Why not education of same quality for all?

Presentation made by Comrade Santosh Kumar at the web meeting organised by Mazdoor Ekta Committee on 27 September 2020 on “Why not education of same quality for all”

Ever since India gained political independence, people have been promised that all children will receive free school education of uniformly good quality.

As part of the Directive Principles of State Policy, Article 45 of the Constitution states:

“The State shall endeavor to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years”.

The Kothari Commission, set up in 1964, recommended that education of the same quality must be provided to all children irrespective of their caste, creed, community, language, gender, income level and social status. The Report submitted by this commission in 1966 stated:

“The system should be maintained at an adequate level of quality and efficiency so that no parent would ordinarily feel any need to send his child to institutions outside the system…”

In support of the idea that each school within the Common School System should be attended by all the children in the neighbourhood, the Kothari Commission Report said:

“The establishment of such schools will compel rich, privileged and powerful classes to take interest in the system of public education and thereby bring about its early improvement”

The National Policy on Education, 1968, accepted this recommendation of the Kothari Commission to develop a common school system. Eighteen years later, the National Policy on Education, 1986 stated:

“Effective measures will be taken to move in the direction of Common School System recommended in the 1968 policy”.

In 1990, another official body called the Ramamurthy Committee stated:

“A very vital component of the overall strategy for securing equity and social justice in education is the development of the Common School System.”

A Common School System means that all the children in a particular neighbourhood must be given admission to the same school, without anyone being rejected.  It means that all schools, from KG to 12th standard, must be funded by government and not charge any fees. All schools must meet the same minimum standards and norms regarding pupil-teacher ratios, size of classrooms, laboratories, playground, drinking water, toilets and other facilities.  All teachers must be similarly trained and receive the same standard of salaries.

More than 70 years have passed since the Constitution was adopted.  Still all children in our country do not receive education of equal standard. Why is this?

The Constitution adopted in 1950 said there would be free education for all within 10 years.  The Kothari Commission recommended in 1966 that a common school system should be established within 20 years.  But 20 years later, it had not been implemented.  The 1986 National Education Policy accepted the Kothari Commission’s recommendation but did not explain why it has not been implemented.  Now we are in 2020.  Why is education of uniform quality still not being provided for all?

From 1966 onwards, official commissions have pointed out that the establishment of a free common school system would require annual government expenditure of about 6% of the national income, that is, 6% of GDP.  The actual level of central and state government spending on education increased from 1.7% of GDP in 1965-66 to 3.8% in 1990-91; and has now declined to only 3.1%, about half of the recommended level.

Among 193 countries for which comparable figures have been compiled, India’s rank is 143 in terms of public education spending in proportion to national income. In Cuba, government spending on education is 13% of GDP.  It is 8% in Norway,5.5% in Canada, 4% in China and only 3.1% in India. 

As a result of such a low level of government spending, the majority of government schools have acute shortage of teachers and of facilities such as toilets, laboratories, etc.  About 10 lakh positions for teachers are vacant.  Of about 12 lakh government funded schools in the country, more than 40% have only two teachers each.  In about 1 lakh schools there is only one teacher to handle all classes.  Over 6000 schools have no teacher at all.

At the level of secondary education, more than half of all regular teachers posts are vacant in Uttar Pradesh. In Bihar and Chattisgarh, over 70% of the posts of head teacher are vacant. Many teachers in secondary schools have to teach all subjects.

Instead of hiring teachers at the prescribed salary level for filling the vacancies, most of the state governments have been hiring teachers on temporary contracts for the past 20 years. These teachers are called “guest teachers”, who are paid only half or even less compared to regular teachers.  In some states they are paid only Rs 2,000 a month.  In Bihar, 97% of teachers at the secondary level are on temporary contracts. This ratio is 69% in Himachal Pradesh, 68% in Delhi, 55% in Telangana and 54% in Jharkhand.

