Early Scope

Sekruzu creates a wholistic trend in Nagaland’s school education

A private school in rural Nagaland steps in to rectify what the Government school system has failed to do adequate justice to. This is my personal discovery based on a 5-year case study of the institution and the community’s whole-hearted involvement in taking life forward, from humble beginnings to discovering great future prospects. 
Perched inconspicuously in a tiny settlement called Sekruzu, 13 kms away from Chozuba in Phek district, is a private school called “New Creation School”. When it started in 2013, I volunteered to teach there for   two months to children of classes A and B. Proprietor-Missionary couple Mrs. Vesalu and Rev. Vekuso Swuro, requested me to come again in 2016 and 2017 to train teachers as well as teach English to students. I introduced Performative English to students and discovered that they had become quite confident and communicative, especially the ones who came into my hands in 2013. My time was limited then and I felt guilty of pushing these kids too hard and too far; they were after all, barely out of their cradles! However, when I saw them again after a gap of few years, I couldn’t help but feel proud of them.   
 Children here hail from lesser fortunate socio-economic backgrounds of immediate village origins and are rather bright, not only with regard to learning from prescribed texts, but also their all-round personality development and involvement in co-curricular activities as well. I learned that their parents, most of whom are low income generating farmers, are very eager and enthusiastic for their kids to ‘speak English’ and to get an education which they themselves had missed in life. 
Education in New Creation School is personalized and built on Biblical principles. I was surprised and impressed that on the 5th Parents’ Day which I attended, the kids flawlessly recited 67 memory verses from both the Old and New Testaments. In the campus, English speaking is compulsory and even new students get by with English-sounding smatterings. One teacher confessed to being nervous initially because students converse only in English while she is unaccustomed to it. Children have flocked to this school from near-by villages such as Dzulha, Phugi, Ruzazho and New Ruzazho, Suthozu, Khutsa, Thurutsuswu, Yoruba, Chozuba village, Runguzu Nasa and Nagwu, Khuza, Mutsale, as well as Phek and Chozuba towns. Hostels were built in order to accommodate the ever growing population. Others have rented huts around Sekruzu in order to attend school. Parents from villages keep children as young as 5/6 years old in rented huts with so much faith and trust. Many parents now regard their childern’s educational journey as top family priority. I can imagine how some of them would scramble their meager earnings to pay off the fees - Rupees four hundred as monthly school fees, Rupees three to four hundred as house rent; and for those in hostel, the monthly fee is Rupees two thousand and two hundred. 
The school offers free education and board to limited students, and also considers fee concessions in special cases. Few parents who cannot afford fee payment compensate by helping the proprietors in building & construction works, gardening, carpentry and site leveling works. Student enrolment has multiplied greatly: from 26 students in 2013 to 230 students in 2018, out of which 66 of them are on-campus boarders.
Private schools such as this one is growing rapidly because Government primary/middle schools have failed to deliver in many Naga villages.  When many of the government teachers (though well salaried) clearly display a non-committal attitude, the children automatically follow suit.  Many of them drop out of village schools early; and those who go to near-by towns for high school education cannot cope because of a weak foundation. With the non-detention policy at work, they drop out in huge numbers by the time they reach class Nine. According to Vekuso, “We want every Government school to run smoothly but…. If government teachers are sincere, we don’t need private schools.” Indeed, Vesalu and Vekuso never intended to start a school in the first place. Their initial concern was to live among the villagers and to teach them how to apply Christian principles to life, to encourage economic self-sufficiency, ecological sensitivity and to bring about social-cultural uplift of the people. They discovered that the children and youth of the area were painfully shy and could not even tell their name when asked. Many of them could neither read nor write, leave alone utter a single correct sentence in English. They were decades behind the rest of the State in the field of modern education, and school drop-out rate as well as unemployment was alarmingly high.  The Chokri speaking Chakhesangs inhabiting Sekruzu and Tizu areas have not benefited from the reserved quota for backward tribes and are among the most under-privileged of their tribe in Phek district. Only those residing in urban areas or are upwardly mobile have benefited from this reservation policy. Thus according to the desperate need of the situation, Vesalu and Vekuso were driven to start a school.
To live and teach in a secluded settlement like Sekruzu, cut off from the rest of the world is unthinkable to many aspiring teachers. It is also understandable that aspirants with higher academic credentials or work experience would naturally gravitate toward better paying and more prestigious jobs. Only those dedicated to selfless service and commitment toward the betterment of villagers will opt for a low salaried and humble job in a rural private school. Altogether 12 teachers are employed in New Creation School who teach students from classes A till Seven (as in 2018). Their qualifications range from class 10 pass to PU pass and Graduate; Proprietor Vesalu is the only Post Graduate teacher here. All of them did their basic schooling in a village or a small town close to their home. 
