Brief History

ALL INDIA FORUM FOR RIGHT TO EDUCATION[1]

 — Evolution and Development of the Organisation

The All India Forum for Right to Education (AIF-RTE) was constituted at the Osmania University campus in Hyderabad during a seminar on ‘Right to Education and Common School System’ organized by the A.P. Save Education Committee in collaboration with the Centre for Human Rights, University of Hyderabad on 21-22 June 2009. Based upon its Hyderabad Declaration (June 2009), AIF-RTE built up a nation-wide campaign to resist the ‘The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, 2009’, then pending in the Parliament and for an alternative genuine right to education Bill and a democratic nation-wide debate. However, the flawed anti-Constitutional, anti-education and anti-child Bill became ‘The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009’ (henceforth referred to as ‘Right to Education Act, 2009’ or simply the RTE Act) on 26th August 2009. This is in spite of sustained democratic protest and steadily emerging public critique for more than a decade

The Hyderabad Declaration also implied that the present ill-funded multi-layered school system embedded in inequality and discrimination would not only expedite the pace of privatization and commercialization but also result in making education increasingly more expensive. This means that vast sections of Indian society will continue to be excluded from the education system, thereby being denied equal opportunity to benefit from development. The Hyderabad Declaration further presented an alternative vision of moving towards a fully public-funded Common School System based on Neighborhood Schools from pre-primary stage to senior secondary stage (i.e. Class XII) which alone can guarantee free education of equitable quality to all children without any discrimination whatsoever.

1.0 A Brief Overview of the Policies and People’s Response

What is the logical basis of our consistent resistance to the RTE Act, 2009? This understanding emerges from our analysis of the neo-liberal historical context of the 86th Constitutional Amendment Act, 2002 in which the RTE Act is embedded. Let us take a brief overview. The above-named Constitutional amendment (i) deprived more than 17 crore children below six years of age of their existing Fundamental Right to early childhood care and pre-primary education; and (ii) further reduced the existing Fundamental Right of the 6-14 year age group children to what would amount to merely a Statutory Right, through a conditionality in Article 21A. The latter Article, introduced by the Constitutional Amendment Act, states that free and compulsory education shall be provided to the 6-14 year age group “in such manner as the State may, by law, determine”. No other Fundamental Right in the Constitution is subjected to this arbitrariness of the State. Seven years later, as was anticipated, the so-called RTE Act, 2009, liquidated the Fundamental Right of the 6-14 year age group to education of equitable quality at the elementary stage (i.e. Class I-VIII). Indeed, the Act legitimizes the discriminatory multi-layered school system - a direct consequence of the World Bank-IMF conditionality of structural adjustment imposed on Indian economy and implemented through the neo-liberal schemes such as the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) of 1990s and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) of the first decade of the 21st century. This led to rapid deterioration in the quality of the vast government school system of about 12 lakh schools, except for certain categories of elite government schools (i.e. Central, Navodaya and Sainik Schools), thereby preparing the ground for mushrooming of both low-cost and expensive private schools. Instead of putting a ban on trade and profiteering in education, the Act facilitates private managements to mint money by giving them free hand in deciding their own fee structure and underpaying teachers. It further provided for siphoning of public funds to private agencies (corporate houses, trusts, religious bodies and NGOs) through the so-called reimbursement scheme to promote the farce of 25% reservation for ‘free’ education. This means that the Act legitimizes the neo-liberal guru Milton Friedman’s idea of school vouchers, a significant form of Public Private Partnership (PPP). Further, the Act fell far short of people’s expectation of a Fundamental Right to education of equitable quality for all children up to age of 18 years (i.e. from pre-primary to Class XII) through a Common School System based on Neighborhood Schools.

The Hyderabad Declaration (June, 2009) summarized the AIF-RTE position as indicated below:

“The following three cynical objectives of the central government can be identified in tabling such a misconceived Bill:

            First, abdicating its Constitutional obligation for providing free and compulsory education of equitable quality;

Second, demolishing the government school system, except the schools of specified categories (Kendriya Vidyalayas, Navodaya Vidyalayas, XI plan’s 6,000 model schools, and similar elite schools of the States/UT governments); and 

Third, increasing the pace of privatization and commercialization of school education. 

