By Dr. Amiya Kumar Mohanty
The quality of education is of supreme importance to any civilization, which wishes to survive through passage of time. The history of education from time immemorial reflects a continuous conflict between those who want to make education the privilege of the few and those who endeavor to relieve it from the prison of caste, community, religion and economy. The ‘quality education for all’ has always remained an ideal and a dream and has always been the victim of historical conflict between mass and class education.
Historical development-a continuity
There is a general observation that the development of education in society runs parallel to the socio-economic structure and evolution of that society. The educational development is ultimately determined by the economic and political needs of society and, in a class divided society, by the needs of dominant classes in society.
There has been nothing like an educational evolution in India known to have taken place during the historic period excepting the addition of a few new subjects to the curriculum as a result of foreign contacts in later periods. The structure of education of any epoch reflects the social, political, economic and religious ideas current in that period. Early India knew no strict class organization, but the chains of caste were gradually forged and came to have nearly universal validity. As a result of which education in ancient India was caste and community oriented and so mostly vocational. This functional stratification of society was an important phase of growing civilization and with it came differentiation of education. The shudras continued their life through service to other castes and for them education had no meaning. The objective of majority of people was not to have the liberal education comprising of the study of arts and sciences, but to learn certain occupational skill, on the basis of caste and community to which he was born. The priestly caste busy with scriptural invention was intent upon reading the past and professing the future, supported by the labor of one class and protected by the arms of another, it had no obvious and immediate need for physical exertion and training save as some dance and other exercises of past ages might continue to be credited with religious significance.
Naturally such an elite came to think of education as preeminently mental and moral and frequently exhibited an ascetic unconcern for physical wellbeing and excellence. In a society resting on varnashramadharma each family became a school of its own and the idea of public instruction had never attracted the attention of the rulers. Education became the concern of the community and the state only played the role of an aiding agency through grants of lands and villages, and by way of momentary concession, such as remission of taxes etc to teachers and scholars who through their personal efforts tried their best to spread education. The class basis of education is seen clearly in the story of Ekalavya, student from the menial class, who had to pay with his thumb for having learnt the art of archery. The prescription of Manu that molten lead should be poured into the ears of the shudras who happens to hear recitation of the holy scripture is another example to show that our ancestors were aware of the fact that education could outback on the stability of the social system. Only such type of education was to be encouraged by the dominant classes as could enhance the stability of the system and the system envisaged was an inevitable one.
The British also formulated education policy as found in Maculay’s system and other commissions’ report to cater to the needs of colonialism. They did not look into the broadening of base of education and no attempt was made for mass education. State did not own up the responsibility of education and as in the past remained satisfied only with the role of an aiding agency. Democratic values have been tempered to suit the needs of the ruling class. As a result the ruling elite succeeded in creating a conducive infrastructure for commercialization and communalization of education. In the past, there has been many attempts to free education from the clutches of caste, community and religion, but unfortunately these movements for democratization of education did not have powerful momentum to counter the forces of feudalism and capitalism. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, Jotiba Phule, Sabitribai Phule, Sayed Ahmed Khan, Gopalkrishna Gokhle, B.R.Ambedkar and above all, Mahatma Gandhi tried their best to expand base of education and to make it available to the poorest of the poor. However, they had a transitory impact to reverse the general trend of history.
(c)Post-British era: short-lived optimism
The history of educational development in India in the 1st phase (1947-86) can best be described as an era of short-lived optimism. It was through more than a century of movement that we came to accept the idea of a secular, scientific and democratic system for our people. Thus, it was he reflection of this long struggle when in the Constituent Assembly in 1950, article 45 was incorporated in our Constitution where the State took the solemn oath to endeavor to provide within a period of 10 years from the commencement of the Constitution for a free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of 14 years. Similarly Article 39 of the Constitution stated: “The health and strength of workers, men and women and the tender aged children are not abused” and that “Citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or their strength”. The educational commissions formed during this period also recommended many positive measures keeping in tune with the spirit of time. The post-independence honeymoon to reverse the general trend of history became short-lived. The capitalist forces saw great danger to their interest and the new education policy of 1886 formally marked the end of democratization of educational system and extensions of quality education for all. The impact of new economic policy of liberalization, globalization and privatization made education once again the privilege of the few. A new elitist pattern under the impact of market force immerged which provided shattering blow to the objective of quality education for all. With the economy being geared more and more, under pressure of multinationals, to the slogan of producing for export, the rulers saw the need of high level sophisticated technology in all spheres of production. Impact of high level computer and other kinds of automation implied the production of a skilled manpower to operate these. Just as Macaulay visualized producing baboos, the authors of present education policy saw the need for limited quality of computer boys. The constitutional obligation for providing free and compulsory education up to the age of 14 to all by 1960 under Art.45 was not fulfilled. It led to the stagnation f growth and inequalities of great magnitude.
Another facet of present educational system which defies the spirit of equality enshrined in the Indian Constitution is the dual system of schooling: government and government-aided schools on the one side and the convent/ public/ model/ navodaya / adarsha schools on the other. The concept of autonomous colleges is also in the direction of an elitist pattern of education. Dualism in structure has crated dualism in value system. It not only leads to urban-rural, rich-poor divide but also curriculum of some of these institutions foster communalism. Further education has today become highly commercialized. The private educational institutions in the country are mostly commercial centers financed by the government run for the private gain of the few, who own them very often arbitrarily and without accountability either to the government which pays, or to the society on whose munificent donations they were started in the first place. The agenda note published in the conference of education ministers by the present NDA government and the educational and cultural policy pursued by the present government of the center has provided new dimensions to the already plagued education system.
Role of Teachers’ organization
Educational system today is in deep crisis. It is contaminated by the germs of globalization, privatization, commercialization and communalisation of the system. The present educational policy has not enabled women, the village folks, the backward classes and the minorities to acquire equality in the society, nor has it enabled people t secure employment. This present policy has reinforced disparities in society and led to the growing gap between the rich and the poor, the urban and the rural populace and privately run public schools and government schools. Moreover, the privatization of education would promote unrest amongst students in particular and academic community in general. As in the case of Egypt and Algeria, the ills of privatization led to socio-economic, religious problems that have deepened and become more complex. Besides privatization of education would distort planned strategy of development, and tend to push the system of education towards a state of chaos. The countrywide policy of liberalization followed by growing communal distortion, fee hike, capitation fees and donations had deprived the poorer section of the society at large of a proper and quality education. Education has become domain of the rich, for the rich and by the rich.
The focus on the role of teachers’ organizations in national development is significant. The teachers and teachers’ organizations should try their best to reverse the trends of history and to lead the progressive forces to make education the rights of all rather than the privilege of the few. They should devote all their energy to relieve education from the clutches of casteist and fundamentalist forces. The teachers’ organization should rise above economism and play a pivotal role to unite all those forces, which are committed to national development.
( The author is presently senior faculty in the department of History at S.B.Women’s College Cuttack and National Vice-President of All India Federation of University and College Teachers Organisation)