We need guts to know

No more pencils, no more books

No more teacher’s dirty looks

Out for Summer, out till fall

We might not come back at all

School’s out  forever, school’s out with fever

Alice Cooper

The Covid-19 has thrown new challenges to all spheres of life including education, and our experiences with life are increasingly becoming painful. This is the time for us to abandon nose-in-air arrogance and head-in-sand ignorance attitude to life and living. The three core issues that have gained visibility in these disturbing times, and need close scrutiny, are:  one, everybody is looking towards state for resolution of problems giving rise to the idea of ‘maximal state with  minimal market’. Two, pandemic may not go for a long time, we need to  brainstorm collectively in order to find some way  forward. Three, we need to develop the art of long view and be future-ready, rather than future-blind.

First: the concept of  maximal state means more state funding of education and removing  pernicious impact of neo-liberal onslaught on it. More state funding is different from more state control. The state considers all financial support and spends on education as investment  and not as expenditure. It augurs well that Draft National Educational 2019 ( Kasturirangan committee)  envisions significant increase in public investment in education. This per report would  go  up from the current 10 percent of overall public expenditure in education to 20 percent over a period of  10 years. In the estimation of committee public expenditure is not restricted to funds by central and state governments from their revenue but also includes funds deployed by public sector corporations as a part of their CSR efforts, in line with the Companies Act, 2013. The policy makers need to understand that public education has as its basic mediator the people and not the government. It makes sense when K Kasturirangan Committee states in very simple words that “financial autonomy does not mean cut in funding but rather the freedom to decide how best to spend funds to maximize educational attainments”. The truth  is that Germany and Sweden are both capitalist countries but the higher education falls outside the influence of market forces. This holds true for Canada as well. The one aspect of pandemic education would mean more and more grants to core sectors dealing with human resource development, particularly education. The empirical reality however, suggests that  state’s commitment to education is on decline. The union budget for (2015-16) has reduced funds for higher education  to the tune of Rs 3900 crore. Government spending on education has declined from 4.7 percent in (2013-14) to 3.65 percent in (2016-17). Surprisingly there is underfunding of primary and child development  projects  also, considering its significance in an unequal society. The allocation for the integrated child development services (ICDS)  scheme fell by 6.5 percent in 2015-16 and further in 2016-17. The state governments already laboring  under financial stress have added to the chaos. In 2017 the Uttar Pradesh government reduced budgetary funds by 42 percent for secondary schools and by 90 percent for colleges. Today, we find the rise of “almighty centre” in India and state governments with no money to fight the pandemic. All sections of society are experiencing the economic pain of the pandemic. The idea of maximal state should mean more state aid to education which is not same as state control.

Second: It  shall  remain a matter of great curiosity  for academics and parents  as to how public funding of education is segregated from student-centric resource generation. Public universities in India (Kashmir University included )  have embarked on the process of internal resource generation which has  acquired numerous forms and  often ugly dimensions  viz, creation of special seats for non-resident Indians, starting of vocational courses, fee hike, enhancing admission, examination, sports and youth welfare related charges, affiliation and inspection fee on college, hostel welfare fund etc. The Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar raises  186.86 crore  from internal sources (mainly fees) and 50 crore from government grant  with an overall income of  235.86 crore {2016-17, The Tribune 2016}. While internal resource generation to an extent is desirable but public education should not become unbearable for parents and students. Pandemic education should mean reducing the burden on parents, particularly the poor. The civil society actors, academics and policy-planners  need to intensely scrutinize/audit the internal governance structures in universities and more particularly the state universities to find out the reasons for taxing parents beyond a point.   In many  universities thee funds have been used for activities remotely connected with research or teaching. There is need for internal governance in universities and in their governing bodies so as to inject innovation and professional expertise in decision-making. The line of demarcation between a public and private university must remain visible.

Third: Within the matrix of public education we need to find out the discrepancy in funding between state and the central universities to capture the direction and imprint of centralization on policy of higher education. In 2015-16 roughly 56 percent of UGC plan grants and 88 percent non-plan grants went to central universities. The state universities received 19 percent and 4.3 percent respectively. The managers of state universities would definitely like to know as to how  state universities are less public compared to central universities as far as student intake and financial requirements are concerned and do policy planners think that state universities are marginal in the task of nation-building in contemporary India? According to one estimate 80% of our students in India are in the undergraduate compartment of higher education. The pandemic crisis should enable us to flatten the curve when it comes to funding the two type of universities.

Finally, the draft education policy was produced in pre-Covid -19 circumstances and needs to be fine-tuned. The Covid-19 may mark a paradigm shift in education. The UGC  has already written to universities to study the pandemics that have struck world at different periods of history and draw proper lessons for the present and posterity. Further, the K. kasturirangan report also needs to think afresh about online classes and degrees that have assumed critical significance due to the pandemic. The HRD ministry makes headlines these days and the minister is routinely tweeting video messages to students and teachers appealing to them to stay connected through online education and also seeking suggestions from parents. The pandemics as a matter of fact must factor in our thinking and imagination at different levels. The very process of curriculum development must be informed by how Covid 19 is going to shape the new socio-economic order. The world faces the prospect of a profound shift: a return to nature meaning thereby a  ‘self-sufficient economy’ which obviously doesn’t mean insularity or isolation. Some experts are already thinking about what they call as “Natural Economy”. For on-line classes and degrees the different stakeholders need to think seriously about preparedness at different levels to catch up with objectives of virtual education. We need to  ensure ‘six-tier’  readiness in the system before expecting any concrete results. There ought to be readiness at the level of university/college, faculty readiness, library , technology and last but not the least the readiness of the student. An estimated 12 million students in schools in USA have no internet connection at home. According to NITI Auyug  55000 villages in India  are without mobile network coverage.

Finally, higher education is not all about rankings/grades  and research projects for the university. Education should not become an act of war and don’t need education warriors. Education is all about culture and organization for which funds are not the only requirement. Mao- Tse Tung always claimed that he “studied at the university of green forests”. In 1950 he ordered youth to go to mountains and to the country side to get re-educated by the poor and middle peasants. Late Benazir Bhutto wrote: half the Muslim population is illiterate. The combined GDP of OIC is about same as that of France. Shockingly 15 million citizens of tiny Greece buy more  books annually than do all Arabs”( Benazir Bhutto in Reconciliation, Islam, Democracy and the West). Gottlieb Willhelm  Leitner-Hungarian Jew founded historic Govt. college Lahore  to give education to Muslims. The motto of the college is “courage to know” and its  apt translation was given by Faiz Ahmed Faiz – “Jurrat-i-tahqeeq”. We need guts to know. The Kothari commission rightly observed that  a nation cannot rise above the level of its teachers.

Prof Gull Mohammad Wani is a well known political analyst. Currently he heads Department of Political Science, Kashmir University