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Kerala Education Bill

The huge demonstration in Trivandrum this week to protest against the Kerala Education Bill seems to show that a large section of the public is not satisfied with the Bill even after the considerable changes that have been suggested by the Select Committee. It is now clear that the Government were unwise to produce a Bill of this sort without first asking a competent and impartial educationalist to report in the state of primary education in Kerala. If they had done so, the public would have known more about the problems to be tackled and the weaknesses of the exciting system. Instead, a Bill was hastily drafted which gave all the appearance of being intended to pave the way for Complete State control and management of the schools. Since less than one-third of the primary schools are at present State-run, the Bill naturally caused considerable alarm and gave rise to the suspicion that the Government were determined one some kind of nationalization. As we have pointed out before Kerala has the highest percentage of literacy in India and ninety percent of children of school age are already under instruction. The Bill makes it clear that the object of the Government is to provide for compulsory education of all children between the ages of six and fourteen within ten years and that poor children will be assisted with clothing, books and noon-day meals as well as with free tuition. This is a laudable objective but what the Government failed to realise was the immense contribution that private agencies have made to education and the unwisdom of giving these pioneers the impression that the State did not appreciate the work they have already done.

The Bill as reported on by the Select Committee goes some way to mitigate the harshness of the provisions of the original Managements are to be permitted to close down their schools provided one year’s notice is given. Alienation of school property is to be permitted except where it is clear that such rules would adversely affect the working of the institution. As regards the appointment of teachers from a panel of names (a provision which was strongly criticised by private managements.) it is now considered that the Public Service Commission may select candidates both in Government and aided schools and allow the managers to appoint any person from the list. But the clause that no teacher of an aided school shall be dismissed, reduced in rank or suspended by the manager without previous sanction of the Government still remains and is likely to weaken the authority of all private schools and create serious problems of internal discipline. In cases of mismanagement, the Government is empowered to take over a school in the interest of the pupils of the school but the management may apply to the Government for its restoration and satisfy the Government that they are competent to resume control. This is not unfair, but unfortunately Clause 15 which gives the Government blanket powers to take over aided schools “for standardising general education in the State or improving the level of literacy in any area remains practically unchanged. The only mitigation of this Clause is that a resolution of the Kerala Assembly is necessary for such an action. So long as this provision remains in the Bill, the fears of private agencies that at any moment any number of schools may be taken over even when there is no question or mismanagement or inefficiency, will remain. Standardisation can easily be brought about without State ownership and there is really no excuse for taking over properly run institutions that have proved their worth in the past and built up a reputation for the agencies which have conducted them all these years.

(The Hindu-30th August, 1957)