We have been for long urging upon the Union Government to, 

  1. replace the pending Bill with a new Bill drafted in the framework of the ‘Common School System based on Neighborhood Schools’ in consonance with the basic spirit and principles enshrined in the Constitution;
  2. review the 86th constitutional amendment Act (2002) with a view to providing a Fundamental Right to free and compulsory education of equitable quality to all children until the age of eighteen years i.e. from pre-primary education to class XII without any conditionality whatsoever;
  3. incorporate a Constitutional guarantee within the Bill for providing adequate funding for the entire school system. This is precisely the implication of a fundamental right.
  4. include in the Bill a provision to completely ban all forms of privatization and commercialization of education, especially Public Private Partnership, adoption of schools by private agencies and voucher schools;
  5. hold public hearings in all district headquarters of the country in a democratic and transparent manner in the process of drafting the new Bill.” 

[Also incorporated with appropriate modifications in the AIF-RTE Memorandum dated August 7, 2009 (Annexure II) submitted to the President of India, after the Bill was passed by the Parliament.]  

The Parliament passed the RTE Bill on 4th August 2009, despite several amendment motions being moved but rejected. Within three days of this event, AIF-RTE, with the All India Students Association (AISA) taking initiative, organized a well-attended Public Hearing at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi and sent a detailed Memorandum to the President of India after holding a rally on the Parliament Street (our repeated requests for permission to present the Memorandum to the President in person were ignored). The copies of the Bill were burnt at being stopped at the Parliament Police Station, entirely in the Gandhian spirit of civil disobedience. We adopted this method of protest as the Bill was passed without holding a single Public Hearing since its drafting began in CABE’s Kapil Sibal Committee in November 2004. In the process, the central government ignored all democratic voices of protest, including intellectual critique, both within and outside official forums, thereby rejecting repeated appeals for dialogue. The RTE Bill was eventually signed by the President on 26th August 2009. The RTE Act was published in the Gazette of India on 27th August 2009.  

Later, AIF-RTE responded to the call given by the Lok Rajniti Manch to observe 19th September 2009 as a national protest day against the Act on a decentralized basis by holding public meetings, dharnas and rallies at district headquarters. AIF-RTE’s member-organisations in different states sent a ‘Letter of Disappointment’ to the Prime Minister. Reportedly, this protest was held in creative and diverse ways in almost 100 district headquarters in various parts of the country.  

To be sure, the neo-liberal ‘reforms’ are not only confined to school education, they cover the entire education system – from pre-primary stage to higher education. This was clear from the successive pronouncements of the Union Ministry of HRD and the Planning Commission. There was thus an urgent need to review the developments in the entire education policy.  

On 7-8 November 2009, AIF-RTE organized a national consultation of its member-organizations in Delhi in collaboration with the Equal Opportunity Cell (EOC) of the University of Delhi. Apart from reviewing the policy-related developments since the Hyderabad Declaration (June 2009), the national consultation referred to Article 41 of the Constitution and concluded that the Right to Education extends beyond the age of 14 years to include secondary and higher education as well. Whereas, in the case of elementary education (i.e. Class I to VIII), the State is under unconditional obligation to guarantee free education of equitable quality, the State is required by Article 41 to “make effective provision for securing” Right to Education at secondary and higher education levels “within the limits of its economic capacity and development.” The consultation outright rejected the neo-liberal practice of juxtaposing elementary education against secondary and higher education, in terms of priority in public funding. Indeed, the organic linkage between school and higher education for curriculum development, evaluation and assessment, teacher education and policy planning was recognized. This consensus at the national consultation significantly expanded the scope of the emerging discourse and struggle relating to Right to Education in the country.  

The Delhi consultation further acknowledged that Public Private Partnership (PPP) constitutes the latest and most potent neo-liberal assault on education and must be recognized as one of the priority agenda of resistance in the Right to Education movement. The Delhi Charter issued by the consultation outlined the organizational structure of AIF-RTE including the criteria for membership spelt out its strategic objectives and suggested ways and means of building the movement to engage various sections of society and to cover all states/ UTs. The Delhi Consultation Constituted a National Council according to the Charter and also elected a Presidium and Secretariat to lead and conduct the activities of the All India Forum.  

As decided at the Delhi consultation, AIF-RTE organized an all-India Parliament March during the Budget Session on 24th February 2010. About 5,000 people representing 26 member-organizations of AIF-RTE from 11 states and several other associated grassroots organizations joined the Parliament March. AIF-RTE member-organizations today include several all-India as well state-level teachers’ and students’ organizations, apart from groups engaged in securing Right to Education. The Parliament March presented a comprehensive agenda for the Right to Education movement, giving a nation-wide call for resisting the government policies to set up Foreign Universities, siphon public funds to the private sector under the pretext of PPP in education and place education for sale in the global market through WTO-GATS. The march demanded an all pervading well-functioning and democratically managed public education system from “KG to PG” (the concept is elaborated in later pages).  

