Second Generation Problems in Schooling: Lessons from Mizoram

By Santhakumar V | Jun 11, 2018

Mizoram is one of the states in India which has been successful in bringing almost all children to at least the primary school and ensuring reasonably adequate infrastructure and other facilities for school education at a reasonable distance for most habitations.


Mizoram is one of the states in India which has been successful in bringing almost all children to at least the primary school and ensuring reasonably adequate infrastructure and other facilities for school education at a reasonable distance for most habitations.2 This has been possible through the governmental efforts to provide schooling and the social changes which created the demand for schooling. However, the state seems to be facing a second-generation problem regarding schooling for all’. These include the (lower) quality of education; the growing demand for private schools in localities where there already are government schools, and; the difficulty in retaining children in higher (secondary and higher secondary) grades. It is interesting to learn about these new challenges in Mizoram, which has achieved primary schooling for all ahead of the other states. This paper discusses some of these second-generation problems associated with universal schooling in Mizoram. This paper is based on a short-period field study conducted in five locations (rural and urban) in Mizoram during which we visited government, Church-managed and private schools and had discussions with teachers and parents.

Schooling in Mizoram: Background

Christianity played an important role in spreading education in Mizoram, though at a period much later than in Kerala and Goa. It is noted that formal education started only after the arrival of the Christian Missionaries, Lorrain and Savidge (in 1894) who reached the state first as teachers and then as preachers (Lianzela, 2009). The first set of primary schools was started in Aizawl and a few other villages between 1898 and 1903. The middle and high schools were established only after the 1940s. Patriarchal discrimination against girls in terms of schooling was prevalent and this prevented the girls’ access to school in the beginning (we discuss this in more detail later). Until 1952, it was the Church which took care of the affairs of elementary education within this state.

However, the progress in education and literacy was very dramatic in post-independent Mizoram. The percentage of literacy in Mizoram which was only 19.05 percent in 1941 grew to 82.27 percent in 1991 and was the second highest in India. Women’s literacy at 78.60 percent (in 1991) was also remarkable compared to that of many other Indian states. Currently, the State claims to have 96 percent literacy (the highest among the Indian states). In the Educational Development Index ranking prepared by the Education Division of the Planning Commission in 1995 – 96, Mizoram was at the top. The state has the lowest pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) compared even to better-performing states like Kerala and Himachal Pradesh.

It is argued that the expansion of the use of schooling depends not only on the provision of schooling but also on its demand (Santhakumar et al, 2016). The social mobilisation initiated by the Christian missionaries has created a high demand for schooling in Mizoram. Most people in one village go to the same church and it plays a big role in social mobilisation there.3 There are other organisations like the Young Mizo Association, which are active in most villages and towns and take part in public affairs including issues related to schooling.4 This social interest in schooling, along with other factors, too may have enhanced the provision of schooling.

There is no discrimination against girls in the enrolment in schools – a major issue confronted by a number of North Indian states. This does not mean that the Mizo society is not patriarchal and patrilineal. After marriage, girls are likely to move to the husband’s house and their right over their own family property is also limited (Nunthara, 1996; Lalthansangi, 2005; Lalhmingpuii and Namchoom, 2014).5 The conventional Mizo society treats women as second-class citizens (Lalhriatpuii, 2010). However, there are some significant differences in the societal norms in Mizoram compared to those in North India. Though there are ethnic divisions in the Mizo society, the very hierarchical caste system is not prevalent there. This would mean that there are no excessive concerns regarding inter-caste relationships. Courtship is allowed for match selection, and the family comes into the picture only for arranging the marriage. This could be the reason for the relatively free mixing of boys and girls in public in Mizoram.6 Dowry is not prevalent and instead, it is bride price which is the dominant practice there. This would mean that the possible increase in dowry which discourages poor parents from educating their girls – an issue prevalent in many other parts of the country – is not valid here. Remarriage of women is also not discouraged in the Mizo society (Zohmangaiha, 2006 quoted in Lalhmingpuii and Namchoom, 2014). Girls are valued for their labour in agricultural work and other such skills (Lalhmingpuii and Namchoom, 2014). The visibility of girls in public and work places is not viewed adversely by society, which may be encouraging their participation in work. These aspects of the Mizo society may have marginally reduced the barriers to schooling encountered by girls.

