Education under Modi Government – A. Marx

(This article has been translated from Tamil by Thozhillalar Koodum. The original tamil version can be accessed here)

Students Protesting cuts in higher education funds

Students Protesting cuts in higher education funds

Part 1
We already know how Sangh Parivar changes the course of education when they capture power. We can relate two experiences to understand how things will be shaped up. One example is the curriculum that is being followed in 60000 educational institutes run by the Parivar even when they are not in power. The other experience is the activities taken by them in changing the education policy in 1999-2004 when they were in power. These changes were to create dangerous impacts across multiple generations.

Let’s recount their interference in education in their previous government:
1. Remove experienced experts from important positions in Indian Council of Historical Research(ICHR), Indian Council of Social Science Research(ICSSR) and National Council of Education, Research and Training(NCERT) and University Grants Commission(UGC) and replace them with Sangh parivar sympathisers.
2. Change historical events in school books especially history books aimed at wreck social harmony.
3. Change historical facts and opinions contrary to researched analysis on Indus valley civilization, Aryan invasion, Dravidian linguistic compatibility and Indo-European linguistic family which have been researched and analysed and accepted by intellectual communities.
4. Impose astrology, vedic education and vedic mathematics contrary to scientific temperament as curriculum in universities.
5. Change education policy to include privatization of education in favor of domestic and foreign private universities, under the pretext of creating a education policy for the new economic environment. For instance, in their previous governance, a policy paper on education was released with consultation of business community including Ambani and Birla.

We made a strong opposition towards this saffronization of education in their previous rule. International community of educational experts, scientific researchers, history experts also condemned the approach of Sangh Parivar’s (Ref: Hindutva in power, Fascism in school books, Arya Koothu by A. Marx). These strong opposition forced back the activities of Sangh Parivar.

One of the questions that is often raised is that any political party, whether it is Communists, Congress or Dalit Bahujan parties, tends to change school books to incorporate their own ideology. So why are Hindutva forces alone blamed? It is important to highlight the view of Dr. Balagopal on the educational changes by Hindutva Forces.

There are at least two critical differences between changes effected by Hindutva forces vs other parties that come to power: They are:
1. We need to evaluate what are the agendas pushed by different parties when they come to power. Communists usually push for land reforms, pro labour reforms etc. Dalit Bahujan parties concentrate on reservation. When Dravidian parties came to power, they gave importance to removal hindi domination, self determination. The changes in education by these governments came only after their ideology based activities. However whenever BJP comes to power, their first action is to change school curriculum and fill up positions in educational institutions with their own people. Why this is done need not be explained further.
2. When evaluating the education policies, there are three critical questions that need to be posed: 1. What are the objectives, the education policy puts forward? (2) Does it critically engage with oppositional view points against its own perspectives that underline the policy? (3) Does it provide a way to evaluate scientifically against the objectives proposed by the policy? The BJP Government is not interested in such questions when it comes to interference in education. How can they provide scientific explanation on the existence of IV tube fertilization and planes that could go forward and backward?

When communists or other political powers came to power and changed education policy, those changes were predominantly accepted by most of the international education experts. These changes were meant to provide a platform of social unity and social equality. They were compatible with the values enshrined with in our constitution.
These are the differences between the changes imposed by other groups and Hindutva forces.

“Education should make one a naked intellectual??” said Periyar. According to him, instead of pushing knowledge into a child’s brain, education should remove those beliefs that has been imposed by society and make them self thinkers. Because, most of those beliefs imposed by society tend to be superstitious. For example, Muslims spread their religion via swords, destroyed hindu temples, Sanskrit is the only language worthy of God, every caste has a capacity are all those false beliefs that are imposed by our society. A good education should refute such beliefs. But how does Sangh Parivar’s education work? The changes imposed by them are only enforcing societal beliefs. Not only is this dangerous but also easy as it reinforces existing notions.

We should realize that the opposition to this is going to be arduous.

Part 2
After they came to power this time, Smriti Irani, who has no experience with education sector, was made Human Resources Minister, making it easier for RSS to entrench itself in the sector. Since she was sworn to power, RSS leaders have been visiting her and have been educating her on providing importance to culture, history and tradition in education. They have also been emphasizing to give importance to certain counter narratives of Historical aspects that have not gained any credence. RSS education “intellectual” Dinanath Batra has been explicitly saying that ‘now that the power has been captured, education has to be completely reinvented’. There have been reports of his organization ‘Shiksha Bachao Andolan”s involvement in plans to change school curriculum.

