Re: Debating ‘Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, 2008’
I have received a few offline queries regarding the source for the reference to Gandhiji in the posting I had sent. The source is Mahadev Desai's "The Educational Puzzle" published in Harijan, 21/8/1937. I am enclosing the entire article to everyone in this list, since there may be a wider interest in this historical document; highlighting the unchanged response of the state since 1937 in finding excuses not to fund universal education (today, in incomparably better economic conditions, it is the cost of security to fight 'terrorism'. In its covering letter to the states in 2006 to adopt a model bill, the central government advised them to give second preference to education only after law and order. Some of the state governments responded by asking the center to heed its own advice!). Gandhiji, confronted with the dilemma of choosing between universal education and prohibition 'solved' the 'educational puzzle' asking for prioritizing basic education and ignoring secondary education since the latter promoted the 'foreign tongue' and costs anyway were not forthcoming from the state.
Sometime later, even for basic education, he formulated his alternative to state funding, which later became an intrinsic part of Nai Talim:
"but as a nation we are so backward in education that we cannot hope to fulfill our obligations to the nation in this respect in a given time during this generation, if the programme is to depend on money. I have therefore made bold, even at the risk of losing all reputation for constructive ability, to suggest that education should be self-supporting …. I would therefore begin the child's education by teaching it a useful handicraft and enabling it to produce from the moment it begins training. Thus every school can be made self-supporting, the condition being that the State take over the manufacture of these schools" (Harijan 5:197)
His enthusiasm for self-support was expressed more forcefully after Narhari Parikh, a teacher at the Harijan Ashram at Sabarmati provided figures in defense of self-supported education from his school. This led Gandhi to assert that:
"Public schools must be frauds and teachers idiots, if they cannot become self-supporting".
As a digression, you may be interested to see the swift response to the Bill by schools protected by Article 30 of the Constitution at a conference in Kolkata, as reported by The Telegraph of January 9, 2009. The Bill as introduced applies to minority schools too, an improvement from the August 2005 CABE draft that had kept schools under Article 29 and 30 outside its purview. Wonder how courts will rule on this if the schools decide to litigate.
School rally against education bill
The heads of Anglo-Indian schools across the country on Thursday opposed the Right to Education Bill, fearing infringement on their minority rights.
The bill, awaiting parliamentary approval, proposes that all "aided" and "unaided" schools be asked to reserve 25 per cent of their seats for students from "weaker sections of society" and to educate them for free till Class VIII.
The heads of 140 Anglo-Indian schools, who had gathered in the city to take part in their annual conference, said that such provisions in the bill threatened to take away their rights guaranteed under Article 30 of the Constitution.
"We will appoint legal experts to ascertain whether missionary schools come within the purview of the bill. If our fears are confirmed, we will urge the Centre to exempt our schools from the bill," said a principal.
"We are not opposed to compulsory and free education for underprivileged children. But we need to know first whether Anglo-Indian schools are going to be affected by the bill or not," said Gilian Rosemary Hart, the principal of WellandGouldsmithSchool and vice-president of the state chapter of the Association of Heads of Anglo-Indian Schools.
A preliminary analysis of the bill by the principals revealed that there was no specific mention of the Christian missionary-run schools.
"The bill only talks about aided and unaided schools. We are not yet sure whether our schools come under either category," said a participating principal.
The school heads said the bill had laid down certain norms on appointment of teachers and their qualifications, as well as on the constitution of managing committees of the schools.
"Restrictions on the constitution of managing committees and appointment of teachers will infringe on the minority rights of the Anglo-Indian schools guaranteed guaranteed under Article 30 of the Constitution," the principal added.
The four-day conference, held at La Martiniere School for Girls, ended on Friday.
GANDHIJI: The cruellest irony of the new reforms lies in the fact
that we are left with nothing but the liquor revenue to fall back upon
in order to give our children education. That is the educational puzzle
but it should not baffle us. We have to solve it and the solution must
not involve the compromise of our ideal of prohibition, cost whatever
else it may. It must be shameful and humiliating to think that unless
we got the drink revenue, our children would be starved of their
education. But if it comes to it, we should prefer it as a lesser evil. If
only we will refuse to be obsessed by the figures and by the supposed
necessity of giving our children the exact kind of education that they
get today, the problem should not baffle us.
QUESTION: Then would you really abolish what is called secondary education
and give the whole education up to matriculation in the village schools?
A. Certainly. What is your secondary education but compelling
the poor boys to learn in a foreign language in seven years what they
should learn in the course of a couple of years in their own mother
tongue? If you can but make up your minds to free the children from
the incubus of learning their subjects in a foreign tongue, and if you
teach them to use their hands and feet profitably, the educational
puzzle is solved. You can sacrifice without compunction the whole of
the drink revenue. But you must resolve to sacrifice this revenue first,
and think of the ways and means about education later. Make the
beginning by taking the big step.
Q. But would just the mere declaration of prohibition mean prohibition? May
it not be that we may sacrifice the revenue without touching the curse of drink, not to
talk of abolishing it?
