landlord and told to lick his shoe in Bengaluru in March this year.
Such instances beg the question of what education can do to help calm the unrest when the treatment of people from NER is questionable in diverse parts of the country. The unfavourable political climate due to shared international borders and discrimination impinges on education being imparted in the region. For instance, in Manipur 8 to 27% of the sampled schools did not achieve the minimum number of working days, while 35 to 48% of schools did not achieve the minimum number of instructional hours. The schools cited frequent bandhs and adverse law and order situations as one of the main reasons for the inefficient functioning of schools. There was also an absence of records about arrangements made by the Government or school authorities to cover up the loss of working days.
Along with the need for improvement in the manner in which education is imparted and the kind of infrastructure being provided to do this, there needs to be better sensitization throughout the nation to create a conducive enough environment for Indian youth from all four corners of the country to foster, grow and eventually contribute to society. Marginalization needs to be addressed as an obstacle that should be removed to get the full benefit of schemes meant to enhance the future of the nation.