February 20, 2022

Struggle to Save the Generation

Mayukh Biswas

BESIDES the loss of lives, layoffs and unemployment, the COVID 19 pandemic has also had a huge impact on the education sector. With schools and colleges shut for almost two years now, millions of students are being deprived of their right to education. Students who lost their guardians due to the pandemic are facing tremendous financial obstacles. The mental health of the students is worsening with every passing day. We are losing one student every hour. The learning and analytical abilities of the students are being affected the most. Education is turning part-time for most of the students. 

Amid this 'new normal' atmosphere, the BJP led central government came up with the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which is nothing but neo-liberal agenda to privatise the education sector. Consequently, the BJP government in Tripura is going to privatise its schools. Almost 100 schools will be taken over by several NGOs in Tripura. In Karnataka, Tripura, and Andhra Pradesh, the mid-day meal service is being privatised by the state governments. Most of the states except left ruled Kerala have stopped the mid-day meal system. Students face rampant corruption in the PhD-MPhil admission procedure in Himachal Pradesh and fee hikes in almost every corner of the country.


Due to the pandemic, the school dropout rate has increased drastically.

Several state governments partially reopened educational institutions after much pressure from the Students Federation of India (SFI). But the third wave gave them another opportunity to close these institutions again. The online education system is affecting students negatively. Many of the students have become addicted to online games. Social media usage has increased substantially. According to UNICEF, the irreversible "learning loss" that is taking place, will continue for a very long time. Students will have difficulty in learning and attaining a healthy mental state, or even availing associated facilities like vaccination programs or mid-day meals.

A large section of students had to join the workforce as casual daily workers to help the families with livelihood loss. Numerous female students have been pushed into marriage in order to reduce the financial burden. 


The central government issued the NEP as a directional framework, which introduced both centralisation and privatisation as the pillars of education. The policy pursuit was clear: that education would now become more of a commodity than a right of a citizen. The pandemic and the lockdowns helped the ruling dispensation to pursue a ‘mixed/ blended mode of education’ which suggests that there will be a ‘subscriber fee’ to enter the education sector, and at every step, one will need to pay more in order to access education. However, most of the students from marginalised families with daily wage earning parents, depend on the classroom as the only means of learning. To add insult to the injury, the current budget upheld the NEP's blended mode again, emphasising the online modes.

The budget also promises a “Digital University” which will give Indian students access to world-class universal education with a personalised learning experience at their doorsteps. The language suggests that digital learning would eventually open up doors for privatisation and centralisation of the higher education system. Most of the marginalised students will not be able to access such resources. 

The UGC's push for a blended model of education is indirectly encouraging corporates like BYJU's, Unacademy and Tutopia. Due to the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, the educational institutes remained closed and mostly adhered to a ‘digital mode’ of teaching and learning. Even as late as August 2021, the “School Children’s Online and Offline Learning” survey conducted by eminent social scientists in 15 states reveals an unimaginably high incidence of the ‘digital divide’. Only 8 per cent of rural students and 24 per cent of urban students were studying online regularly. This means more than three-fourths of school students were not accessing any online learning opportunities in India during the last two years. The blended mode (through TV/ online classes) pedagogy remained exclusive and in the last two years, the students from marginalised sections were the most excluded. This digital divide is a by-product of caste, class and other resource inequalities, and prevents the poorest students from learning or continuing education. 

The central government is trying to hide its incapability to provide basic infrastructure for education to all citizens. In fact, they have now shifted the burden of learning towards the students, urging them to become ‘Atma Nirbhar’. New teaching professionals with larger school infrastructure to accommodate all Indian students, remains a distant dream. The ‘One Class- One TV Channel’ provokes one to add the phrase ‘no-one learning’ as the budgetary allocations in the NEP environment remain stagnant to promote private bodies in elementary education. On one hand, China is stepping up against privatization of education, while on the other hand, in India, one can find rapid growth of online education platforms, privatization of the education sector and digital divide which is indirectly endorsed by the government. The students who don't have access to smartphones, laptops, or internet connections are struggling the most. The situation becomes worse with the increasing cost of mobile data.

