The truism that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” holds good under most conditions. Misguided people driven by “good intentions” come up with under-researched and superficially understood solutions that are dangerous. These people are not necessarily bad in themselves, but the outcome of their effort, more often than not, is bad for the country (or society). I classify Anna Hazare in this category.

Real “hell-on-earth” gets created when mal-intentioned people with clearly visible ulterior motives, couch an initiative in a “difficult-to-refute” narrative of “inclusiveness” and for the “benefit of the poor”! Even logical criticism (like what happened during the Janlokpal debate) gets countered with the irrefutable defence “you are against the poor people”, thereby shutting out all further debate.

This is what I feared would happen to the debate on Right to Education (RTE)! I was sincerely hoping (against hope) that the Supreme Court, an institution that has served this country so well, would come to the rescue and strike it down as unconstitutional, as this is essentially a “tax” being charged on the middle classes of this country to educate the poor. My worst fears have come true, as the SC has not only declared it as constitutional, but added another complicating factor of a communal swing to it, by exempting “minority-run” institutions.

We are heading for a disaster and let’s understand why. I have three fundamental problems with the RTE:

  1. Government shirking its responsibility
  2. Playing “minority” politics
  3. Psychological experimentation with kids

Let’s look at each of these individually.

I.Government shirking its responsibility : Under the noble cause of universal education, the NDA had launched the Sarva Skhiksha Abhiyaan (SSA), a programme of humongous proportions that even critics had grudgingly acknowledged as having had a positive impact. It essentially created additional schooling capacity in the country. The crying need of the country is just that. It is estimated that the country needs 200,000 schools to be created before 2025, if our demographic dividend is to not get converted into a demographic curse! Most optimistic estimates show that we may create maybe around 15,000 schools in this period. We need more schools, and all kinds of schools, right from the “elite” ones to the free “one-teacher” village schools. That’s what the government needs to do.

Given that the government realizes that it cannot create capacity (the Rajiv Gandhi Navodaya Vidyalaya scheme is a non-starter), the government has basically decided to muscle its way in on existing capacity (and earn some votes in the process). This law and its confirmation by the SC is “bad in law”, as the government cannot legislate how a “private” enterprise should run itself (this can be extended to job reservations in corporates, or frankly anything that one feels like “giving to the poor”)!

Given that one judge did give a dissenting note to this judgement, I still feel that this would be struck down.

II.Playing “minority” politics : If the government is so convinced that this law is “good” for the country, why has it exempted minority-run schools from its purview? Why shouldn’t Christian- or Muslim- run institutions “contribute” to this noble cause of educating the “poor”? The politics of this aside, the “drafters” of this law do not care, as the most common “elite” schools are Christian convent schools. So their children will not be affected.

The outcome of this is going to be that there will be a race to convert all “non-minority” institutions into “minority” ones (the Ramakrishna Mission at one time had wanted to be declared a minority institution). This will bring in the dirtiest of politics into school managements, further worsening the academic environment.

III.Psychological experimentation with kids : My biggest problem with this law is that we are playing games with the lives of young children, without understanding the implications of the scheme. I have always maintained that kids can be the loveliest of beings, and frankly, the worst also. They can be mean, selfish and even violent at times, to each other. Any parent who has got a “physically” weak son, or a “differently-abled” child knows this. No school, in as much as it might try, can control this. Into this environment, you are sending in a group of children, from vulnerable sections, literally like lambs to the slaughter!

One of the unfortunate fallouts of caste-based reservations in institutions of higher learning, and more so, the institutions of excellence, has been the psychological problems that “reserved” category students face, even in the IITs. In as much as you might “counsel” the “general category” students, that they should be “nice” to them, they know that they have got in not through merit, but on the basis of their caste alone. There are some recent studies on the negative impact that this is having on these young adults. Mind you, these are college going kids and not impressionable school children.

The potential psychological fallout of the response of the other children to these “reserved” children, when they get into these schools is unknown. Has anyone done a study to make a confident claim that there will be no impact?

This is a dangerous sociological experiment that over-zealous law-makers are playing with the children of this country!

So what’s the alternative?

Actually very simple. Take the following steps:

  1. Facilitate the setting up of all kinds of schools across the country, by making land available and easy funding (make education investment a priority sector investment for Banks).
  2. Create a “education regulator” to ensure that ridiculous fees are not being charged by private schools
  3. Allow the private sector to create “for-profit” schools, but governed by the same regulator, with regulated fee-structures
  4. Give a “school-coupon” of say INR 6,000 per child per annum, upto two children, for every BPL family, and link it with the Aadhar number. Let them go and get admission in any private school of their choice, and the amount will be paid directly by the government to the school.
  5. Political control over “land-allocation” is the primary reason why there is scarcity of schools in India. Allow the “education regulator” to have the final word on land for education institutions
  6. Remove this scarcity and you will not need to give “reservations” for the poor. The poor don’t want “free education”, they just want enough good schools to be there. Like in the case of power in Gujarat, people are more than willing to pay for education in this country.
  7. Stop playing “sociological” games with children. Let schools admit the kind of children that they want, depending on their own individual mission and vision. Let the “nanny-state” stop interfering.
  8. Stop differentiating between minority and majority institutions in any way. While allowing minorities to set up institutions for their own community, they cannot get any special privileges from the state – that’s what a secular country means!
  9. Set-up teacher-training institutions in the hundreds, as that is the biggest shortage that we face in the country.
  10. Lastly, open up the education sector for foreign investment, across all levels. Let Eton come and set up a campus in India.

Education is too important an issue to be left to the government alone!

Post Script

Readers of my earlier posts would have noted that I tend to get a bit passionate with words. Since a friend advised me to tone it down a bit, I will try and be cold and constrained in this post (I said I will try only).

Also, some “declarations” before I start this post so that you know my stance. These are as follows:

  • I am totally against the concept of reservations (of any kind, for any one and in any field) as while it ostensibly feints to strike a blow in the name of the under-privileged (now who can argue with that objective), it actually creates an “under-privileged aristocracy” that replaces the earlier exploitative class.
  • I am anti-Congress as a stance and most virulently against the dynasty that runs the Congress. I think that their vote-bank focused policies that are couched in a narrative of “inclusiveness” are the greatest misfortune of this country since partition. I am totally against this entitlement-based economy being created by the UPA under the “right to …..” concepts, like NREGA, FSB, RTE, etc.
  • The primary object of my “right-wingedness” is an economic stance (I am actually a “right-wing social liberal”, whatever that means). I believe that long-term sustained economic growth can best be delivered by two premises, capacity building in people (security, education, health, etc.) and unleashing the inherent entrepreneurial spirit of this country! “Minimum Government and Maximum Governance” thereby becomes the logical outcome of this position!
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Rightwingdian

Rightwingdian is a Mumbai based Resident Commentator of CRI

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