November 01, 2015

National Students’ Parliament Held in Kerala

V Sivadasan

THE first national students’ parliament on the theme ‘Higher Education: Emerging Issues and Challenges’, was held from October 9-11, 2015 at Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. It attempted to address the critical domain of higher education bearing on the present and future of our democratic republic and chart out a blue print for future action and deliberations.  It has given a new vigour and was an enriching experience to the leaders of student community for combating centralisation, commercialisation and communalisation policies of the governments. 389 student delegates from all over India participated as representatives of elected student unions of colleges and universities and discussed and debated over the various issues that affect the education sector. The historic student parliament was jointly organised by the university student unions in Kerala. The parliament was enriched by the presence of scholars and the leaders of the college and university unions. Venkatesh Athreya, eminent economist and educationist, presented a well-articulated note on the impact of the political and economic agenda of Modi led government on education.

The national parliament attempted to conceptualise higher education in its myriad ramifications as critical to the country’s growth and development along with the ideals that nourish and sustain it. It dealt with various aspects of Indian education like institutional autonomy, accountability, access, quality, curriculum, pedagogic strategies and the importance of ensuring academic freedoms and campus democracy. The various issues which have serious implications for the academic, administrative, and financial autonomy were discussed like the structure of university governance, the need to ensure social accountability and the challenges posed by commodification, commercialisation and privatisation of higher education. Ensuring access along with equity should be the goal of Indian higher education. The session debated upon the question of improving access and ensuring quality.

All aspects related to the quality of education like the infrastructure, faculty, content of curriculum and the pedagogic strategies for making the classroom experience democratic were discussed. Assaults are increasing day by day on the academic and democratic rights of students and the meeting deliberated on the ways to ensure the right to freedom of speech and expression within and outside the campuses while retaining the space for dissent and protest. The attack on the right to freedom of association in campus will ultimately affect the right to learn and it will hinder the fostering of progressive values and imparting a sense of social responsibility to the students and the young generation.

The meeting noted that the government of India intends to do away with academic freedom, democracy and social justice, including the constitutional rights of SC/ST-OBC and affirmative actions and attempts to introduce a regime of meritocracy, aided by the ruling classes and Hindutva forces.

The government of India aims to proceed with its policies of commercialisation and communalisation by centralising the entire process of policy formation and implementation in violation of the Constitution which has included education in the concurrent list where the states also have a decisive role. It is now attempting to centralise the process of admissions, the formation of syllabus and curriculum and conduct of examinations. They are encouraging the formation of a central regulatory body answerable only to the cabinet or the entire higher education system. It is attempting to introduce a common admission test, centralising the admission process and central regulation for evaluations. It has also initiated a process of centralisation of curriculum and syllabi in higher education through UGC syllabuses and is attempting to do the same with a centralised syllabus in the schools also. The national students’ parliament declared its solidarity with the students, teachers, academics and general public who are fighting against the manifest policies of communalisation, commercialisation and centralisation of education being implemented by the government of India.

MA Baby, former minister of education in Kerala, delivered the key note address at the opening session of the students’ parliament. He said that the commitment of government to the WTO and GATS will destroy public education system and that will lead to complete commercialisation in education sector.  He added that we should oppose the agenda behind the WTO ministerial meeting to be held at Nairobi if we have to ensure that the downtrodden and marginalised sections gain access to higher education. The government’s whole hearted support to big corporates is helping them to exploit the whole academic community. In the opening session, Dr Jayakumar, former vice chancellor of NUALS had made the introductory speech and S R Arya, chairperson of Kerala University Union has presided and B Niyas general secretary of the university union has given the welcome speech. Dr J Prasad, former vice chancellor of Kalady Sree Sankaracharya University and noted academic Dr K N Ganesh, presented the discussion papers.  Cultural programmes were organised. Prof K Nageswar, Dr Rajan Varghese, Nilotpal Basu, Dr KN Harilal, Dr P Sreekumar, and Dr K Sivadasan, Sideeq Rabiyath also took part in various sessions. The session on the democratic rights of the student community has demonstrated the possibilities and importance of having more united activities of the Left student organisations. The representatives of SFI, AISF and AIDSO took part in the session.

Dr KS Bhagavan, noted rationalist, Kannada writer and translator, delivered the key note address in the valedictory session. He noted that caste constitutes the major fault-line of the Indian society and the brahmanical ideology vitiates Hinduism. Inter-caste marriages are essential for breaking the stranglehold of caste system. It is essential to study history objectively. The very word Hindu is mentioned not even once in the puranas or vedas. It was derived from the river Sindhu. The students should only follow facts which have been subjected to rational scrutiny. The progressive student movement has carved an alternative path in this regard.

Dr  KN Panikkar inaugurated the valedictory session which marked the culmination of the parliament. The world renowned historian and writer, represented the spirit of the national students’ parliament when he declared that though his voice was going down as age advances, in the face of the savage fascist atrocities, his voice was rising on its own.  In the dark times will there be singing? Yes. There will be singing about the dark times.