THE FORTNIGHT AT HOME.
The Kerala Education Bill.
Even if any measures sponsored by a Communist Government were not ipso facto suspect, there has been sufficient scare mongering by small-minded men in big organizations to prevent an unbiased and cool study of the legislative proposals of the Kerala administration. The ministry too has added to the confusion by some curious and ostensibly untenable statements. Last week it was suggested that the central Government had blessed the provisions of the Kerala Education Bill after the incorporation of the amendments emanating from the Union Ministries of Home Affairs and Law.
All that actually seems to have happened is that the State Government sent up to New Delhi a draft of the Bill. The Ministry of Law was naturally interested in the provisions regarding compensation to be paid for when a school was taken over. Where Mr. Joseph Mundasseri apparently misled the public was in the course of his speech in the State Assembly on Saturday when he stated: “The Central Home Minister had expressed his appreciation for bringing a Bill of this nature.” Most probably, the expression of opinion on the part of the Union Government was restricted to a legal analysis of the compensation clauses. The Home Ministry passed no verdict on the merits of the Bill except to point out the obvious fact that this was a controversial measure, and it would be a good idea for the State Administration to circularize the Bill for eliciting Public opinion.
For it is in the public interest to scrutinize the Bill with care. There are so many vested interests in the field of education—private, proprietorial and institutional, commercial and denominational—that every measure for reform is likely to upset a few apple-carts. This has happened in the past. Nearly ten years ago the Madras Government made proposals with which the Kerala measure has more than a family resemblance. The opposition to the proposal to empower the State to take over a school was no less vehement then than now.
Yet there still is a difference. In the past fortnight, we had news from Uttar Pradesh regarding the new principles that are being evolved to regulate the selection of the teaching staff for high schools and intermediate colleges within the State. The U.P. Government, it is reported, is seriously disturbed by the mushroom growth of educational institutions, the selection of teachers without regard to merit or ability and in-efficient management which does not give an honest deal to the teachers.
In Andhra Pradesh, again, the education Minister has announced Government’s decision to take over the aided schools in the State to improve the quality of elementary education. This is broadly in keeping with the report of the Kuppuswamy Committee, whose recommendations on the management, service conditions and syllabi in elementary schools deserve country wide attention. The object is also to increase the salaries of aided school teachers to the level of those paid to teachers in district board schools. It is pertinent to recall that in the province of Bombay, practically all primary schools were directly managed, controlled and financed by the State until some thirty years ago. Yet, not a dog has barked, not a whimper of protest has been heard about the any less far-reaching proposals from Uttar Pradesh and Andhra. The Kerala Bill has many objectionable features, but let us not throw away the baby of overdue educational reform with the bath-water of objection-able provisions.
Why does it become necessary for the State to interest itself in the qualifications of teachers, their service conditions, courses of study and other related matters? For this is a field in which, ideally, there should be the widest degree of autonomy and the fullest freedom for everyone to establish educational institutions and initiate experiments. The Mudaliar Commission on secondary education refers to “a state of affairs where schools are run more like commercial enterprises than educational institutions. In many cases private individuals or groups of individuals start schools without proper buildings or equipment and, having enrolled a number of students, create a situation where the department has no alternative but to recognize them for the sake of the students though normally such schools should never have been allowed” (Page 187). The Kuppuswamy report gives a lucid picture of some of these temples of learning: “We found one school in Guntur district located in a cattle shed, one third of the shed being occupied by two buffaloes and the other two-thirds by ninety-seven children. The buffaloes had more space between them than the children……. We were aghast to see about thirty children of the tender ages of six and seven sitting on nearly two inches of dust in an aided school in Visakhapatnam area” (Page 23).
The evils that beset the Primary and secondary stages of education are well known but soon forgotten. Persons are employed as teachers who have no training and interest in their calling. They are poorly paid and thoroughly exploited. They have no security of service. (As many as 17 teachers have been dismissed en masse from a Bombay school recently. In March last year the management of a Ferozepore college dismissed practically all professors and Punjab University had to fight for their reinstatement.) There is no distinction between the property of the school and the belongings of the proprietor or management, with the result that equipment and amenities such as radio sets books and periodicals and furniture which ought to be on school premises are to be fund in the houses of the men in control. Among the numerous other irregularities is the practice of making teachers sign receipts for salaries which are much higher than what is actually paid out to them. Such manipulation of accounts brings a higher grant from Government and makes for more fabulous profits. No wonder that the former Government of Madhya Pradesh had to order all managements to pay out the salaries to teachers through their bank accounts.
In view of the hue and cry that has been raised about the Kerala Education Bill, it is interesting to see what remedy the Mudaliar Commission has to suggest: “Managements which have failed to reach reasonable level of efficiency or have shown gross irregularities or indifference to educational interest should be given a clear directive to remedy these defects within a definite period. Attention of the State Governments may be invited to the British Education Act of 1944 which empowers the Ministry of Education to take over schools which fail to conform to conditions prescribed, and run them as State schools for a time and, eventually, hand them back to the management concerned if it is found to be in a position to take over charge. We recommend that, wherever possible, the States should similarly take over such schools. If this is not possible, it should not hesitate to close down such schools and make alternative arrangements for the education of the pupils of those institutions” (page 188).
Admittedly the Kerala Bill has some provisions of doubtful value or dangerous potentiality; for instance, the State panel for teachers, the ban on seeking court injunctions, the punishment of fine to be meted out to a parent too poor to spare the child for the school. But too much has been made of the advisory committees being packed by communists. (Are there no other political parties in the State?) Such committees have been recommended by most expert bodies with a view to providing a proper geographical distribution of schools and arousing the public from its present day attitude of apathy and non –co-operation in activities with which the future of their children is so vitally linked. Whatever the final shape and fate of the Kerala Bill, it will have done great public good if it sets the people thinking about the corrupt, commercial, unacademic and antisocial elements that threaten to look upon as their private preserve the country ‘s only nation-building activity. Rightly does a Chinese proverb say:
If you are planning for one year, plant grain;
If you are planning for ten years, plant trees;
If you are planning for a hundred years, plant men.
(Times of India-25th July, 1957).