According to SFI's research journal, Indian Researcher, distant learning programmes are also in a vulnerable position now. The digital divide has made child labour inevitable. Gender dynamics of the dropout children suggest that most of the girl students are being involved in domestic work. Various research studies suggest that only 20% of the students have the access to online learning and in reality, only half of those 20 per cent actually join the online classes. Another survey reveals that 37 per cent of the rural students among 15 states and union territories have lost touch with their day-to-day studies. Some of them have even lost basic numerical and literary ability. 

Drastic improvement in educational infrastructure is the need of the hour but the Modi government has reduced spending on the education sector by 6 per cent. States have a serious dearth of teachers in government and government-aided schools, but the teacher recruitment process is being ignored. NEP suggests that the schools with less than 30 students be closed, but in India, 38 per cent of villages have a population of less than 500. In such areas, schools will be closed and two or more schools will be 'amalgamated'. This will only increase the dropout rate, especially among girl students.


Today, the entire country is focused on the upcoming Uttar Pradesh elections. In UP, 60 out of 1000 children die within the age of five. World Bank reports that India's child death rate is similar to Pakistan and Afghanistan. At this time, when we are facing a rising dropout rate, the mid-day meal scheme and Anganwari scheme would have been extremely useful, but the government is planning to introduce a PPP model in mid-day meal services. Meagre funds have been allotted for this important sector in the current education budget. If PPP model gets implemented and organizations like ISKON or Akshay Patra bag the deal, their emphasis on a vegetarian meal will neglect the concerns around the children's nutrition. 

The centre provides 100 grams of rice per day for each primary student. For upper primary, the limit is 150 grams per day. However, due to tremendous corruption, the students rarely get the allotted quantities. According to estimates, only Rs 4.97 per day are allotted for each primary student. For upper primary, the amount is Rs  7.45. It is impossible to ensure nutritious food with such tiny allocations. Many BJP ruled states have started mid day meal with religious organisations. They have stopped serving eggs or any non-vegetarian foods. Recently some school students under the banner of SFI had to protest, demanding eggs in the midday meals in Karnataka.


NEP has clearly focused on student loans instead of grants. West Bengal government commenced a student credit card scheme. By approving such schemes, the government is encouraging private institutions to increase their fees. Education is becoming costlier. In this pandemic situation, most of the students are working part-time to continue their studies. SFI demands student aid, grants, and fellowships instead of a loan. As the government has failed to ensure employment to the youth, the idea of giving loans is nothing but a trap for the students. 

University graduates are now on the street to demand fair and timely recruitment of SSC and TET. The government, however, has increased the age of retirement for professors from 65 to 68. This move benefits the government in two ways. First, they can save the pension. Second, this can help to fill the void created by irregular recruitment. All this is being done while PhD holders are forced to obtain contractual jobs in colleges. 

At this juncture, after two years of lockdown and an almost defunct offline education system, one would expect that the budget allocations for FY 2022-23 would show an attempt to resolve some of the crises. Instead, allocations are in accordance with NEP suggestions: a meagre 3 per cent of the total allocation goes to the ministry of school education and to the ministry of higher education, a total of 103 thousand crore rupees. This share of the education (and health) sector in the central expenditure is criminally low, given that the budget speech itself recognises that there has been learning loss among students, especially among those from public institutes. 


SFI is determined that they won't let any marginalized students be deprived of their right to education. SFI took the objective to wipe out the phenomenon of 'drop out' from society. They are visiting door to door to examine the situation. They are also preparing for a large-scale movement demanding the reduction of fee hikes in private schools, an increase of seats, development of hostel facilities, special scholarship, fee waiver, concession in public transport, etc. Those marginalized students who have dropped out must be brought back to the classroom. 

SFI has planned exhaustively for this vulnerable situation. It is possible to continue schools maintaining covid protocols. Instead of making decisions for the whole state, the area-specific status of covid infection should be kept in mind while reopening schools. 100 per cent vaccination of all students must be done as soon as possible. Campuses should be sanitized regularly and mask sanitiser must be distributed among the students. Mid-day meal service has to be ensured, involving teachers, guardians, and Anganwadi workers. Students and parents must be encouraged to join the schools again.