The 16th All India People’s Science Congress: Resolve to Defend Scientific Temper and Secular Education

THE 16th All India People's Science Congress (AIPSC) was organised in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha, from February 9-12, 2018. The Congress was attended by 850 delegates representing 38 peoples’ science organisations. Discussions in the Congress, in plenary sessions, sub-plenaries, and workshops, focused on areas in which the People’s Science Movement is active. These included discussions on education and literacy, science and rationality, self-reliance and science and technology, health, rural and urban development, etc. A notable feature of Congress was the presence of a large number of young delegates and sessions organised by the youth.

Speakers at the Congress spoke of the importance of defending science from the onslaught of obscurantism, communalism, casteism and the need to oppose drastic reduction in public funding for research in S&T institutions. A session was dedicated to remembering and commemorating the lives of departed scientists such as Prof PM Bhargava, Shankar Chakravarty and Prof Yashpal. A special session was also organised to commemorate the hundredth birth anniversary of DP Chattopadhyaya.

Speaking on the recent attacks on science, Dr. Satyajit Rath spoke about the attempt to construct a future which is captive to the past and steeped in mythologies that promote obscurantist values. In the valedictory session distinguished writer and historian, Rao sahib Kasbe, spoke about how under the new government, we see a new wave of religious sectarian and casteist attacks being unleashed in the garb of nationalism. Dr D Balasubramanian, former director of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) added: “Science practices equality and has no high priests whose words are law. Everyone has the right to claim, but his work too will be reviewed by peers and accepted, modified or rejected’. The 16th AIPSC concluded with the announcement of the election of new office-bearers, including Sabyasachi Chatterjee as president and P Rajamanickamas general secretary.

Three resolutions adopted by the Congress reflect the essence of discussions at the Congress and extracts from these are reproduced below.

NATIONAL DAY OF SCIENTIFIC TEMPER ON AUGUST 20TH EACH YEAR

As mandated by Section 51 A of our constitution, it is a fundamental duty of every Indian citizen: “To develop the scientific temper, humanism, and the spirit of inquiry and reform.” Today we see a disturbing contrary trend of state support for promotion of pseudo-science, obscurantism, fraudulent babas and self-styled godmen, unscientific propagation of myth as history, political support for organisations promoting communal hatred. Therefore there is an urgent and growing need for taking up the work of promoting scientific temper in a more systematic and programmatic way at every level.

Dr Dabholkar, Comrade Govind Pansare, Prof. M M Kalburgi, and journalist Ms. Gauri Lankesh were murdered for carrying out their constitutional duty to promote rational thinking, humanism and spirit of reform.

The people’s science movement pledges to promote science and scientific thinking in the broadest sections of the public in order to isolate and defeat the forces promoting pseudo-science, obscurantism and communal hatred in our country. We will work systematically and continuously, culminating in the common observance of the “National Day of Scientific Temper”.

PUBLIC INVESTMENT IN SCIENCE AND RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT

The Congress expressed concern about the continuing decline in budgetary support for the development and use of science and technology. The 2018 budget continues the trend of declining allocations for research and development activities. For over a decade the allocations for science and technology have been stagnant at 0.8 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). During the four year tenure of the current government, allocation for science and technology has declined.

Today, the government is forcing publicly funded R&D organizations to mobilize extra budgetary resources from industry and foreign agencies. The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), a network of forty public laboratories, has been made to accept the ‘Dehra Dun declaration’ and commit to progress towards self financing. The Dehra Dun declaration directed the CSIR system of laboratories to earn 50 per cent of its budget from the market and develop a revenue model with clear cost-benefit calculations. The net result is that CSIR laboratories have to be content with a much reduced budget that merely supports salaries, and very little support is available for the purchase of equipment, consumables and field experiments. The laboratories are now forced to raise money from the private sector, thus ushering in de facto privatisation. A similar situation prevails as regards  other institutes of national importance, IITs, IISER, etc.

S&T institutions face a situation where their agenda is being set by affiliates of obscurantist organizations such as Vigyan Bharati. These organisations are also influencing the appointments of directors, and such appointees often have dubious academic credentials.

ON EDUCATION: Stop the move to reintroduce detention policy in school education.

There is a conscious move to amend section 16 of the RTE Act (2009) and thus reintroduce a policy that enables schools to detain students at any level. It is being argued that this move will ensure quality education. There is no evidence that one can enhance the quality of education by detaining children, even at elementary levels.

Four in every ten children enrolled in grade I leave school before completing grade VIII. Around 8 per cent of all elementary schools in the country are single teacher schools. It is estimated that there is a shortage of more than 5 lakh teachers in elementary schools; nearly 14 per cent of government secondary schools do not have the prescribed minimum 6 teachers. Teacher recruitment and transfers have become a major source of corruption in many parts of the country. Even 10 years after the Right to Education (RTE) Act was passed, the government has failed to ensure minimum infrastructural facilities in schools. The present move for reintroducing of the detention policy implies that the sole responsibility of learning and ensuring the targeted achievement rests with students.

The intention of the central government is clear – it would like to withdraw from its primary role of providing minimum facilities which promotes quality education for all children. The People’s Science Congress demands withdrawal of the move to amend section 16 of the RTEAct and ensure free and compulsory quality education to all children below 18 years by extending the RTE Act.

Resist move to hand education over to corporate and communal forces

The public education system in India is facing extraordinary challenges from the onslaught of neoliberal policies. The central government is in the process of preparing a new National Policy on Education. There are two documents available in this regard: the TSR Subramaniam committee report and a document titled “Some Inputs for Draft National Education Policy 2016” drafted by the MHRD. Recently the central government appointed a committee headed by Kasturi Rangan to draft the new policy.

The basic approach of the documents available is undemocratic, arbitrary, non-transparent and muddled in its approach and perspective. The documents consciously discards integrating secular values and deny democratic organisational rights to students, teachers and employees.The documents propose closure of public schools by naming them as ‘unviable’. The documents advocate for a total withdrawal of the government from Higher education by arguing for full freedom for market forces in running and even formulating policies with respect to higher education. The central government has already started implementing new initiatives in line with the proposed new policy. This includes, for example, a move to establish ‘world class’ institutions which have no provision for reservation and scholarship based on social and educational backwardness; and appointments of faculties based only on ‘merit’ and not providing for reservations at any level.

The principal intent is not to develop centres of real excellence but rather to satisfy market forces. The People’s Science Congress appeals to the people of tooppose moves by the central government to withdraw from its primary responsibility of providing quality education and the handing over of public education to corporates whose primary purpose is to profiteer, and to communal forces. Any reform in the education system should be based on broad principles that keep the following in mind:

  1. Education is not an instrumental process, but a transformative process that is conducive to equitable and sustainable social development. Education should promote nation building, upholding the constitutional values based on secularism and foster the multiple pluralisms of religion, language and ethnicity that form part of Indian democracy.
  2. The teaching- learning process should be designed as a critical and creative activity.
  3. This also implies the growth of a campus culture that is democratic, secular and egalitarian, where social justice is assured and no one is discriminated on the basis of caste, class, gender or creed.
  4. In such a structure primary decision making on all academic matters should vest with the academic community.

 

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