Chennai Strategy

All India Conference 

For abolition of commercialization of education 

And building of common school system, 

30th June, 1st July, 2012, Valluvar Kottam, Chennai

Debate on strategy of struggle 

This conference for abolition of commercialization of education and building common school system is organised to give a great leap to the education movement in our country. This conference is in continuation of the three years long struggle waged by All India Forum for Right to Education (AIFRTE) and its member organisations throughout the country. On the other hand, this conference attempts at linking the centuries old struggle of the people for a democratic education system in the country from the times of Mahatma Jyothirao Phule to date. This conference for all certainty, gives a new hope to fighting activists and academia of realization of the historical goal of egalitarian education system. 

The deliberations in this conference have clearly established that there cannot be a democratic and secular education system in the country without abolishing commercialization of education at all levels. At a time when private initiative, in neo-liberal atmosphere, is reduced to one of profiteering, the only way to spread education free of cost is state funding. So, this conference, has rightly resolved for a state funded public education system from KG to PG and, ofcourse, leaving a scope for non commercial private initiative. For development of a harmonious society, education requires being free and equal at all levels and this is not possible without state funding. State funding, in a democratic polity, need not lead to state control over the education system. All educational institutions from school to university should be managed in decentralized and participative mode to advance the cause of democracy which includes plurality.

However, this conference may require noting the obtaining situation and discussing the ways and means of struggles to advance the cause of education and civilization. During the last two years, 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 many a political parties and media and a high profile but compliant section of the academia. 

This conference is held after two years of implementation of ‘Right To Education Act, 2009’ which aims at closing of government schools by encouraging private schools through fee reimbursement against admissions and also enabling private schools for profiteering through unregulated fee hikes. The RTE Act, as we have analyzed at the very stage of a Bill, is a fraud on our children. It gives neither free education nor compulsory education. In fact, it only legitimizes the present multi-layered, inferior quality school education system where discrimination shall continue to prevail. Again, this conference is held at a time when six Bills related to higher education are placed in Parliament, over the last two years, and many more in pipe line to completely commercialize Higher education including professional education and bring it under direct rule of global capital. 1) ‘The Foreign Educational Institutions Bill- 2010’ if enacted opens flood gate to Foreign Direct Investment in higher education and reduce education into a tradable commodity, 2) ‘The Educational Tribunals Bill- 2010’ tribunalises Justice in the field of education which is already reduced to a trade, 3) ‘The National Accreditation Bill - 2010’ provides for establishment of private accreditation agencies and the agencies in turn give accreditation to public and private colleges and universities and parameters of such accreditation cannot but be market oriented, 4) ‘The Prohibition of Unfair Practices Bill – 2010’ reduces concept of fairness in management of educational institutions to one of transparency which only means that the managements can loot the people but, need to do the same transparently, 5) ‘The National Council for Higher Education and Research Bill-2011’ establishes an ‘Independent Regulatory Authority’ in Higher Education (IRA in HE)  in line with WTO  guidelines ,of course, with a different name ‘NCHER’. This NCHER will be independent from democratic pressures of the people and ‘regulate’ the ‘trade in education service’ in the interest of foreign and domestic corporate houses. Government of India has already made ‘offers’ to World Trade Organisation in Higher Education Sector which eventually will become ‘commitments’ if not withdrawn in course of Doha round. All the reforms in the field of education, the government intended to bring about, will only establish a legal and institutional set up for operationalisation of the agreement with the WTO immediately after completion of Doha Round. ‘The Universities for Research and Innovation Bill, 2012’ introduced in the Parliament on the last day of Budget Session on 22nd May, 2012 only adds another dimension to the whole above said market oriented reforms in education. 

This conference is held when the University as a space for free, fearless and scholarly pursuits is being threatened by the neoliberal assaults.  The Birla Ambani Report or the Model Act, or the way Lyngdoh Committee Report has been selectively implemented; neo-liberalism has thrived by interfering into the regular academic procedures and democratic functioning of the campuses. In campus after campus, student union elections have been scrapped, waylaid or sabotaged to prevent the students from mobilizing against the neoliberal forces within the university. This has inevitably been associated with social justice issues within campuses, as well as resulted in bigger privatization moves.  The teaching community and their associations have been threatened with dire actions for opposing the neoliberal assaults in colleges and universities. In certain universities the academic autonomy of the teaching community is being threatened with administrative circulars. 

All this only draws our attention to intensify our struggle against commercialization of education. Fighting against commercialization of education, in the immediate sense, means fighting against ‘RTE Act, 2009’ and against the pending Higher Education Bills in the Parliament which are aimed at bringing about all out market oriented reforms. 

