WHITE flags flutter in the air as hundreds of student activists from across the country, holding SFI banners, marched in the national capital on February 26 to ward off the threat of saffronisation of education. “Hum ladenge, Hum jeetenge (We’ll fight, we’ll win),” SFI president V Sivadasan told the historic gathering as he cautioned the BJP-led government against its policy of commercialisation and communalisation of education.
Hundreds of students came from different parts of the country -- Himachal Pradesh in the north and Kerala in the south to West Bengal in the east and Maharashtra in the west -- to participate in the ‘March to Parliament’, called by SFI Central Executive Committee. Such a historic gathering, however, did not march without stumbling upon a few barriers put up by the usual suspects – khaki-clad policemen and saffron-robbed activists. While several SFI activists from Maharashtra, who arrived in the capital on the eve of the march, were detained by policemen for some time, ABVP goons attacked SFI workers and tore SFI banners and posters on the Delhi University campus while the latter were preparing for the rally.
But the student activists stood on their resolve to protest against the retrogative measures being adopted by the central government and various BJP-led state governments. “Our fight is for a new and better world, and not for a golden throne,” Sivadasan said. And the fight will continue and will be intensified even if it comes at the cost of our lives, said SFI general secretary and MP Ritabrata Banerjee, as he referred to attacks on SFI activists in states of Assam, Rajasthan and West Bengal.
Addressing the gathering, former SFI president and CPI(M) Polit Bureau members Sitaram Yechury called upon the students to intensify their struggle for a new and better tomorrow as he assured them the party’s support to their cause. The fight should continue simultaneously inside Parliament and outside to awake the “deaf” government to the danger being posed by commercialisation and communalisation of education. Private educational institutions, whose numbers are growing exponentially in the country, are refusing basic rights of students. In all states except Kerala, private institutions do not allow formation of student unions, Yechury said and appealed the student community to continue the struggle for their rights.
Calling for increased allocation for education in General Budget, the speakers said India spends much less share of its budget on education than other developing countries. Ten percent budgetary allocation and six percent of GDP expenditure on education remains an elusive dream. The rally concluded with SFI activists from different states singing songs and raising slogans in their mother tongues.
Policy of BJP
The Union Human Resource Development Minister has been relentlessly campaigning for a new education policy. But till now there has been no discussion on the form and structure of this new education policy. May be it is being planned behind closed doors under the chairmanship of Dinanath Batra. But indications are that this so called new education policy will only be an extension of the old agenda of privatisation, besides adding a fresh flavour of saffronisation. After the withdrawal of Four-Year Under Graduation Programme (FYUP) in Delhi University with active involvement of UGC and the HRD Ministry, there was an impression that the long struggle of students and teachers of the varsity will come to an end with the removal of the vice-chancellor as enough evidence was provided to the authorities about his financial and administrative corruption and undemocratic style of functioning. But quite amazingly the vice-chancellor seems to have manipulated the ministry by pleasing RSS bosses through various social functions. Also it looks like that the vice-chancellor has given commitment to implement the agenda of saffronisation of education.
The HRD Ministry has reversed its position and has issued a notice to universities to strengthen the semester system and implement ‘Choice Based Credit System’ (CBCS). This CBCS is nothing but a blue print of the provisions of FYUP to be completed in three years. This reflects the commitment of this government to the same agenda and withdrawal of FYUP is only a political stunt. CBCS is only a cafeteria-approach based system which facilitates “seamless student mobility” between courses and universities. It is identical in its course structure to FYUP (repeat pattern of foundation, core and elective courses), except the fourth year. It will lead to continuous fluctuation and flux in workload, particularly in light of the fact that there is no proposal to change the rigid workload norms for creating teaching posts. Basically this system is designed on the basis of American system which runs on student loans and on the shoulders of add-on professors (contractual). This is only to woo and facilitate entry of foreign institutions into India.
Any discussion on education is not complete without the much problematic campaign ‘RUSA’. There is much discussion on the provisions of Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA). But the experience of its implementation has vindicated our position. In states like Himachal Pradesh and Assam where it has been fully implemented, there is colossal discontentment among students and teaching faculty. The entire education process right from classroom teaching to evaluation of examination is in a pathetic condition. In Himachal Pradesh, students have been awarded scores of 70 percent without even them attending examinations. There are gross irregularities. Numbers of teaching hours have been drastically reduced. There is very little time for co-curricular activities like sports, culture, NCC and NSS. There is already a broad based and very strong opposition to this scheme. But the BJP government is not ready to learn any lesson and is implementing it. Implementation of CBCS is also a step in this direction.
India’s education system is already over-commercialised, which is having an adverse impact on the students from poor and middle class background. At present, contrary to the general belief our education system is being run by the private players whose motive is only to provide degrees and earn profits. Even after the implementation of the Right to Education Act following long struggles, the pace of privatisation is on the increase. This private education system is not only commercial but also unequal as private schools never follow the norms of social justice. This privatisation is on continuous rise. In 2005, 17 percent of schools in rural India were in private hand. This percentage rose to 27 percent in 2013 and this number has reached 30.8 percent in 2014. Percentage of girls and boys in schools clearly reflects the impact of privatisation of education on girls. In 2014, in the age group 7-10 years, 35.6 percent of boys are enrolled in private schools as compared to 27.7 percent of girls. For the age group of 11-14 years, 33.5 percent of boys are in private schools as compared to 25.9 percent of girls.