Sudharshan Rao, a Sangh Parivar supporter has been appointed as ICHR president. He has been known to write justifying Indian Caste system. Education expert Sayeeda Hameed has been removed fro her post as chancellor of Maulana Azad Urdu University in Hyderabad. She has been replaced by a luxury car seller Safar Sareshwala. His only qualification was his coziness with Modi. Students of Film and Television Institute of India(FTII) in Pune protested over 6 months against the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as President.

All of this was expected. Above all this, I want to emphasize the New Education Policy announced by BJP Government and Indian Government’s signing on making education as a trade-able service in the 10th ministerial conference of WTO in Nairobi(December 15-18,2015). These two are mutually exclusive events but are tied to one another. To make higher education as trade-able service, there is a change to the existing education policy.

Education, Health, Medical care, Social welfare policies are called merit goods, meaning that the whole society benefits beyond the immediate beneficiaries through these goods. Hence these should not be approached from the motive of profit but implemented with Government subsidies. But by agreeing to make higher education as trade-able service in World Trade Organization negotiations, India has made this as a non merit good. Through this, higher education becomes a playground for multi national institutions to make profit. In an article titled ‘Challenges faced in higher education’, written 10 years ago, I have already articulated how the foreign companies can loot through such measures.
One might ask. Wouldn’t this be the case even if Congress was governing? So why is BJP Government alone targeted? It is true that in this context, there are no major differences between Congress and BJP. However, the BJP Government is more keen in corporatizing Indian economy and to make it a player in global economy. The close link between fascism and corporatization has been highlighted by researchers of fascism.

The attempt and argument about bringing higher education into trade agreement has been going on for 15 years. In 2001, the National Democratic Alliance(NDA) Government under Vajpayee offered to bring higher education under world trade negotiations through GATT. When a negotiation is signed, then this offer becomes a commitment. Once a commitment is made, there is no easy way to go back.

When United Progressive Alliance(UPA) came to power under the leadership of Manmohan Singh in 2004, the Government had agreed the trade agreements with some changes in 2005. In the 10 years following that, there was a stagnation in GATS negotiation. The Nairobi convention last year(Dec 15-18,2015) was meant to break the stagnation. In this, Modi Government did not make any objections and signed without any disagreement. What the Vajpayee Government offered in 2000 has been committed under Modi Government. In addition to higher education, research, life insurance and medical care, all important services have been subjugated to profit hunt of global capitalists.

How are these offers and commitments going to impact common citizens? The social justice rights including reservations are in danger of being rolled back. Subsidies given to higher education will be stopped. If the Government gives any subsidy, it needs to give the same subsidy to private educational institutes and foreign corporate institutes as well. The Government will revoke the subsidies given to Government Institutions using this as a pretext. Instead, the education loans will be given which will make students and poor families under permanent debt. They call the extension of subsidies given to Government institutions to domestic and foreign private players as ‘level playing fields’. Already, the Non Net Fellowship between Rs 5000-Rs7000 given to M.Phil and Ph.d students by University Sponsorship Committee was stopped in October 7, 2015. Students protested against this.

The budget allocation for higher education has been reduced by Rs 3,900 crores after BJP came to power. Similarly, the subsidies given to higher education institutions under Central Government Institution ‘Rashtriya Uchadar Siksha Abhiyan’ has been reduced from Rs 2200 crores to mere Rs 390 crores. Totally, the budget allocation for education has been reduced by Rs 13,697 crores. The burden will be passed onto the student community.

The Government has created a dream that the students will be given a standard of education equivalent to foreign education institutions and the students will avail the services of foreign professors and students will get more opportunities to study abroad. While it may be true that foreign institutions and foreign teachers can provide a service, the cost to educate students will rise multifold. The benefit will only accrue to the countries such as Australia who will make lots of money through such initiatives. It is not true that all foreign universities have high standards. Even third rate universities can open their shop here. A 2000 UNESCO report points out that even universities with some standard do not provide same standard of education in backward countries.

In addition, the commitment by Modi Government will increase the interference of foreign companies in our education policy and accreditation policy. Applied science will be given preference over theoretical science and art subjects. Theoretical science including physics, chemistry and biology are most basic for any scientific research and innovations. These will be ignored. Courses such as biotechnology and biochemistry will be promoted in the name of employment and a global class segregation in knowledge will be the outcome. Basic science research will be undertaken in western countries and countries such as India will only focus on applied science. Our premier institutions such as TIFR and IISc will decline. The patents acquired through such theoretical science research will be sold to us, thus making another profit center.