What shall be our positive agenda? We are fighting for Common School System and state funded education system from KG to PG. We envision education system such that it can promote social justice and pro-people national development, respond with sensitivity to the people’s aspirations for equitable distribution of resources and fruits of development, optimization of socio-cultural and knowledge-related diversity and securing civil liberties and democratic rights, as guaranteed by the Constitution.  We are working for an education system that excludes all disparities and include all diversities. Education should empower the people for protecting freedom of the nation and liberty of the citizens. Education should enable the people to analyze public policies define the very concept of development. We are working for an education system that releases the potentialities of every individual and that produces a humane society. Our positive agenda is very clear as enunciated in Chennai Declaration. To make a detail of our agenda, we can state our goals as below. 

Charter of Objectives 

1. The goals of a National System of Quality Education for All

  • Abolish commercialization of education in all forms and at all levels including fee reimbursement and other concessions to private agencies. No fees or charges in any form or under any pretext shall be collected from the students either by public-funded or by private institutions dubbed as self financing and philanthropic. Such charges constitute `trade’ in education and should be abolished.
  • Establishment of a fully state-funded public education system of equal quality from K.G to P.G including Common School System on secular and democratic basis to achieve the goals enshrined in the constitution. State funding shall not lead to state control.
  • All educational institutions shall work for the removal of inequalities and provide an environment for developing pluralistic creativities that can chart new paths in education through decentralized and participative democratic functioning. 

2. Immediate demands against neo-liberal attacks 

  • Replace the Right to Education Act with a new Act 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;
  • Withdraw the offer made to World Trade Organization to make higher education a `tradable service’ to be regulated in perpetuity by the GATS regime;
  • Convening of public debates across the country covering all universities and districts on education `reform’ policies, goals and legislations. All Bills either introduced in Parliament or in pipe line to be held in abeyance until such debate has been conducted;
  • Abolish all forms of Public Private Partnership in the field of education in form of reimbursement seats, voucher schools, and development grants in private unaided schools, tax exemption to both managements and parents of private schools, and provision of land, electricity, water either free of cost or at low rents and user charges. Public funds should be used only to strengthen public education system; 

3. Substantial elements of national goals of Education 

  • Abolish trade in education. State should take over all fee collecting educational institutions. All educational institutions are to be administered in democratic and decentralsed mode.
  • Abolish child labor in all forms. Provide entirely state-funded holistic early childhood care, preprimary, elementary and secondary education to all children upto age 18 years.
  • Repeal the ‘Right To Education Act, 2009’ which only provides for unequal and inferior education to majority of the children and bring a genuine right to education Act on the basis of the basic principles of the constitution.
  • All government schools, at least, to be provided for according to the norms and standards of Central Schools and to function as common neighborhood schools as a pre-requisite to building a national system of education of comparable quality for all children;
  • Appoint qualified teachers on permanent basis and abolish the practice of burdening government school teachers with non-academic responsibilities. Immediately provide adequate training to all Para-teachers and non-formal teaching personnel in order to regularize them;
  • All material and moral support required by the child, such as note books, work books and along with text books, nutritious food, clothing, secure residence, transport and such other elements must be guaranteed to the child in order to enable her to study in regular schools as a full time student up to Class XII and fulfill the required curricular goals.
  • Guarantee all necessary support including provision of adequately trained teachers for disabled children within the Common School System. Provision for special schools should only be considered for cases of extreme disability;
  • Establish at least one Comprehensive (i.e. multi-disciplinary and inter - disciplinary) Public-fundedUniversity, with provision for access to institutions of advanced studies in all areas of knowledge, in all districts throughout the country. Studies rooted in the district’s socio-cultural, environmental and developmental context should be encouraged and adequately funded;
  • Hostels, with free boarding and lodging facilities to be provided for all institutes of higher education in order to enable poor and rural students to pursue and complete their education.
  • A minimum of forty percent of the relevant age group (i.e. 18-24 years) should thereby have equal opportunity for higher and professional education by the end of the XII Five Year Plan (2012-2017).
  • All self financed courses in government Universities are to be aided.
  • All obscurantist courses like astrology to be replaced at all levels by socially orientated secular and scientific courses. Courses like training in priesthood should not form part of the educational curriculum which should be firmly grounded on the need to promote critical, scientific practices.
  • Curriculum at all levels should be scientific, secular and democratic which understand diversity as strength of nation and disparities its weakness.
  • Mother tongue is the best medium of instruction at all levels and should be implemented in all public and private schools, colleges and universities simultaneously.
  • The rights of students, teachers and karmacharies in Universities should be guaranteed to ensure campus democracy and to enable the university community fight against neo liberal policies in access to and content of higher education and research.
  • The detail given above is not exhaustive. Neither it was intended so. The point proposed to be noted here is that our struggle is multi faceted. We should fight for comprehensive goals and simultaneously for substantial elements of the goals. We should be able to see the whole and parts too. 

