As Covid-19 has created havoc all rounds, the rulers of certain countries are using it to further intensify their set agendas. The democratic freedoms are being curtailed in certain forms, the reaction to which has come in America in the form of a campaign, which is opposing “stifling” cultural climate that is imposing “ideological conformity” and weakening “norms of open debate and toleration of differences”. In India similar intimidations have been intensified. In addition the occasion has been used by the sectarian forces first to link the spread of Corona to Muslim community and now in the name of reducing the burden of curriculum certain chapters on core concepts related to Indian nationalism are being deleted from the text books.
It has been reported that chapters on federalism, citizenship, nationalism, secularism, Human Rights, Legal Aid and Local Self Government and the like are being dropped. Education has been an important area for communal forces and they constantly keep saying that leftists have dominated the curriculum content, it suffers from the impact of Macaulay, Marx and Mohammad and so needs to be Indianized. The first such attempt was done when BJP came to power in 1998 as NDA and had Murli Manohar Joshi as the MHRD minister. He brought the changes which were termed as ‘saffronization of education’. Their focus is more on social science. Some of the highlights of this were introduction of subjects like Astrology and Paurohitya, and chapters defending caste system, nationalism of the type of Hitler was praised.
With defeat of NDA in 2004, the UPA did try to rectify some of these distortions. Again after 2014 the RSS affiliates working in the area of education have been active, interacting with MHRD officials to impress upon them the need to change the curriculum matching with their Hindu nationalist agenda. Its ‘Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas’ has been asking for removal of English, Urdu words in the texts. It has asked for removal of thoughts of Rabindranath Tagore on Nationalism, extracts of autobiography of M F Husain, references to benevolence of Muslim rulers, references to BJP being Hindu party, apology of Dr. Manmohan Singh for anti Sikh pogrom of 1984, the reference to killings of Gujarat carnage in 2002 among others. This they call as Bhartiykaran of syllabus.
As RSS is a multithreaded hydra one of its pracharak Dinanath Batra has set up ‘Shiksha Bachao Abhiyan Samiti’ which has been pressurizing various publishers to drop the books which are not conforming to their ideology. One recalls their pressuring withdrawal of Wendy Doniger’s ‘The Hindus’, as it does present the ancient India through the concerns of dalits and women. Mr. Batra has already come out with a set of nine books for school curriculum, giving the RSS view of the past and RSS understanding of social sciences. These have already been translated into Gujarati and thousands of the sets of these books are being used in Gujarat Schools.
The present step of deleting parts of curriculum which gives the basics of Indian Nationalism, secularism and human rights is a further step in the same direction. These are the topics which have made the Hindu nationalists uncomfortable during last few years. They have been defaming secularism. They removed it from the preamble of Indian constitution, when they put out an ad on the eve of Republic day in 2015. From last few decades since the Ram Temple movement was brought up, simultaneously the secular ethos of India’s freedom movement and secular values of Indian constitution have been constantly criticized. Many an RSS ideologues and BJP leaders have been asking for change of Indian Constitution for this very reason.
Secularism is part of the concept of Indian nationalism. In the name of religious nationalism, sectarian divisive nationalism they have been attacking various student leaders in particular. When we study Nationalism, the very genesis of Indian nationalism tells us the plurality of our freedom movement with its anti colonial roots. The struggle was for Indian nationalism and so the Muslims and Hindu communalists kept aloof from this great struggle against colonial masters, it was this struggle which built the Indian nation with all its diversity.
Similarly as we have equal rights as citizens the chapters on citizenship are being dropped. Federalism has been the core part of India’s administrative and political structure. As the dictatorial tendencies are becoming stronger, federalism is bound to suffer and that explains the dropping of this subject. Democracy is decentralization of power. Power reaching the lowermost part of the system, the villages and average citizens. This got reflected in Local self Government. The power is distributed among villages, cities, state and centre. By removing chapters on federalism and local self government, the indications of the ideology of ruling party are on display.
While we are not dealing with all the portents of the planned omissions, one more aspect that related to dropping of chapter on Human rights needs our attention. The concept of Human rights and dignity are interlinked. This concept of Human rights also has international ramifications. India is signatory to many an UN covenants related to Human rights. The indications are clear that now rights will be for the few elite and ‘duties’ for the large deprived sections will be put on the forefront.
In a way this incidental ‘Corona gifted opportunity’ to the ruling Government is being fully used to enhance the agenda of ruling party in the arena of Educational Curriculum. The part of curriculum with which the ruling party is uncomfortable is being removed. This act of omission does supplement their other acts of commission in changing the shape of educational curriculum, which are reflected in RSS affiliates’ suggestions to MHRD regarding Bhartiyakaran of contents of syllabus. As per this the things like regarding the great epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata as History, the things like India having all the stem cell technology, plastic surgery, aviation science etc. will have a place in the changes planned by communal forces
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