Wednesday, March 24, 2010

[ZESTCaste] The marketplace of ideas (Opinion)

The marketplace of ideas

D. Raja

Posted online: Wednesday, Mar 24, 2010 at 0238 hrs
In 1915 in a village named Ooruttambalam in Kerala, the great Dalit
revolutionary Ayyankali took a Pulaya untouchable girl for admission
into a Malayalam school. The upper castes set fire to the school to
prevent the untouchable children from "defiling the educational
institution". This was followed by the first-ever agricultural strike
in the history of the nation, fought not for wages but for school
admission. After nearly a 100 years (and 60 years of the Indian
republic), education and admission will be as inaccessible as for the
little Pulaya girl. This time, the question is not about the right to
entry, but the cost of education.
As a nation, we know the travails of educating the children of Dalits,
adivasis, marginal farmers and toiling industrial workers. But the
rich in our country never had this problem. Even the salaried middle
class could look up to low-fee high-quality institutions built by the
government to educate their children. If the HRD minister's dream
comes true, the entire middle class will become debt-ridden to eager
private banks and dormant nationalised banks. In 10 years, there will
be no difference between the farmers of Vidarbha and the
English-educated salaried middle class.

One can imagine the plight of parents who took loans to send their
children to Australia, and their consequent troubles. Education, once
almost free, has now become a costly, globalised and privatised
commodity. The UPA was visibly under-committed to implementing the
95th amendment made to the Constitution by inserting Article 15 (5) to
make education accessible to Dalits, adivasis and the backwards. The
amendment envisaged reservation in all government, aided or unaided
private educational institution. But with UPA-II, one only hears of
liberating education from the clutches of the government, revamping
higher education etc. — because education is a saleable commodity.

The second indication of things to come is the pricing of application
forms. The price of a mere form is never less than Rs 500 in private
and sometimes even in government-run institutions. How can a student
whose family falls under the poverty line (less than Rs 20 a day as
per the Arjun Sengupta report), afford one? Will the whole family go
hungry to buy one application form?

The right to education humbug, unfortunately, is restricted to
government institutions. The poor will not have right of entry into
elite public schools — the government is not willing to pay the high
fees, and nor are the schools willing to accept poor children. So by
2015, again we will have a poor Pulaya girl waiting outside a public

The Union HRD minister has brought in the Educational Tribunal Bill
which deals with any dispute arising between students and
institutions, teachers and institutions and the institutions concerned
with any regulatory body. That means there will be more work for the
lawyers in our country.

Next comes the Foreign Education Providers Bill which will allow a
foreign institution to operate in our country and probably charge
tuitions in dollars or euros, and push our foreign-education-crazy
middle class to run around banks (and money lenders) to cough up the
cash. The UPA is also bringing in a bill on accreditation to allow the
entry of private accrediting agencies into the country, both foreign
and local, to rank private educational institutions and star them from
one to five. Instead of expanding and increasing the reach of the
National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) which is the
premier and highly authentic institution established by the University
Grants Commission, headed by highly respected academics like Prof.
Goverdhan Mehta and Prof. H.A. Ranganath, the government has chosen to
open this country to roadside shops to award accreditation to our
business-minded private educational institutions.

Again the lawyers in our country will find their plates full because
the government is coming up with another bill, purportedly to contain
capitation fee, but actually designed to impute criminality to
teachers through the Prohibition of Unfair Practice in Technical,
Medical, Educational Institutions and Universities Bill. This bill
will allow the police to enter educational institutions on one or the
other pretext, the slightest violation or even false information about
the facilities and faculty. Upon violation of any of the 25 listed
violations, the Central government (usurping the state's government's
role) can fine up to Rs 50 lakh or sentence the teacher up to 10
years. This is not to defend errant insititutions, but whether such
actions warrant the imputation of criminality is the basic question
that Parliament must ponder. After all, education is a field for
learning, not for litigation.

It is an entirely different issue that the HRD minister and the UPA
are least bothered about the rights of state governments to run
educational institutions, and regulate them in the interest of
linguistic culture and integrity. There will be a day when the nation
will have to rue the Centre's unwarranted entry into the states'
domain and the imposition of the HRD ministry's whims, to cow down,
control, regulate, access, accredit, implicate in criminal cases, the
education sector in the state governments.

UPA -II is now creating another SEZ — special education zones which
will lead to a further divide between the haves and have-nots in a
country where education is already the primary basis for the gulf
between the rich and poor, the rural and the urban.

The writer is CPI national secretary and a Rajya Sabha MP.


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