Public Hearing on UPA's 100 day Agenda for Privatisation of Education

The Lok Sabha passed the farcical Right to Education Bill on 4 August, ignoring all the protests by educationists and a cross-section of people that a better draft bill be prepared, put to debate and then placed in the Parliament. In a thinly attended session, the controversial bill was passed under a voice vote. As this is the first move of the 100 day agenda of UPA, which intends to hand over our education system to the private players, the day-long public hearing was held in Delhi by AISA and All India Forum for Right to Education (AIFRTE) to indicate that protest will follow UPA’s agendas.
At the Public Hearing testimonies were placed to present the case against RTE and the 100 day agenda. Teachers, students, intellectuals, educationists from Delhi University, Jamia, JNU, Allahabad University, BHU, Uttrakhand, Punjab, Patna, Hyderabad and Rajasthan participated with the residents of Delhi in the day-long programme held on the last day of the Parliament Session, 7 August, at Jantar Mantar, Delhi.
 The jury members included Prof. Anil Sadgopal, noted educationist, Prof. Minati Panda, JNU, Prof. Nawal Kishore Choudhury, Patna University, Kedarnath Pandey MLC, and General Secretary of Madhyamik Shikshak Sanghtan of Bihar, A. Narasimha Reddy, Vice President of Andhra Pradesh Save Education Committee, and Shatrughan Prasad Singh, President of the Bihar Madhyamik Shikshak Sangh. Comrade Ravi Rai, AISA General Secretary conducted the Public Hearing and invited testimonies from the public.
 The testimonies that came in included those on private schools steep fee hike and the movements that were held against them in Allahabad as presented by AISA leader from Uttar Pradesh Ramayan Ram. Comrade Nikka from Punjab spoke about the rapid privatisation moves of technical education and ITIs in Punjab and how they had been handed over to various companies. He pointed out how each of these companies had their links to the ruling class in the state, either Akalis or Congress and the scam that was being carried out in the name of computer education in the state. He spoke about how upon the orders of HCL for reclaiming its money for its computers, large sums of money were collected beyond the stipulated amount from students of government schools of Bhatinda.
The situation and plight of the government school teachers who are deputed on various errands on the orders of the government and then blamed for not performing was made by N Pal from Uttrakhand and Prem Kushwaha, a school teacher from a Government school in Delhi.  Nearly 55 percent of Uttrakhand teachers were moved around for evaluation and clerical work of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and how single teacher schools were being made into a norm rather than the exception. Satyavir of MTNL Karamchari Ekta Union and a resident of Narela in Rural Delhi pointed how the government schools were being dismantled by ensuring a decline in its quality in the villages around Delhi. These schools had no teachers, furniture, infrastructure and no Science stream forcing most parents to move their wards to private schools. The government schools were left only with children of dalits, the poor, and migrant workers who were unable to fight for better schooling for their wards because of daily issues of survival.
He said most of the private schools however had untrained teachers hence affecting the overall quality of education in the area.
Prof Minati Panda indicated that while using progressive terminologies the Right to Education Bill was trafficking dangerous ideas that intended to isolate the large mass of children from their culture and language, thus stealing away the language of their protest. She said that while RTE said mother tongue teaching would be done only “as far as possible”, which means tribal languages will have no place in schools, NKC pushed for English language from class I. Based on her studies in Orissa with Saora tribal children she showed how injustice was being re-emphasised by making the children expression-less in schools.
University struggles to defeat privatisation were narrated by Shefalika, JNUSU Vice president. Several students from Delhi University and Jamia Millia Islamia narrated the problems faced by outstation university students as a result of burdens of self-financing courses, absence of hostels leading to seeking of private accommodations that were expensive but unsafe.
 Indreesh Maikhuri, AISA President, spoke about the shortfalls of the Yashpal Committee Recommendations. Prof NK Chaudhari on his experience from Patna university and models of asset building. Rajeev Raturi, a disabled-rights activist spoke on how the RTE Bill betrayed the right of the disabled students to equality in education.
Santosh Rai from DTC Workers Unity Centre pointed out how DTC, a government body was subsidising the education of private schools by providing bus services at heavily subsidised rates of Rs 15-20 per kilometre while it cost DTC nearly Rs 55. The schools however charged as much as Rs 75 and Rs 80 from the parents. Interestingly at the same time DTC under its reform measures has been asked to disband its subsidised bus passes to government school children who come from poorer families as they are supposed to study only in nearby schools. Ironically, as DTC buses were engaged in the afternoon for private schools, the poorer children were being left to the mercies of the private buses that refused to allow them to board it as they were unable to pay their fare. This cruelty perpetrated on the poorer children who are forced to walk their way home in the hot afternoon sun with heavy bags is only one example of how public –private partnership would be further evolved within the country.
Radhika Menon who has been counter- tracking public private partnership models in education pointed out how consensus was being fabricated in its favour and how false research and pilot studies were being presented as success stories of PPP models in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Delhi and Punjab.  She said that the PPP must be exposed diligently to defeat the private agenda of emptying public coffers.
 Ramesh Patnaik of AP Save Education Committee spoke on how the AP government was bent upon implementing World Bank orders. K Venugopal, AP Teacher’s Federation spoke about the dual systems being introduced in Andhra Pradesh in the guise of Success School System. K Narayan Reddy, Democratic Teachers Federation presented his views on para teachers. A number of other people from different walks of life presented their experiences and observations on the subject. Dr Sarwat Ali from Jamia Millia Islamia and Madhu Prasad from Delhi University were members of the jury who summarised the proceedings.
Narrating his own experience of petitioning on improving the RTE bill, Prof Sadgopal said that there was no choice left for the people but to enter the streets and force the government to hear what it refused to hear before passing the bill. Recalling the July struggle of Mumbai parents to ensure the continuation of their children’s education, he said how by blocking a busy road in Mumbai, the parents had forced the state Chief Minister to listen to them from stopping the handover of their children’s school to a corporate house.

 The day-long dharna ended with everybody moving towards the Parliament house and burning the RTE bill that was passed on August 4 in the Lok Sabha.