By Vijay Sanghvi
For up to four decades after independence growth of education was slow as education did not guarantee jobs or generate hopes. However, winds of globalization wafted new hopes if not economic betterment. It is reflected in the sudden rise in the number of universities from 230 to 639 by the end of 2016. However the growth of bogus institutes to mint money from families yearning to make their son or daughter a holder of MBA degree certificate was phenomenal. Even in Raipur, capital of the backward state Chhattisgarh more than hundred sign boards of fake MBA institutes came up in 2010. The certificates issued by them were not recognized or accepted by any recruiting agencies and yet parents were made to fork out huge sums.
Despite the number of students in schools, graduation colleges and technical institutes in India makes the country a land of largest numbers, it does not help to quantify education as a majority of them lack the quality of education. The statistics are as deceptive as claims of economic growth are. The statistics of growth in the GDP terms are related to values of products and not in terms of per capita availability. Availability of protein through lentils remained stuck at the same level as production in volume terms did not show increase though in value terms it showed phenomenal growth due to price escalations. Even though expenditure on education was low in India, it also contributed to subsidizing the American economy to some extent.
B Shankaranand, health minister in 1982 was intrigued by the larger number of medico turned out in India than its capacity to absorb them with jobs. In discussions over medicos strike in Delhi government hospitals, he did ask the question ‘why are we turning the more much larger number of medicos than our capacity to absorb them?’ The health secretary told him, ‘Sir large number is export surplus.’ The intrigued minister asked for the explanation. He was told many medicos go to America for further studies and then get absorbed in the American health system as it is more lucrative than return to India to earn the pittance, not enough to meet expenses for modern machines and equipment they need. Their stay is thus subsidy to American health system as they get doctors who are educated at the Indian expenses.
Thy escalation of growth rate to eleven per cent a year in 1992 that was triple of growth rate achieved earlier but it had come through increased production of white goods meant for the upper class of society. Number of cars with increased costs reflected growth. Six years of growth after a partial and hesitant removal of shackles of administrative, legal and fiscal nature and an opening of communications and the visual media for private sectors, the Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao was still looking for a human face in the development picture. Growth had certainly created many jobs though the political leadership was not able to translate and present them in political terms. Then civil supplies minister Madhav Rao Scindia had explained the difficulty in few words. He had said “Our difficulty is of communications. The finance minister does not understand what we say and we cannot comprehend what he says.”
The political leadership could not present even the picture of a gross transformation of Indian society in terms of awareness of the importance of education, fall in birth rate due to voluntary acceptance of small family norms. By the end of 2013, India had the largest student population in schools with 96 percent of children attending school. Poor parents led their children to school gates rather than drag them to join the child workforce. It was the clear indication of the end of mental poverty in that parents sought dignity and not roti for their child.
The greater and genuine achievement was in terms of the social awakening of humans who were treated as Dalits for centuries and their ego was crushed even before their birth by condemning them as Dalit. Kashi Ram, a clerk in the Defence Research Organisation resigned in protest against curtailment of two public holidays, both related to festivities of the Dalits, and took up the cause of social awakening of the suppressed classes. He taught them to awaken their ego, stand up with courage and unbent posture to defy and dare the behaviour norms imposed on them by upper castes. In twenty years between 1963 and 1983, he converted many to bring a realization of their political rights in their consciousness. Mahatma Gandhi had merely changed their title to Harijan; Kashi Ram taught them to be humans with their ego intact. The evolution is the long process and consumes time but a message has gone home as rising and decline of Mayavati, protégée of Kashi Ram in Uttar Pradesh politics suggests. She could not assimilate what Kashi Ram had aimed at. The awareness is yet to spread to other states but the emerging Dalit literature, with the outcry against the suppression of the Dalits in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Southern states indicates the direction. The totality of school going children also indicates the opening of their hunger for dignity through empowering via education.
The Basic Education or Buniyadi Taleem a concept of Mahatma Gandhi was perhaps the escape route from imposing the training on school children. Instead, he suggested, without approving the child labour but recognizing its need for poor families, to take school near their work rather than forcing them to come to school. As a need for enhancing their trade skills, they may prefer the scientific learning of skills, expert devised lessons than depend on uneducated but self-taught Ustad and his methods of teaching through hard labour and practice. There are sectors in which learning of skills has to begin from the early age. An only different method can add to their skills rather than be exploited by owners of carpet weaving units.
The politicians held out a sop of reservations for the Dalit students in higher technical education institutes. Instead of becoming a boon for the poor, it became an additional burden in their neck as it kept them from struggling to develop their capacity and capability to compete with others. No assistance was extended to them in providing the necessary supplementary education that helps to build intellectual capabilities during the school education. Students from rich and upper strata benefit from their family and social circles with supplementary education but illiterate parents and their equally illiterate social circles or the environment around their living cannot provide same assistance. They come not only from socially, economically and educationally suffering families but are given an opportunity to prove they are intellectually also wanting amidst students of upper strata in their class. Very fact that they have to get admission under the reserved category indicates their ability to cope up with higher studies and compete with other students of upper strata. Most are treated as below standards hence not admitted in their circles and thus cause isolation even though such may not be consideration or abhorrence for their class. This social stratification cannot be corrected as it is not based on social likes and dislikes.
Most drop out in a year or two, some even resort to ending their life as they are unable to face the disappointment of their parents at their failures to keep up with rest. No study has so far been conducted to evaluate the gains or loses of reservations. It was, however, extended to students coming from other deprived classes. It was a trap to keep the Dalits and the OBCs in vote banks.
In seven decades, no evaluation of the scheme was attempted to replace it with the better scheme so that larger portion of the Dalit population benefitted from it instead of asking poor kids from the slot to run the race with their legs tied to burdens of their educational backwardness. Only wealthy among them who were able to improve life conditions for two generations bagged all benefits. The former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi refused to express his views on the ongoing frenzy against the decision of the Prime Minister VP Singh to extend benefits of reservations to other classes in September 1990. His cryptic comment in private was he would not talk of it as one leader of his party had obtained the benefits of reservations for 42 times for his family. That explained Dalit politicians’ stiff resistance even a proposal for the better method of assisting students from the class.
Extension of reservations to other classes in the name of social justice opened hornets’ nest for other classes on margins of the upper strata coming up with demands and agitations to obtain a share in reservations as they are main victims of reduction in the number of seats available to non-reserved categories. The issue is now high explosive power keg in politics of India because of reluctance to improve quality of education for all with special and additional assistance to those who were deprived of benefits of education for three millenniums. The upper strata detest the scheme not only because it puts the additional burden on their children to perform even better but it threatens the social stratification based on traditional caste-based vocations.