A meeting of the National Council of AIFRTE was convened on 25th of February at Rajendra Bhavan in which the program was reviewed. The Charter of the Organisation was suitably amended to provide for formation of a National Executive in such a way that the National Executive includes Presidium, Secretariat and some more Executives. Accordingly, a National Executive was formed in the same meeting.  

The central government announced 1st April 2010 as the day when the implementation of the RTE Act shall begin and the 86th Constitutional Amendment be notified. AIF-RTE gave a call to its member-organizations to observe it as a Black Day in a decentralized mode in protest against the government’s undemocratic decision to ignore all protests and move ahead with this retrogressive Act. The call was observed widely in many states in decentralized forms.  

2.0 Emerging Contours of the Neo-liberal Assault on Education 

The national consultation held in November 2009 took note of the following three policy-related documents that mark the emerging contours of the neo-liberal agenda being pursued by the central government with the consent of the state/UT governments: 

  1. Education component of the XI Five Year Plan (2007-12). 
  2. Yashpal Committee Report on “Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education”. 
  3. Public Private Partnership in School Education – A Concept Note of the Ministry of HRD. 

As part of his 100-day agenda announced on 25th June 2009, the Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal announced that the government would implement the Yash Pal Committee Report on Higher Education. Admittedly, this much-hyped Report talks of some good things about the idea of a University. Yet, the Report in the ultimate analysis upheld the neo-liberal agenda in the field of education. It rationalized and invited private universities, foreign universities and PPP in the higher and technical education sector. It recommended differential fee structure which is but only a back door entry for privatization of public-funded Universities and profiteering in education. It recommended liquidation (subsuming) of all Apex Bodies like UGC, AICTE, NCTE, MCI and others and establishment of a single window high empowered National Council for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) which will draw its resources directly from Ministry of Finance and thus not be accountable to the Ministry of HRD mandated for this purpose. The Report fails to explain why this NCHER will not go the same way as the existing Apex Bodies which it proposes to dissolve or subsume. Given the neo-liberal stance of the present education policy, NCHER would predictably only facilitate unquestioned and unbridled trading in the higher and technical education sector and open the doors for foreign universities, FDI and WTO. The Yash Pal Committee’s NCHER is profiled as even a more powerful and democratically less accountable version of Sam Pitroda’s National Knowledge Commission-recommended Independent Regulatory Authority for Higher Education (IRA for HE) envisaged along the lines of the World Bank-recommended IRAs for every service sector in every country. These IRAs are designed to bypass the political process and to facilitate global corporate trade.  

Again, a great danger is looming large in the form of Doha Round Negotiations. India has already submitted its ‘offers’ in Higher Education Sector to GATS Council. If India does not withdraw its ‘offers’ before the conclusion of the Doha Round, the ‘offers’ automatically become ‘commitments’ on the part of India, allowing all WTO members to indulge in trade and profiteering in higher and professional education sector in India.  

During the past six months (January-June 2010), the UPA Government has felt emboldened to increase the pace of neo-liberal assault on education. To a great extent, this became possible due to the combined effect of the ambivalent or submissive stance of the political parties and media and a high profile but compliant section of the academia. Accordingly, the following legislations have been introduced in the Parliament or the decisions taken, almost without any public consultation whatsoever: 

  1. An amendment Bill placed in Rajya Sabha in April 2010 to further dilute and disempower the RTE Act, 2009;
  2. Four Bills placed in Lok Sabha in May 2010 relating to higher education including the highly controversial ‘The Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill, 2010’;
  3. Declaration in mid-February 2010 that, after the RTE Act is enforced (which happened on April 1, 2010), the private schools will be free to hike their fees and underpay teachers and, more significantly, the existing state laws empowering the state governments to monitor and regulate the fee structure and functioning of private schools, shall become infructuous;
  4. Union Budget for the year 2010-11 with negligible or insignificant increase in allocations, even for the much hyped RTE Act, 2009; the modest increases in certain specific provisions can be explained in terms of the central government’s commitment to siphon public funds and other resources (e.g. land) through PPP to corporate houses and/ or open certain elite categories of institutions in order to include a handful from the upper classes while excluding the masses or relegating them to sub-standard education;
  5. Move to establish an Educational Finance Corporation Ltd. that will extend low-interest and long-term loans to corporate houses, NGOs and religious bodies to set up educational institutions covering all stages and dimensions of education;
  6. Widening the scope of PPP steadily and, more often than not, stealthily; and
  7. Refusing to review and withdraw the “offers” made at WTO for making India’s education a tradable commodity in the world market

