‘Dark Past, Bleak Future’

Education, State and Market

Anup Sinha

This book* is collection of twelve articles on education with special reference to India. The breadth of discussion is quite large from capital's neoliberal manifestation to philosophical issues in education, to primary school conditions and gradual corporatization of higher education.

Education is a complex subject. It is often viewed as a fundamental right that must be granted to all individuals. It must be important in some way to be viewed in such a fashion. Education can benefit the individual who becomes educated; it also benefits society at large when people become more knowledgeable and conscious. It is about imbibing skills that enhance productivity of labour, it is also about acquiring sensibilities about other people and other ideas. Its essential role can be of manufacturing consent for the power structure of society, it is also about contesting the existing order of things and world views. Education can be inclusive to provide access to all, it can be also quite exclusive where access is regulated and granted to those with social privileges and those who are required to skilled tasks.

Capital engulfs social activities in a systematic manner filling up the world as it were, commodifying everything and bringing every social relationship into the cash nexus in the process. The march of global capital in the recent past has done precisely this to education. Long thought of as a social necessity that would be provided by public resources to ensure access to all, and to exclude sectarian or corporate power in the creation of knowledge, education has become a market for a commodity that is branded, priced, and above all a large surplus reaped from the production of knowledge (or should one rather say the creation of degrees). There is spectrum of quality with corresponding prices. The whole discourse has changed from a social need to produce knowledge and skills to one of market demand and supply. The educational sector in India—primary to higher, rural to urban, liberal to technical—have all appropriated into the circuit of capital. That is the essence of the impact of the arrival of neoliberal capital in India since the early 1990s. Under market friendly capitalism there is tremendous pressure of sheer numbers of Indians who wish get a degree for obtaining employment (not obtaining with certainty, but merely enhancing the likelihood). On the other hand this represents a mammoth market for capital to supply schools and colleges of different varieties and different flavours to sell education at a price. The numbers grow and explode from the IITs and IIMs to private colleges and universities to the mushrooming of primary schools. The variations in quality and price are astonishing. It is against this backdrop that the impact of capital on education is discussed in the book.

The introductory article by Ravi Kumar is followed by a piece by Vikas Gupta who focuses on inequality and disparity in education and how the role and perception of the state's intervention has been significantly altered in the recent past. Inequality is seen as a contradictory character of education. The Right to Education has been enacted by the state for the formal requirement of portraying education as a state subject to be provided for to all citizens as a fundamental right. However, there is a long shadow between the formal legislation and the actual practice and provision of that right. The right to education makes the need for education universal, but that is about all. In essence it opens up opportunities for private capital to enter a market created by the state. The neoliberal state withdraws from education (as from many other aspects of social life)citing fiscal paucity of resources given the requirements of serving more than a billion people. The fundamental inequality of capitalist society is reflected in education too—through incomes of the buyers of educational services, the access to the market for education, and of course as a consequence the inequality in the content and quality of service provided in institutions of is argued that the purpose of education is to break down the sense of community as a crude and primitive collectivity to a new and sophisticated citizenship where a consensual belief in the structures of power and order, the acquiring of some basic skills and the nurturing of aspirations are created. The citizen then becomes a consumer where aspirations are kept alive and being able to consume goods and services on display is more important than getting a job that is worthwhile. The contributor makes an interesting comment regarding the two distinct but convergent forces operating in education in India today. The right wing Hindutva brigade builds a homogeneous, common identity by creating a common enemy—the Other, without which the common identity cannot be defined. In a similar vein the influence of corporate culture creates a common sense of corporate citizenship that creates a homogeneous class that excludes those who cannot pay or those who do not share the values of corporate culture.

The book contains analysis of specific cases of changing controls and culture in education. The article by Haragopal is a narrative of how Delhi University failed to resist the neoliberal assault and the story of the politicization of the University Grants Commission (UGC). A pattern emerged elsewhere in the nation too. First, the neoliberal state withdraws from the funding of public education. This in turn makes the teachers vulnerable and the attractiveness of qualified people to this profession gets reduced. Hence there is a systematic de-professionalization of teachers, and the job market vulnerabilities increase with more and more teachers being hired on contracts. Gradually private capital puts in paltry sums as investments and makes these institutions revenue earning machines driven by a corporate culture of greed and callousness. The students get duped by the lure of a degree that has a very small but positive probability of getting a job. This pattern, as the piece by Radhika Menon suggests, is also true of the takeover or rather the 'makeover' as she refers to the process.

In a nation like India language is an issue over which the power of control and the struggle to resist will remain. The articles by Harjinder Singh and Samir Karmakar are on this issue of language. The use of the mother tongue at least in the early years of learning versus learning to be a polyglot with doses of English, the local tongue, Hindi and now of course the saffron pressure to make Sanskrit compulsory can create pressures on young minds and distort their imaginations. English of course is the preferred language of neo-liberalism, and is also the preferred language of the aspiring consumer who realizes that the language of the global market is English.

The articles by Prasad and by Sadgopal complement each other. The first discusses the commoditizing higher education in India and the other talks about a discourse that could be used to counter the neoliberal conception of knowledge. The article by Gajendra Babu documents a story of resistance in Tamil Nadu to create a common school system.

The article by Rajesh Bhattacharya titled "A Relevant Economics for India: Dark Past, Bleak Future" is important in the sense that it sets the context within which the dynamics of neoliberal capitalism operates. The discourse on neo-liberalism in India is informed by standard economic theories that view the state as either a liberal state or a welfare interventionist (Keynesian?) state. Hence the erosion of the welfare state must necessarily lead to the emergence of the liberal state. Bhattacharya, however, argues that the context of post colonial states particularly in Asia have been a different creature which could be referred to as the "developmental state" where the ability of the state to act as an instrument of capital is constrained by democratic institutions. In many states the facilitation is often in the form of primitive capital accumulation, or accumulation by dispossession. However, the use of force or coercion is constrained by democratic institutions like representative politics and mass politics. Hence, despite the neoliberal features of the Indian state, there is an essential political need to have laws like MGNREGA, Food Security Bill, Land Acquisition Legislation and the Forest Rights Act. The co-evolution of democracy and capital in imperfect and uneven ways makes neo-liberalism in India quite different contextually than such states in other parts of the world.

If resistances are to be transformed into larger struggles, the character of the Indian state has to be understood better in context. Democratic struggles can weaken the march of capital but there is no guarantee that such struggles will succeed in the context of the bigger hegemony of global capital. It may always find persuasive means to appropriate such movements.

In the meanwhile education in India remains an arena of struggle for rights, against inequality and for democracy. It also remains the factory where capital produces a commodity called an educational degree, sold for profits, where the buyer's gains are smaller and terribly uncertain. And the overwhelming majority that emerges from this factory is a set of cloned soldiers of consumerism. They do not learn to question. They only echo the voice of their masters. On reading the book this writer was reminded of a song of the 1960s by Pete Seeger.... There's a pink one and a green one and a red one and a yellow one, and they are all made out of ticky tacky, and they all look just the same.

The volume is a useful introduction to an area where a lot more debate and discussion needs to be undertaken.

*Education, State and Market: Anatomy of Neoliberal Impact, (edited) Ravi Kumar, Aakar Books 2014, New Delhi (Rs. 595)

Vol. 47, No. 45, May 17 - 23, 2015