In this context, it must be noted that BJP government has been promoting four year degree course with choice based credit system. Choice based credit system, common entrance exam, common merit evaluation, common curriculum have been highlighted since Murali Manohar Joshi’s period.

The existing institutions that oversee higher education include UGC, AICTE, NCTE, Bar Council of India and Medical Council of India. World Bank has been pushing for a single education institution that will determine all the education aspects. This has been also emphasized by Sam Pitroda in 2006 and Yashpal in 2008. They called it Independent Regulatory Authority of Higher Education(IRA for HE) and National Council of Higher Education Research respectively. BJP has been also pushing for centralization of powers in all sectors. In its 2014 election manifesto, it has talked about ‘highly empowered central institution’.

Every university and research institutions were created towards improving citizens wellbeing and development of our country. To bring all these under one umbrella and to centralize various strands does not make sense for a country with multiple cultural identities. The attempt by BJP to centralize is to accelerate the saffronization, says Prof. Harbans Mukhia.

Another aspect also needs to be highlighted in this. These changes are not going to be confined to higher education. Those who educate through such mechanisms are only going to be teaching in primary and middle schools. Hence these attempts are going to have an overall negative impact in our education system.

Part 3
Mody Government has published a ‘New Education Policy‘ in website. There have been three education policies by various governments in 1968, 1986 and 1992. The 1968 Kothari policy outlined progressive policies such as common school system for all, public schools near to residences etc. This was also based on Directive Principles under our constitution. The Education Policy under Rajiv Gandhi Government in 1986 was amended in 1992. This was in the background of India’s entry into neo-liberalization. The education policy also reflected this change. Yet it provided a platform for broad national debate. The blackboard scheme which promised all basic amenities in all schools, was discussed in the policy.

The provision for debate allowed us to engage critically with the education policy. I have written two articles titled ‘Our education challenges’ and ‘Fascism and Education Policy’ at that time. It cannot be said that a democratic ideal was achieved by incorporating all the debates into the policy but still there was a mechanism for public debate.

Today, the new education policy by BJP Government has no mechanism for debate. While it proclaims to provide ‘it is the first attempt to involve ordinary citizens in policy generation’ and ‘an inclusive participatory comprehensive’ approach, it has not been setup to invite various opinions, conduct debates and incorporate suggestions. Rather, it has been setup to invite suggestions from known culprits under predefined agenda.

Further, the policy does not articulate issues already existing in education system and challenges brought on by privatization and commodification of education. The policy has not been drafted with a comprehensive agenda on education and to increase public participation in all these issues. Rather, it has defined 33 central themes, each of which have been explained under 200 words. 13 of the themes are on primary education and rest on higher education. Each of these have carefully drafted questions. The participants can only answer these questions, with 500 words at most.

Can such ‘twitter’ approaches provide a cohesive debate on such issues? One can either completely agree with the policy or completely reject the policy. Hence this will only provide a way to give some unstructured points rather than to provide a cohesive argument. Hence this can never become a public debate and a mechanism to bring debates to consensus.

The website has further stated that a committee has been formed to consolidate these answers and to conduct debates on questions that will be based on ‘predefined poll based’ issues and to create a comprehensive new education policy. However, the members of such committee are unknown to the public.

Experts have expressed concerns that these questions and themes are defined to ensure that a certain opinion emerges from those who participate. One of the critique of the questions in 13 themes concerning primary education is that all the questions together seems to direct the participants towards privatization under the pretext of public private partnership. For ex,one question says ‘What do you think are the reasons why your child is not studying well in school?’. Niranjan Aradhya has pointed out that the question is attempted to place a critique that government schools don’t function properly.

On themes centered around middle school, the private public partnership is directly placed as articulated by the question ‘Do you think school education can be expanded through public private partnership?’. Aradhya has also pointed out questions being raised about teacher assessments. This approach seems to be based on the World bank policy of ‘perform or perish’. The idea is to abolish permanent teachers by evaluating them once in a while and to remove them from their posting on the basis of assessment.

In short, the Modi Government has implemented a twitter approach on New Education Policy after agreeing to privatize education sector and to allow foreign corporates in education sector. The Modi Government has no interest in our constitution. Nor does he believe in its basic objectives which include secularism, equality, public schools, schools nearby etc. The only aspect that Modi Government wants to make sure is that these new policies do not affect its own agenda of saffronizing the education and in promoting its own hindutva agenda.

So education policy has become a point of convergence for both actors without any antagonisms and the citizens are going to be poorer for what they lose.

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