A. The declaration does not mean that you will thereafter sit still.
You will impress everyone into your service. In fact the whole staff is
there—the staff of excise inspectors, their superior officers, and the
whole of their subordinate staff. You will tell them that they will serve
on no other terms but those of working for total abolition of drink.
You will convert every grog-shop into a recreation centre. You will
concentrate on places where opportunities for getting drunk are
greatest. You will ask the mill-owners and factory-owners to provide
light refreshment stalls, you will provide there refreshing drinks for
them like sugar-cane juice, games for them, lantern shows for them,
and make them feel that they are like you. Impress everyone, without
exception, into your service. The village school-master and the other
official should be all prohibition workers.
Q. Very good. But in many places you will find the village Patel and others
joining the drinking folk in their drunken revels. What about them?
A. Every one of your school children will be a prohibition
worker. Ministers will be going up and down the country visiting the
centres, have their cup of refreshing
dirnk with the common folk and make these houses fashionable.
Don't be deterred by the thought that prohibition failed in America.
Remember that the stupendous experiment was tried there, where
drinking is not looked upon as a vice, where millions usually drink.
Here drink is held reprehensible by all religions, and it is not the
millions who drink but individuals who drink.
(1) Extracted from Mahadev Desai's "The Education Puzzle"
146 THE COLLECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI
Regarding Duties of Government Servants for elections, here is an extract from an Election Commission document:
Article 324(6) of the Constitution of India read with Section 159 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 makes it obligatory that the President (the Government of India), or the Governor (the Government of any state) as well as every local authority shall, when so requested by the Election Commission, make available to the Election Commission or to a regional Commissioner or to the Chief Electoral Officer or the Returning Officer, as the case may be, such staff as may be necessary for the performance of any duties in connection with an election.
In ELECTION COMMISSION OF INDIA, vs. STATE BANK OF INDIA,the Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear that the services of those government servants who are appointed to public services and posts under the Central or State Governments as well as those who are employees of the local authorities will have to be made available for the purpose of election and any such government servant or employee of the local authority who shall defy the requisition, may receive suitable punishment.
As for amending the Constitution to do away with this and similar requirements, like decennial census - well that is the point I was making. Contrary to the 'anti-constitutional' nature of the Bill alleged by Prof. Sadgopal and his call for a'as per the Constitution' Bill, it is evident that various amendments of the Constitution would be required to draft a better bill. Some of them are:
a) Reamending article 21A of the 86th Amendment to raise the age upto 18 and reamending the new Article 45 under the 86th Amendment to bring in the 0-6 age group into the right.
b) Amending Articles 19 (c) and (g) appropriately if private schools with right to charge fees are to be disallowed
c) Amending Articles 29 and 30 that protect minority educational institutions. These are being used, as inKerala, as vehicles for covert privatisation of education.
d) Amending Article 324(6) and Section 159 of the People's Representation Act 1951 to free teachers from possible election duties
e) Defining properly the responsibilities of the central and state governments in the concurrent list in order to assign the financial obligations of each in the case of education
This is not an exhaustive list - there may be some more Constitutional amendments required to 'perfect' the right.
The question is - should one wait for a bill till these changes are made (if at all, since most of them appear remote in the prevailing social and political India since they have wider implications than right to education), or go ahead within the Constitutional constraints, extracting as much from the system as possible at a given time, while pursuing fundamental Constitutional changes in parallel? It may require another 50 years to force the Indian polity (it is not the Government but the Parliament - the political system - that has to make these amendments with at least two-thirds majority) to make some of these changes in the Constitution - should we wait till then to get in a 'perfect bill', keeping the right of children in abeyance? And can the fight around a single Bill be the basis of such wide-ranging structural changes in the Constitution? These fights must be fought, but from political platforms, both party and non-party based, in order to create structural spaces within the Indian nation-state (Constitution) for the composite political rights - water, land, food, forests, work, health, education of the poorand marginalised. Right to Education Bill provides at best a tiny opportunity for that wider fight.
The present Bill:
1. Defines 'free' education to mean any fees, expenses and expenditure that prevents a child from participating in education to be borne by the state
2. Defines 'compulsion' as compulsion on the state to provide, and not on parents who could otherwise be punished
3. Outlaws EGS centers, alternative schools and such variety of diluted educational spaces, as also para teachers of all kinds and gives the state three years to provide neighbourhood schools to all children and five years in which to overhaul the entire teacher cadre to a nationally prescribed norm
4. Prescribes minimum norms for a school in terms of infrastructure and pupil-teacher-ratio through a mandatory schedule which has to be maintained in each school and not as an average over a block or district
5. Using the yardstick of private schools of Delhi provided by the Delhi High Court judgment, mandates 25% neighbourhood quota from weaker sections of society in every unaided school
6. Bans capitation fees and any form of screening for admission to all schools
7. Prescribes curricula to be based on constitutional values
8. Prescribes educational transaction to be free of fear and trauma to the child; to be based on exploration, discovery and to be child-friendly; bans physical punishment and mental harrassment of children; bans private tution
9. Provides a School Management Committee for each school with three-fourth members to be parents of children in the school, with adequate representation from weaker and marginalised sections
10. Prescribes a quasi-judicial body like the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and similar State Commissions to be the enforcing agencies for the Act
These are only the essentials - they may not be enough, but could one call them discriminatory? Of course there are omissions, where national consensus doesn't exist (for example on compulsory mother tongue, which I support but is opposed not just by urban elites but by dalit movements and intellectuals too who prefer English medium from the very beginning; regulation of all schools, including private, that I support; preventing private schools from charging fees; and much more). But that is the consequence of a democratic system, where one particular viewpoint, no matter how reasonable, may not prevail since equally strong contestations to it might exist. In democratic set-ups one can only negotiate, not impose one's viewpoint. In my opinion, the Bill does suffer from these constraints of democratic consensus making. But that does not convince me that it should be abandoned in pursuit of a politically elusive and adventurist 'perfect bill'.
