People's Democracy

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


No. 33

August 16, 200

Against The Neo-Liberal

Agenda In Education


Archana Prasad


THE Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) held a one day seminar for debating the proposed agenda for education unveiled by the second UPA regime on August 8, 2009.  This programme was held in the context of the president’s speech in parliament and the 100 days agenda proposed by the minister for Human Resource Development, Kapil Sibal.  In this agenda, the government has proposed the implementation of the recommendations of the Yashpal committee, the deregulation of the education sector as proposed in the National Knowledge Commission, reforms in terms of having a single uniform system of examination and making the class exams optional as well as the passage of the Right to Education Act which has been passed without addressing the concerns of educationists and activists from the democratic movement. In the context of these announcements, the seminar brought together eminent scholars, activists and educationists from different regions and institutions to elaborate upon the implications of this agenda. It was attended by representatives of several mass organisations and universities from within and outside Delhi. The participants in the seminar reached a broad consensus that the proposals made and measures undertaken by the UPA government would make education subservient to the market and make the struggle for an equitable and democratic system even more difficult than it has been in the past.




The first session of the conference highlighted broad issues required for discussion with respect to school and higher education. It was chaired by Professor Prabhat Patnaik and addressed by Professor Muchkund Dubey, Professor Yashpal, Professor Zoya Hasan and CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and Rajya Sabha MP, Sitaram Yechury.


Opening the discussion, Muchkund Dubey highlighted four issues of importance with respect to school education. The first of these was the question of access and the need to provide an inclusive schooling system. In addition to this, there was the second issue of the quality of education and norms for schools that needed to be addressed. The third issue concerned the financing of school education and the need to expand central funding in school education. The Right to Education Act was particularly silent on this front and had a very vague financial memorandum attached to it. Finally, school education needed to be seen in an integrated way where pre-primary education needed to be integrated with the rest of the educational system. At present, children at this level were excluded from this system and only had the ICDS to take care of their needs. These four flaws were systemic in nature and needed to be removed if the aims of quality, quantity and equity were to be met. But the current policies of the UPA were not moving towards solving these problems.


The second presentation of the session was made by Professor Yashpal who highlighted the main problems of higher education. He summarised the Yashpal committee report and stressed on the need to address the problem of fragmentation of knowledge and reinvent the idea of the university as the centre for knowledge production and generation. He stressed that education was not to be subordinated to the requirements of the market and insisted that this goal could only be achieved if universities were to be provided autonomy. In order to achieve this goal, a single authority was necessary for regulating higher education. He had therefore proposed a statutory commission on higher education and research for this purpose. The third presentation of this session was made by Professor Zoya Hasan who reviewed the strategies for providing access to minority communities especially Muslims. She said that education of minorities rarely received the attention of the academy and that they lagged behind educationally because of the lack of infrastructure and an inclusive curriculum. Because of this, minorities, particularly Muslims were more and more dependent on private minority institutions for education. This had led to the desecularisation of the minorities as their identities were now getting framed and centred around these institutions. This problem could only be resolved if the state expanded the scope and quality of its own education programme to meet the needs of the minority communities.


Responding to the issues raised in the session, Sitaram Yechury said that many of the problems of quality, quantity and equity would be solved if education was universalised and expanded. This could only be done with the expansion of state education and a tight social regulation of the private sector and capital in education. In particular, he highlighted the need to take care of the needs of vulnerable sections and minorities (both linguistic and religious). This could only be done if systems of social control were established. He also pointed out the need for opposing the foreign universities education bill and fixing financial responsibility on the state for providing education to all children (a lacunae in the Right to Education Act). In the context of these remarks, Professor Prabhat Patnaik summed up the discussions in the session and stated that while he agreed that universities needed to deepen the level of intellectual engagement, this task was impossible to achieve in a neo-liberal context as such policies were bound to make education subservient to the market. There was thus a need for linking the fight for an equitable and good quality university system to the fight against neo-liberalism.




