Education for egalitarian society, need of hour
Lokesh Malti Prakash scrutinises about various aspects of education
that had given so much of expectations, dreams and visions of creating a new India
and society but lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand
of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action — Into
that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
Rabindranath Tagore wrote these words expressing his vision of the kind of society
he wished India to evolve into. A great educationist as he was, Tagore clearly knew
that such a society can be build only on a foundation of an education that is able
to unravel the humane and creative possibilities of mind of each and every individual.
The last six and half decades of independence, however, have brought in a different
dawn than that was intended. Education, that was expected to lay the foundations
of an enlightened society remains mired into such structural contradictions that
it would be a fool’s paradise to dream of any transformative urge to emanate from
our schools or universities. In an age where knowledge has been reduced to information,
learning has reduced to potential pay packages and creative talent tied to developing
saleable skills, education itself has “lost its way into the dreary desert sand
of dead habit”.
“In a situation of the type we have in India, it is responsibility of the education
system to bring the different social classes and groups together and thus promote
the emergence of an egalitarian and integrated society. But at present, instead
of doing so, education itself is tending to increase social segregation and to perpetuate
and widen class distinctions…what is worse, this segregation is increasing and tending
to widen the gulf between the classes and the masses,” stated the Report of Education
Commission, popularly called the Kothari Commission in 1966.
Apart from the issues of equitable access, pedagogic practices, declining educational
infrastructure, teachers’ training that were raised by the Commission, the foremost
was the issue of eliminating inequalities in education and transforming it into
a source and inspiration of an egalitarian society.
In the last four decades since the Kothari Commission not only has the education
system changed little but since the last two decades it has taken the worse turn
as the elite of the country moved decisively in favour of economic reforms. With
this, as profit-motive becomes all pervasive, any idea of commitment to larger social
good, of cultivating rational and enlightened outlook has become an oddity that
is being fast shelved from the education system.
“Disparity and discrimination has been an integral part of Indian society since
ages. It is for this reason that the Constitution directed the Indian State to ensure
education of equitable quality and free from all discrimination so that social justice
prevails. However, the kowtowing by the Indian State before the neo-liberal policies
of the global capital has put Indian education on sale. This has three serious implications.
Firstly, the State has abdicated its constitutional obligation of providing equitable
education. Secondly, the rising cost of education is leading to exclusion of the
vast sections of society which have hoped to gain access to education as a result
of the constitutional promise. Thirdly, the curriculum and pedagogic content of
education is rapidly turning away from preparing citizens for a democratic, secular
and just society. Instead it is now geared, on one hand, for promoting consumerism
and on the other for supplying slavish workforce for maximising corporate profits,”
says well-known educationist Anil Sadgopal.
In a country like India where there is massive poverty and destitution and where
economic disparities are high, making education a marketable commodity will make
it nearly inaccessible for large majority of the people. For, example this trend
can be seen in the fact that majority of poor children who are able to attend poorly
equipped Government schools are forced to quit at an early stage. A variety of factors
ranging from low income to inadequate pedagogy are responsible for this. The basic
question is that when education is reduced to a commodity how one can expect egalitarian
The Roots of Crisis in Education
Tracing the roots of the present crisis of our education system to the colonial
period, Vijay Kumar, a Bhopal based political activist says, “In 1947, when India
awoke to the so-called freedom at the dark hour of midnight some of this darkness
got stamped onto the vision of nation-making that guided the knights of free India.
The education system that we find in the country today has its intimate roots in
the notorious minutes of Macaulay written in 1835. Macaulay laid the foundation
of a colonial education system that was by its nature elitist, discriminatory and
exclusivist. The objective was to create a class of Indians who could be ready collaborators
in the colonial governance of the country. Such a system reinforced the age old
discriminations that had afflicted the India society.”
“The colonial legacy was never seriously countered or challenged. While attempts
were made to establish niche institutions there was total lack of a political will
to institute a system where the doors of education are effectively opened to every
one without any discrimination whatsoever. It is not that there has been a lack
of knowledge of what is required. The Kothari Commission had, as early as 1966 recommended
establishment of Common School System whereby school education is completely free
for every student,” he adds.
The fact remains that education in India is an exclusive privilege. Almost half
the children of the relevant age group continue to be deprived of even eight years
of elementary education. Of those admitted to Class I, only 15-17 per cent are able
to clear Class XII. The situation is even worse when the caste and religious minority
break-up is looked at. Only about 10-11 per cent OBC’s and around 9 per cent Muslims
cross the Class XII barrier. Among SCs and STs, the comparable figures would be
8 per cent and 6 per cent respectively. This means that almost 92 per cent of Dalits
and 94 per cent of tribals never reach the threshold of higher education.
The irony of the situation is that this situation exists despite a series of measures
taken by successive Governments (including Central and State Governments). From
the BG Kher Committee in 1948 to the Radhakrishnan, Mudaliyar and Kothari Commissions,
successive National Policies on education in 1968, 1986 and 1992 and programmes
like Operation Black Board, DPEP (District Primary Education Program), Sarva Shiksha
Abhiyan and the Right to Education Act being the latest in series. But the reality
is that the policy-makers have been bumping from one deadline to another with education
taking nose-dive at each successive attempt.
“The only way out of this bleak situation is to forge a political resolve to resurrect
the vision of establishing an enlightened and egalitarian society that has been
conveniently shelved away. Education can become a means of establishing a humane
society and enlightened human beings only when we decide as a society to achieve
this,” remarks Vijay.