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The willingness to take up challenges outside of their designated roles as educators have made the teachers of Ukhrul's government school a source of inspiration for the students and parents alike.
The lack of sufficient funds from the government to run the school has not diminished the enthusiasm of these teachers to ensure good-quality education for the students, even if it means spending from their own pocket for the purchase of books, uniforms, or mid-day meals.
This was recently witnessed on Independence Day when the teachers partially funded gumboots for the students so that they could take part in the parade on the rain-soaked ground. Each of the 12 teachers, including the Principal of the school, contributed Rs 300 each for the purpose.
"Without gumboots, our students would not have been able to march on this muddy and slippery ground," said Theresa Chiphang, a primary teacher at the school.
Located 81 kilometres from Manipur's capital city, Imphal, Ukhrul town is a quiet, picturesque place inhabited by the Tangkhul Naga tribe. The town, like the rest of the north-eastern state, is blessed with natural wealth, albeit the state of education in this primary school needs immediate attention.
The parents of most of these students are farmers and are unable to afford school uniforms, books, and stationery for their children. According to Theresa, "There are many children as young as three who come to school without shoes. Shoes are expensive; their parents cannot afford them."
The Department of Education under Manipur government allocates Rs 400 per student per year for Ngachonmi Fund Primary School.
"With Rs 400, we are able to buy only a shirt and a pant or a skirt. It gets extremely cold in winters here in Ukhrul, and children find it difficult to attend school without sweaters," said Wungchuiwon HA, one of the teachers in the school. For students whose pants, skirts and shirts are in good, wearable condition, the school provides them with a sweater.
In March 2019, Wungchuiwon and Theresa, along with the other teachers decided to do something for the students to brace the long heavy monsoon rains. About 300 metres away from their school, stands a prestigious private institution called Savio School which is run by the Catholic Church. It is attended by children belonging to privileged families.
This year, the school's principal had announced the introduction of new uniforms for its students. Sensing an opportunity here, the government school teachers spread the word that they were collecting old school uniforms of Savio School. Many parents and students came forward and donated their old uniforms. At the end of the month, over 60 woollen red sweaters, pants and skirts were collected as part of this drive.
"I received one sweater, one skirt, ribbons, two notebooks, pencils, a pair of gumboots, and even socks from my teachers," Leishichon Hongray, 10, a student of class 4, who participated in the Independence Day parade, said. She feels much more comfortable in the new uniform than in her old one. "I feel much warmer now."
Funds allocated for buying books and midday meals by the Manipur state government have never been regular. S Tammila, the principal of the primary school elaborates, "It is September now; the year has almost ended yet we haven't received funds from the government for 2018 and 2019. We have to contribute from our own pockets to buy books so that the students do not miss out on their studies."
"Sometimes, we ask the senior students to give their textbooks to the junior students after the annual exam results. I have even bought vegetables and meat from my own pocket because there are times when we only receive rice for the midday meal," she added.
The money is reimbursed to the teachers when the allocated funds are received by the school.
Another important issue flagged by the teachers is that of the prescribed books by the government. From the prescribed syllabus for primary schools in Manipur, only Mathematics, English, and Tangkhul - the language spoken by the natives of Ukhrul - textbooks are provided by the government. Subjects such as English Grammar, General Knowledge, and Moral Science are not issued by the government.
"To ensure holistic teaching, we teach these subjects to them, because it is the right of the students to have access to these basic subjects which will prepare them to become responsible citizens in the future and stay at par with the privileged students. There are parents who can afford these textbooks which aren't provided by the government, but for those who can't afford, we buy them the books," said Theresa.
The students have improved greatly in their studies, and despite the challenges, they are more regular to school. Appreciating the efforts of the teachers, parents have started showing interest in their children's studies, and they also come to drop their children to school.
This has never happened before. Teachers here are going beyond their designated roles to ensure students get quality education. However, it is the government that should play the primary role here.
The views expressed in the above article are that of Masoyo Hunphun Awungashi of Charkha Development Communication Network.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)