August 15, 2021

Profit Maximization Virus Engulfing Public Education in India

Vikram Singh

THERE is a huge gap to access to resources which is also reflected in the access to the technology (smartphones, laptops, uninterrupted internet, etc.), badly failing the online mode of education— the only option adopted by the centre in last one year to compensate, closure of educational institutions.

The loss of students due to closure of schools cannot be easily understood as many still think that it costed only the loss of classroom teaching and textbook learning. The impact is much more severe and complex. Firstly, millions of students coming from educationally weaker sections will permanently lose track of schooling. This situation has also affected their ability of learning. To understand it better, various studies show that children have forgotten due to lack of usage, for example, the ability to read with understanding, the ability to write, and the ability to perform basic mathematical operations like addition and multiplication.

According to one of the field studies in education ‘Loss of Learning during the Pandemic’ conducted by Azim Premji Foundation, “on average, 92 per cent of students in grades two to six have lost at least one foundational language ability that they may have learned in previous years. Similar results are for mathematics, where 82 per cent of children have lost at least one specific mathematical ability from the previous year across all classes.”

Steps must be taken to retain all students into education and evolving mechanisms to check the forced dropout at all levels. The harshest reality that we must accept now is that a large section of students has already fallen out of the reach of education and will not be able to return owing to their economic situation due to loss of employment and family income sources caused by the pandemic and economic crises. This predicament is only a reality of school education but is also distinctly visible in higher education for obvious reasons. This is and in the future as well, will be the primary and principal challenge for the government of the day.

To To make this happen, prudent vision and hard-hitting efforts are required from the government which can be done by increasing the budgetary allocations. But what we are witnessing as of today is exactly the opposite of it. The centre and most of the state governments are not at all considering such measures. The whole discussion to open the school has fallen apart and the false propaganda of the grand success of online education, a futuristic step of the Modi government, has taken the centre stage. The centre is in no mood to even acknowledge the so-visible reality of the day. In light of such illusory success, no question to take corrective measures arises for the government.

Even before the pandemic, the priority of the Modi government was to take the neoliberal reforms to greater heights. Consequently, the education sector also became an easy target of such reforms reflected in the various drafts of New Education Policy brought by the Human Resource Development from time to time.

There is a major policy shift by way of the New Education Policy. Until now at least on documents, the general principle of all successive governments of India was the expansion of public sector education along with the promotion of private education. As a result of this understanding, we have seen rampant privatisation and commercialisation of education and stagnant growth with the deteriorating infrastructure of public sector education.

New Education Policy has taken policy measures contrary to the set precedents and detrimental to the people of the country by making contraction of government education system as a principal policy position. A large number of government schools, especially those in small or isolated communities, are to be shut down in the name of efficiency, viability, and resource optimisation. According to the NEP document, nearly 28 per cent of India’s public primary schools and 14.8 per cent of India’s upper primary schools have less than 30 students, marking them off for closure and ultimately paving way for private schools. Similarly, in higher education, NEP advocates for meta multidisciplinary universities, colleges, and HEI clusters/knowledge hubs, each of which would aim to have 3,000 or more students. The overall impression is that the government is going to close public sector education institutions citing different reasons and further there will be a concentration of education institutions in limited pockets. To further promote the commercialisation of education, NEP seeks to encourage and enable private and philanthropic institutions with relaxations on inputs and self-regulation.

This section is not aimed to present a critique of NEP, but is an effort to just underline the policy shift through NEP during the pandemic, which is going to irreversibly change the education system of the country. Against the spirit of the Concurrent List contained in the Constitution, there is overwhelming centralisation in all the schemes and policies, leaving little or eliminating completely the role of the states, especially in the higher education, except having nominal administrative powers. There is also an effort to undermine the statutory provisions of affirmative actions including reservation in education. In fact, it does not recognise the deep inequity in the higher education system and lack of access for the poor, dalits, tribals, religious minorities, girl children, and otherwise marginalized sections.  Surprisingly, the word “reservation” does not appear even once in the entire document.

The centre is in a hurry to implement the NEP and its detrimental impacts are clearly visible on our campuses. The recent efforts of massive online education in the name of a blended mode of education has already impaired the regular classroom teaching. The notification of UGC and the rejoinder in the form of a ‘concept note’ argue for up to 40 per cent of the syllabus of each course to be taught through online mode and the remaining 60 per cent syllabus of the concerned courses to be taught in offline mode.  This is a serious effort to establish online education as a norm for regular education.

Reduced time spent in educational institutions by students will necessarily result in isolation of individuals from one another, as well as the repetition of biases and preconceptions that could have been broken if physical teaching and learning had persisted.  The blended mode will strengthen the government’s effort to create an anti-democratic environment in educational institutions. Shifting 40 per cent of the module online would lessen the effective time for students on campuses.

Above all, the sinister agenda of RSS to inject venom of communal hate in the textbooks by redesigning the syllabus and communalising educational institutions, are not only consistent with the government policies, but it has got momentum during the last one year. The whole project of communalising and controlling the educational system and process is being undertaken very seriously by BJP and RSS. Every move in this direction goes against our constitutional mandate of providing free, universal, progressive, and scientific education to all its citizens.