Why have regular teachers not been hired in all government schools?  When the Central Government is prepared to spend lakhs of crores of rupees to finance the waiver of bank loans to capitalist defaulters, why is adequate money not being spent to ensure good quality schools for all?  Enormous amounts are being spent on bullet trains and on a new parliament building.  Why are adequate funds not being provided to ensure education for all children?

Government spokesmen give various reasons for so many children being uneducated.  They blame teachers for not doing their duty.  But how can teachers perform their duty when they have to teach multiple classes at the same time?

Acute shortage of teachers means that students who attend such schools do not learn anything or learn very little. The most recent Annual Survey of Education Report (ASER 2019) shows that only 46% of students of 1st standard in government schools can read the alphabet, only 54% can recognize the numbers from 1 to 9.  Only half the children in 3rd standard are able to read the 1st standard text books.

Lack of learning is a major reason for children dropping out of government schools.  For every 100 students who join a government school, only 70 are there after 5th standard, only 50 after 8th standard, 40 in the 9th and only 20 enter the 12th standard.

As the standard of education in government schools keeps declining, more and more parents seek admission for their children in private schools, paying a large share of their income as school fees.  Only those children remain in the government schools who cannot afford to pay fees. Between 2011 and 2016, student enrolment in government schools across 20 Indian states fell by 13 million, while private schools acquired 17.5 million new students.

Today about 35% of all children attend one or another kind of private school, while the remaining 65% attend a government school or government aided school. Most private schools are of poor quality.  They promise English education and charge high fees, while hiring untrained teachers and paying them very low salaries.

Instead of a common school system, what exists is a hierarchy of schools catering to different sections of the population.  There are about a dozen schools in each big city which offer the highest quality, including international certification, and charge monthly fees of Rs. 50,000 or higher.  There are thousands of other private schools, ranging from very good to very poor quality, charging fees ranging from Rs. 3000 to Rs. 16000 per month.  A family whose monthly income is just Rs. 15000 has to spend Rs. 6000 to send two children to a private school.  Those earning Rs. 50,000 spend Rs. 15000 every month for every child in school.

There is a hierarchy within the government funded schools as well. Higher amounts of money are spent on a few selected schools, such as Navodaya Vidyalayas in rural districts. In urban areas as well, a small set of government schools are adequately funded.  There are also schools catering to particular groups such as the children of government officers, army officers and central government employees.

Huge differences are there in the quality of education right from the pre-school stage.  This stage, when a child is between 3 and 6 years of age, is considered to be very crucial in the mental development of a human being. Only a small minority of children of this age group attend good quality nursery schools.  The majority go to government run Anganwadis, to be taught by untrained, poorly educated and poorly paid anganwadi workers. Many children of poor families do not go to any type of institution at this early stage.

In 2010, the Parliament passed the Right to Education Act.  However, education of acceptable quality remains a privilege enjoyed by only a minority of children in our country.  If education is a right, then why is it not available to all children?

The Right to Education Act made it compulsory for all private schools which receive any kind of government aid to reserve 25% of seats in all classes until the 8th Standard for students whose parents belong to the Economically Weaker Section, or EWS. Government funding is offered to cover the cost of educating such children. This is supposed to be a great step towards ensuring equal education opportunity to children of poor families.

In practice, EWS quota has spawned a system of corruption, with many middle income families getting admission for their children under this quota, using false certificates.

The EWS rules stipulate that the combined income of parents should be less than Rs. 1 lakh per year.  This is a ridiculously low amount, lower than even the legal minimum wage.  As a result, most parents who seek admission under EWS quota are forced to lie about their income level.

Even if a family is actually earning an annual income of less than Rs. 1 lakh, the moment its income rises above that level, their child will lose the benefit of government funding.  And as soon as such a child enters the 9th Standard, the parents will have to start paying the full school fees.

Students from poor families, who have been admitted under EWS quota, are a minority and do not fit well in the school they join. They suffer in an environment where their classmates have a lot of money to spend.

EWS is not and cannot substitute for a Common School System. It does not fulfill the requirement of education being a right that belongs to all children without exception.

The only way that education can truly become an inviolable and universal right is by establishing a Common School System. Why has this policy objective not been achieved even 70 years after independence?  Why is school education not of the same quality for all?