As for exhortations such as: We should
"take an unambiguous stand against the neo-liberal, anti-Constitutional and discriminatory character of the above 'RIGHT OF CHILDREN TO FREE AND COMPULSORY EDUCATION BILL, 2008' tabled in Rajya Sabha in December 2008. Unless radically amended or freshly drafted, this Bill will do more harm to the children and the prevailing education system than any good"
I frankly can't make much sense of it - 'that it will do more harm', 'anti-constitutional' and so on. Consider the recurring term 'neo-liberal'. What does it imply in terms of 'free and compulsory' education? Evidence suggests that the fountainheads of industrial capitalismlike the US, Western European and Japan, and the new neo-liberal states like South Korea, Malaysia, Philippines etc improved their educational status through free and compulsory universal basic education legislations, funded by the state, while they remained neo-liberal in a macro-economic sense. Yes, neo-liberalism has greatly influenced their Higher Education systems, but not universal basic education. So how is it operating in India? The deficit in terms of state's responsibility is explicitly evident in the pre-neoliberal era, from the time of independence to around 1991 (the cut-off year for heralding market based economy, liberalisation and privatisation - elements of neo-liberalism in India), as it is since 1991 (see L.C. Jain's article highlighting the apathy of the state immediately after Independence - in the November issue Yojana). In fact it is evident as far back as from 1937 when Gandhiji gave his call for universal education and was rebuffed that if he insisted, the only avenue for funding would be to use revenue from liquor. The analysis of the deficit in universal basic education will have to go beyond spraying the neo-liberal word. One is not saying that the neo-liberal macro-econimic policies have not exacebrated this deficit; but the causes of this deficit in India have much deeper roots; possibly in the very structure of the Indian state formation, and hence the Constitutional constraints. One must reflect as to why the Kothari Commission Report, surely a document dating to the pre-neoliberal era, after outlining an ambitious perspective for a National System of Public Education, baulked at its adoption through restrictive implementation procedures by suggesting schools of three different quallities, merit-based admissions to schools of good quality, keeping private schools out of the National System of Public Education and opening a good quality school in each block of the country. Was it also operating under a neoliberal ethos at that time? The post 1991 neoliberal outlook has in fact seized on the prevailing deficit to suggest market solutions to a problem it perceives the state can not and should not solve. The adoption of the present Bill will seriously challenge such an outlook, particularly since insidious attempts were made to scuttle the Bill by turning it into a toothless model bill for the states to bring in, by removing all references to private schools and the section on content and process and so on. That it could be ressurected from such onslaughts itself quite remarkable.
In many ways there are parallels between this Bill and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Bill, which could also be deemed as very defective. For example one can argue that rural employment should have ben preceeded by land reforms, or the NREGA should itself have contained sections on land reforms. The original Bill, that I participated in drafting, had 300 days of guaranteed employment, which was whittled down to 100 days. The number of districts were also fixed in the beginning. One could also argue that it was the neoliberal way of appeasing the poor by throwing crumbs, and does not constitute a solution to the endemic rural poverty whose roots are far more widespread and complex than what the NREGA tries to address. Given all these criticisms, many of them valid, the fact is that NREGA has unleashed so many different dynamics that are constructive in addressing rural poverty and provided vital relief in many areas, in spite of its tardy implementation. One hopes the Right to Education Bill will also give rise to similar political processes that can lead to addressing better the entire school level education.
Having said all this, one can only respect individual opinions and stands as that of Prof. Sadgopal. Everyone is free to have their opinions. The stand that I take, along with many social movements, mass organisations, student and youth groups, teacher unions and members of political parties country-wide that have been involved with the debate and campaign on the Bill since the draft was produced in August 2005 - first at a 1000 people strong National Convention in Calicut, followed by state and district conventions - is that if the essentials outlined above are retained, we should see that the Bill becomes an Act, while pursuing its improvements through related amendments in the Constitution and sections of the Act itself. In my opinion, stalling the Bill in pursuit of a 'perfect Bill' will only aid those market forces that in any way don't want such a Bill to be passed.
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