Kerala Education Bill
The Communist Government of Kerala has succeed in piloting through the Legislature the controversial Education Bill in the teeth of strong, persistent and State-wide protest. The opposition came from all political organizations hostile to the party in power –the Congress, P.S.P. and the Muslim League. While the hastily drafted measure whose authors had no patience to launch a comprehensive investigation into the current educational problems evoked public suspicion and disapproval from the very start, the agitation on this score gained an unprecedented momentum during the latest phase. Numerous protest meetings all over the State and huge demonstrations at Trivandrum and elsewhere left little room for doubt about the intensity of popular feeling over the measure. Even the large scale modifications which the pressure of public opinion had forced the Government to introduce in the Bill failed to remove the all-pervasive suspicion that the enactment is intended to pave the for complete State control and management of the schools. Nor did its proclaimed objective, namely to provide compulsory education for all children within the age group of 6-14 in the space of a decade and assist the poor ones with clothing, books, noon-day meals and free tuition help very much to remove the widespread misgiving and alarm.
No wonder the announced objective and the belated amendments failed to pour oil over the troubled waters. The recommendations made by the Select Committee served only to touch the fringe but not the core of the problem. For instance, according to the changes incorporated in the Bill, managements are to be permitted to close down their schools provided one year’s notice is given; with certain exceptions alienation of school property is to be allowed; and the Public Service Commission has been empowered to select candidates both in Government and aided schools and allow the managers to appoint any person form the list. These, indeed, are very minor concessions when considered in the background of the highly undesirable clauses which have been left as they were. Reference to only two provisions in this behalf will perhaps suffice. No teacher of an aided school shall be dismissed, reduced in rank, or suspended by the school authorities without the previous sanction of the State Government again. The Bill gives a carte blanche to the Government entrusting it with overriding powers to take over aided schools “for standardizing general education in the State or improving the levels of literacy in any area”. Provided the Bill finds place on the statute book, the State Government will be free to take over at any ground for its unwarranted action. In other words, even if the school authorities are not guilty of inefficiency or mismanagement, the management of the institutions may be taken away form their hands. The little mercy shown in the proviso that a resolution of the Kerala Assembly is necessary for such an action evidently offers little protection against official highhandedness.
It is a thousand pities that in its anxiety to secure complete regimentation of education in the State the Kerala Government refused to take into account the notable contribution the private agencies, including the Catholic missionaries, have made in the field. Kerala has the highest percentage of literacy in India and 90 percent children of the school-going age are under introduction. The extent of private contribution to the advancement of learning vis a vis the share which the Government can claim in this remarkable achievement may be gauged by allusion to a single fact. Less than one-third of the primary schools are run by the Government and the rest are private managed. That these agencies have run the institutions with marked efficiency all through these years did not influence the official decision in the least. Never the less, as press reports indicate, the people of Kerala is in no mood to brook the introduction of authoritarianism in the sphere of education.
(The Amrita Bazaar Patrika-7th September, 1957)