Education Sans Enlightenment

Privatisation of Primary Education in WB

Asokendu Sengupta

Surprisingly, even the Trinamul Congress government in West Bengal looks too eager to invite private entrepreneurs in primary education. Though one senior bureaucrat of education department denied the complaints claiming the fact that this can't be a G. O. since it’s unsigned and bears no date! But, still people cannot be assured because everybody knows a draft order resembles like this—no signature, no date. Maybe, they are testing the waters.

One of this writer’s friends pointed out that it wasn’t new in India. The states of Gujarat, MP and Karnataka have already taken such unbelievable steps.

But why it is unbelievable? Simply because it goes against basic idea and certain provisions of RtE Act, 2009. This act guarantees free and compulsory education for all children in India in the age group of 6-14 years. It is now a fundamental right and the government is bound to provide it. Of course the goal is not new. It was also written in Directive Principles of Constitution (art 45). So what? After all, it was not a part of fundamental rights, so the reluctant government was not really serious about providing it, till the Supreme Court by its historic verdict forced the government to consider education as a fundamental right. But political leaders and bureaucrats accepted it with a modification. As per the Directive Principles it is mandatory for the government to take the responsibility of all children in the age group of 0-14. But by their crafty move the authorities made RtE Act with a view to restrict the responsibility for the age-group of 6-14 years only. Anyway, does it change the world of a child? Does she not remain more interested in her doll's world, as before? Do people think that it is necessary to educate this or any tiny toddler? And that too in a government-run school. Why? Those who are very eager to educate them, can't they send their wards to private educational Institute? Does RtE act, 2009 prohibit it? Certainly not.

One may say that many a thing is not spelt in any act. So what?

Now forget about the government duty.

Let us go back to a fundamental question: is it possible for any private organisation to offer free and compulsory good education to all children in its catchment area?

Good Education and that too free? Here is a story. This story is based on this writer’s experience as chairperson of WBCPCR.

“I asked the DI of schools of north 24 Parganas during my visit to that district, do you know that by virtue of RtE Act, up to 15% seats of private schools may be offered to poorer section of the society?’‘ Government is to compensate the schools by bearing the average cost.

He said, yes, I know.
But he could not say how many students from poorer sections got advantage of that provision.
Now he remarked like a veteran politician, what can I do if none claim those seats?

I'm no politician and I had to accept his claim. But, I said, how people could claim if they are unaware of that provision? Have you ever taken any step to make poor people aware of that provision?

—That's not my responsibility, Sir”.

Understandably it’s not his responsibility. But, whose responsibility it is? Nobody could say definitely. It is like the ministers or the secretaries to the government who couldn’t explain definitely why they failed to spend 6% of GDP despite promises.

—Very simple, said one expert, no one in the government wants it.

False promises! Not exactly! It's simply lack of political will. He said, you could recollect Tolstoy who once said that all governments indeed want education for their subjects, but not their enlightenment.

So, what children would do with this education, rather, what is the goal of this education?

—Enlightenment or something else?

Is it not for brand recognition only as underlined by John Galbraith, former US ambassador to India? One may disagree, but the fact remains that here education is to help children recognise brand only and Galbraith was correct. More importantly the Tolstoy words fully come true: the state can provide education only, not enlightenment. Thus the state admits its responsibility of free education and at the same time it does nothing to deliver good education.

And free education?

—Are you a mad man, he asked me. And he helped me further to recollect the disappointment of Ranganath Mishra (he was the chairperson of NHRC in 1990s). Justice Mishra requested all recognised political parties of his time to include in their respective election manifesto their pledge for educational expenditure of 6% of GDP. Interestingly, none agreed to it.

—Why! They used to claim regularly in public meetings 6% allocation in education budget.

—Only in Public meetings! Have you ever heard anybody claiming the same within the four walls of parliament?

—Never, never and never! 6% allocation in education means curtailment of budget of other heads. Then one may accuse you that you are not a true patriot.

—Do you remember that once Mr Rahul Bajaj, the industrialist who passed away recently, claimed that they, being the end-user, be given freedom to prepare education frame of the country! And that claim has almost been echoed by the Kumarmangalam-Birla Committee. Fortunately, the government didn’t accept the recommendation.

—The government didn’t accept it yesterday. It doesn’t guarantee that they won't accept it tomorrow.

It is true that the state government representative is stating again and again that the news regarding privatisation of primary education is not correct. But respected state education minister, who was busy in planting his Party's Branch offices in Tripura recently, remained mum practically on the issue. It may be noted that in recent times he preferred silence on all education related matters unless got directive from his leaders.

Many unemployed youth are moving courts, trying to mobilise public protest over corrupt practices in school Teachers appointment - who cares? None in the government.

But, the state government must inquire who gave such orders without date and signature, is it a mere draft?

Now the cat is out. Even formation of an Inquiry Committee with people who never even dream of criticising bureaucrats/a minister won't do. A committee must be there to question the bureaucrats—where goes the money for making the state fully literate(it is true that 6% GDP had never been allocated, still, the expenditure till date is no meagre amount.)? Who is responsible? After all school teachers were never made education-boss. Only the bureaucrats were holding the chair of boss for years. Concerned people are needed in the committee who could raise such unpalatable questions.

It’s indeed a tall order like bringing snakes who never bite... (Sukumar Roy)

Kapil Sibal, the education Minister in the Manmohan Singh government did such a blunder. He failed to understand that—p—may stand for philanthropy—may be that he was not so cunning as Kasturiran-ganji, chief architect of NEP. But they do understand the meaning of 'privatisation'. Sibal tried businessmen to do education business without profit, but he failed.

Dear Sir, why you need cover of a veil! Say frankly, boldly that implementation of RtE act, 2009 or for that matter free and compulsory education for all children is impossible. Don't worry sir, the expert committee of NEP has recommended modifications of RtE Act. Wait and see what happens.  

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Vol 54, No. 38, March 20 - 26, 2022