Many women have gone on to acquire higher education after the completion of schooling (Lianzela, 2009). But the most enabling factor would still be the spread of Christianity which may have instilled the importance of literacy and schooling among both men and women,7 (though it seems to have not questioned the deeper norms of patriarchy prevalent in the society.) One way to assess the relative role of Christianity versus that of other factors (including those linked with the tribal nature of the population) that enhance the access and use of education could be to compare the status of the Mizos with the Chakmas, (a minority tribe in Mizoram) most of who have remained outside Christianity. The general socio-economic condition of the Chakmas is significantly backward compared to that of the Mizos8 – even though there could be other factors for this.

So even as the enabling factors indicate the readiness to enrol all children in primary schools, the retention of students in higher grades is a problem in the state and we discuss this in the following section.

Dropouts in higher grades

The percentage of out-of-school children in lower grades is very low – not more than 2 percent of children between 6 – 14 years are out of school (ASER, 2012) while it is around 12 percent among the 15 – 16 age group. This indicates that though dropping out is addressed until standard VIII, more than one-tenth of the students do not go in for higher levels of schooling.

There could be social, economic and cultural factors that lead to the dropping out of children from schools (Santhakumar et al, 2016). In the case of Mizoram, one has to look for factors which do not disable students from attending lower grades but may discourage them from being in school in higher grades. One of the factors seems to be the societal acceptance of courtship leading to marriage because of which relationships between boys and girls especially in the age group of 15 – 18 years are not discouraged.9 This can work against the completion of schooling.

However, when the issue was brought up with teachers, most of them cited broken marriages’ (parents decide to divorce and children stay with one of the parents or with both at different points of time and/​or with grandparents) as one of the reasons.10 As a consequence of the break-up of marriages, there seems to be a decline in the ability of the parents to monitor the schooling of their children.

There are indications that the divorce rates are higher in the Northeastern states in comparison with other parts of India (Jacob and Chattopadhyay, 2016). There are several reasons for the high rate of divorce, like early marriages and the relatively low involvement of parents in arranging matches. Another reason which may not desist divorce could be that the girls continue to have a close relationship with their maternal family even after marriage, so they have the support of the maternal family if the marriage breaks up. Also, the institutional or normative compulsion to be in the marriage despite violence and harassment that we see in other parts of India does not seem to exist here.

There are two views regarding how the divorce of parents affects the schooling of their children. While to the outsiders who are used to marriages of intense patriarchy, the divorces may seem like the outcome of loose’ marriages, this may seem like a cultural problem.11 To the middle-class Mizos who have stable marriages, this is seen as a class issue or one mediated by backwardness.12 The picture of Mizoram in this regard is closer to the situation in developed countries like the US and the UK where single parenthood or breaking up of relationships in certain sections of the society affect the education of their children whereas the financially better off single mothers or grandparents or those with higher self-esteem and social capital are able to encourage and support their children to continue schooling.

The other issue highlighted in the discussions with teachers is the use of drugs in school which may lead to the discontinuation of schooling.13 This was mentioned by teachers in both the government and the private schools. It may be noted that it is the boys who are more likely to drop out of higher grades than girls. There is around 5 percent difference between girls and boys of 18 years in the continued enrolment in higher secondary schools. Though one may be tempted to see this as an outcome of the tendency among boys to participate in paid work, this may not be fully valid in the context of Mizoram where most people are occupied in subsistence agriculture, and women participate as much as (if not more than) men. The other opportunity to work comes through migration and there is not much gender difference among the migrants. Hence, the dropping out of more boys in higher grades could be due to reasons like the lack of monitoring on the part of parents which we have discussed earlier, and which is more important for boys to keep them in schools, and; possible substance abuse.

Newspapers (both national and local) report drug abuse and its consequences within the state.14 According to reports, drug abuse has led to the deaths of 27 people in one year (2015) and more than 1300 in the last 30 years. Discussions with people from different walks of life bring up the issue of the availability of drugs. Given the absence of developed markets for many products and the development problems in parts of Myanmar lying close to Mizoram, drug traffickers find a ready market in Mizoram. The 722 km border with Myanmar with its hilly terrain; the fact that parts of it which are close to Mizoram are also under ambiguous levels of institutional/​governmental control (the other states of India which share the border with Myanmar have dissident organisations controlling illegal international trade), and; the ethnic similarities of people between both sides of the border make the movement of goods and people difficult to control.