The latest National Education Policy 2020 makes no reference to the goal of establishing a common school system.  Why has the goal of providing education of the same quality for all children been given up even in words?

Social stratification and highly unequal access to school education was typical of societies all over the world prior to the industrial revolution.  The development of modern industry gave rise to the demand for an educated and skilled labour force.  The struggle against the old feudal order gave rise to democratic movements and the establishment of uniform standards of school education in many countries of the world. Some version of a common school system exists today in Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Canada, China, Russia, Japan, Cuba, North Korea and South Korea.  All children in these countries receive school education of comparable quality.  Why has this not been achieved in India?

The reason is that our society still suffers from the notion that only some people deserve to be well educated.  This notion has its origin in the age-old caste system.  It was deliberately perpetuated by the British rulers because it served their interest.  It continues to be perpetuated in independent India.

The British Raj recruited persons belonging to the higher castes in their administrative machinery.  They designed a system of education that would produce a minority of English educated persons who would embrace European values and look down on all other Indians.  They designed a system of schools and colleges that would produce a stratum of officers who would be loyal to them, and a stratum of clerks who would obediently follow their rules.

After independence, the new ruling class of Indian business houses, landlords and royal families have perpetuated the system created by the British because it serves their vested interests.  The fact that crores of people remain illiterate or poorly educated makes it possible for the owners of factories and shops, construction companies and other employers to hire unskilled and semi-skilled workers at very low wages.   Those who profit from the availability of unskilled and semi-skilled labour at extremely low wages do not want everyone to be educated. They want generation after generation of people to remain uneducated and accept this as their poorva janma karma. They know that if all people become educated, they will unite and demand their rights.

This is the real reason why a common school system does not exist.  It is the real reason why education remains the privilege of a few, even though it has been legally recognised as a universal right.

The stratification in the school system reflects the stratification in society.  It reflects the age-old belief that only a privileged few deserve to be well educated while those at the lowest level are only fit to do menial and dirty work.  In turn, the stratified education system serves to perpetuate and reproduce the class and caste hierarchy in society.  It serves to reproduce a system in which wealth keeps accumulating in the hands of those who own the means of large-scale production, a system in which the wages of labour are considered a cost to be minimized.

If all children receive uniformly good quality education, then who will work in constructions sites, building mansions for the rich, moving like nomads from one site to another? Who will work in lowly paid jobs in factories and shops, offices and fields, and as trackmen in the railways?  This is the mindset of the privileged minority in our society.

It is ingrained in the minds of those who are well educated, to think that they are of superior status, entitled to have uneducated people as their servants.  If everyone gets educated, then who will clean our toilets?  Who will sweep and mop our floors?  This is their mindset.

The reason why education is not equal for all in our country is because the existing hierarchical system serves to keep people divided and maintain the existing unequal social order. 

Those who have accumulated enormous wealth and exercise dominant influence over the government do not want to put an end to the social hierarchy.  They do not want a common school system to be established.  

The corporate houses want to use the availability of cheap labour in our country to their advantage in their global competition.  They want only such improvements in education that will improve the quality of the managers, engineers and other professionals they employ, while the majority of people remain available to do manual work at the lowest possible wages.  They also want to expand the space for reaping huge profits from the sphere of education, especially higher education, by creating more world class institutions that charge exorbitant fees. It is this desire of the wealthy business houses which is being addressed by the National Education Policy 2020.

The workers and peasants who make up the vast majority of the population want their children to be better educated than their parents.  This is the burning desire of even the poorest among our working people.  To fulfill this desire, it is necessary to launch a truly mass movement for a common school system.  Such a system is essential for India to march on the high road of civilization.

Education is not a privilege.  It is a universal right that belongs to all.  It is high time that the stratification and hierarchy of schools in our country is ended and replaced with a common school system. 

Let us unite around this demand and arouse all sections of our people to fight for its realization. 
Education of equally good quality is our right!
Let us unite and fight to establish a common school system in our country!

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