Editorial – July 2015

Published on

Education is a vehicle to transmit the collective knowledge of humanity from one generation to the next, with the aim of enabling humanity to think on its own terms and assess the validity of what is known and explore what is unknown. Due to its ability to instill a critical consciousness in people, knowledge has an important role in understanding and challenging the existing unequal power structures in society.

But, this knowledge can fully reform a society only when the said knowledge is accessible easily by the masses, irrespective of their status in the contemporary society. For this reason, over the ages, those in power have continuously sought to control access to education of the rest of the populace. For example, in ancient India, access to education was restricted based on the caste status acquired by birth. The inequalities created by this system continue to plague our society to this day.

Unlike the feudal monarchies of the past, in a democracy, it is a crucial duty of the elected government to cater to this fundamental need of access to education by providing and sustaining the necessary infrastructure. The same was reflected in Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s The Discovery of India: “…to remove … poverty … better education and better health are the paramount needs and the most pressing tasks before us”. In that spirit, when India later became an independent nation in 1947, the architects of our Constitution sought to incorporate the importance of education as a means of improving the living conditions of the people. This was done by including the Article 45, which contains a provision that entails free and compulsory education for all children under the age of fourteen, irrespective of inequalities of caste and class. The responsibility for achieving the same was entrusted to the elected government.

However, this constitutional obligation was deferred time and again by successive governments of most major political parties and India could not achieve the goal of equal access to education even after 50 years of independence. Realizing this, activists and academics all over India struggled long and hard against the government’s apathy. As a result, in 2002, government inserted Article 21 - A into the constitution via the 86th amendment, which designates free and compulsory education to all children as a fundamental right. In addition, the Right to Education (RTE) bill was enacted in 2009, which made provisions for the compulsory reservation of 25% of the seats for disadvantaged groups, even in private institutions. This was largely viewed as a step in the right direction.

Increasing the government’s investment and expenditure in the education sector runs contrary to the neoliberal paradigm, which is the economic philosophy that dominates the world today. This is for two reasons: (1) Good education can inculcate a spirit of reasoning and questioning in the people, which is viewed as a threat by anyone in power, and (2) Education at all levels has immense value as a commodity in market, and restricting private players’ participation is a loss of potential profits.

Because of these reasons, private businesses houses and international corporate bodies have pressurized successive governments (of various political parties) to yield to their business interests. As a result, the role of government in education has declined and the sector has been increasingly privatized. By invoking the article 19 - 1(G) of the constitution that gives the citizens a right to practice any trade or business as occupation, government paved way for privatization in the trade / business of education and thereby honed its skills to implement neoliberal policies. The corporate influnce in determining government policy is reflected in calls for higher Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in higher education after negotiations with World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2005 and a continuous decrease in the budget allocation for public education. For instance, the current central government has cut1 the budget for public education services by 16%. In addition, the Child Labor Prohibition Act is being amended2 to allow children under 14 to work in “family enterprises”. This is at a time when a report3 by UNESCO estimates that 1.4 million Indian children are out of school.

As the education sector mutates into a seller - buyer market, the quality and price of the commodity - i.e., education - will be controlled by the ones who provide the commodity and not the consumer. Education is a chance to change one’s status and living conditions in the modern world. When access to education in itself is being sold to the highest bidder, it is being robbed from the sections of the society which need it the most. As a result, reaching out for a good primary education is a tall order even for a middle class family. If higher education too becomes less accessible, it will convert the majority of the masses into minimal-educated-labor that will be employed as cheap manpower in corporate factories.

Another disturbing trend of late, has been the reported instances of increasing misuse of education system by various ideological groups to propagate their dogmatic ideas by altering history and science textbooks4. This is a dangerous tendency and must be opposed at all costs. This is not an issue unique to India; for example, the creationist campaign in the west against biological evolution of species, was on similar lines in seeking to replace facts with myth. Such revisionist interpretations destroy the process of critical thinking, and replace it with blind belief, dragging the society backward.

It is high time that students and faculty of premier science institutes such as IISc, rise in defense of rationality and free thought and come to the fore in addressing the various problems that we face in the education sector. These problems are a direct result of a socio-economic and political system that aggravates inequality among classes.

This edition of Issues of Concern hopes to present a glimpse of the current education system and the issues that plague it. We explore the connections between the dominant economy and the idea of education, as well as the influence of global imperialism on India’s education policies, among others. We hope this will be an enlightening and educative experience for the readers, just as it has been for all of us who were involved in its production. We urge the readers to engage in the discussion by contributions as well as by giving us an honest feedback about the contents.

We wish you a thought provoking reading!