(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 29, 2010
INTERVIEW WITH M A BABY
Overcoming Vested Interests and
Providing Quality Education for All
One of the remarkable achievements of the four year Left and Democratic Front (LDF) government in Kerala in the field of education has been the significant improvement in the quality of education at the school and college level. Also, its efforts to exercise social control over the self financing private institutes, in the face of stiff resistance from the vested interests, are noteworthy.
Below we give
the interview given by M A Baby, education minister in
Kerala, to N S Arjun during the extended meeting of the
(Q) The LDF government has taken many steps to have some sort of social control over private educational institutes in Kerala. Will you please explain them and what has been their impact?
The coming up of self financing private institutions, especially in the professional sector like medical and engineering colleges, is a new phenomena. According to me the primary problem in this sector is that the government should have established through legislation clear cut rules and regulations for these private players. The central government and the then UDF government in the state failed in doing this. As a result a strange situation emerged where the private education institutes existed without any regulations and rules to control them. Moreover the UDF government failed miserably in arriving at some agreement with these self financing institutes. Had that been the case we could have held them accountable.
The situation is further complicated as a result of continued verdicts given by the Supreme Court in the T M A Pai case and the Inamdar case. The Supreme Court virtually gave these institutes managements a free hand in conducting admissions, charging fee etc. Although it was qualified that the fee structure should not be exploitative or exorbitant, there was no regulation. This was the great handicap the state government had to encounter. Notwithstanding this difficulty we have introduced a comprehensive legislation. While introducing this legislation, we stated that since the Supreme Court verdict prevails, what is required is central legislation to overcome the limitations set by the Supreme Court. Therefore we knew there would be difficulty in some of the provisions of our legislation being upheld in the court. The court struck down some of the very crucial provisions of our legislation despite it being passed unanimously in the legislature with both LDF and UDF agreeing to the provisions.
The most important achievement of the Kerala LDF government in the field of self financing sector has been that through this legislation and its political determination, it was able to force the majority of the private self financing medical and engineering colleges to come to an agreement with the state government to concede 50 per cent of seats to be filled by the government on the basis of merit, reservation and a fee structure that is affordable to students. This is in place for the last four years. A similar arrangement could not be achieved by the UDF government. So the people are able to see that this government means business despite the many difficulties created by legal hurdles and Constitutional limitations.
(Q) You faced strong opposition from the educational lobby and vested interests. How did you deal with them?
They were very forceful. But since we did not have any vested interests to protect, we withstood it. We never recommend for a single seat in these self financing institutes. We never ask for apportioning the enormous ill gotten money that comes to their coffers. There were allegations during UDF tenure that their leaders demanded from institutes which applied for No Objection Certificate that they must be “taken care of”. This came out in bourgeois press also.
But because of our firm commitment against corruption, we had the moral authority to tell them that they have to discharge their social responsibility by conceding 50 per cent seats to the government so that the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, minorities, backward communities, the economically backward etc are provided education. We could succeed in this because of our clear cut understanding.
(Q) What differences does the LDF government has with the central government over bringing minority status institutions under social control?
It is a very sensitive issue because in Kerala we have over 45 per cent of population constituted by two important minority groups, Christians and Muslims. It goes without saying that it is the Left forces, especially the CPI(M), that defend all genuine rights and interests of the minorities. But what happens in educational sector is that in the name of minority institutions, they are doing various other things. They are not necessarily furthering the educational interests of the minority communities. We are campaigning in a systematic way that all minority institutions must clearly state how they are going to protect the educational interests of the minorities in whose name they are setting up these institutes. Most of them are not doing anything. Most of them are accepting capitation fee and are no t giving any weightage to minority candidates to absorb in faculty. So, we made it clear that they should give priority to minority students and after that if excess seats are available they must be filled up on the basis of merit. But why are they not prepared to do this? In this context we want the central government to come clear and clean on this issue. They are hobnobbing with commercial forces who masquerade as protectors of minority interests.
(Q) How much is the management quota in these minority institutes at present?
As of now there are some professional institutes with minority status conceding 50 per cent seats to government quota. And there are some other groups in minorities, especially the upper crust of Christian minorities, who are not cooperating with the government on this. They are filling all the seats by themselves. This is very unfair. If they fill these seats with particular minority students, we have no objection. But they are admitting non-minority students by taking in high capitation fee. Whether the admissions are being held in line with regulations or not, the state government has every right to look into. But in the name of minority institutes, they are escaping from such State scrutiny.
