Guinea Pigs or National Assets

students

Like avid scanners of the share market the mercantile propensity of the present regime inclines it towards gambling in both economics and politics.It has a craving for sudden, unforethought and far-reaching gambits that could yield enormous and strategic dividends no matter at what cost. Anr the gambler feels no fear of loss even if it turns out to be immense.It is all in day’s luck.

The trouble is that in matters of government policy the loss crashes on the head of not individuals but on that of an entire nation,particularly on its younger generations.It does not matter if the masses are crushed under its impact,as long as the government can bale out a few favored individuals.

Such surgical strikes in policy might be met with suspicion by an alert public.Hence it is essential to inaugurate it with the mumbo-jumbo of holy rituals and pious incantations.The GST which ruined an enormous chunk of small business and heaved high the figures of job loss and unemployment was unleashed on the country at night,with solemn religious rites and hushed pronouncements in an atmosphere of deep mystery.The notorious Farmers’ bills were introduced with bland and bright assurances of doubling farmers’ incomes.

The New Education Policy was no exception.In retrospect it is clear that it had been intended primarily to strengthen the technological resources and capabilities of India’s corporate houses and garner the extra funds needed for this purpose from a deliberately depleted general public education.With such resources a section of the bright youths are to be trained to handle such advanced technolog y as AI,Robotics and instantaneous communication.

Further research in frontiers of sciences is also to be promoted, bearing in mind the eventual aims of boosting productive capacities of firms and increasing their profit.Though,given that our knowledge system is today more geared to adapting the proprietorial knowledge developed in the West than original creation,this momentous trend will see a quantum jump in draining funds from a common education pool leaving other sectors poorer.

The greatest loss will be suffered by public general education.And that loss was not unknown to the initiators of NEP.It had been factored in and the way to cover it up had also been built into the new system.

The best cover,as always,is to wrap it up in the best possible intentions.Hence throughout the document the noblest possible objectives and intentions,in complete agreement with the highest ever goals conceived by educationists,are invoked at every turn,though the execution of those goals was spelt out in ways that would actually wreck those goals.Both the widest reach of education and the highest pinnacles of achievement would be missed by miles under circumstances where those were to be worked out.

The revolutionary and gigantic project, with such incalculable consequences for society,should have been first vetted by financial and administrative experts,funds should have been allotted and snags examined with a serious realistic approach.High-sounding promises had to be reduced to cold practical detail.And a proper assessment of the proportion of the far-reaching goals that could actually be reached arrived at.Nothing like that happened.

The matter of implementing it should have been at the third stage of the entire process.But no.The country was forced to dive headfirst into the unknown at the very first stage itself.

Let us pause and go back a little to get a wider perspective on the present trend.While leaders of all shades of opinion have never failed to uphold the worth of education,the budgetary allotment for education has always been skimpy and the mainly colonial pattern of education has been allowed to persist since independence with cosmetic changes without touching fundamentals.With miserable funds public general education has been gasping for survival,rather than aspiring for better health.With the spread of education and increase in the number of schools all attempts at supporting them out of state coffers have been foreclosed. Under the pressure of the so-called Washington Consensus the government is withdrawing from the obligation to support public general education and leaving this space to private agencies to exploit for profit and thus debarring vast chunks of poor and backward sections of people from their right to education and thus from the constitutional right to equality of opportunity.

Throwing the children of the poor working people to the capitalist wolves the new government policy seeks to deploy the money thereby saved on elite institutions for creating new wealth-generating intellectual resources.As the ends of education get redefined to meet the demands of the big capitalists,its meaning also undergoes a subtle shift.In stead of the earlier but gradually dimming ideal goal of equality education is to become an instrument for aggravating inequality and promoting social distance and division.

In Assam with a CM ready to sing hosannahs to every little move of the Centre, the make-over was at once hailed and launched with fanfare with government Ministers,Vice chancellor,scores of college principals and sundry ‘educationists’ joining the chorus. Having made a few lightning moves for publicity that rocked the stagnant old system the CM seems to have quite forgotten it. But the roller has started on its grinding,crushing journey.

In colleges, in blind imitation of American campuses the long-standing streaming of Arts,Science and Commerce,has been scrapped.And now it seems that a student with nimble and wide curiosity could if he wished pick Physics along with Book-keeping and Folklore as courses for graduation.But the colleges and their staff are at their wit’s end figuring out how to arrange with their very limited resources the scope for such versatility. Preparation of the time-table itself will be a formidable task.With some five to six class-rooms and perennial staff shortage it will be a pretty mess.Yet who are the teachers to complain about such a solemn scheme drawn up by wise men at the highest level?Yet another revolutionary idea is to make up for local deficiencies by forming clusters of colleges poorer in resources with those a little better endowed.There is no doubt that it will cause such huge stress on the labs,libraries and botanical gardens of better placed colleges as to ruin the whole lot together. It is incredible that the consequences of such hare-brained ideas were not subjected to close scrutiny.It is nothing but sheer gambling.

College Principals are worried they have not received guidelines on how to organize the courses and prepare the syllabuses long after they were forced to start the new curriculum.Neither have they had any access to a centrally prepared syllabus and model textbooks.

Given scant resources and poor manpower our students acquire only a hazy picture of the subjects of their interest at the higher secondary stage.And it is only at the degree level that intensive training allows them to have a firm preliminary grasp of the basic ideas and concepts of a particular field of study.It will be too costly to dilute their attention and energies among three different subjects.No thought has been spared for these damaging prospects.

However hard it is on unhappy teachers it is the students who are fated to suffer most.Lack of well thought out plans,adequate preparation,and skimpy allotment of resources will in the end build up enormous stress for these hapless human targets.Most might feel tempted to cut classes and drop out.NEP has room for such fall-out too! It lays down that those who abandon studies at a certain course will have free scope to resume them if they choose to return later.The wise men probably imagined that our students have been trained and equipped from childhood to be agile,self-reliant and resourceful to meet any unfamiliar situation like their American counterparts.But though things have moved a lot in recent years,what with scarce opportunities and grim social constraints,a typical Indian adolescent or youth today does not meet such expectations. The latest burden on teachers is a fiat from the UGC that for the sake of ‘ employability’ the students are to be trained in research methods and use of advanced practical skills as ‘Interns’ during the four years at college.Pray where will instructors or teachers be found for guidance in colleges where even major courses are taught with three or four teachers slogging hard?Or space in rooms crammed with class-work?

My heart cringes at the plight of the millions of victims of this pitiless blind new machine grinding their lives.Needless to add,apart from stamping out light from their lives the new system will also slowly trample down the hope of moving closer to the goals of greater liberty and equality.

Hiren Gohain is a political commentator

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