People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
November 05, 2006
‘FOR UNIVERSAL EDUCATION, INTELLECTUAL SELF-RELIANCE AND SOCIAL JUSTICE’
SFI Jatha To Bring Education As An Agenda Before The Nation
R Arun Kumar
THE Students’ Federation of India (SFI) is organising all India jatha programme from November 1, 2006 with the central slogan ‘For universal education, intellectual self-reliance and social justice’. The North-North East jatha will start on November 1 from Shimla and will cover Punjab, Uttaranchal, Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Assam, and Tripura and will culminate in Kolkata on December 11.
The South-South West jatha will start on November 4 from Bangalore and will cover Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Chattisgarh, Maharashtra, and Kerala and will culminate in Thiruvanantapuram on the December 13.
Intensive pamphleteering, postering, wall writing, gate and class-to-class meetings are being organised as part of the campaign. Simultaneous state-level cycle jathas and vehicle jathas will also be organised in many states. Reception committees involving eminent intellectuals, academicians and all those who share our concern for education are being formed in all the centres that the jatha is visiting to welcome the jatha. More than hundred rallies are planned throughout the country.
SFI activists are collecting signatures from the students on the basis of the charter of demands that has been formulated at the all India level. The response is very encouraging.
The target is to collect about one crore signatures from the students. The signatures collected will be submitted to the prime minister immediately after the conclusion of jatha programme. Thus an effort is on to bring education as an agenda before the country that demands immediate concern. Everybody agrees in rhetoric that education is of immense value to the society and is an important means to create material and intellectual resources for the country. Unfortunately this broad agreement fails to translate into action and thus begs immediate attention.
ENTRY LEVEL CONCERNS
Achieving complete literacy within ten years of the proclamation of Indian Republic is one of the many promises that we have failed to achieve even after 55 years of the proclamation. The governments that have been in power since then have never hesitated to reaffirm their commitment to this goal whenever the occasion demanded –– both at the national and international forums. This can be understood easily if we look at the goals of Sarva Siksha Abhiyan. “All 6-14 age children in school/EGS centre/ bridge course by 2003; All 6-14 age children complete five year primary education by 2007; All 6-14 age children complete eight years of schooling by 2010; Focus on elementary education of satisfactory quality with emphasis on education for life; Bridge all gender and social category gaps at primary stage by 2007 and at elementary education level by 2010; Universal retention by 2010”.
Recent reports of the UNDP state that in spite of all this tall talk India would be one of the few countries that would be failing to meet the target of universal elementary education. The report also states that our country would fail to correct another anomaly i.e., the existing gender disparity in education system. All this means that we would be again defaulting on the millennium development goals (MDG), a recently made promise.
Another area of vital concern is the retention rate. The government itself admits that the progress rate on some of the vital means to retain students in schools is not satisfactory. It was able to appoint only 58 per cent of the required teachers and construct only 59 per cent of the required additional classrooms and 69 per cent of the school buildings. Thus it will be no surprise that the dropout rate for the country after class V is 34.89 per cent; after class VIII it is 52.79 per cent; and after class X it is 62.58 per cent (HRD Annual Report). Majority of the students who dropout from the school are from the poorer and under privileged sections of our society-girls, students from SC and ST families.
A position paper by the NCERT's 'National Focus Group on Problems Of Scheduled Caste And Scheduled Tribe Children' notes that “several studies have affirmed that educational inequality (of access and achievement) has multiple bases in the contemporary structures of caste, class, gender and ethnicity evolving in interaction with political economy”. It asserts that “poverty and caste act as fundamental deterrents to education”. Unless these inequities are addressed and a conscious effort is undertaken by the educators to cleanse the caste bias in the education system the goal of even universal elementary education cannot be achieved.
The deep-rooted upper caste elitism prevalent in the society is naturally reflected even in our education system. At the physical level this is found in the less number of schools within the 1 km radius for the SC/STs compared to the upper caste localities, teacher absenteeism, abuses, discrimination meted out to the students from these communities etc. But what is more discerning is the bias in the curriculum i.e. at the level of imparting ideas that really mould the future citizen of our country. The NCERT position paper quoted above states “In India, curriculum and the content of education have been central to the processes of reproduction of caste, class, cultural and patriarchal domination-subordination”. It identified three major areas wherein the upper caste bias and worldview is sought to be taught to the children in the schools. “(i) pure language (ii) literature and other 'knowledge' of society, history, polity, religion and culture that is produced by higher castes which reflects Brahmanical world view and experiences and Brahmanical perspectives on Indian society, history and culture and (iii) high caste, cultural and religious symbols, linguistic and social competencies, modes of life and behaviour.” The paper also points to the “overarching stress on eulogising mental as against manual labour”.