(Q) Recently, a section of the Church has made overtly political statements. Do you see a linkage between this and your efforts to have social control over education?
In fact, sections of Christian church, I repeat sections, take very undemocratic approach. They went to the extent of propagating that in the elections the voters must chose between believers and non-believers. People have to vote on the yardsticks of what happens to their wages, whether food security is there or not, whether the plight of people is being ameliorated by the political forces, employment, education, health etc. But sections of Church want to divert the entire discourse from issues related to mass of people to non-issues like theism or atheism. Whether someone believes in God or not, or whether someone takes this religion or that, whether he smokes or not .. these are all personal matters. But if on such matters political divide is forced, then it would be end of democracy. We have to systematically expose this nefarious game of a very miniscule section of Christian minority.
(Q) What steps are being taken for improvement of the quality of education at school and college level?
During the last four years, the most creditable achievement of the LDF government in education field has been the improvement of education quality in schools and colleges. In the year 2000, the SSLC pass percentage had been 40. During the last three years, it has consistently increased significantly to 90 per cent. This everybody is acknowledging. In fact, it is to divert the attention of the masses from the remarkable achievements of the LDF government that these non-issues are being brought in. In the field of higher education, we have instituted a Higher Education Council through a legislation with renowned historian K N Pannicker as vice chairman. We have successfully implemented a choice-based semester system for under graduates. This is indeed a revolutionary change in undergraduate level education and Kerala is the first state to do so. There was lot of opposition, some sections tried to politicise it but we stuck to the decision saying the entire world has changed over to this modern system of education. Basically there is freedom for students to select subjects outside the narrow range. For example a student with Physics as main subject can chose Music as subsidiary. It will take a minimum of 10 years for this changeover to stabilise but we have initiated it. Then we have introduced higher education scholarship fund to ensure that no needy student who is meritorious is denied higher education for want of financial resources. We have set a target of generating a corpus of Rs 100 crore and the state government has already earmarked Rs 15 crore for this. The rest of the amount will be collected through donations. I appeal to all to donate liberally for this fund.
As a whole there has been remarkable progress in improvement of quality of school education and higher education. We have been involving outstanding scholars from IIT, IISc and other institutes. Professors like M S Ananth, Romila Thapar, U R Ananthamoorthy etc have agreed to take part in the efforts for improving the quality of education in the state and are involving fully.
(Q) Since education is in concurrent list, what has been the role of the central government vis-a-vis Kerala education?
You see, this was an atrocity committed during Emergency when education was shifted from state to concurrent list. Now, centre is not coming forward for necessary help for various states. Or they are putting various conditionalities. But during the last four years, we have been reasonably successful in forcing the centre to sanction some projects sanctioned for Kerala. We got Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (ISER) and Indian Institute of Space and Technology (IIST) sanctioned for Kerala. We also got our first central university in the state during this period. All this was possible because of our perseverance and pressure on central government. But we are unhappy that our legitimate demand for sanction of an IIT in Kerala has not been accepted. We will continue to mount our pressure on this.
(Q) UNESCO has appreciated intervention of Kerala in promotion of free software in school education. Can you please throw some more light on this?
We are very happy that in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) we are in the forefront. We are introducing free software in education as well as in conducting examinations. Nearly 3.5 million students use free software in their education. Now, for the first time in the country, we have developed ICT curriculum for standards V, VI and VII. To help in the maintenance and proper use of computers, we have opened 'hardware clinics' at zonal level where experts demonstrated to invited teachers of schools on the common trouble shooting for computers. The teachers who came from schools developed the confidence and skills to deal with computers. This has helped in increasing the usage of computers in the schools. We are stressing more on ICT enabled education. There are schools which are having e-journals, blogs etc developed by students We are calling upon schools and local bodies to develop their own models in an imaginative manner. There is no single model imposed from above. We are happy with the results.
(Q) Do you think free software has helped in this process of localisation and development?
The localisation has been possible to a great extent because of free software. Otherwise had it been proprietary software, we could not have changed, developed or improved upon. So, the changeover to free software has immensely helped us to go in for new innovations.