Lok Sabha Elections 2004
Under BJP Rule:
Education Is Not for All
Attack on Education
During the tenure of the BJP-led NDA Govt. attacks on education have increased manifold. The BJP has implemented policies dictated by the World Bank and has accordingly taken several measures for privatisation and commercialisation of education. Education is being fast converted into a commodity, available only to those who can afford the high costs of private education. Alomgside this, the BJP has also been implementing its communal agenda of changing the way history is taught in educational institutions.
Dismantling the School Education System
The drive towards privatisation of education comes at a time when, in 2001, 41% of children dropped out from school at the primary level, and 54 per cent at the middle level. There were 59 million children out-of-school, 34 million of them girls. According to the Fifth All-India Education Survey, i) barely half of all primary schools have a pucca building, ii) 42% have a single classroom (if any), iii) just over half have a useable blackboard, iv) less than half have any drinking water facilities, v) only 16% have urinals, vi) more than 60% have only one or two teachers in position (if any), and only 15% have more than 4 teachers.
The BJP Government, making a mockery of the system of school education, passed a toothless central legislation called Free and Compulsory Education For Children Act 2003. In the Act, children below 6 years and above 14 years have been excluded from the definitions of a “child” and “school age.” A child who is more than 14 years old but has never been to a school, is not entitled to get education under the Act. Children with disabilities, who are entitled to free education up to 18 years under the provisions of the PWD Act 1995, are not entitled to education under the Actl if they are less than 6 or above 14 years. The bill will thus deny education to crores of children who are not in the 6-14 age group. The Act provides for two types of schools -- formal and non-formal. The government has the power now to decide what kind of education children will receive – education in the formal school system, or education through the non-formal system. Non-formal schools functions without any basic facilities, and with the service of an unqualified teacher, called a para-teacher. This will become a ploy to deny the poor education by herding them into non-formal schools and denying them minimum facilities.
The Act provides for levying of a penalty on parents who are unable to send their children to school while no penalty is contemplated for erring officials who fail to provide basic infrastructure conducive to quality education for children. Immunity from civil or criminal action has been granted to such officials. By providing for non-formal school for child labourers, the proposed bill virtually legalises child labour in this country.
The government claims that non-formal education is part of its Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Many previous schemes on education like “Operation Blackboard” and “Central Plan for North Eastern areas” have now been collapsed into this scheme. If we take this into account the allocation for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has actually declined in 2003 from 2002. Thus while on one hand the Govt. brings in an Act to provide free and compulsory education for children, on the other hand it reduces the budgetary allocation for schemes designed to fulfil the objectives of the Act.
The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has, till date, been an abysmal failure and has achieved very little in its stated objective of enrolling and retaining children in the school system. This is a far cry from the recommendations of all previous educational commissions, including the Tapas Majumdar Committee appointed by the BJP Government in 1999, which had assessed the additional requirement for universalisation of elementary education as Rs. 13,700 crore per year; or the Kothari Commission, which had stipulated that a minimum of 6 percent of GDP should be spent on Education.
Further, according to the Act’s provisions, an eligible child has to be from a “below poverty line” family. This will keep out a large number of children from poor families who do not qualify as poor as per the Govt.’s norms. Also, under the provisions of Act, a destitute child who is not in a position to submit a birth certificate or submit a declaration about her/his date of birth by parents will not be eligible for admission in schools. The sum total of all the initiatives by the BJP-led Government in the field of school education is denial of education to the poor and the conversion of education into a commodity that can be bought or sold in the market.
Privatisation of Higher Education
Surrendering to the dictates of the World Bank and in order to hasten the process of privatisation of higher education, the Prime Minister’s Council on Trade and Industry constituted a special group on “Private Investment in Education” consisting of two industrialists -- Mukesh Ambani and Kumarmangalam Birla. The bias of the BJP-led Govt. which swears by “swadeshi” is obvious, when we see that it is willing to hand over the future of higher education in the country, not to teachers and academic proffessionals, but to two of the leading industrialists of the country. This group in its report released in April 2000 argued for full cost recovery from students and immediate privatisation of higher education except in the areas of liberal arts and performing arts.
