Creeping nationalisation of private schools

Read together with s. 12(c) of the Right to Education Bill, 2008 (recently passed by Parliament and currently awaiting the assent of the President), which makes it mandatory for private, unaided primary-secondary schools to reserve 25 percent capacity in class I for poor children, the Delhi high court judgement of August 7 permitting the state government to regulate the tuition fees chargeable by private schools, is compelling evidence of incremental government interference with the autonomy and administration of India’s estimated 60,000 privately promoted unaided, i.e independent schools.

Myopically, a rising number of citizens within the middle class which shuns free or low-cost government school education, is in the vanguard of a growing nationwide movement to support government regulation and calibration of tuition fees levied by independent schools. Surprisingly, India’s professedly educated middle class doesn’t seem to have derived any learning from the experience of the higher education sector where government-prescribed, rock-bottom tuition fees and reserved quotas have dumbed down the quality of education dispensed by the overwhelming majority of India’s 430 universities and 21,000 colleges.

The plain truth is that the nation’s 80,000 (of a total of 1.26 million) private schools are the only bright spot in government-dominated Indian education which is a vast area of darkness. This is evidenced not only by the fact that almost every middle class household enrols its children in private sector primary-secondaries, but also by the poignant reality that even the poorest households countrywide aspire to send their children to private — preferably English medium — schools. Indeed, contemporary India is experiencing a nationwide exodus from government to private schools.

Against this backdrop, encouraging government regulation and interference in private sector schools — creeping nationalisation — is ill-advised folly. The appropriate response would be liberalisation of the thicket of rules and regulations which inhibit private and social entrepreneurs from entering K-12 education. Encouraging a thousand flowers to bloom in primary-secondary education will not only augment capacity, but also improve the quality of school education and drive down tuition fees as more institutions offering education at every price point, mushroom.

Likewise, there is an inherent iniquity in the proposal to impose a 25 percent quota of poor children on private schools. While it’s true that elite private schools will benefit by way of greater student diversity, it’s unjust — and probably unconstitutional — for government to visit the consequences of its failure to improve standards in its own schools, upon privately-promoted institutions. At best the 25 percent reserved quota for poor children in private schools mandated by the RTE Bill, should serve as a guideline for school managements to work towards in the interests of student body diversity. Middle class India which overwhelmingly enrols its children in independent schools should learn from past experience that encouraging creeping nationalisation of these institutions is to invite the end of excellence.

Balkanisation plan needs proactive resistance

The posting of an essay by a senior analyst of the Fudan (China)-based International Institute for Strategic Studies on its website, advocating balkanisation of India into 20 or more independent countries should serve as a wake up call to India’s warring national and regional political parties, as well as to the country’s educationists and teachers. Since neither the media nor academic institutions are permitted freedom of expression in communist China, it can be legitimately presumed that the essay has the approval of the Beijing dictatorship, and is a clear signal to sub-nationalist and secessionist political formations in India of covert support from the Chinese Communist Party, if not the People’s Republic of China.

In light of this declaration of subversive intent, New Delhi’s strong reaction is unsurprising. It has described the essay as the “hallucinations of an individual”. But while the strong response of the Union government should be endorsed by all right thinking individuals, it should also provide a reality check in India, which is undeniably experiencing a revival of sub-nationalism fed by linguistic chauvinism, communal and caste animosities.

For instance in Maharashtra, India’s most industrialised state, the rightwing Shiv Sena and its several clones are leading a concerted campaign against North Indians and other migrants, who are perceived to be grabbing jobs from local citizens. The two southern states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have been warring and rioting for the past 40 years over sharing the waters of the Cauvery. In the north-east, particularly in Assam and Manipur, armed secessionist groups have been waging insurrection for over four decades. Further, Maoist/Naxalite anarchism has spread to 180 districts countrywide, where the writ of government scarcely runs.

In the circumstances the danger to the unity of India which less than 60 years ago was described by the legendary Winston Churchill as physically real as the equator, is clear and present, requiring positive and proactive promotion and reiteration. While in the political sphere this requires intelligentsia and middle class to speak up and reject politicians propagating divisive regional, communal and caste agendas, within the nation’s classrooms and groves of academia, there’s urgent necessity to stress the civilisational, cultural and other commonalities which bind together the diverse castes, communities and people of India. The onus of attaining this objective is on the country’s educationists and educators. But it requires addressing difficult issues such as national board exams, the acceptance of English as the country’s link language, and improving learning outcomes in education institutions, which have been fudged thus far.

The history of the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 and persistence of sub-nationalist and communal politics 62 years after India wrested its independence from the British, is indicative of a flawed national development effort. Contrary to official opinion, disclosure of the Chinese strategy to balkanise India should be welcomed as an early warning to the Indian establishment and academia to take proactive action to frustrate this subversive design.