The other parts of Myanmar – its northern territories situated close to China and those located close to Laos and Thailand (known as the Golden Triangle) – are also known for drug production and exchange. So, drugs being illegally circulated in parts of Mizoram seem to impact schooling in higher grades. It will be interesting to see if this changes as the political situation in Myanmar gets normalised. To some extent, this issue of substance abuse affecting schooling is also similar to the situation in the developed world.

Quality of schooling

Some indicators reflecting the quality of schooling (based on standardised test scores) in Mizoram and Kerala compared with the all-India situation are given in Table 1. In general, most of these learning indicators are relatively better in Kerala. Though the achievement in English reading is substantially better in Mizoram compared to the all-India situation, the gap in terms of other indicators is not high. Also, the achievements in Mizoram are significantly poorer than those of Kerala.

This could be part of an all-India phenomenon. Ramachandran (2014) summarises the reasons for the low learning achievements at the national level: (a) Teachers are expected to complete the syllabus without paying attention to whether each child is learning or not; (b) There is no school-level monitoring process of teaching and the actual teaching time; © There is a huge social distance between teachers and students in government schools; (d) The educators blame rote-learning in schools; (e) There are problems related to the teacher quality and their professional development; (f) Some argue that the no-detention policy is the culprit; (g) The actual number of teaching days are low due to the non-teaching duties of teachers.

How far are these relevant in the case of Mizoram is an interesting issue, though this cannot comprehensively be answered through this study. It appears that the social distance between teachers and students is not as much in Mizoram as in other parts of Northern India. Though we have noted a few cases where the teachers from urban areas (mainly Aizawl) who work in villages found it difficult to relate with the parents of the children, there are schools where a number of teachers come from the same village. The absence of caste hierarchy in the Mizo society also reduces the social distance between teachers and students.

The poor quality of schooling is an important part of the discourse on education in Mizoram. People who are not directly associated with government schools (such as academics), managers and teachers of private schools and parents in general talk about the poor quality of learning in government schools. Private school managers and head teachers highlight the inadequacy of teachers, especially in mathematics and physical sciences. One such head teacher15 noted the difficulty that he had encountered in getting a good mathematics teacher and was worried that she may leave if she got a better offer. There are private schools which have hired teachers from other states (Assam or Manipur)16 or church-run schools which depend on priests and nuns coming from other parts of India, including Kerala.17

How far the government school teachers have internalised the national discourses on quality education is also unclear. We met teachers who openly expressed the inability to physically punish students (due to the norms laid down in the Right to Education Act) as the reason for the latter’s poor performance. We could see classrooms (in both government and private schools) where instruction was quite passive with students simply reading textbooks with minimal interaction with teachers. We did come across a few highly-motivated teachers and head teachers but they are few in number as in most other parts of India. Hence, the all-India issues discussed earlier are relevant for Mizoram too and all efforts should be made to mitigate these.

The social processes which have helped the enhancement of enrolment and access to schooling seem inadequate in enhancing the learning achievements in the state.

Table 1. Learning achievements based on ASER data from Kerala and Mizoram

Indicator of Learning AchievementIndiaMizoramKerala
Percentage of Std III students who can read Std II text251939.1
Percentage of Std V students who can read Std II text48.152.166.8
Percentage of Std VII students who can read Std II text7575.682.7
Percentage of Std II children who can do two-digit subtractions25.323.321.2
Percentage of Std V children who can do division26.14039.1
Percentage of Std V children who can read simple English sentences2552.568.5

Source: ASER (2014)

Dependence on private schooling

In general, the dependence on private schools is higher in Mizoram and Kerala compared to the all-India situation (Table 2).

