A note on present Educational and socio- political situation

80th Foundation day celebration of AISF , 12-14th August, 2015

A note on present Educational and socio- political situation

The victory over fascism was largely due to glorious sacrifice for democracy and socialism the people of the first socialist country- the Soviet Union. No wonder, even capitalist countries opted for some sort of social democracy or regulated welfare capitalism; some of them called this social democratic welfarism even socialism for ideological reasons. India attained freedom in this ideological ambience. Although the coalition of industrial bourgeoisie with the substantial land-owners under the leadership of the big bourgeoisie that assumed the reins of the country, the commitment to the workers and peasants that the freedom movement had made could not be totally set aside. Both the strengths and weaknesses of this situation are reflected in the contradictions inherent in the Constitution of India that was adopted by the Constituent Assembly consisting entirely of property owners.   The education system of India suffers from the same contradictions that systematically generate its problems.

The Indian National Congress jettisoned its own resolution and demand for land to the tiller in order to create and stabilize the bourgeois-landlord coalition. As such capitalist industrialization had to base itself on a very narrow market for luxury consumer goods which called for capita-intensive technique of production that in turn called for a very small number of highly skilled workers. Hence it was natural to lay more stress on higher education than school education, more stress on a few IITs than mass education. All the ills of educational system,  today lie in this  legacy. However, the ills of the economic development of which educational development a necessary part were mitigated by Nehruvian commitment, albeit half-hearted, to welfare capitalism.

But like the social democracy or welfare capitalism in the rest of the world Indian welfare capitalism ran into stagflation in the latter half of 1960s, which culminated into a fully fledged structural crisis of capitalism in 1973. However, unlike the developed capitalist countries Indian social democracy was much more deep rooted, thanks to all encompassing class solidarity in the freedom movement that prevented the global capital to exercise immediate ideological hegemony in the wake of the crisis. Hence, despite tremendous pressure from global capital through the Breton Wood twins (WB and IMF), India started liberalizing surely after 1980 but the vibrancy of Indian democracy in which the left political formations played a critical role the process could not be fast enough to the satisfaction of global capital. But the very slow and halting liberalization itself culminated into balance of payment crisis at the end of 1980s. The result was capitulation of Narsimha Rao government to the diktat of the World Bank and IMF in 1991 and announced its neoliberal economic policy, generally called New Economic Policy, as the conditionality for the bail-out package from IMF and World Bank. The essence of this policy as defined in the Washington Consensus is liberalization, privatization and globalization that simply means opening Indian economy for the free play of global capitals, both Indian and foreign.

Unfortunately for the global capital, Indian democratic vibrancy still was too strong to allow this neoliberal agenda to be implemented at the speed desired by the World Bank and IMF as the twin legal spokesperson of global capital. INC could not muster absolute majority in the legislature to ride roughshod over the dissenting public opinion. Although it was almost a consensus among economists that India was almost shielded against the adverse impact of 2008-9 crisis because it had failed to liberalize fully, the ideology of global capital, especially finance capital, made the captains of Industry call for all-out liberalization. A call went out that what India needed was a strong government with enough mandate to ride roughshod over dissenting political opinion and could implement neoliberal policies with impunity. Modi-led BJP was perceived as the safest bait for global finance capital. Money flowed and media-propaganda went all out into building the myth of Gujarat model and the aura of Modi. No doubt, it paid them well.

Fascistic tendency of Narendra Modi-led government is now as clear as day light. Hitler said that masses respect from fear and He worked accordingly. His follower Modi and his partymen have also tried to test the efficacy of Hitler’s opinion in the holocaust of Gujarat and elimination of key witnesses and they are testing in the course of Vyapam Scam by eliminating or scaring into silence key witnesses. Those who believe in democratic values need to wake up in order to exorcise this spectre of fascism looming large over our horizon. It is also visible in the way the government is going about subverting democratic cultural, educational and secular structure of the country. It can be seen in their kind of intervention in the case of IITs, IIMs, FTII, ICHR, ICSSR, the universities and their courses. It is time we wake up to call this fascistic bluff and gear up to fight this looming menace in the universities, colleges, schools as well as on the streets both ideologically and politically to mobilize public opinion against this attack on democracy and academic freedom and freedom of opinion and expression and conscience.

AISF is a very historical and glorious organization of the country. It has played a very important role in Indan freedom struggle and after that for the right of education and rights of the people. So when anti people, anti society , fascist government is in the saddle at the centre and  some states,  the country once again calls us  for struggle and sacrifice to save democracy, save secularism, save education, save the people, and  save the integrity of this multi-linguistic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious nation.

As for education, the major problems are unequal access, inadequacy of allocation of public resources, government attitude, and falling standards. Now Modi govt. has thrown up new challenges for us like ‘Choice- based Credit System’(CBCS), Rashtriye Uchatar Shiksha Abhiyan(RUSA), Central University Act etc.

All these policy changes that are being mooted, need to be understood in the larger context of the concerted attempts to convert education into a tradable commodity, rather than as a tool for social and economic transformation of society.

