The Right to Education Act should have guaranteed free and equitable education to all the children in India. Alas that is not the case and the sad part is that most of us are unaware of the surreptitious games being played by those in power. An article that appeared this week in a well known magazine brings this fact to light. Want to sit on the same bench as America is worth reading. Those of my vintage will remember the days a few decades ago when state run schools worked well and universities were easy of access. Come to think of it there was no or little choice outside these.
How many of us know that way back in 1991 the Indian government accepted the conditionality of Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) imposed by the US-led World Bank-IMF regime. This required that public expenditure be reduced on education, health and social welfare. From 2000 onwards, these dilutions and distortions were repackaged and ‘marketed’ under a new label called Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (education for all). The failure of SSA to provide elementary education (Class I-VIII) to India’s 20 crore children in the 6-14 year age group by the target year of 2010 meant that policymakers rephrased SSA goals downwards and did not undertake a causal analysis to rectify it. This may have again gone undetected by the likes of us as it was all happening on the other side of the fence and did not affect our children. But think about it and your blood runs cold. On the one hand the children of India get the constitutional right to education but on the other the state starts abdicating its duty to provide the same.
The commercialisation of education had begun; PPP (public private partnership), subsidies to profit making institutions, education loans and a cynically orchestrated media campaign buttressed by internationally funded high-profile NGOs to destroy the credibility of the public-funded education system rung the death knell of state run education both at the school and university. The State abdicated its constitutional obligation. Markets needs would now dictate knowledge content and we would become a major global provider of low-cost skilled but subservient ‘foot soldiers’ who reinforce the subjugation, hegemony and greed of global capital
The cruel reality is that millions of children who could have aspired to better morrows were the state education system running, will now be forced to remain where they are not because they lack the skills and ability but because they were born on the other side of the fence and can never afford education which now comes with a hefty price tag.
The little girl in the picture was also born on the wrong side of the fence, yet her brave family scrapped the barrel, tighten the belts till it hurts to ensure that she and her elder sister go to a school on the other side of the invisible fence. It is not easy as there are so many bills to pay but they are not ones to give up and yet I wonder whether this little girl will be able to go the whole nine yards.
In this new emerging scenario what is available for children born on the other side of the fence is an ersatz education that cannot take them far. Sadly their parents are unable to comprehend the reality and react and the children themselves are voiceless and helpless. By the time they do gain a voice it would be too late.