The pace of privatisation is more rapid in the area of higher studies. More than half of the students’ enrolled in higher education today are under private educational institutions. Sixty-six percent of students in general education and 75-80 percent in technical education are enrolled in private, self-financing institutions. Commercialisation of education has already led to huge distortions in the educational landscape, both social as well as spatial. Education priorities cannot be left to vagaries of market forces. Commercialisation entails that quality education becomes synonymous with affordability. The goals of equity and inclusion, the fundamental pillars of policy making in any democracy, might be the first casualties if unbridled profit making is instituted as a norm for the educational institutions in the private sector.
This is a very dangerous situation in a social welfare state. Despite different committees suggesting that fee hike should not be there, fees are being hiked with impurity. The Kothari Commission had stated, “It is undesirable to regard fees as a source of revenue. They are the most regressive form of taxation; fall more heavily on the poorer classes of society and act as an anti-egalitarian force.” Private education widens inequalities not only in education, but also in economic and social spheres. After all, no private institution in India will be ready to promote equity at a satisfactory level, grant access to the weaker sections, or provide liberal scholarships. Education loans have replaced scholarships in policy discourses on higher education. It is argued that even needy students need not be given scholarships; instead, they can be asked to go for education loans.
Communalisation of education for communalising the whole society is an integral part of the new education policy of HRD Minister Smriti Irani, as introduced by her in a symposium titled 'Restructuring of our education system with Bharatiya perspective of values' in Hyderabad. According to her, Indian education policy is not relevant in present times so “a new education policy is required to build a resurgent nation which would be stronger, resilient and humane”. This new education policy is much inspired by the ideological inspiration of RSS which believes in Hitler’s dictum 'catch them young'. The Nazis led by Hitler also had done similar experiments with education system and had changed the entire educational syllabus to pursue their agenda of racial hatred and Aryan supremacy.
If we analyse the developments of last six months, this intension of RSS/BJP becomes clearer. Much has been discussed about the political commitment of BJP to this agenda. Leaders of BJP are on record announcing their intention to change the textbooks and syllabus. Special in-charge for this project is Dinanath Batra, national president of the RSS-affiliated Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas.
During the last NDA regime, these kinds of efforts were also there. But the present, the BJP government is much more aggressive. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while addressing a group of scientists in Mumbai, claimed that organ transplantation was known in ancient India as was demonstrated in case of Ganesha with his elephant head and human torso. Surprisingly nobody there challenged the statement. Second example is of the 102nd Indian Science Congress in Mumbai. In front of top most scientists in a symposium on “Ancient Sciences through Sanskrit”, it was said that India had jumbo aircraft that flew between continents and planets 9,000 years ago. The message is very clear. When scientific fraternity cannot resist all this rubbish, a new irrational science will be taught to young minds.
Education is not a priority for any government at the Centre whether it is the Congress-led UPA or the present BJP-led NDA. This is reflected by the allocation for education in successive central and state budgets. Ten percent budgetary allocation and six percent of GDP expenditure on education remains an elusive dream and tall claims of expansion in terms of numbers fall flat when we see the actual allocations, which have remained more or less stagnant in the absolute monetary terms.
Same trend is also being followed by the Modi-led government in its first general budget. UGC has borne the brunt of a serious assault by the government with a drastic 32 percent cut even in absolute terms. Even after adding the allocation for RUSA (a problematic scheme in itself), along with the allocation for UGC, the fund cut amounts to nearly 5 percent in real terms. Technical education has suffered a 12 percent cut. Science education and research would suffer as the allocation for the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research has been cut by 15 percent. The direct result of such fund cuts will be deterioration in the quality of public education in the country, and can be seen only as a precursor to further commercialisation and privatisation of education, thus rendering education inaccessible to the vast majority of students. Even in the revised budget estimates for 2014-15, the government has reduced funds for higher education to the extent of Rs 3,900 crore.
Democratic Rights &
Political activism of students will always remain an essential part of a healthy university system. University administrations should actively encourage student participation in university affairs. University faculties need to do more to cultivate critical and heretical ideas about the world we live in. And students need to participate actively in asserting their critical role in the university. The Lyngdoh Committee, in its report submitted on May 23, 2006, upheld the right of student organisations to work freely among students. It advised flexibility in the conduct of elections to students’ unions as per the requirements of different campuses. In fact, the Committee made it mandatory for all educational institutions, including private ones, to hold students’ union elections in some form or the other.
However, most educational institutions in our country continue to ignore these basic recommendations of the Lyngdoh Committee. Even at the stage of preparing its report, the committee anticipated this problem. It felt that certain state governments prohibit political activity or students’ union elections and that it would “be prudent for the central government and/or the Hon’ble Supreme Court to lead the way in the matter, and to impress upon the state governments concerned the need for a healthy student democracy, and, consequently, the need to amend any prohibitory statute that may be in place.” Unfortunately, no proactive measure has been undertaken by the judiciary or the central government against the violation of this basic recommendation. Student union elections are currently held in only a few states and 10 central universities. Recently elections in Himachal Pradesh University and affiliated colleges have been banned. Erosion of the democratic rights of teachers and students has become an indispensable part of the neo-liberal assault on public education. This issue of democracy need to be taken seriously in university centres. There is also a need to review the recommendations of the Lyngdoh Committee itself.
Our education system is faced with serious crises. Being a responsible students’ organisation, the SFI consider it its responsibility to face this challenges and organise students against these policies. Keeping this in mind, the Central Executive Committee of the Students’ Federation of India decided to observe National Protest Day on February 26 and organise the March to Parliament with the slogan “Combat Commercialisation and Communalisation of Education - Intensify Struggles”.