Education: Government stands firm on SC-HSC fees decision

Rules that are laid down must be adhered to, otherwise there will be chaos all the time.
And this cannot be accepted

It has been reiterated by no less than the Prime Minister himself at his press conference prior to his leaving to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He maintained in as many words that government will not go back on its decision that parents of SC/HSC students who do not add up to 90% attendance will have to pay the fees for the examination themselves. This decision had been communicated to the colleges earlier this year, and so the principals, teachers and parents were in the know about it.

Taking a cue from the Prime Minister, the Minister of Education Mrs Leela Devi Dookhun too warned that there was no going back, though the deadline for the payment has been extended to give time for parents to make their arrangements.

The issue of absenteeism on the part of HSC and SC students during the third term especially has been around for several years now. The causes for this phenomenon span students, teachers, poor discipline, private tuition, social media, political demagogy and dilly-dallying about the provision of free services covering education, water and electricity. Of course nothing is free because taxpayers foot the bill eventually. As in all sectors, so too in education: at every level there are problems. But fundamentally there is a profound trust deficit that has gained hold between teachers and students.

This is especially the case in the State colleges, where discipline vis-à-vis students is more lax than in private colleges. Several cases are known where indiscipline or verbal sparring involving the teacher and a pupil who is ‘connected’ to a politician has led to the transfer of the teacher! It happened a few years ago at Gaetan Raynal SSS for example, where the student in question was the daughter of a politician. But this kind of high-handedness has a pedigree dating back to the early 1970s, when a rector at the Royal College Curepipe decided to resign rather than implement a politically motivated decision to promote a student of Form IV to Form V, when the college had already found him unfit for this promotion – in his own interest.

The result is that teachers in general feel vulnerable to political pressure and are loathe to enforce rules. This emboldens students, who feel they can defy the teacher and by extension the rector of the school. There is therefore little inclination to prevent absenteeism or misbehaviour on their part. Coupled with the fact that practically all students take private tuition, where they look forward to making up for what they may be missing at college, there is an almost automatic trend towards the absenteeism that has long been the bane of our secondary educational sector. Not to speak of the other social ills which have invaded our secondary schools: drugs, smoking, sexual deviations.

On the other hand is the issue of whether once the government had made the announcement earlier, it had set up a standard mechanism or procedure to follow up on student attendance by the teachers/head teacher, and to keep their parents updated so that they in turn could keep an eye on their children. The responsibility for absenteeism therefore has to be shared between the students who take to illicit distractions instead of attending class and concentrating on their studies, and who think that because education is free they can afford to take liberties, and also the teachers who lack the motivation to hold the students’ attention and interest in whatever they are being taught. Here a centrally driven awareness campaign regarding the new rule of 90% attendance ought to have been organized in every college so that students and their parents would not be able to plead ignorance.

But it is also important to emphasize that rules that are laid down must be adhered to, otherwise there will be chaos all the time. And this cannot be accepted. Hopefully next year there will be no recurrence of this thorny problem that is yet to be brought under control at the time of going to press.

* * *

Balochis stage protest outside UN Building in New York

The people of Balochistan, a province on the western side of Pakistan which comprises 40% of its territory, have long felt the oppression and strong-arm tactics of the Pakistani establishment against them. They have been subjected to repeated violence, including killing of activists. Historically they claim that they were never part of Pakistan and that the province was forcibly annexed to Pakistan after the latter was formed.

Exasperated and driven to despair, they decided to stage a protest against Pakistan outside the UN building in New York, taking the opportunity of the General Assembly being held. It was a peaceful protest with banners flying, in which they drew attention to the 5000 activists who have been killed and the 20 000 that have been ‘disappeared’ by the Pakistani authorities – and this was commented upon by a Balochi woman protester who was being interviewed. From asking for more autonomy earlier the Balochis are now squarely making a case for their independence from Pakistan.

They have sought the support of Indian Prime Minster Modi, who pleaded for them at the General Assembly, drawing attention to the ongoing human rights violations against them that have been perpetrated by the Pakistani authorities. In response to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawab Sharif’s rant against India about Kashmir, trying to compare the two situations, PM Modi made it clear at both the recently concluded G20 meeting in Laos and at the UN General Assembly that the protests in Kashmir were being instigated by what was termed the prime exporter of terrorism in the region, Pakistan, which has repeatedly failed to act on evidence provided to it by India, including the arrest of several infiltrators coming from Pakistan who had declared that they were from terrorist groups supported by the ISI of Pakistan.

It may be noted too that the Pakistani authorities have allowed the Chinese to develop the Gwadar port in Balochistan as part of their economic corridor through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, viewing it as an important access to the Indian Ocean. The West has made noises but basically turned a blind eye to China’s record of human rights violation that culminated in the Tianamen Square massacre, so it will be interesting to watch how the protest of the Balochis will impact the Chinese project in Gwadar. Most importantly though it is high time to resolve the subjection of the long suffering people of Balochistan and if their open protest in New York helps in that direction it will have been a worthwhile endeavour. It is their first such protest, and is not likely to be their last given that their plight has now come out in the open on the world stage.

* * *

Hillary Clinton’s health

The latest incident in the run-up to the US presidential election campaign has been the faltering of the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton as she was being escorted by bodyguards to a waiting vehicle. She had been attending a 9/11 memorial ceremony in New York and had to abruptly leave because she was not feeling well. Only after this incident was it revealed that she had not disclosed that she had been diagnosed a few days earlier with pneumonia and was taking treatment for it.

Following this episode, the health records of both presidential candidates are being sought by the American public and being put under scrutiny. As if this were not enough, former Secretary of State General Colin Powell’s emails have been leaked, and they are not kind to either candidate. Donald Trump he has called a ‘national disgrace’ and a racist, and he has castigated Hillary Clinton for trying to drag him in her email controversy.

Not too long after the onset of the US presidential campaign several analysts there pointed out that it was turning out to be the dirtiest one ever in American history. It seems that there is more dirt yet to come…

TP Saran

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