The Constitution of India guarantees education as a fundamental right of every Indian citizen. However the sad reality is that even after more than seven decades of independence, the Indian education system has failed to deliver this fundamental right to its citizens. While there exist a number of systemic issues plaguing the education system, the onus is on the government to timely address these issues. However the government has largely failed in its duties in this regard.
Currently across the nation, there is an educational crisis. From school education to higher education, there is an urgent need to address these issues.
Summarised below are the major issues:
1. JNU: The administration has proposed fee hike that would see 300 percent increase in fees for hostel, mess, and amenities.
2. IIT – Bombay: 300 percent hike in fees has been proposed by the administration in September 2019, that also includes withdrawal of monthly stipend of Rs. 12,400.
3. IIT-BHU: Students refused to receive their degrees from Union HRD Minister during convocation in protest against the MHRD’s decision to hike fees.
4. Ayurvedic colleges in Uttarkhand: The Uttarkhand government in 2015 decided to increase fees by 170 percent, which the Uttarkhand High Court struck down in July 2018 and directed that the fees collected be refunded. Lack of compliance with the HC’s directive has led to wide-spread protests by students since early October 2019.
5. MANUU: Students protested against fee hike, water shortage, lack of health services and other amenities. Protests ceased when the administration caved and promised to address the students’ concerns.
6. IIT-Madras: An 18-year old student committed suicide citing harassment and discrimination on religious grounds in suicide note. This was the fifth suicide in the campus in the last one year.
7. The Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE) issued notification in August 2019 increasing exam fees, which depending on the category, ranges from double to 24 times.
8. The government of Telangana constituted a committee to look into feasibility of revising the distance parameter of neighbourhood schools in the RTE Act. This might result in closure of almost half the government schools in the state.
The above mentioned concerns were raised by Mr. Syed Azharuddin, during a press conference organised to discuss the crisis in education sector in India by SIO on 23 NOvember.
Muzakkir Ahmed, the Director of CERT put the demands to government in front of media saying “The hikes in the fee will be catastrophic to the students and their parents to say the least. As many students hail from disadvantaged backgrounds be they socio-economic, geographical or even historical.
In the press conference SIO and CERT said that they stand in solidarity with the students across the nation and demanded that students’ demands be met by the authorities.
The violence unleashed upon students for demanding their due right, said SIO in the press, is utterly condemnable.
Other key takeaways from the SIO press conference are demand on increasing government spending in education to at least 6-7 percent of GDP, prevention of commercialisation and privatisation of education, and also strong concerns on rising Islamophobia and religious hatred in campuses. The instances of enforced disappearance of Najeeb Ahmed from JNU, and suicide of Fathima Latheef in IIT Madras, are point in case.
While the need for operational autonomy is important aspect of decentralisation, lessening the burden and streamlining, the rationale for burdening these educational institutions to generate their own funds confounds logic and reason. Such a measure incurs significant social costs in terms of affordability, equity, and accessibility. As educational institutions obviously lack any source of generating funds commercially, the only recourse left is to generate from the students in form of fees. In such a scenario, autonomy will in fact inevitably result commercialisation of educational institutions and a marked reduction in the accessibility. The government must undertake the responsibility to seed funds for autonomous educational institutions, be they related to school education such as CBSE or higher education such as UGC. In turn, these institutions must support the public educational institutions to sustain and prevent commercialisation.
SIO also raised the demand of increase in various government scholarships, saying that students as non income-generating demographic are more susceptible to vagaries of inflation. If scholarships, and funds are not adequately revised, this raises the question not only about the priorities of the government but also its sincerity. “If funds were in such short supply then how does the government manage to procure funds for gimmicks such statues, expenditure for changing names of places, writing off bad loans, said Muzakkir, while addressing the press conference.
Note: This is the edited version of the press release delivered to The Companion.