As Modi government is imposing online education as the overall future education system in continuation to STARS and NEP2020, for the elite sections while the oppressed are left out with nothing, what are our immediate tasks?
(Draft paper for discussion at all levels)
- In a class divided society, where the caste system has created extreme levels of socio-economic disparities, as in all other fields, in the education field also the working class, and all oppressed classes and sections of the society, who constitute vast majority, were always marginalized. With the introduction of neoliberal policies, when the state was eased out of all fields of production and services, the investments in the field of Public Distribution System for food, housing, healthcare and education were further cut down. We have seen its impact in the public health field during the present fight to contain the Covid19 pandemic. The healthcare is so much privatized and profit motivated that all the developed countries failed to take up the anti-Covid campaign effectively, and still US and many other imperialist countries are ravaged by Covid, along with most of the poor countries.
- From 1990s when the neoliberal policies were introduced all over the world, the World Bank introduced privatization of the primary education in the neo-colonially dependent countries, where historically large sections of the marginalized people, dalits, Adivasis, other backward castes, minorities, women etc were already deprived of education, even though the Constitution had guaranteed Elementary Education of 8 years; Children up to 14 years of age have a Fundamental Right to education, including those below six years of age. Though this Constitutional guarantee was never fulfilled, there was some improvement in the number of primary and secondary schools, providing opportunity for the some of the marginalized to go to schools and for higher studies. But once WB introduced informalization of education in the neo-colonially dependent countries, even these facilities started coming under threat. This process went on at all levels and with the introduction of the New Education Policy 2016 under Modi govt the elitisation, commercialization, corporatization of education was taken to its higher levels, along with communalization. By this time internationally and in India, encouraged by the WB, WTO and the MNCs in the digital world, the online/ digital education tools and methods were also getting promoted at all levels.
- It was in this situation, the Covid19 broke out, and the lockdowns were started. It provided an excellent opportunity for the advocates of the online education to launch an offensive for its universalization at all levels. The private sector schools took it up with full zeal and started it giving at-home online courses, starting the new school year “in time’, charging heavy fees. Instead of putting control on private sector and introducing a universal approach to it, under pressure from middle/upper class parents and students, the elite government schools also started it. Coming under pressure, the state governments have initiated various projects to start online education process. These developments have put all students and parents from the marginalized sections under extreme pressure.
- Presently the central and many state govts are combining their enthusiasm for digital education with the call for involvement of "non-state actors" as emphasized in the recent multimillion dollar World Bank education project, envisioned in the STARS ( Strengthening Teaching-Learning and Results for States) document. These "non-state actors" include, corporate private sector, civil society, NGOs, philanthropists, etc. At a time when the govt expenditure on education shows no sign of increase( today it is claimed at 2.8%, still one of the lowest in the world) dependence on the private actors who are entering to supplement govt's online education are pushing the deprived - the Dalits, Adivasis, Minorities, Migrants and girl children in general further down the ladder. Involvement of local bodies or other local level involvement will not be a substitute for state responsibility for providing universal and free education. Deprived students who are being gathered in neighbourhood clusters for superimposing digital education cannot cope with the better placed who can have it in their homes. So all efforts to promote present education system as a digital education system is against the principle of 'universal education'.
- While the better of students can carry on updating their digital experience in homes, which they are already doing for many years, such an option is not there for the deprived. Family situation, parents education, capability of supervision at home, parents' job conditions, social status, and access to food and health are complementary factors which the poor and deprived castes lack. Migrants and slum dwellers will be the most affected. It will intensify the social divide arising from socio-economic divisions and property relations, which is reflected in the digital divide also. As long as the gains from digital technology like all other technologies are not accessible to all, its adoption in education system should be done with utmost caution.
- Along with the above aspects, education cannot, and should not be seen as something which can be simply doling out information to remotely located home-based students. One of the major component of education is interaction of the students with their friends and teachers. Denial of it leads to a new kind of de-socialization. Digital education aims at developing apolitical market oriented careerists devoid of any social consciousness. Online education will worsen this situation further In the 'post-COVID' phase. Even allowing online education as stop-gap/ arrangement will be detrimental, as the ruling regime is planning it as a smart move to help the process of making it permanent.
- Already in the society, digitalization is further increasing the gap between the rich and poor. Students from middle and upper classes have access to It already. In this context, the plan put forward by the Modi government to transform education system in the long run as a whole under the New Education Policy 2020 (draft) is not even thought of in the imperialist countries. Though students are provided increasing access to online facilities they more or less still continue the community school system and campus education. So, we have to oppose and reject all the efforts to formalize the online education system.
- According to reports, as the Anganwadis and schools are not opened, the children of the rural and urban poor are spending their time as rag pickers or even begging for earning something to help the family. For last four months all trade union and other mass activities are stopped. Political activities are also not allowed. The next school/academic year can be formally started only when almost normal conditions are reached. Then involving educational and medical experts how the classes can be started maintaining physical distancing and other medical provisions can be planned. For instance, classes can be opened in a staggered manner with 50 percent attending on alternate days.
- Modi government’s plan for transforming the general education system as informal and online based is generally supported and implemented by the state governments along with the mainstream parties who follow the ruling class policies. So far only Maharashtra govt has banned online education from pre-primary to Class 2 and MP govt has decided to ban the same till class 5.
At the same time, the AIFRTE and other progressive forces have opposed the Online education plan of Modi government. We should hold discussions among the party committees and help our comrades working in student and youth organizations to take up a vigorous campaign joining with all like-minded forces against this capitalist project promoted by the imperialist agencies.
- At the same time we cannot close our eyes towards what is happening around us. The private schools catering for the middle and upper class students started their plans in advance and started the online classes in time. Under pressure from middle/upper class parents the government schools catering for these sections also started online courses. Along with new tutorial books and online tools numerous private centres have also come up. In spite of all these, vast sections of children, in some states even up to 60% are out of all these. While the middle and upper class as well as some of the students from lower middle or working class families are getting the online education and hoping to get their course completed according to the situation by next March/April days, others from the marginalized sections are left out. What can be done for them? A serious discussion is called for on this question.
- Oppose holding of any examinations now endangering the students. Give promotions up to 12th standard where examinations could not be held. All other tests and examinations should be postponed to ensure maximum participation.
- In order to provide maximum classes on important subjects linked to syllabus and from outside syllabus, we should campaign for providing whatever modern tools are possible from computers and laptops to smartphones for maximum students; in the schools and other centers including public libraries these tools can be provided for collective uses; in neighbourhoods maintaining physical distancing and using masks and other medicare possibilities for general classes can be planned.
According to concrete conditions we can demand necessary action from the government and local bodies, and organize public aided projects also. Government can be asked to provide radios and TV sets to all neighbourhoods along with classes through them. In this way the vast gap between the two sections can be reduced as much as possible. At the same time the general understanding of various subjects among these students can be improved.
- There are reports from many states, especially from North and Central India that the children from poorer sections who were depending on the mid-day meals from anganvadis and schools are starving, as these are closed and state government is not providing rations in the absence of meals. For ensuring foods or ration material to these students a campaign should be launched with public support.
On the whole what can be done to these almost 60% of the children from the marginalized sections should be discussed at all places, program worked out and struggles can be waged