Shri Pranab Mukherjee
The Hon’ble President of India
We write to you as part of our initiative to apprise the general public of this country of the multifarious and crippling problems faced by working class youth who wish to pursue higher education. We realize that your own privileged social background, as well as past current political association, will, in all probability, prevent you from pursuing a sympathetic assessment of our concerns. However, we still appeal to your authority and sense of humanity, and ask your office to consider the following facts and concerns highlighted by us.
Sir, it is a well-known fact that the majority of working class youth of this country end up studying in government schools, and despite our best efforts, we still lag behind students who are able to pursue their education from expensive and reputed private schools. It is not that we do not labour and study diligently. In fact, because we belong to working class families, we are well aware of the value of labour. Working hard to survive is strategy taught to us from birth, and it is the principle we follow even when it comes to studies. However, it is clear to us that despite the valuable contribution made to the economy by the working masses, their children’s educational rights are assigned little value. Majority of the government schools we study in are divested of proper resources like adequate teachers, supply of teaching aids, good infrastructure, etc. This dismal condition at the school level is aggravated by the extremely precarious conditions in which we live.
The large majority of our families live in one room apartments because of the meager wages earned by us and our parents. And needless, to say most of this housing is situated in the city’s slums and JJ colonies—many of which face the threat of demolition. Even if we want to rise above all these obstacles and problems such as the temporariness of our homes, we find ourselves severely handicapped by the simple fact that our families cannot afford tuitions. Forced to pay high rents and to meet rising prices of essential commodities, our parents are unable to put aside money for tuitions, or to purchase much-needed study material. Sadly, despite their desire to see us perform well, our parents are sometimes compelled to ask us to work as well, in order to contribute to the family income. Hence, the current government education policy is such that higher education has become out of reach for majority of this country’s youth, i.e. youth belonging to the working masses. It is extremely disturbing that the government provides subsidized education only till the school level. Beyond school education, the government adamantly refuses to utilize public money in a manner which makes subsidized higher education available to working class youth. Instead, the doors to higher education are opened only to the select few who have proved to be “meritorious”, i.e. those who have undergone private schooling, and hence, have the marks.
Clearly, this skewed education policy which has existed for years, has ensured that only around 12 per cent of youth make it to the level of higher education (see National Sample Survey). In actuality, a large share of this small section comprises of middle and upper-middle class youth. The working class youth do not get a seat in the regular colleges and are forced to pursue higher education from correspondence and non-collegiate higher education boards. Needless to say, correspondence courses, etc. represent the poorly invested sector within the higher education field—a fact well highlighted in the kind of teaching provided, the lack of classroom infrastructure and the poor performance of correspondence students. The above-mentioned figure of 12 per cent also reflects the simple fact that governments like yours, perceive higher education as an opportunity which should be provided to the minority and not to the masses. After all, an inclusive, mass higher education program would not allow the system to reproduce workers from amongst the society’s youth, because if every youth was to pursue a BA or B.Sc. course, who would line up outside the city’s factories for a job.
Having said this, we would like to draw your attention to the extremely high cut-off list released by the University of Delhi for admissions this year. This in fact is not a new development, cut-offs have been rising continuously over the past few years which means that the majority of youth who are coming from government schools, will not get admission in universities like DU. Why would we, when the quality of education provided to us in government schools allows us to barely pass the Board examinations. It is here that we would like to highlight the bitter irony of the higher education system—public money is being used not for the betterment of those who most need it, but for those who are from the affluent sections of society, have got the best, and have, hence, scored the most. At this point, you may like to argue that some government school students do make it to higher educational institutions. However, we would like to highlight how this is a misconception yet again. The tremendously small segment of working class youth who make it to the level of higher education, often fail to perform (complete their course, to score well, etc.) because of the lack of essential, complementary facilities like remedial coaching and scholarships. There are, in fact, numerous instances of working class youth being unable to pay their tuition fees. Given the existing state of affairs we have reached the conclusion that cut-off system is nothing but an expression of educational apartheid meant to eliminate students from the working class background from higher education.
It is ironic that this year with the implementation of FYUP the number of students enrolled in the University would eventually go up by 33% due to the introduction of an extra-year of education, i.e. the fourth year of the Honours Course but the students’ intake in the first year remains as before. This sort of approach to higher education clearly reflects the elitist bias of the government policy makers who now wish to teach the already privileged students one year extra but are completely insensitive to the plight of those who do not get admission at all.
Further privatization of higher education via entry of foreign universities, etc. is far from a solution to the on-going problem. It will only result in more private players entering the field of education in the bid to misuse a social need for private, business greed. Education will all the more become an opportunity to be provided to those who can buy it. And lastly, it is only with greater investment in education by the government that the current situation can be improved. The building of more government subsidized schools and colleges, rather than paving the way for expensive foreign universities, is the permanent solution.
Sir this policy of educational apartheid is a source of intense discontent in the society, and the protests such as ours are early signs of an impending general crisis in our society. We call upon your good office to take cognizance of this issue and take immediate steps to address it in a just and comprehensive manner before it is too late.
Image Soure: Official Presidential Profile – Govt. Of India