Urging political parties to free the country’s education system from their clutches, top bureaucrats opined that parties should unite and speak in a common voice when it came to education as it involves nation building and the system should strictly conform to the tenets of the Constitution.
Participating in a panel discussion on ‘Politicisation of Education,’ at the ‘ThinkEdu Conclave’ organised by The New Indian Express on Thursday, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit said sadly, political parties were more interested in building their outfits than building the nation which is why the education system must be based on the Indian Constitution.
Stressing that education in the 21st century should focus on skill development, she said innovation and character and mind-building should be part of the academic system. “To build a better nation, we must build better citizens who can get jobs,” she pointed out.
Rejecting the ‘myth’ about the performance of government schools, she said children who went to such schools performed extremely well. “In Delhi, it is the government schools which have produced better results - 87 per cent for boys and 80 per cent for girls - than private institutions,” the Congress leader said. “Such students also get into civil services and professional courses.” She stressed that education system should be based on the principle of ‘live and let live,’ equal opportunities for all, character building and patriotism.
Taking a dig at the disparity in education that existed among States, Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal said that it was perhaps easier to get a parking ticket in Delhi, than to get a child admitted to kindergarten, “When I got my son admitted to Vasant Valley school here, I was asked to wait for a day and then had to attend an interview - all this to get a child admitted to KG. Honestly, its easier to get a parking ticket there,” he said, much to the Delhi CM’s chagrin.
On a more serious note, Badal pointed out that this imbalance in quality was caused by the fact that there was no regulating mechanism, “They have become like business shops, stacked in a line. Our priority as a country has never been the education ministry. Are we serious about education? Because all we seem to be doing is creating uneducated literates,” said Badal. Looking forward, Badal said that the need of the hour was for the centre to up the budget for education from the existing 3 per cent to a more inclusive amount.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna said parties should stop opposing legislation for the sake of opposition and must speak in one voice on issues of education. He said while funds were indeed adequate, what was missing was the creation of infrastructure that could provide quality education to the students. In his own State, Bahuguna said literacy was 80 per cent but even some of the postgraduates were finding it hard to write a paragraph in English. Another serious issue was the growing cost of education which excluded a large section from the system.
Bahuguna said the Delhi gang-rape incident reflected the kind of education that was being imparted. “What are we teaching our youth? There seems to be no sense of morality that our glorious past represents,” he said.
He also said that politicians should keep away from using education system for political gain. “Political difference should be thrown to the background. Nation building is what is important,” he observed.
Minister of State for Environment Jayanthi Natarajan, however, had a much liberal view. She said the passage of the Right to Education Act was the legacy of the UPA government headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi.
She said the legislation was the political response for the demand for an affordable, accessible and quality education. She rued that there were still schools having 3,000 girls on its rolls that did not have proper toilet facilities.
BJP President Rajnath Singh slammed the education system and said the country could achieve greatness only if it moved back to the ‘roots of its glorious past.’He felt education had for long been used as a weapon by rulers to further their agenda. In ancient times, the State interfered little in the affairs of the educational institutions.
“Even when Yudhishthira gambled with the Kauravas, he said the land that had given educational and religious institutions would not be part of the bet,” he said and then took a dig at the Congress by saying most of its founding members were immersed in the colonial system.