The second session of the seminar focused on school education and was chaired by Professor Arjun Dev. Initiating the discussion in this session Professor Jayati Ghosh said that though the Right to Education Act was a welcome step it suffered from three basic flaws that would prevent it from meeting the objective of increasing access to education. The first was that it made no definite financial commitment on the part of state to expand education. The second flaw was that the act laid down no norms for quality education and infrastructure. Thus it did not have any provisions to stop multigrade teaching. Thirdly, the act did not take into account the need for different regions and sectional interests (like tribals, migrants, women etc). In order to do this, the system needed a certain amount of flexibility that needed to be built into the system.


Taking the discussion forward, Ashok  Agarwal, lawyer and founder of Social Jurist, highlighted some important aspects of the Act which would increase the gaps within the schooling system. The provision of special model schools and the definition of capitation fees was particularly problematic in this act and would lead to further discrimination against poor and vulnerable students. These provisions would also institutionalise and legalise multi layered education system that would contravene the aim of providing free and equal opportunities to all children. In particular, he stated that the needs of differently abled children should have been met in this act. In the wake of the failure to recognise these problems, the Act, in its present form diluted the commitments for compulsory and free education made in the constitution of India. Thus, for the present, it was important to read both Article 21 and Article 21 (A) together, and fight for the amendment in the Act.


The last two presentations were made by Ravi Kumar (Jamia Millia Islamia) and Rajendran (School Teachers Federation of India), both of whom highlighted the need to contextualise the discussion in the neo-liberal context. Attacking the hundred days’ agenda as essentially an agenda for deregulation, Ravi Kumar highlighted the need for expanding the campaign for common schools and keeping the debate alive. Rajendran once again highlighted the need for including pre-primary school education in the Act and also having a National Commission for Education in order to set out the priorities in the sector. These issues could only become political issues if they were converted into a mass campaign.




The last session of the seminar was held on higher education and was chaired by Professor CP Chandrasekhar. This session had an intense discussion on the recommendations of the National Knowledge Commission and Yashpal committee on higher education. Sudhanshu Bhushan (NEUPA) contrasted the recommendations of the Yashpal committee with those of the National Knowledge Commission. While the Knowledge Commission prescribed a competitive and deregulated environment for education on the grounds of efficiency, the Yashpal committee was in favour of establishment of an overarching authority in place of multiple regulatory bodies for the benefit of knowledge creation. Sudhanshu argued that the Yashpal committee had not taken into account the neo-liberal context and character of the existing system of state financed universities into account. Dhruv Raina welcomed the intervention of Yashpal committee, but he also pointed out that the seeds of knowledge fragmentation were historically created by the establishment of science and technology system which separated teaching from research and agreed with the observation of Yashpal committee being largely idealistic and unrealistic in its assumptions and prescriptions. 


Vijender Sharma (DTF) evaluated the Yashpal committee in the light of the neo-liberal agenda promoted by UPA government. He said that the major stress of UPA government was on privatisation of education. A “between the lines” reading of the prescriptions of Yashpal committee on financing of higher education seems to confirm the same neo-liberal thrust. He pointed out that how Yashpal committee had  also not completely opposed the entry of foreign education institutions. The need to have a realistic assessment of Yashpal committee was highlighted by him.


Saumen Chattopadhyay (JNU) suggested that the recommendations of Yashpal committee are aimed at the smooth establishment of market. He pointed out that the market rationale  stands in contradiction with the purpose of education and would only deepen its crisis. Raghuram (IP University) drew the attention of participants towards the growing tendency of contractualisation of teaching force and pointed out that this can only get aggravated further if foreign and private universities are allowed to grow their influence over the system. Dinesh Abrol (NISTADS) argued that the National Knowledge Commission was in favour of the removal of barriers placed by UGC, AICTE and other such bodies on the entry and exit of institutions of higher education. Opposition to the recommendation of deregulation of market should be our first priority. Further, if the government is going to allow private players to be active in education market place, then the option of regulated education market would have to become our real bet at this point of time. We need not club the recommendations of Yashpal committee with the prescriptions of National knowledge Commission. Although this understanding is part of the need to build a larger coalition to fight neo-liberal challenge, but our own agenda would also be needed to make this struggle successful. For this we will have to give a concrete meaning to the idea of social control and implement the alternatives for experimentation where possible, he said.