The Ambani-Birla Report suggested a dismantling of the public funded education system, no controls on private investment in education, market oriented courses and ban on any form of political and trade union activity on campuses of universities and educational institutions. In other words, the Report is a prescription for complete privatisation of higher education.
In order to implement the Ambani-Birla Report and keeping in mind the World Bank’s prescriptions, the BJP Government has introduced a Model Act for all Universities. In the proposed Act, the emphasis is on distance education rather than formal education. One of the objects of the Universities, as per the Act, would be the mobilisation of financial resources to become self-sufficient. Universities would be allowed to set up companies and registered societies, and collaborate with the private sector, in order to generate revenue. The Act recommends that the managements in Universities adopt a corporate or commercial style of functioning. The Act also bars normal political and trade union activities in Universities. If this Act is adopted, institutions of higher education will shut their doors to students from poorer and middle income families and higher education will become the preserve of the rich. middle and weaker classes.
The BJP-led Government is also vigorously engaged in following the dicates of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) views education as a service which can be traded like commodities. Initial offers to operationalise this are being drafted by the Government and are designed to facilitate entry of foreign operators in the field of education.
The BJP-led Government is gradually withdraw the funding available to institutions of higher education. It has been stipulated that 25% of the recurring expenditure of such institutions have to be raised by the institutions themselves. For this purpose it has proposed a several fold increase in the fees structure. In May, 2000 the Govt. mandated that 7% of the recurring expenditure of such institutions would be met through fees, and this should increase by 1% every year. The effect of the consequent steep and continuing increase in fees is already being felt. According to statistics released by the UGC, the annual growth of students’ enrolment in the country has come down from 6.1% in 1997-98 to 4.3% in 2000-01.
Very few Govt. funded institutions of higher education have been opened during the tenure of the BJP-led Govt. Moreover, existing Govt. funded institutions have not been allowed to start new courses except for courses astrology and karmakand. Instead, around 3,000 profit-making (called "self financing") institutions of higher education have been started between 1998-2003. These institutions are clearly profit-making ventures that charge huge amounts as fees and donations from students.
India has one of the poorest records for enrolment in instututes of higher education. The percentage of students in the age group of 17 to 23 years enrolling in institution of higher education has remained stagnant at 6.4%. In comparison, the average in developing countries in Asia is 9.7%. The corresponding figures are 52% for South Korea, 20.1% for Thailand, 14.3% for Mexico, 31.8% for Switzerland, 42.7% for Germany, 48.3% for UK, 58.2% for Australia 71.7% for New Zealand, 81.1% for the USA and 100% for Canada. With increasing privatisation, less and less students in India will be able to study in colleges and universities, and the most affected will be the poor, women, dalits and tribals, and students from rural areas.
In accordance with its reduced allocation for higher education and its privatisation, the BJP-led Government has put a ban on all Class C and D appointments The workload of all employees has been increased. Instead of making permanent appointments, teachers are increasingly being appointed on and adhoc or per-lecture basis.
Communalisation of education has been a priority area for the BJP-led government. Towards this end it has taken over all important academic and research institutions and packed them with people who have links with the RSS, in order to change the direction of educational policy. The autonomy of national level institutions like the UGC, Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR), Indian Council of Social Science research, (ICSSR), Indian Institute of Advanced Studies (IIAS), Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), National Centre for Education Research and Training (NCERT), National Institute for (NIEPA) have been undermined and they have been made into instruments for implementing the political agenda of the Sangh Parivar.
History textbooks, especially, have been extensively revised. These text books now carry material that exhibit a clear prejudice against minorities and reflect the understanding of the Sangh Parivar with regard to Muslim rulers in medieval India. In the Vidya Bharti schools run by the RSS, Muslims are presented as cruel, breakers of temples, etc. and such propaganda through the school system creates a fertile ground for communal disharmony and hatred against Muslims.
The changes introduced in the last five years in the education system by the BJP-led Govt. are designed to the gap between the rich and the poor. Such an unequal educational system will reinforce social inequalities, create permanent social barriers and close all chances for social mobility. In the forthcoming elections the BJP-led NDA Govt. must be defeated so that the people of this country can have access to education without distinctions related to class, caste, gender, religion and income.