Dr. Vikram Singh
Modi government has completed two and half years. The promise of ‘achhe din’ has vanished long ago and instead of that, we are seeing an all-out attack on life and livelihoods of common people. Students and youth had voted in large numbers for BJP in the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 with the hope that it will provide relief from the unrelenting miseries imposed by the Congress rule. However, the experience of these two and half years has proved to be contrary. This government has relegated education and Employment- the 2 prime agendas of the students in this country.
We have witnessed during last couple of years an unrelenting authoritarian assaults on the campuses and students in the wake of the imposition of RSS’ agenda of Hindutva. This has also been period of growing struggles and resistance, with student movement emerging as a catalyst in the movement against authoritarianism. However, what have gone largely unnoticed is the increasing economic attacks on students.
Attacks on education:
The successive central governments of India have been demonstrating its stanch commitment to private capital and its neoliberal offensive. Present government is strictly implementing these neoliberal policies in the field of education which is weakening the hard earned public education system of India. These developments are nothing to be surprised at because they are part of the global campaign of the neoliberal capital. The impact of these policies is visible in rampant growth of private education institutions both at the level of primary and higher education. Due to commercialisation of education is becoming costly and more students are compelled to leave their education. On the other hand this impact is visible in poor condition of our education system and low achievement level of students.
According to the latest ASER report of Prathan organisation the overall enrolment in schools is 96.9% in 2016. However, in some states, the fraction of out of school children (age 6-14) has increased between 2014 and 2016. These include Madhya Pradesh (from 3.4% to 4.4%), Chhattisgarh (from 2% to 2.8%), and Uttar Pradesh (from 4.9% to 5.3%). In some states the proportion of girls (age group 11-14) out of school remains greater than 8%. These states are Rajasthan (9.7%) and Uttar Pradesh (9.9%). Joining them in 2016 is Madhya Pradesh (8.5%).
Nationally, the proportion of children in Standard III who are able to read at least Standard I level text is 42.5% in 2016. Nationally, reading levels in Standard VIII show a slight decline since 2014 (from 74.7% to 73.1%). In 2016, for the country only 27.7% of Standard III children could do a 2-digit subtraction. From 2014 to 2016, for class V children, the level of arithmetic as measured by children's ability to do simple division problems has remained almost the same at 26%. However, the ability to do division among Standard VIII students has continued to drop. This declining trend has been observed since 2010. The proportion of Standard VIII students who could correctly do a 3-digit by 1-digit division problem was 68.4% in 2010. This number dropped to 44.2% in 2014, and has further declined to 43.3% in 2016. In 2016, 32% children in Standard III could read simple words in English. In comparison, in 2016, 24.5% of children enrolled in Std V could read simple English sentences. This number is virtually unchanged since 2009. However, the decline in upper primary grades continues. For example, in 2009, 60.2% of children in Standard VIII could read simple sentences in English; in 2014, this figure was 46.7% and in 2016 this ability has further declined to 45.2%. In 2016, of those who can read words (regardless of grade), roughly 60% could explain the meanings of the words read. Of those who can read sentences, 62.4% in Std V could explain the meaning of the sentences. Both these levels are virtually unchanged since 2014.
The main reason for this low level of achievement of students in schools is the huge number of vacant posts in the educational institutions and poor infrastructure. We have a shortage of trained teachers as well as training institutes. There are 6 lakh posts of teachers vacant under the SSA. Even in the KVs, 7698 out of 44,529 sanctioned teaching posts are vacant; so are 50 per cent of positions in teacher-training institutions. The picture is even worse in higher education: Universities (both state and central), IITs, NITs, IIMs, are all suffering crippling shortages of teachers. According to the Government records the institutes of higher learning under the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) face a faculty shortage to an extent of 35%. Even the top institutions of higher education are facing faculty crunch, IITs have 39% vacancies and Central Universities follow with 38% vacancies. In all the central universities 1,277 positions for the post of professor (or 53% of the total sanctioned positions); 2,173 for associate professor (46%); and 2,478 for assistant professor (26%) are vacant. Even Delhi University (DU), some 60% of faculty positions at the university are vacant. The situation of state universities and colleges affiliated to them is worst and beyond imaginations.
Government is continuously bringing various notifications through UGC and MHRD which is bringing education more towards central list undermining the rights of the states. Central University Act, NEET, RUSA, Central Syllabus etc. are such efforts which are aimed to have more central control on education. We can clearly see increasing thrust of centralization with the proposal of a separate testing agency to take all entrance exams in the country; while the existing bodies such CBSE, AICTE etc will be asked to focus on academics only.
BJP government is pushing its Hindutva agenda in education sector especially through the changes in text books. These changes range from distortion of historical facts to teaching of pseudoscience. Various attempts are there to give text books a colour of Hindutva. Numerous appointments are there of heads of different universities, educational and research institutes, who are vigorously implementing the agenda of RSS. This is the most dangerous aspects of the plans of Hindutva Brigade. They want to convert education institutions the centre of training the minds of future generation to think, visualise and comprehend India as Hindu Rashtra, centres where minds will be trained to hate people from other communities, to establish so called supremacy of one religion against the pluralistic character of real India of People from diverse cultures, castes, regions, languages etc.