Today in the name of ‘reforming’ education, the concerns of expansion, affordability, quality and access are being completely swept away. Let us understand the contents of some of the recent policy assaults on education :

Cafeteria-lzation’ of Higher Education: Choice Based Credit System- An illusion of ‘Choices’

In yet another move aimed at turning students into guinea pigs of ill informed educational experiments, a choice based credit system has been imposed on university students. As per the UGC guidelines, “the CBCS provides choice for students to select from the prescribed menu of courses ( core, elective or minor or soft skill courses)”, exactly like the menu of a cafeteria. In their own words, “the CBCS provides a ‘cafeteria’ type approach in which the students can take courses of their choice, learn at their own pace, undergo additional courses and acquire more than the required credits, and adopt an interdisciplinary approach to learning”. However, a close examination of the programme reveals a near absence of actual choices’. It is like the assumption of neoclassical labour economics where workers are said to exercise a choice between work and leisure, forgetting that leisure for workers may amount to starvation; they have no choice but to work and get exploited.

If indeed CBCS is about opting for ‘additional courses and acquiring more than required credits’, then the first level of choice should be the choice ‘to opt’ or ‘not to opt’! A student who wants to study more than is required for the completion of degree should not be disallowed to study more, whereas a student who does not feel the need to study more should not be forced to study more. The very fact that it is compulsory for a student to opt for a course under the CBCS, shows that there exists no real ‘choice’.

Regarding choice of courses, as the UGC itself suggests, in CBCS, the students would be able to choose the course they like in a cafeteria like way! However, does this choice really exist for the students? The choice would exist if there was no “first come first serve basis” or “merit- basis” norm to it and if each and every student could opt for the preferred subject, irrespective of the number of students opting for a given subject and there would be enough space and teachers for the purpose. At a time when the universities are already being forced to fall back on contractual and ad hoc teachers to meet the teaching requirements of existing courses, where is the requisite faculty and infrastructure for ‘choice based courses’? It is almost like issuing someone a blank cheque against the account with very little or no money. Before embarking on any such course, should not the first step be expansion and enrichment of the infrastructure required for it?

CBCS guidelines also make a reference to “learning at own pace”, however it is anybody’s guess, that in a semester system where there are barely 3-4 teaching months in a semester, how much of a ‘choice’ exists for students to learn at their own pace!

The CBCS thus offers neither ‘choice’ nor ‘quality’ to the students, who are forced to opt for it.

Let us also understand that CBCS is not going to be imposed only on Central Universities; it is going to be imposed sooner or later on state universities too- so students of every college and university in this country need to resist the imposition of CBCS and its implications for quality education.

Rashtriye Uchatar Shiksha Abhiyan(RUSA) : alongside the Central Uniersities Act and the CBCS, moves are also afoot to dismantle the funding duty of UGC and push through the so called Rashtriye Uchatar Shiksha  Abhiyan(RUSA). Imposition of the RUSA will have a huge impact on the funding of educational institutions, and this proposal will clearly pave the way for reduced funding and autonomy for non- Central Universities.

Central University Act: The dangerous Agenda ‘Uniformity’

In an India bursting with diverse cultures and peoples, the RSS, BJP and their man Modi wants to impose one ‘emotion’, one ‘voice’, one ‘culture’, one ‘goal’, even one ‘smile’! No surprise then when the same group tries to also argue for ‘one university Act’ that has ‘one syllabus’, one ‘entrance system’ and one ‘recruitment pattern’. Here is how this ‘Central University Act’ looks like:-

– Common syllabus: according to the proposal, all central universities will have a common syllabus, across the country. Forcing such a common syllabus will kill the possibility of universities creatively fashioning courses and assessments that makes for the unique profile of each university.

– Common entrance test: such a proposal, which is based on a single, tailor- made entrance exam across the country, does not allow institutions to design their admission process keeping in mind the divergent nature, requirements and specificities of their research and academics, responding to diverse social needs and priorities.

– Centralized recruitments: this will mean that the Central Government will have a free hand to dictate faculty appointments of its ideological/ political choice.

– Faculty Transfer: the provision to ‘faculty – transfer’ will act as a weapon to keep the upright faculty members who ‘do not fall in line’ under permanent threat. Moreover, especially for a research institution, the provision of faculty transfer makes no academic sense. In case of a transfer, what will happen to the students and researchers working with the faculty concerned?

‘Binding commitments’ in WTO to make education a tradable commodity:  In India various governments in power – whether run by the UPA or the NDA – have been trying their level best to Implememt this crucial and dangerous paradigm shift in the education sector. The previous government had voluntarily ‘offered’ to bring education under the WTO-GATS regime.  However, it is yet to become a binding ‘commitment’. Right now, frantic moves are on to make it a ‘binding commitment’ in the coming 10th WTO Ministerial conference to be held at Nairobi, Kenya during 15-18th of December this year. Once the government of India makes the global ‘commitment’  for market access in education, the foreign and domestic corporate houses who ‘trade’ in education will acquire a virtual free hand, spelling doom for the interests of the students and teachers of the country. Strong pressure must be built, right now, to ensure that the government of India withdraws its ‘offers’ given to WTO for Higher Education.

In the light of these combined assaults of Modi’s government’s moves to sign the WTO ‘commitment’ for making education a tradable commodity, the common central university Act, the CBCS and RUSA, we need a united and robust resistance to defend the inclusive and democratic character of education. Let us gear up organizationally, ideologically and politically to resist the neoliberal attacks on our democratic fabric and values in education and other spheres and defeat them.

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