The three tier Struggle: 

  1. We have to fight against new attacks on existing meager educational rights of the people at the first place. This means fighting against new Bills pending in the Parliament intended to thoroughly commercialize education and also reimbursement schemes in school education under RTE Act.
  2. We should prepare for a protracted struggle for a state funded public education system from KG to PG including Common School System which is a transformative goal and which requires abolition of commercialization of education in all forms at all levels.
  3. Again, we have to organize struggles to achieve demands which are substantial elements of transformative goals. This means we have to fight for i) abolition of child labor and measures for universal enrolment and retention,  ii) strengthening of all government schools to the minimum level of central schools, iii) closing down all erring private schools and colleges as to the minimum basis of the existing laws, iv) spreading public education system at all levels, v) student support measures like provision of education material, health services and hostel facilities according to the needs of the individual students to enable them to pursue their education at all levels and vi) implementation of ‘social justice’ in all institutes of higher education including the so called centers of excellence and fight for laws sensitive to gender inequality and disabled and for demands like these. 

The three level struggle: 

  1. We have to conduct struggles at all India level which includes struggles against new attacks, for transformative goals and even for some substantial elements of transformative goals.
  2. We have to conduct struggles at state level along with responding to all India calls of agitations. The struggles pertain to policy matters at state level.
  3. We have to conduct struggles at institute level and these struggles are mostly based on the existing useful provisions of different laws. Fighting for implementation of certain provisions of a particular law shall not be understood as supporting the law. 

Struggle vs Reformism: 

Opportunists take up partial and sectional demands to confine the people’s opposition within the system and this trend can be called reformism. But, real progressive forces also take up partial and sectional demands to build the consciousness of the people bit by bit and prepare them for transformative struggles. We shall not hesitate to take up partial demands but, we require being on guard not to fall in reformism. 

Preservation and extension: 

The point here is that the people respond sharply when there is an attack on existing rights. The activists in the field of education have to take up the struggle for preservation of existing rights when attacked, mobilize the people in good numbers and also, in the course of development, motivate them and inspire them for struggles for extension of their rights to lead them to fight for substantial elements of transformative goals and ultimately for transformative goals. 

Scope of mass movement: 

The democratic forces shall not think about the limited scope provided by the state as do the opportunists do but, they shall operate on the basis of the scope for mobilization of the people at their present stage of awareness and organisation. People can be drawn into struggles for achieving different levels of demands on the basis of the situation. Peoples struggles include struggles for protection of existing rights, expansion of rights and even for transformation of system of education. However, the democratic forces of education movement should be able to precisely estimate scope of democratic mass movement in formulating their plan of agitation. 

The spread of organization: 

The spread of organisationis an urgent requirement. Our all-India forum does not have units in all states. Even in those states where we have our member-organizations, they do not have district units in all districts. Hence, it may be our urgent task to identify like-minded organizations in every state/ UT to join hands with. The member-organizations in different states/ UTs should also strive to build organizations and explore alliances to unite the forces of mass movement. Everywhere, the district units should develop contact with the people in villages, urban bastis and Block and District Headquarters. However, we have to spell out what category of organizations can be contacted for wider unity. The following criteria may be viewed for the purpose: 

  1. The organizations should oppose trade in education and demand abolition of all forms of Public Private Partnership and this should be the acid test;
  2. It should stand for all pervading public-funded education system from KG to PG including the Common School System founded on Neighborhood Schools (CSS-NS);
  3. It should fight for a minimum of one of the substantial demands listed above relating to its interested area in pursuit of achieving all pervading Pubic Education System built on the principles of democracy, socialism, secularism and egalitarianism. 

It is to be also noted that we should mobilise all Gandhites, Lohiaites, Ambedkarites, Socialists, Communists and people committed to different ideologies provided they agree to the above said three principles. It should also be noted that our struggle is a part of the struggles of the people for Jal (water), Jangil (forest), Jameen (land), Jeevika (livelihood) and environment against the neo-liberal attacks of the state. 

Conclusion:

Let us build struggles of the people at all levels to build strong mass organisations to achieve common school system and fully state funded public education system from KG to PG for building democratic, socialist, egalitarian, just and secular society. This conference gives us a great strength. We shall win over. Future is ours.