Apathy of government towards public education can also be witnessed in the budgetary allocations and promises made in the education sector. While the education sector today requires massive expansion to reap the benefits of the demographic dividend, the present approach of this government will only lead to worsening of the quality in all spheres of education. India has decreased its spending on education from 4.4 percent of GDP in 1999 to around 3.71 percent, undermining the work done in getting more children into school, and its prospects for improving its poor quality of education. “Most of the developed world, having a more mature education system then India and higher levels of GDP are even today spending around 4.5 to 6 of GDP on education sector, realizing the benefit the education sector has on society, but in India, despite the massive demand-supply gap in the quality of education, still has not been able to reach those levels.
Education sector has seen remarkable reduction of budgetary allocations during the Modi regime. This downward spiral started from the first budget itself, which the Modi government presented. For the Dept. of School Education & Literacy, Modi Sarkar spent Rs.45722 crore in 2014-15, down by Rs.1134 crore over the previous year (UPA’s last year). Then in 2015-16 Rs.42187 is estimated to have been spent (revised estimates), further down by Rs.3535 crore and in 2016-17 budgeted allocation, the govt. has allocated Rs.43554 crore, up by about Rs.1367 crore over the previous year.
Story of the 2017-18 is same. One more important aspect of this year’s budget has been the decision to do away with the classification of plan and non-plan expenditure. This is in line with the government’s decision to dismantle the Planning Commission and replacing the Five-Year Plan mechanism by a medium to long-term planning system under the NITI Aayog. Apart from a more aggressive push towards market reforms, this move also means that this year’s budgetary allocations can’t be compared with the last year’s allocations.
While the fiscal deficit for the financial year 2016-17 was 3.2% of GDP, in the same year the tax forgone was a massive 3.18 lakh crore that is equal to 2.1% of the GDP. The social sector spending including that on education can be increased by reducing the concessions to the corporates and big businesses. Clearly during last three years government is pushing the agenda of triple ‘C’ in education system i.e. Commercialisation, centralisation and communalisation of education.
STATE OF DEMOCRACY IN CAMPUSES:
Basic ideology of BJP and RSS is against any kind of democratic process. This is visible in the functioning of the central government. This government takes most of its decisions through ordinance only and very less time is spent in parliament debates. Our Prime Minister and other central minister are not keen to participate in the parliament debates. Our vocal Prime Minister, who is known for his rhetoric speeches, always escapes when it comes to speak on relevant issues in the parliament. Even when he speaks, speaks like as he is speaking in election public meeting. Most of the sessions of the parliament are failed to do public business demanding presence of Prime Minister during important debates. We have witnessed, just before the every Parliament session government will take some controversial move and there will be deadlock in the house. It looks like these are deliberate efforts by the government to avoid the discussion and decisions on real issue of common man in house. Same is the practice of state governments which have BJP governments.
BJP government is adopting the same understanding in the educational institutions. There is an all round attack on the education institutions especially university centres. Our campuses are being converted into police stations in the name of providing security. UGC through notification have asked all the universities to establish police station inside the campus along with various other anti democratic measures. The real aim of all these steps is to control the student politics. This government do not like any dissent or question from any section of the society. Education teaches us to ask rational questions. Naturally students become the first target of this government because they raise their voice against any wrong policy of the government. Instead of addressing the genuine issues raised by the students, central government and MHRD is attacking the democratic culture of the campuses. Even students are being arrested for critical facebook posts. There are planned conspiracies in various universities to attack the democratic spaces of campuses and in all these incidents ABVP was a close ally of the government and administration. We have witnessed these types of attacks in IIT Chennai, FTII Mumbai, HCU, JNU etc.
There are physical attacks as well as ideological attacks in campuses by BJP government. In the name of love for nation and nationalism all sort of discontent are considered as antinational. There is a kind of environment in which either you are on government side or will be declared anti national. Autonomy of all the universities is in danger as autonomous decision taking bodies of the university are under scanner. Vice chancellors who are appointed by their political patrons are undermining the democratic meetings and even by passing the meetings. Typical example is academic council meetings of JNU, where vice chancellor in trying to dictate his opinion and taking decisions unilaterally despite of strong resistance by other faculty members. If this can happen in JNU, situation of other campuses can be imagined.
Student union elections are not being conducted in most of the campuses. Where elections are conducted, elected unions are not invited in policy making decision process. Administration of the educational institutions does not listen to the issues raised by the unions. Union leaders are met with various false cases and are being victimised. This attack on the democracy in campuses is lead and monitored by the Government Ministers who are preaching students to not involve in students politics in public meetings and through media.