Table 2. Percentage of students using private schools in Mizoram and Kerala compared with the rest of India (ASER, 2014)

Indicator of Learning AchievementIndiaMizoramKerala
Children of 6 – 14 years using private schools30.84062.2
Boys 7 – 10 years35.642.961.4
Girls 7 – 10 years27.743.864.4
Boys 11 – 1433.531.356.9
Girls 11 – 1425.932.661.5

It is interesting to note that there is no discrimination against girls with respect to the use of private schools in both Kerala and Mizoram. In fact, the use of private schooling by girls is marginally higher than that by boys. This may be due to the relatively less biased use of household resources for girls in these two states. The share of aided schools among the private schools is much lower in Mizoram. In 2013 – 14, there were 1167 unaided schools out of a total of 4020 (including private-aided and government schools) schools (Government of Mizoram, 2015).

There is a growing trend to use private schools and even in villages where government schools function reasonably well, we could see private schools that have cropped up in recent years. The reasons for preferring private schools cited by parents have been documented: English-medium education; motivated teachers; the practice of homework; the perception that students in private schools have higher learning achievement and so on.18 We got similar responses in our discussions with parents who send their children to private schools in Mizoram.19

Many government schools do not have enough students considering the number of teachers and the facilities that these have. Despite this, the closing down of these schools is not desirable as there could be students who cannot afford private schools, and the reduction in the availability of government schools near their habitations may work against their access to schooling. The outflow of children of middle-class backgrounds from government schools has increased the class difference between the teachers (mostly, middle class) and the parents (mostly, lower classes) and has reduced the ability of the latter to influence the school management so as to receive better schooling for their children. On the other hand, most private schools do not have enough qualified teachers and other required facilities. This is so since the fees that can be collected from students is not high enough to pay reasonable salaries to teachers. This was noted by the head teachers of two private schools run by different denominations of the church in Mizoram. A good number of teachers in private schools are without any teacher training. The interaction between private and government schools is also interesting. Private schools are not able to get or retain well-qualified teachers since teachers want to get jobs in government schools, even as government schools find it difficult to attract enough students.20 This leads to a significant wastage of public and social resources (including those spent by parents for the education of their children).

We visited schools in urban Aizawl where the head teachers make extra effort to attract and retain students who otherwise would have gone to private schools.21 The construction and maintenance of better facilities, instruction in English, and adequate focus on extra-curricular activities are some of the strategies they use. The head teachers note the lack of money (or not being able to collect charges from students) to organise activities such as study tours as one reason for the decreased attraction towards government schools. Greater autonomy combined with higher accountability, and; also the possibility of tapping additional resources not only from parents but also from those who can afford to pay, the community and altruistic individuals/​organisations may have to be explored to make government schools attractive.


The social change that has taken place in Mizoram has enabled the enhancement of enrolment in and access to schools ahead of other Indian states. However, this state now is faced with second-generation problems like retention in higher grades and the quality of learning. The social factors which have enabled the achievement of universal access to schooling seem inadequate in improving the learning achievements in Mizoram. To some extent, this is not surprising. Social change may initially enable access to the school without making an adequate impact on the quality. However, the process of transformation in this regard (moving from quantity to quality) could be different in different locations and this itself could be influenced by the socio-economic conditions of the people.


Santhakumar V, Professor, Azim Premji University.


ASER. 2012. Annual Status of Education Report (rural) 2014. ASER Centre: New Delhi.

ASER. 2014. Annual Status of Education Report (rural) 2014. ASER Centre: New Delhi.

Colbert, Irene. 2008. Women and Politics in Mizoram. Patnaik, Jagadish K(ed.) Mizoram: Dimensions and Perspectives – Society Economy and Polity. New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company.

Gangte, Priyadarshini M. 2011. Women of North East in Present Context. New Delhi: Maxford Books.
Government of Mizoram. 2015. Mizoram Economic Survey. Aizawl: Planning and Programme Implementation Department.

Jacob, S. and S. Chattopadhyay. 2016. Marriage Dissolution in India – Evidence from the 2011 Census (to be published shortly as an EPW commentary).

Lalhmingpuii, J. C. and Namchoom, V. 2014. The Status and Role of Women in Mizo Society. Journal of North-East India Studies, 4(1), 30 – 42.

Lalhriatpuii. 2010. Economic participation of Women in Mizoram. New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company
Lalthansangi. 2005. A Situational Analysis of Women and Girls in Mizoram. New Delhi: National Commission for Women.

Lianzela. 2009. Position of Mizo Women-Past and Present. Lalneihzovi (ed.) Changing Status of Women in North-Eastern States (51−56). New Delhi: Mittal

Malsawma, H.L. 2002. Sociology of the Mizos. Delhi: Spectrum Publications.

