People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIII

No. 32

August 09, 200

TAMILNADU

 

Students Fight for Common Education System

  

G Selva

 

IT could have been just another usual day for the citizens of Chennai but for a procession of students who had gathered in their hundreds near the Tamilnadu secretariat, and were now moving towards the secretariat complex, carrying flags of the Students Federation of India (SFI) and placards. Their angry faces expressed their yearning for a common education system and protest against the extortions in private schools in the name of fees. They also wanted a stop to the compulsory donations in government schools in Tamilnadu.

A huge contingent of policemen, more in number than the students, stopped the latter 300 metres away from the secretariat and told them to disperse. The SFI leaders told to them that they wanted to meet the minister of school education to convey their demands.  

But the police were not ready to hear their words and resorted to unprovoked, heavy lathi charge. The special police were used to attack the students who were first surrounded and then attacked. The victims included girl students too, though there was not a single policewoman there. More than 30 of the students were grievously injured. The brutal attack broke the SFI joint secretary G Selva's right hand; Habiba, a student of Pachaiapp College in Chennai, suffered severe head injury.

All the students were arrested by the police and carried in two police vans around the Chennai City for two hours. Even first aid was not given to the injured students for three hours; they were arrested at about 11.40 a m but the injured were hospitalised only at 3 p m. Those arrested were not given water either; it was some shopkeepers and pedestrians who provided them water packets when the police vans stopped at road crossings for a green signal. The arrested students continued to raise slogans in protest all the way and to demand first aid to the injured.  

 

KINDS OF

PROBLEMS

There are diversities in school education in Tamilnadu which has a State Board, a Matric Board, an Anglo-Indian and an Oriental Board for school education. The State Board of School Education controls the government schools which account for nearly 70 per cent of the students. The Matric School Education Board controls the matriculation schools in the state; these have more than 25 per cent of students.

Throughout the state, government schools lack adequate teachers, infrastructure and basic facilities. Hence the pass percentage in State Board schools is very low compared to the private schools. The private matric schools have a separate syllabus, specialised teaching methods, separate books, separate examinations and a separate evaluation system. Thus, students in the government schools have been lacking learning skills compared to their counterparts in other states.

In the public exams in 2009, for example, 80 per cent of the top ranks went to the private matriculation schools. Similarly, in the medical admissions in 2009, whose rank list was published by the Directorate of Medical Education, Tamilnadu, more then 90 per cent of the seats went to the private school students.

For the last ten years, private schools have been mushrooming in the state and are collecting exorbitant fees from the parents in every academic year. This year, they have increased their fees by 10 to 60 per cent, evoking protest from the parents against the school managements. However, the state government did not take any initiative to stop these fee hikes; it has not even framed a fee structure for private schools. In Tamilnadu, the state government is encouraging the matriculation school managements and has now given them permission to start s number of private schools throughout the state. Due to this, the quality of education has gone down.

Academicians in Tamilnadu are critical of such moves on part of the government while for the last ten years the SFI has been demanding equal access to education and a common and uniform school system for all. The SFI has continuously conducted a series of struggles for a common school system in Tamilnadu.

 

GOVT RENEGING

ON POLL PROMISE

As for the fees, the Chittibabu committee, formed by the state government to suggest ways to streamline the guidelines for fee structure in private metric schools, has given its report to the government. But the latter has not yet thought it necessary to follow its recommendations. Due to the serious efforts of SFI and academicians in the state, the Dravida Munnetra Kazgham (DMK) --- currently the ruling party --- had to promise in its election manifesto during the last assembly elections that it would implement a common school system in the state if it came to power.

After it came to power following the elections, however, the DMK forgot about its promise regarding the common school education system, and the SFI had to conduct yet another statewide struggle in 2006 on the demand. As a result, the state government had to form a nine-member committee headed by Dr Muthukumaran, former vice chancellor of the Bharathidasan University. The committee made an analysis of school education system in the state and heard the opinions expressed by students, parents, teachers, private school managements, local body authorities and the common people. The SFI too made a representation to the committee and gave its opinion. The committee submitted its report to government of Tamilnadu on July 2007.

Though the government tabled the report in the legislative assembly on October 14, 2007, till now no discussion on the report has taken place.

In this report, the committee has expressed its estimation that a common school system is very much practicable and should be implemented in the state. The committee made many recommendations about it, explaining how it is possible in step by step manner.

Though the SFI has been demanding that the state assembly must discuss the matter, the DMK government has so far remained silent.

Meanwhile, the government formed yet another one-man committee under Vijayakumar, a retired IAS officer), to analyse the possibilities of implementing the report submitted by the Muthukumaran committee.

After this one-man committee submitted its report to the government, the latter formed yet another five-member committee to study and analyse the common school system in other states. However, though the committee has started its study, the state government has not fixed any timeframe whatsoever for it. This shows how the state government is yielding to the pressure coming from the private school managements and postponing the implementation of the promised common school system.

The SFI has urged the government to decide a timeframe for the five-member committee and to organise a discussion in the assembly on the Muthukumaran committee.

On June 5, the SFI conducted a gherao in front of the director of school education for pressing the demands of a common school system, stop to compulsory donation in government schools and fixation of a fees structure for the private matriculation schools. During the discussion with the director, the latter said that he would convey the SFIís demands to the government.

 

PROTEST

GALORE

On June 10, the SFI conducted demonstrations all over the state on these demands. But the state government still kept its silence, allowing the private education business to flourish unhindered.

On July 7, the SFI state committee decided to organise a march to the state secretariat and meet the minister of school education. The police attacked this very SFI march towards the assembly complex on July 14, as referred to in the beginning, at a time when the budget secession was going on.

Next day, students all over Tamilnadu boycotted their classes, and held demonstrations and rallies in protest. In Coimbatore, Government College students gheraoed the police commissionerís office. All colleges in Kaniyakumari district witnessed a strike. In Madurai, thousands of students blocked some of the roads for an hour. In Chennai, students in all government colleges protested.

In Thiruvelluvar district, students of the Government Arts College boycotted their classes and protested in front of their college. Here, ten students were arrested by police; they are officer bearers of the SFIís district committee. In Cudalore district, students in the five government schools boycotted classes and protested. Leaders of the SFIís district leaders were arrested by the police.  

More than one lakh students took part in various protest actions in the state, against police brutalities.

Next day, replying to the questions raised by some MLAs regarding this issue, the chief minister of Tamilnadu doled out false information to the assembly. He said, "In yesterday's protest, only a few were students and a larger number of non-students took part in the action." He then added that "there is no common school system in Kerala and West Bengal."

However, the chief minister also stated that the government has accepted the common school education system as a policy. This was a gain of the SFIís continuous struggle.

But the state government has started threatening the students who took part in the protest by sending letters to their parents and institutions.

This is patently undemocratic. Those in power must realise that students have the right to fight against social injustice and that the SFI has a long tradition in this regard. It is also worth remembering for the ruling DMK that students played a major role in its emergence as a premier party in the state. However, even if those in power have forgotten this fact and are resorting to intimidations against the students community in several ways, they would do well to realise that they cannot deter an organisation like the SFI.