When Jay Prakash Narayan called for a total revolution (sampoorna kranti) in 1974, he meant well. But, he faltered in not insisting on developing indicators and tools for midcourse correction. I hope we do not repeat history. After all, in real politics, no visionary can ever anticipate all contingencies that might arise, and thus warrant a quick response. Muddling through the mess of contradictory popular aspirations without compromising with basic ideals is possible, and according to me it is the need of the hour. Every political party has to recognise that the foundation of good governance can be laid only by having a balance between creation of private, common and public goods in society. The cost of creating these goods has to be recovered by prudent fiscal responsibility regime. I have always believed that if we have strong institutions, even weak policies will get corrected during implementation but that won’t happen the other way round.
Institution building is the need of the hour.
Promising freebies is easier, and sometimes it is warranted, depending upon the target group and the nature of good. But a person from a humble background would appreciate, if she can be assured of clean drinking water with graduated pricing, so that a minimum quantity can be free and after that, prices may escalate as consumption levels increase. Similarly, minimum quantity of good quality power (without fluctuations) can be supplied at a low base price depending upon the number of rooms in a house, and then the scale can rise. I will share in the coming weeks, my wish list of issues to be debated in the coming parliamentary elections.
Despite reports of various committees, the concept of a neighborhood school could never become reality. When teachers and public servants in education and other departments don’t teach their children in municipality or government rural schools, a trade-off has been made. A message has been given that the state does not see the right to education in equal light for the poor children and the privileged children.
There are several key principles that should guide search for viable solutions in future:
a) Will investment in education at basic level become a fundamental driver of future politics? Instead of using teachers for political purposes, will we develop their capabilities for providing highest quality of education in every public school (such as in Navodaya Vidyalaya)? Will the creation of open source free multi-media, multi-language, high-quality content for school children become a fulcrum of the national policy?
Will providing (i) laboratories (ii) libraries (iii) play ground (iv) health check-up facilities and (v) nutritious meals in every school in a time bound manner become a non-negotiable plank of every manifesto? Let every party announcing cheap food, free electricity, or water for the non-poor make their intentions clear. The implicit trade-off against the interest of the poor should become easy to discern and debate.
The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) may have resources for thousand other things but will not have resources for documentation, dissemination of, and experimentation on innovations by school teachers. There is no social innovation or risk or venture fund at state and central level to invest in the ideas dealing with making education more joyful, creative and inclusive. Parties must make their plan for promoting inclusive innovations clear. Unless we invest in individual and institutional innovations at grassroots, the whole project is doomed.
The appointment of vice chancellors to majority large universities at state level has been thoroughly politicized, and merit is seldom a consideration. Parties must make their stand clear whether they wish for Indian institutions to remain mediocre and thus compromise with the aspirations of the young people or intend to bring about a change. There is a great rush for privatisation of higher education as well, despite the fact that top five to ten institutions in any field are funded publicly. Maybe there is a need to review the entire education sector and scrutinise it carefully to redefine how India wants to educate its youth and also provide for lifelong education.
When K M Munshi suggested setting up Land Army units in various educational institutions to help the young unemployed youth to serve the society in a disciplined manner, he was ahead of his time. Maybe, the time has come to close down the National Service Scheme (NSS) and develop a new social, ecological and cultural connect between youth and the society as a part of the education system. The entire emphasis on education is to often lure students into tier two and three institutions /towns, with short term strategies. Maybe, voters in these towns and neighbouring villages must decide whether they wish to continue with the current hegemony of metropolitan and mediocrity bias in education.
The author is a professor at IIMA