Friday, 11 September 2015

Testing Time For Education Reforms

How many houses need to be burnt in order to force Fire Service Department to rush its extinguishing machinery? How many cries from how many rooftops from stranded people in flood will be needed to have rescue operation in action?
      These analogies apply to education where we see all burning or stinking on ground and people resigned to leave houses burning or flooded and move on to beg for other spaces. None asks why not reclaim our lost territory.  If Naem Akhter attempts this task and succeeds that would be history. He has to embark on the task if he is true to his stated goal of making govt. schools attractive. “Akhteization of education” faces a crucial test. The public will screen its sophisticated logic and moralistic tone through this test. Naem Akhter is on trial. Will he muster courage to take note of countless dreams, cries and sighs of children and their parents denied right to free quality education? Or should we expect suo motto action from Judiciary? Let anyone begin and all fight for rescue work.
      Would any reasonable person choose to pay more for the same quality available at lower price? Now the question is: Isn't it the case that quality is not available?  Yes is the answer. But why isn’t quality available? We are told that it is because children from lower strata of society are in govt. schools or there isn’t good infrastructure, or teachers don’t take pains.  Now who is ultimately responsible for all these things? The State, of course. And who can and must take the remedial measures? The  onus lies on the State. By asking its servants to send children to govt. schools it addresses first concern and it enormously helps in building prestige of govt. schools and thus confidence of people in general in them. It will make accountability a public issue which has so far been disinterested in this key sector. It will help implement measures for improving both infrastructure and upgrading skills of human resource. It will lead, inevitably, to cure of the cancer. On what ground should one resist such a golden solution? Should one be part of the problem or solution?  We have little to worry about infrastructure as what is available in good shape is underutilized and we can accommodate all children from govt. servants in schools with quality infrastructure. A small percentage of students might have to seek admission in a schools that aren’t nearby. That is a very small price to pay.
      The whole State is suffering because private schools have been a bad choice as, generally speaking and granting honourable exceptions, they don’t give quality education, they loot people, they aren’t accountable to anyone for any of their decisions including fee hike. They exploit teachers, deprive students of sleep, damage tender minds with exam fever, homework mania and information overload, don’t have requisite infrastructure and library and other resources, they are no longer trusts as their papers indicate, and don’t qualify as public schools as their nomenclature would suggest, but are private schools. Not schools that treat education as sacred thing but as business enterprises. And as business enterprizes also they don’t seem to be doing it in proper manner as Ajaz ul Haque, Fazl Illahi  and many others have argued so convincingly. Children need to be saved. Privatization saves – If it indeed saves really – only a class; an elite class.

Some questions one may ask our Minister:

      “Are you going to close a sizeable number of govt school as the policy of rationalization requiring merger already seems to be leading logically to it?” “Are you ready to bury the large percentage of defunct schools, needless staff and surrender a budget of thousands of crores? If not, what prevents you from reclaiming lost or compromized spaces of govt. schools?” “Would teachers find themselves like employees of erstwhile corporations who were offered golden handshake or even evicted?” “Isn’t closing the schools yielding to privatization loin’s share that is incompatible with the Constitution?”  “Isn’t it only a tiny fraction of bureaucratic and political elite and few business tycoons that will not be happy with the decision of sending children to govt. schools while over 97% population will vote positive if a referendum is conducted on the issue?”
      A few question for every govt. servant. “Do you trust govt. or not?”  “Do you think you have a role in helping building trust in government?” “Do you think govt. schools will be enormously helped by involving all govt. servants intimately?” If yes is the answer to all these questions how come there seems some anxiety regarding the idea of rescuing govt. schools through govt. servants?” “If schools are not your schools and their current disrepute not your disrepute – to whom is paam directed to, if not to every individual govt. servant?” “Isn’t it a height of hypocrisy to take salary from govt. while keep deserting its bastions?
      Some questions for all of us as citizens: “If institutions and public spaces we have nurtured are deserted, aren’t we heading towards a disaster where private schools will be ruling the roost and choke us as privatization follows inherent logic of maximization of profit?”  We might survive food crisis but can’t survive disaster that is education today. Our children are no longer educated and they can’t receive one in existing structure. Education can’t be a private affair, a business deal. We are losing children thanks to current ideology. Education is linked to Iman; it is part of soul making. We all need to be involved with our souls and minds to make it worth its name. When houses of neighbours are burning one doesn’t emphasize right to choose a special house (right to choose which school one may send children) but obligation to save the burning ones. During disasters some rights get suspended. The bulk of private schools haven’t come up after fair competition but mostly when scandals were given free reign that destroyed credibility of govt. schools and parents had no option but to desert their houses for rented ones. It is flood water that needs draining; let normal Jehlum flow. We had houses that we deserted during flood and didn’t worry about returning after the flood subsided. We seem to be resigned to the idea that we let our houses go and even welcome and facilitate new brand of people who have meanwhile occupied them. Govt. schools were deserted especially during last two decades thanks to circumstances that can only be described as flood like. We let them rot as administration seemed to be hand in gloves with growing force of privatization and made great fortune by helping desert govt. schools and invest in private schools.
      Lastly a question for teachers associations. “Why not agitate for restoring lost spaces of govt. schools?” “What better tool for repopulating them with students from almost all sections of society than requiring children of govt. servants to lead?” If this done all problems of teachers would be solved as they would occupy central stage.

      There need not be any scare in the community or even in private school management. Govt. servants constitute around 4% of population and a great fraction of them is already in rural areas where still a respectable percentage of children that go to govt schools are from the employees. Private schools are already burdened with too many recommendation letters and ques. They will get some respite and they will in the long run be better off as they will be less influenced by vested interests of Babus and other influential govt. servants who have otherwise a greater stake. It is to be lauded that private schools representatives have welcomed recent Naem Akhter’s response to Allahabad court order that indicated government will take a cue from it.

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