Nunthara, C. 1996. Mizoram Society and Polity. New Delhi: Indus Publishing Company.

Ramachandran, V. 2014. Can we fix the persisting crisis of learning? Note, ASER Report (2014). New Delhi: ASER Centre.

Santhakumar, V., Gupta, N. and Sripada, R. (2016) Education for All: Can We Neglect the Demand in India? Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Zohmangaiha, B. 2006. Mizo Women and Their Contribution Towards the Church and Society. Unpublished BD thesis. Leonard Theological College, Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh.

  1. In another article, we have presented a similar picture of Kerala and the challenges it is facing now. You can read it here.↩︎

  2. For a recent documentation, see Santhakumar et al, 2016.↩︎

  3. As noted by a government school teacher in a village 30 km from Aizawl.↩︎

  4. Local representatives of Young Mizo Association are members of the School Development Management Committee. We interacted with them in a village school. They serve as the link between the village and the school.↩︎

  5. Though lately, some families have started transferring properties in the name of the daughters too (Colbert, 2008).↩︎

  6. Even authors who note the patriarchal nature of Mizo society acknowledge the visibility of women in public spaces. For example, see Lalhmingpuii and Namchoom (2014).↩︎

  7. The changes in the traditional (patriarchal) Mizo society have been noted in Gangte (2011). The enabling role of Christianity is noted by authors such as Malsawma, 2002 and Lalhmingpuii and Namchoom (2014).↩︎

  8. We could not locate an academic paper on the socio-economic conditions of Chakamas. However, write-ups such as this are available.↩︎

  9. This was mentioned by the headmistress of a private school.↩︎

  10. This was first mentioned to us by the teachers of a government middle school in a village 25 km from Aizawl. This came up again in the discussions with the head-teacher of a Catholic school. We have visited a few families in the village where this Catholic school is located. The breaking up of marriages affecting the education of children came up in the discussions with the families too. This was also confirmed by the person who was assisting our field study and who was trained to be a priest in the local college of Theology.↩︎

  11. This was first mentioned to us by the teachers of a government middle school in a village 25 km from Aizawl. This came up again in the discussions with the head-teacher of a Catholic school. We have visited a few families in the village where this Catholic school is located. The breaking up of marriages affecting the education of children came up in the discussions with the families too. This was also confirmed by the person who was assisting our field study and who was trained to be a priest in the local college of Theology.↩︎

  12. This is the approach taken by a school teacher in a village government school who comes from a middle-class, urban background.↩︎

  13. This was mentioned by the headmistress of the Catholic school. We could see a family in the same village where one boy dropped out of school apparently due to drug use and consequent infections.↩︎

  14. For example, the Times of India; and the Meghalaya Times; there is detailed documentation, here.↩︎

  15. In a school run by the church in the district headquarters of Serchhip.↩︎

  16. This was the situation in a private school run by an individual in a village 40 km from Aizawl.↩︎

  17. For example, a Catholic school in a village between Aizawl city and the airport has two nuns from Kerala working as teachers.↩︎

  18. An NSSO survey conducted in 2014 has asked the respondents the reasons for preferring private schools. 58.7% of them note `better environment for learning’; 22.4% report that the quality of education in government schools is not satisfactory; 11. 6% mention that the medium of education in private schools is English; only less than 4% of the respondents have used a private school due to the non-availability of a government school. However, 12-26 % of the respondents have used a private secondary school due to the lack of a government school nearby. This data is reported in MOSPI.↩︎

  19. An impoverished mother running a small shop in a village 40 km away from Aizawl cited `English-medium’ as the reason for her selection of a private school in the village for her child.↩︎

  20. This was mentioned to us by the head teacher of the church-managed private school in the district neighbouring Aizawl (Serchhip).↩︎

  21. In one school in a village 25 km from Aizawl, in a secondary school where a few teachers from the same village work, we could see a greater connection with the community and greater enthusiasm in using the government school. However, in the same village, the middle school is taught by teachers from the city or elsewhere and their urban, middle-class background seems to have created a divide between the community and the school. These teachers from outside, even though they attend the local church which most parents of the village attend, do not have positive views regarding the villagers and their practices.↩︎