Another important aspect pointed out by the paper is “While Gandhi, Tagore and Krishnamurti – all from the high castes – have received national attention as indigenous educational philosophers, education has not incorporated the anti-caste-patriarchy and anti-hegemonic discourses of Phule, Ambedkar, Periyar or Iyotheedas. Curriculum does not reflect upon the historical significance of caste, gender and tribe, nor of the challenges posed to it by dalit epistemology, knowledge and protest”. The paper bluntly rounds this up stating that “Indian texts uphold symbols of the traditional, male dominated feudal society and its obsolete cultural values and norms.”
These ideological seeds of caste bias further germinate in the present social system that breeds individualism. This is one of the ways followed by the ruling classes to strengthen their hold on the seats of power and continue their hegemony, simultaneously blunting the liberating edge of education.
People who are blind to this Indian reality will not understand the need for social justice in our country and think that any policy for the welfare of the SC, ST, OBC, is against ‘equality’. Simple statements by them that caste is not a factor does not buy any ground because of the very fact that there are many instances of discrimination based on caste that have come to see the light of the day. Nobody can forget that even today their upper caste colleagues call the students from the backward sections of the society ‘shuddus’. It is disgusting even to learn that the youth who profess that they are for equality have shouted slogans in JNU calling the SCs and STs as street dogs. Discrimination exists even in a reputed institute like the AIIMS. Unfortunately, a section of the teachers who have to be role models and mould the students with a broad outlook are also a party, either covertly or overtly, to some of these misdeeds.
Reservations are one of the means to achieve social justice. They are not the end and do not by themselves ensure social justice. Scholarships to all the deserving and needy students, hostels, books and remedial classes wherever necessary too should be provided. The government instead of taking up this responsibility is trying to wash its hands off by just providing reservations. The shrinking role of the State and space of the public educational institutions nullify whatever little relief that the reservations are intended to provide. It is the duty of the State to assume the primary responsibility for providing education opportunities to all and ensure that all the provisions like reservations, scholarships etc are implemented even in private institutions.
Comprehensive implementation of land reforms and a change in the land relations to deal a deathblow to the feudal hierarchical system is necessary. Struggle against caste discrimination cannot be postponed thinking that the collapse of the feudal order will automatically ensure this. The struggle on social issues has to be linked with the economic problems and waged simultaneously. Unless a broad campaign is launched against caste discrimination and social repression these anomalies cannot be corrected. It is the duty of the students and youth of the country, who are proud to call themselves as generation next, to stand first in the struggle for social justice and against discriminatory, outmoded social institutions.
FDI - A THREAT TO OUR SELF-RELIANCE
Private sector is increasingly occupying a lot of space in the education sector. In most of the cases the government is proving to be a faithful compliant by withdrawing from its responsibilities. After the adoption of the GATS treaty the government now wants the foreign players also to occupy this space willingly vacated by it. The government is arguing that it is enabling an access for the realisation of the dream of obtaining a foreign degree. This is far from the truth as only a miniscule per cent of the population is intent on obtaining a foreign degree and even they are obtaining it to settle abroad. The question is just not of access alone. It is like inviting McCaulay to independent India and asking him to run an educational system to meet his countries interests.
The commerce ministry is asking for an exemption to the foreign institutions from the regulatory purview of bodies like UGC, AICTE, and MCI etc. This would mean that the foreign institutions would run courses of their like, act according to their whims and fancies and even remit the profits that they earn in the process to their own countries. The charitable nature of the education system is sought to be changed into a profit-making venture. Our education system that has to cater to the developmental needs of our country and its people is made subservient to the interests of the imperialist countries and their corporate interests. This is an outright attack on the self-reliance of our country and should not be allowed.
The SFI is organising this jatha programme to mobilise students against these attacks on the education system. Students will be asked to come together in the struggle against the anti-student policies of the union government. The UPA government will be made to hear the voices of the millions of students and be reminded that it is high time for it to live up to its promises and commitments made in the NCMP.
CHARTER OF DEMANDS
Constitute a National Commission for Education
Implement reservations in all educational institutions
Increase opportunities for higher education
Enact central legislation to regulate fees and admission in private professional institutes and private Deemed Universities
Central government should enact the Right to Education Bill
Spend 6 per cent of GDP and 10 per cent of central budget on education
Stop private and foreign universities and FDI in education. Protect intellectual self-reliance and resist imperialist onslaught on education.
Ensure good academic atmosphere in all campuses
Ensure democratic rights for students
Implement promises of the CMP
Constitute committees against sexual harassment in all campuses.