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Reform of the “Reformers”.

The Education Bill, introduced in to the Kerala Legislative Assembly by the Minister of Education, Mr. Joseph Mundassery, has given rise to a storm of protest. A controversialist in Malayalam literature, an unusually forceful critic, who has trodden on too many toes, Mr. Mundassery, obviously, does not mind criticisms. But it is a loss to letters in Kerala that he has, though perhaps only temporarily, withdrawn from writing, to take up administration. One is reminded of the failing of a tiger, who, being maimed, gives up hunting and eating rich flesh, and lurks to prey on defenseless man. Nearly in the same manner Mr. Mundassery, who used to chase the toadies, charlatans or pedants in Malayalam, confines himself, for the moment, to legislation to catch poor school managers, whose curriculum and account books do not tally with the Communist ideology and arithmetic. He, surely, has greater imagination, better skill and finer tastes than were needed to produce this type of an Education Bill, a vile concoction of cheap ingredients from the Moscow kitchen. The measure is foreign to the composite culture of Kerala.

It is true that, even though Communists favour nationalization of schools, the Bill suggests no direct attempt in this direction. On the contrary, it says that, to provide educational facilities, the Government may not only maintain its own schools, but also “permit any educational agency to establish and maintain aided schools,” and “recognize any school established and maintained by any other agency.” But to revert to the metaphor about the tiger, this clause will seem, to many, like the pretence of Mr. Stripes, in the story, who says that he is a holy animal and his stripes are ashes. For, clause 17 says that to standardize general education, to improve the level of literacy in any area or to bring education of any category under its control, the Government may take over any aided school, and also any school, which is recognized, but not aided, after paying compensation on the basis of the market value of the property. We grant that the Government will not interfere needlessly. But it may have,- and if it has it may not hesitate to enforce- ideas of standardization contrary to principles and methods now approved. The Government should not take over any private school unless it is proved that the management is unable to maintain it efficiently, and to the benefit of the community.

The Bill seeks to impose too many restrictions on managements. It says that all teachers in an aided school shall be appointed by the manager from a panel of names supplied by an authority constituted by the Government. This will be a serious encroachment on the manager’s rights; it may also make it more difficult for him to maintain discipline, and efficiency in the work of the staff. The Government may prescribe qualifications, and also have a register of teachers; as now; and it should be open to a manager to choose whom he prefers from the register. The provision that it shall be lawful for the Government to regulate and control the establishment, management, and maintenance of aided schools sounds ominous when read with other Draconian provisions. One of these is that if a manager furnishes a statement, false or incorrect in any particular, of the property of his school, he is liable to be punished with imprisonment for one year, or with fine amounting to Rs. 1,000 or both.

Equally drastic is the clause saying that no transfer of such property shall be made without the previous permission of any authority crated by the Government. To crown all, the Bill (clause 31) lays down that no court shall grant any permanent or temporary injunctions restraining any proceedings under the proposed Act. It will be undemocratic to oust the jurisdiction of the judiciary in that manner.

It may be that abuses have crept in to the present organization and that further steps have to be taken to protect the interests of teachers and to help the progress of education. But duties and responsibilities of managements should also be taken in to account; and non-official agencies should be enabled to make their contribution to the spread of knowledge and enlightenment as hitherto. The preamble to the Bill is couched in inspiring words: “Whereas it is deemed necessary to provide for the development and better organization of educational institutions in the State providing a varied and comprehensive educational service throughout the State.” The text has to be brought in to closer conformity with that ideal. For all these purposes, the ministry should consult all sections of opinion in the State and draft a new measure. Hasty legislation may lead to greater difficulties. Reformers, not only communists, but also others who want to change the social and economic order, seem to be in too great a hurry. A more urgent need is for them to reform themselves so that, instead of being vexatiously over- zealous, they may exercise greater restraint, consult the needs and wishes of the people more carefully, and introduce good laws, which will not have to be amended frequently.

(The Mail—21st July, 1957)