Few individuals criticize the school for employing even some under-qualified teachers. However, looking at the State as a whole, a huge percentage of earlier employed Government school teachers are “under matric” and “untrained”, a massive bulk of them are “proxy teachers” and even many of the Trainer of Teachers (TOT) do not possess a basic B.Ed. degree but are rather under-graduates. Only in very recent years these problems have been addressed and measures to rectify them are taken seriously. Meanwhile thousands of students have already passed though the hands of Government teachers over the decades. A school is known by its pupils, by their academic performance as well as achievements in later life, and more importantly by their valuable contribution to the good of humanity. Such records speak for themselves and every past pupil would like to attribute their accomplishments to a special “role model” school teacher. However, the most important question to ask is: were the students impacted by the teachers with key ethical values and sound moral & spiritual principles that would help them lead a meaningful and fruitful life all through adult years? I wish, really wish that Nagas would not look at this institution as an ATM booth but rather as one where young lives are shaped and destinies defined. What an incredible responsibility that is!
More than Government schools, private schools are under pressure to earn a prestigious name for themselves, and to maintain credibility in the face of fierce competition from other private schools. Their teacher selection procedure cannot afford to be haphazard or arbitrary, but rather conform to specific standards set by the school authorities. Cases of bribery, nepotism, back-door appointment or ‘transfer with post’ are hardly applicable or relevant because a private school’s reputation is always at stake. Also, teachers’ performance, attendance and general conduct is monitored closely by the administration. Staff and teachers are generally sincere in their work, and that is why the over-all management and student performance is quite commendable in private schools. However of course, some of the Government High schools in Kohima, Dimapur and Mokokchung do perform exceptionally well and compete neck to neck with some of the established private schools as well. Also, we cannot deny that committed and hard working Government school teachers are there even in remote villages. 
The need for a professional recruitment body does not arise in private schools because they function independently, and only a manageable number of employees are required, that too with slighter salaries. There is no mad rush for jobs in private schools as compared to Government schools. In the Government system, teachers are nonchalantly given direct appointment by officials holding key positions in the Education Department and the elected Ministers or other dignitaries with so called influence, who have very little or no knowledge of that particular school’s requirement or function. It is a ridiculous situation to be in when a school happens to have excess English and Social Science teachers but scarcity of Science and Math teachers. While most private schools are striving for excellence, a lot of distasteful ‘tamasha’ has already taken place in the Government system. The point now is: how to rectify and reverse the situation so that Government school system is permanently transformed? 
Procuring a Government school teacher’s job has been like a huge political gamble in Nagaland, particularly in relation to State Elections. The ‘quality’ of education that every student rightfully deserves has hardly been taken into consideration. As long as employment of prospective Government teachers are in the power of the Ministers, every candidate contesting State Elections will be perceived as a job-minting Santa Clause by the general public. This Santa image no doubt acts as a strong (but faulty) magnet that attracts votes. There is an obsessive demand for Government jobs here. People in both urban and rural areas are foolish not to demand for basic things like concrete roads and bridges, regular power and water supply, good educational and professional institutions, advanced medical facilities, factories and industries for income generation. 
One major problem in Nagaland’s system of school education stems from the absence of a specialized and professional body such as the Staff Selection Committee (SSC). If the SSC is created in Nagaland to interview and select candidates for all non-gazetted posts in school education and Home department, then this present lamentable predicament will definitely be checked.  
The dismal state of Government schools is generally felt in the interiors and the remote villages of Nagaland; and it is here that private schools such as New Creation School seek to fill in. Establishing private schools in remote areas is however a massive challenge considering the economy of the local people. Vesalu and Vekuso depleted their modest savings to construct bamboo, tin sheet and thatched structures for class rooms, teachers’ quarters and dormitories, and also for making furniture. Their Chapel hall, whose foundation was laid in 2014, still stands as it is, with crude cemented pillars, make shift walls and temporary tin roof, and planks of wood on bricks stands to act as benches. Despite the pitiable infrastructure, this is one of the fastest growing private schools in the area. 
Vesalu and Vekuso promote a concept of education that is not only about ‘school’, but rather considers the sum total of one’s life and invites a hands-on participation of the entire community. It is refreshing that something hopeful is happening in a place we least expect or even care to venture into. Their approach to education is ‘wholistic’, taking into account the community’s socio-economic uplift, weaving parental interest in their children’s lives as well as providing a forward-moving frame-work that propels all of them to earnestly work toward a better future. They are educators in the true sense of the word. For them, school education is one among other components that feature in the life journey of a person. Education encompasses a totality of life right from childhood to old age. They reach out to the whole community by conducting various training camps, seminars and workshops for men, women, youth, children, families, couples, the aged and those in Christian ministry in their Oasis Resource Centre in Sekruzu. The topics they cover are eco-farming, animal husbandry, leadership, worship and music, career guidance, personality development, evangelism, self help enterprise and many others of direct contextual relevance.  They invite resource persons and subject experts from outside to enlighten the minds and embolden the hearts of the people to reconstruct their destinies. Their education program encompasses the whole community and not just the individual. Together they rise, and this is one reason why their school children get so much support and blessings from parents and elders, who themselves are being educated side by side with the children. This reminds me of what a Japanese scholar once said, that it is better for hundred people to take one step forward than it is for one person to take hundred steps forward.