[This analysis of the Modi Govt.’s policies on education is in two parts. Please see below Part I.]

After the passing of the Right To Education (RTE) Act in 2010, the proportion of children (aged 6-14) who are not enrolled in school fell below 3% for the first time in 2018. The proportion of girls in the age group 11 to 14 who were out of school at the all-India level which stood at 10.3% in 2006 fell to 4.1% by 2018.The gross enrolment ratio has been steadily growing across categories with the gross enrolment ratio in higher education increasing from 21% in 2011-12 to 25.8% in 2017-18. There is a hunger for education that is visible across the country. Some 35 crore students of various kinds, from nursery to higher education, go to educational institutions. Yet, a look at the policy measures of the Modi government in the field of education shows that it has abandoned its responsibility in this crucial field, encouraged privatisation, which means costlier education, and is bent upon subverting the progressive, scientific and secular basis of education needed for development of modern citizens.

Promises versus performance

The New Education Policy promised in 2014 was a non-starter even in 2019. The BJP manifesto for 2014 General Elections had loftily promised allocation of 6% of GDP for education. Far from achieving this, the central govt. allocation fell from about 0.64% of GDP in 2014 to 0.45% in 2019-20. In terms of share of total budgetary spending, the share of education dipped from 4.6% to 3.5% in the same period. The allocation for higher education also remained stagnant at 1.4% for the last five years. The Modi govt.’s slogan ‘sabko shiksha, achhi shiksha’ has remained as elusive as other promises.

What this lack of funds meant was that govt. schools have become dilapidated, with crumbling facilities and lack of teachers. In reply to a question (# 387) in Rajya Sabha, the govt. admitted that over 10 lakh teachers’ posts in schools were lying vacant. Families are being forced to send children to private schools which charge exorbitant fees. So, either the children drop out early or their parents have to cut back on food and other essential needs in order to pay school fees. Recent data shows that 45% of school students are now in privately run schools.

This crumbling of education system is reflected in learning levels too. According to the ASER survey, the proportion of class 8 students who could not even read a class 2 level text was 25.3% in 2014 but increased to 27% in 2018. A similar test of class 5 students showed that there was only a very small change in this period, from 52% to about 50%, of those who couldn’t read class 2 texts. A similar crisis was seen in mathematics, with share of class 8 students who couldn’t do simple division remaining at around 56% between 2014 and 2018.

The ‘no detention policy’ of the RTE act looking at the larger goal of compulsory free education was scrapped by the NDA, which has a direct bearing upon 18 crore students. In fact, various National Family Health Surveys (NFHS) have underlined ‘repeated failure’ as one of the major reasons for school dropouts. The children of Dalit and Adivasi communities are likely to be affected more by this. The policy direction in this matter is unsurprising, as the Prime Minister himself led the ‘pareeksha pe charcha’ programme with its focus on examinations. The government was forced to extend the deadline for teacher-training mandated in the Right To Education Act to 2019 (from 2015), the fallout of which was that 11 lakh school teachers out of 66.41 lakh remain untrained.

The insistence on linking Aadhaar to the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) scheme and subsidised rations spelt havoc, as tragically shown in the case of 11-year old Santoshi Kumari of Jharkhand’s Simdega district who died of starvation. Her mother Koyli Devi recounted that Santoshi had asked for rice before blacking out. The family took her to the local doctor, who also advised feeding the girl since her body was failing due to hunger. But there was no food at home and Santoshi died asking for rice. The disruptions and dropouts of students from government schools as a result of the Aadhaar linking to MDM scheme continued until the Supreme Court put a halt to it in September 2018.

The NDA government made Centrally Sponsored Schemes like Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) into a ‘one size fits all’ programme with minimal manoeuvering possible at the level of the states. As much as 56% of the funds allotted to ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ was used for publicity through advertisements. The slogan of skill india (Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana) has failed miserably. Till 2018, out of the 41.3 lakh people trained in three years, just 6.15 lakhs or hardly 15% got placement because of unavailability of jobs.

Two major exam question paper breaches happened during the Modi regime, first in June 2015 in the All India pre-medical NEET and second in March 2018 where the CBSE 10th and 12th Maths and Economics papers got leaked and circulated. This is a result of rampant corruption in the examination bureaucracy that has become the fulcrum of the whole education system.

The government has promoted elite professional and technical institutions like IITs and IIMs at the cost of general education. The funds crunch facing universities has destroyed the general higher education system. Universities have 48% vacant teacher posts according to independent estimates. On top of that, they have now been asked to increase 25% seats for students to implement the 10% reservation for economically backward sections among forward communities. But there is no additional funding for either infrastructure or new teachers.

Left alternatives

The Kerala government’s initiative of building excellence in public education through modern infrastructure in schools, creation of required teaching posts, schemes for upgradation of academic standards and training for teachers has paid off well. The increased spending by the government on public schools has added 2.5 lakh fresh enrolments, most of them opting for government schools by a transfer from private schools during 2017-19. Kerala earmarks one-fifth (20%) of its total spending or 40% of its development expenditure for education.

Progressive movements led by students and teachers, with the support of common people are demanding increased regularisation of all temporary teachers All ad hoc, contract, daily wage, guest teachers in government schools and colleges must be given a chance for one time regularisation in order to fill up the present vacancies. The government must enact on the lines of MGNREGA to guarantee employment to the educated youth. The SC/ST/OBC quota must be extended to private educational institutions including the ‘Institutions of Eminence’.