Are we going to take advantage of this golden opportunity to look back at the history of India at the age of 75 and think and let education become an instrument for social change, or will it make some of us feel dejected for the next 25 years after 100 years of education that isn’t equal?
When India was declared independent after 1947 Indian officials were well aware of the deplorable situation of education in the nation. The literacy rate in the univided India was just 16 percent, due to the insufficient penetration of elementary education. This can be attributed due to British government’s disinterest in the advancement of the Indian people, but also to the culture of denying education to the most disadvantaged sections of society, which included women. Thus, when adopting the Constitution Pro-education and anti-caste groups demanded education be declared an essential right. But, other groups did not want to change the existing system, citing the inability to access resources needed to fulfill the constitutional obligation. In the midst of a political turbulence in 1949, there was a need for the Constituent Assembly in 1949 adopted Article 45 as a non-judicial section of India’s constitution , which required the state to provide within 10 years an education that is free and compulsory for all children until they turn fourteen years old.
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Literacy grew only to 24 percent within the span of ten years. To address the issue the government appointed Kothari Commission (1964). The Commission recommended the creation of a common education system as well as a gradual increase in the government’s investment in education from 2.9 per cent of the GDP, to 6 percent in the period 1985-86. As we all know, the guidelines from the Kothari Commission stand unimplemented even after 55 years. JP Naik (1982), an internationally renowned educator and member of the Kothari Commission was extremely unhappy with the improvements that the Government of India on the Commission’s recommendations, noting that “No political party in the country is committed to the radical reconstruction of education”.
In this climate of reluctance to change the constitution, there was a change in the Constitution of India was amended in 1976 to incorporate education as an “concurrent” subject, whereby both state and central governments could develop policies for education, distribute resources and ensure their the implementation of these policies, which was previously only the sole right of states’ governments. In 1986 the central government announced an updated NEP (National Educational Policy) to solve the issue of education which included an entire section about “making the system work”. The policy, together and its revisions in 1992, and its successor in 1992, the Program of Action, became the policy guideline for the Government of India (GoI) as well as the states for the future initiatives.
The initiative was first launched in 1988. Operation Blackboard was one such initiative designed to provide the necessary school supplies including infrastructure, teachers, as well as materials for teaching and learning. Assessments of the program indicate that its results were behind the target (PROBE 1999, Dyer and Dyer, 2000). In 1994 the GoI launched its World Bank funded District Primary Education Program (DPEP) in a few districts to boost enrollment, decrease dropouts and enhance learning outcomes through an uncentralised model of planning.
Although some scholars (Dyer 2000, Varghese 1996) were hopeful about the district-levelmodel, which was decentralised to increase the chances of its implementation, Krishna Kumar, former director of NCERT and a vocal critic of DPEP. According to the former head of NCERT, it was disguised to cover up the dangers of structural change which India started in 1991. It failed to achieve even the low (compared with international standards) expectations of the minimum standards of education. Kumar noted that DPEP affected Indian education by reducing the standards and quality of teachers by the temporary hire of para-teachers, and also by inducing schools that were substandard.
In this context of historical ineffective policy formulation, reluctance and inadequate implementation the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) was introduced in the year 2000 through the “Paper Tiger” state (Mathur 2015). In response to the rising aspirations of those who suffered from caste during the post-Mandal period and the worldwide trend in support of Education for All that started in 1990 in Jomtien in the very first instance, the idea of universality was introduced into the policy of education. It was the RTE Act, which came seven years after the 86th Constitutional amendment, and more than fifty years later than the promise date of the Constituent Assembly but did not include the radical structural reforms required to offer a quality and equitable education to everyone by making the essential changes to the institution and policy environment, and carried on in the SSA policy of universalising poor quality education.
The numbers are clear. In the 75th year since Indian Independence, the country are now operating an unsatisfactory, private educational system that is hierarchical and apex in its structure. The majority of the poor and marginalized parents do not know what kind of education their children receive can help them earn an adequate living, if there isn’t an equal economic and social order, as stated in the preamble and direct guidelines of state policy claim. The hierarchical educational system in India is in line with the graded inequality that symbolizes the caste system and has RTE standards being deemed less than CBSE standards. The wealthy send their children to private schools that are well-managed and unaided and the less fortunate are left with poorly managed private schools that charge a low fee as well as poorly designed and funded public schools.
After 75 years of reclaiming the reigns of power away from the oppressive British rule, why do we continuing to struggle to provide an equitable, universal and high-quality elementary education for our youngsters? One possible explanation is that universal education wasn’t an integral part of the attitude of Indian leaders. As per Weiner (1991) who studied child labor and policy on education in India Indian elites were not convinced of the value for universal educational opportunities.
Another issue that should be a concern for the enthusiastic flag-wearing Indians is whether an inequitable education will help us realize the ideals of economic, social, and political equality of status and opportunities as envisioned by the Indian Constitution. In 1956, Dr. Ambedkar warned us of the risk of social reproduction via educational institutions “If the education you provide to the section that is part of the Indian Society which has a stake in the caste system because of the benefits it offers and it will result in the system being enhanced. However when you offer education to the smallest strata of Indian Society which is interested in destroying the caste system caste system will be destroyed”.
The question is whether we use this time to reflect on the history of India at the age of 75 and think about and let education become an instrument for social change, or will it make some of us feel dejected for the next 25 years after 100 years of unjust education?