 A gestalt (integrated/ holistic) analysis of the above-named documents and policy stances along with the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) scheme, XI Plan, the so-called RTE Act and the recent Bills to promote foreign universities and seek FDI leads us to infer that the State is, 

  1. rapidly abdicating its Constitutional obligation towards the entire education sector - from pre-primary and elementary education to higher and technical education;
  2. steadily withdrawing public funds (computed as percentage of GDP) from all sectors of education, even in the case of elementary education for the 6-14 year age group children covered by the so-called RTE Act;
  3. determined to push Public Private Partnership (PPP) as its main policy instrument for promoting education which implies that public funds shall be siphoned off and other resources (land, technical support, credibility) shifted to corporate capital, NGOs and religious bodies on a fast track mode, as per World Bank policies (in the case of primary education, this agenda was adopted by the Government of India in 1990 through the Jomtien Declaration, promoted jointly by the World Bank and UN agencies; this agenda now stands extended to the entire education sector);
  4. promoting, both overtly and covertly, unregulated profiteering in education;
  5. increasing the pace of privatization and commercialization by (a) deteriorating the quality of education of the vast government school system, except certain categories of elite schools, while withdrawing public funding; (b) pursuing the same agenda in higher education as well; and (c) not undertaking any credible programme of improving the quality of the existing 22,000 odd colleges and 500 plus universities even as the political attention is diverted from this priority task by the rhetoric of setting up a handful of central or innovative universities/ IIMs/ IITs/ IISERs or bringing in foreign universities and FDI;
  6. exacerbating inequality and exclusion through a multi-layered education system with parallel layers of varying quality;
  7. replacing basic science, social science and humanities courses by market-driven self-financed ‘applied’ courses which amounts to a major epistemological (‘knowledge-related’) shift with serious socio-political implications, including for national sovereignty;
  8. enacting new policy provisions and legislation in order to (a) provide market for second grade (or even worse) foreign universities in India; and (b) distort teaching and research for the purpose of building a skilled but cheap (employable at low wages) and slavish workforce for the benefit of the global market;
  9. increasingly outsourcing policy formulation, preparation of curriculum and text material and all other aspects of educational planning to corporate houses and NGOs; 
  10. inviting FDI in all sectors of education; and
  11. offering education for global trade under the GATS/ WTO.

3.0 Misconceived Premises

The above neo-liberal agenda is based on the following misconceived premises:

  1. the economic capacity of the State is limited, resulting in resource crunch for education; there is thus no option but to depend upon private (and foreign) sources for funding education;
  2. private agencies, compared to public agencies, can render better, efficient and cost effective services;  
  3. the Constitutional principles of equality and social justice can be replaced by the neo-liberal principle of inclusion;
  4. education is a service rather than being a Right or an Entitlement of every child and youth and, therefore, equal provision for all need not be ensured;
  5. education is a private good and a tradable commodity, making profiteering through education a legitimate objective, just like in any other trade; therefore, it is valid that quality education is proportionate to one’s capacity to pay; and
  6. Education is an instrument for producing human resources for corporate and market needs; therefore, the character of knowledge should be determined by market, rather than by the internal requirements of the discipline or the welfare of society. 

The cruxof the neo-liberal agenda lies in redefining the aim of education policy for building an unquestioning and slavish workforce (which includes, apart from the manually skilled personnel, highly educated elite such as biotechnologists, nuclear scientists, economists, demographers, teachers, engineers, doctors and legal experts) for the global market. Ironically, most of this workforce will be prepared by using public funds in the PPP mode. This is in sharp contrast to the Preamble of the Constitution that directs the State to build an education system for promoting a democratic, socialist, secular, egalitarian and just society in the Republic of India!  

However, the education system must be envisioned such that it can promote pro-people national development, respond with sensitivity to the people’s aspirations for equitable distribution of resources, optimization of socio-cultural and knowledge-related diversity and securing civil liberties and democratic rights, as guaranteed by the Constitution. AIF-RTE stands for such an education system and strives to build a nation-wide mass movement to achieve it.


[1]Address: All India Forum for Right to Education (AIF-RTE), 306, Pleasant Apartments, Bazarghat, Hyderabad 500 004; Tel.: (040) 2330-5266; E-mail: airfte.secretariat@gmail.com; Organising Secretary (Ramesh Patnaik) 09440980390; Office Secretary (Dr. Vikram Amarawat) 08128293711