The incidences of suicides have increased in educational institutions inside the campuses which reflect the anti democratic environment of the campuses. In most of the campuses administration is found directly involved in creating such conditions. In HCU there was a direct involvement of Vice chancellor and other government ministers to create such an environment which forced Rohit Vemula to end his life. In Nehru College of Trishur district of chairperson and vice principal are charged with direct involvement for suicide of Jishnu Pranoy and booked in police charge sheet. Girls are not safe in the education institutions. There are incidences of sexual harassment, rape and murder of girl students in campuses.
Our central government is trying to convert our education institutions into Gurukuls of their ideology having no space for democracy, where students will be converted into blind followers who will not question the caste or Varna system and will follow the dictates of the ruling class.
ATTCKS ON SOCIAL JUSTICE:
Education is widely recognised as a potent tool for the “socioeconomic mobility” of the vulnerable sections of the economy. But our central governments seems to forget this fact and is implementing the policies which adversely affecting the students coming from socially deprived sections. Prime indication of government priority is allocation in budget. This year (2017-18) the budgetary outlay for SCs and STs are 2.4% and 1.2% of the total outlay respectively, both of which are far less than their share in population. Similarly the gender budget spending is merely 5.3% of the outlay, which again is far less than the prescribed 30%.
These budget cuts have had direct impact on the students from the marginalized sections. In the last two years, we have seen steep fee hikes in numerous government institutions. The fees for the B.Tech courses in the IITs have been increased from Rs.90000 per annum to Rs.2 lakh per annum. The application fees for the CSIR-NET examinations saw a massive increase of 250%. It is not possible for the students from the socially deprived sections to pay these huge amounts of fees hence most of them are forced to leave education.
“I have to get seven months of my fellowship, one lakh and seventy five thousand rupees. Please see to it that my family is paid that”, wrote Rohith Vemula in his suicide note. This is only a reflection of how the delays in government-sponsored scholarships drive the students from Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe (SC/ST) communities into desperation. Fellowship schemes like Rajiv Gandhi National fellowship, Maulana Azad National fellowship, CSIR-JRF and UGC-JRF are the only means by which hundreds of students from socio-economically deprived backgrounds are able to continue their higher studies. Many such students have to send a significant portion of their fellowships back home also. But, over the last two years, the budget cut has translated into delays up to eight-nine months in the disbursal of the fellowships.
The students from socially backward sections are facing hard environment during this regime of BJP government. There are numerous incidents of caste based violence and brutal attacks on dalits and tribals in India during last two years. The incidence of Una, Gujarat is only one of its kinds. Same is the situation of our campuses. 19 students belonging to the dalit, advivasi and minority sections have committed suicides in our higher educational institutions in the last five years. The nationwide protests following Rohith’s death brought to fore this harsh truth that students from the marginalized communities have to face in our campuses. It is in this backdrop that the demand for a comprehensive legislation against the caste based discrimination in educational institutions has been repeatedly made.
STRUGGLE FOR PRO-STUDENT EDUCATION POLICY
It needs no reiteration that educational institutions today have become sites of neoliberal planning and execution of its business game plan. Privatisation has been on anvil for quite some time now and it is justified by the argument that it improves the quality of education and enhances the efficiency of teachers as well as students. This phenomenon is visible in the way the spread of private educational institutions has been happening.
The recent notification of UGC on the MPhil/PhD admission which was published in the gazette on 5th May, 2016 shows the direction in which this government is moving. This shows that government is avoiding the debate on education policy but is already implementing its vision in parts. The disastrous impact of this notification on the social justice, autonomy and inclusive nature of the universities is already in front of all of us in case of JNU. This UGC notification far from being a “guideline” is in effect a “straightjacket” with rigid examination criteria, admission rules and the criteria for the eligibility of research supervision. We are opposed to this understanding of privatised and commercialised education. Over the years this vision has failed to fulfil the requirements of the public of India. India needs a strong public sphere of education. Students community is demanding control and check on these private institutions. We were hoping that proposed new education Policy of BJP government will deal with this crucial need of ours. In fact, there is no proposed mechanism to monitor and check the private institutions. The student community is demanding for long to bring a central legislation to monitor the admission process and fee structure of private institutions but there is no mention of such provision in the draft.
Much has been written about new education policy. This new education policy is nothing but only a new document advocating the commercialisation, centralisation and communalisation of education. Fully undermining our social needs this NEP is new exclusion policy.
Students of the country are in struggle for a pro student education policy focussed to address the needs and requirements of the Indian education system. This education policy can only be evolved by the active participation of teachers, academicians and students but not by the dictates of Nagpur.
Under this scenario students of India are in struggle in different campuses of the nation. For last two years we have seen militant struggle on all these aspects against fee hike, to have state control on private institutions, for social justice, in defence of democracy. Students’ Federation of India is in forefront of all these struggles. On 3rd March thousands of the students will be marching to Delhi against the attacks on education, Democracy and social justice and for a pro-student Education Policy.
This March is happening not only against the RSS-BJP’s assaults on the autonomy, democracy, education and employment. It is to reassert the alternative vision of education for a better India. At a time when the Hindutva combine is attacking the very foundations of our education system to further its ideological agenda, it becomes very important that we build a movement with a positive agenda.