Not enough teachers; private teachers being paid too little; government teachers planting substitutes; schools shut due to zero enrolment; more than 50 per cent of students failing Board examinations. These problems are just the tip of the iceberg in government-run schools in Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh.

The children in India’s eastern-most state may be the first to wake up in the country, but some still do not make it to school. Others that do, may not necessarily be receiving the quality education that they deserve. This is evident if one goes through statistics of the students’ pass percentage in matriculation and higher secondary school examinations.

The mean pass percentage of State government schools at 10th level from 2013 to 2020 is 47.74%. In 2018, only 2 out 10 students passed their 10th board exam from Arunachal Pradesh. The mean pass percentage of State government schools at 12th level in Arunachal Pradesh from 2017 to 2020 is 50.52%. The state data is slightly better at 40% pass percentage for class 10 but way to less in comparison to other states such as Delhi region and Chennai region. 

Changlang district has seen a pass percentage of 26 per cent for class X and 36 per cent for class XII in 2020.  As per ASER 2018, in Changlang district, 72.3 percent of students in class iii-v cannot read standard 2 text, while 51.3 percent of students cannot solve simple subtraction.

Not everything is good in other NE states either

These education woes are not just limited to Arunachal Pradesh per se. Over the years that North Eastern states have not fared well in education metrics either. As far as foundational learning abilities are concerned, according to ASER 2018, only 35.8 % children in Std III who can read at least a Std I level text in Arunachal Pradesh. Only 10.9 % children in Std V can do division in Meghalaya.

The Assam government had to shut down 17 schools with zero pass percentage in the High School Leaving Certificate (HSLC) or Class 10 examination 2020. As far as the overall 8 years trend of pass percentage of government schools under Guwahati region is concerned, at the 12th level, the mean pass percentage works out to 60 %.  No wonder, one former senior CBSE official perhaps was right in his assessment when he said, “The governments in the Northeast are absolutely casual in improving state-of-affairs at public schools”. 

Every year dismal academic results of Classes 10 and 12 exams in the North Eastern States bring about a blame game of all sorts. The secondary and higher secondary results, however, reflect the overall poor health of the state’s education sector, starting from kindergarten, involving policymakers, school administrations, teachers, students and parents.   

What amplifies the crux of the problem really, is that, every year children are failing in their 10th and 12th boards. The crux of the problem is deep-rooted! We have to relook holistically through different lenses, covering primary to higher secondary education, because the root cause is the lack of foundational skills. 

The conceptualisation of the idea

Education is perhaps the only ray of hope of most families, especially if you are from a marginalised and deprived community, especially if you hail from North Eastern states, where there are very limited economic opportunities and ignorance of the world outside makes the children fall prey to drug trafficking, do drugs, alcohol and worst case scenario, join insurgency.

As someone like me, who belongs to one of the most deprived and marginalised communities in India,  I have experienced this at a personal level. My parents are farmers who did not complete their primary education. My mother studied till Class 8, while my father studied till Class 12. She got married to my father at a really young age. My parents knew the importance of education and prioritised it.

Despite my parents not being well qualified, they made sure my sisters and I studied. I could study to my heart’s content till my graduation, however, my parents could not support my higher studies beyond graduation. Therefore, my higher studies upon completion of my graduation was self funded. My parents beyond a point could not support the studies of my two younger sisters due to financial constraints.

After I started working, I assumed responsibility to support the studies of my sister. Now, both my sisters are doing well on their own terms.  Like me, my other co-founder, Prahlad Chakma too has a similar story. He was one the only three students out of 120 students who passed their board exam from Government Higher Secondary School, Diyun in 2005. He went on to become Teach for India Fellow in 2012. 

Like Prahlad and I, everyone in our team and for that matter every North Easterner, has a similar story to tell. And all these success stories have been possible because of education.  We all have a shared experience. 

It is only through education we have managed to empower ourselves to what we are now-peaceful, critically conscious and economically empowered. Ever since we embarked our professional journeys, Prahlad and I have always aspired to give back to the society and the communities around.

We have alway had the realisation that education is pivotal and critical to children of our community and other communities. Therefore, we conceptualized India Foundation for Education Transformation and then co-founded it in 2020.

We are now out on our mission to help the most deprived and marginalised communities of the region and build a strong academic foundation for 30,000 early graders by 2025 and enable 5,000 secondary graders to get into colleges and universities.

Building harmonious and peaceful communities

North East has been a theatre of conflicts over the years. Its richness, plurality and diversity of people and strong tribal identity affiliation has often contributed to tension among and between communities.

We seek to use education as a means to imbibe and foster friendship, tolerance, mutual coexistence among competing tribal communities. Which is why, our vision is to transform communities into peaceful, critically conscious socio-economically powered through education that believe in harmony and social coexistence.

Building credibility and trust with our works

Ever since we have formed IFET, we have been working very hard and in a short span of less than 18 months we have gained credibility through our works.

Ensuring Learning Continuity during the Pandemic: We are one of the very few organisations from the NE region to have opened avenues for online learning in Lockdown 1.0. Throughout Covid-19 pandemic time we have supported and served more than 15000 children in Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh. In 2020, we were able to ensure learning continuity of more than 10000 secondary students in 15 government secondary schools. 

In 2020, during lockdown 1.0, India Foundation for Education Transformation in collaboration with the District Administration under Learning Continuity Program, we directly ran online classes in 15 government schools in Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh.  With the shutdown of schools because of the lockdown, we wanted students from government schools too to continue learning, and we aimed to keep them engaged and ensure learning is not hampered by any means.    

Helped in ensuring school and skill readiness in children before school reopening: With the aim of removing barriers to education, catching up on the learning losses, revive interest for learning and uplift mental health and eradicate learning anxieties caused due to Covid pandemic, India Foundation for Education Transformation implemented the District Administration’s School Preparation Month Program throughout August and September 2021.   The program ran for 2 months in August and September 2021 involving 435 community qualified volunteers in 263 villages directly teaching 7126 students.  

Helping to set up Community Libraries: All the government schools do not have any libraries of their own. They do not have any access to reading recreational and print rich books. The only books they read are textbooks. We have set up one Community Library in Moitripur village under Diyun Circle of Changlang District and another one at Gautampur village is being set up. 

Quality education may not be the distant dream anymore. Need of the hour

By 2030, an estimated 3 lakhs children in Arunachal Pradesh and estimated 22 lakhs in the entire NE India, are expected to drop out of their education system if we don’t step up now.  Therefore, your help is urgent and important to stop this vicious cycle of education poverty.

We have already made a systemic step to solve the problem by going to the root of the problem. Which is by intervening at the foundation years of early years schooling. IFET   launched its School Transformation and Foundational Literacy Programme, our key initiative this year, in partnership with the Changlang district administration.

Through this, we plan to raise Rs 10 lakh by December end for this program. 30 government primary schools are being intervened in Changlang district this year. To  run, implement and monitor this larger FLN program we need your support as the entire effort so far has been self-funded.   We invite you to take action here by donating here

Sanjoy Chakma is a co-founder and COO of India Foundation for Education Transformation 

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