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Co-written by Anoushka Chandarana

Despite the promotion of education by the British in pre-independent India, the population on the eve of independence in 1947 was 84% illiterate, with women forming only 9% of the literate (Singh, 2016). Colonialism had denied Indians the ability to critically think en masse, with only a few intellectuals hailing from the more affluent families being the main ideologues for the freedom struggle. Education remained a luxury few could afford and this moral entitlement that contributed much to the liberation of the Indian mindset from age-old stigmas and evils, for the most part still remained in subjugation to British clerical and petty bureaucratic needs (Anwar, 2019). Attempts were made by the British to prevent discrimination along the lines of caste and gender in educational institutions and missionary schools (Fraser, 2010). However, the promotion of a positive genre of discrimination that went a step ahead of preventing discrimination and instead actively promoted inclusion in and expansion of the educational sector had to be fought for by Indians such as Nehru and Ambedkar, who oversaw such policies being implemented post 1947 (Gupta, 1997).

Education, unlike in other, more authoritarian regimes, was allowed to be imparted by private agents and institutions in addition to those created by the state. The Second and Third Five Year Plans featured the establishment of an array of institutions ranging from the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) to the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), and from the All India Institute for Medical Sciences (AIIMS) to even agricultural and civil engineering colleges (Srivastava, 2015). The justification for the agenda for state intervention was strong, as canvassed in the 1957 and the 1962 elections, that witnessed the parallel growth and development of educational infrastructure. The state, with its large pool of resources, appeared to be, at the time, the only reliable agency that could ensure the mass education of the hordes of illiterates of the nation. The agenda to promote scientific temper, critical thought, innovation and most importantly respect for democracy, the Constitution and ideals for social justice was a top priority for the government while formulating policies relating to education.

Such a trend has continued even as of today and election manifestos until very recently, in 2014, have unfortunately portrayed a generic pattern of promises which included reservations, the need to increase the amount of graduates, emphasis on adult education, to improve teachers’ pay, provide educational loans and ensure a better quality of education. It was in the aftermath of the 2009 elections, with the passage of the Right to Education Act and the attempts to incorporate technology into pedagogy that the promises in manifestos have undergone distinct alterations.

The state of education in India

Governmental spending on education reached the lowest point in the past decade with the expenditure accounting only for 3.5% of the annual budget, despite the 2014 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Manifesto stating a share of 6% of the nation’s GDP (Chowdhury, 2019). On the other hand, the private sector witnessed turnovers of over $15.52 billion (Ghose, 2003). The Right to Education was amended as well, while on one hand making it possible to fail a student and thereby dissuading a lackadaisical attitude, but also at the same time promoting dropouts (Nanda, 2019). There is also the rampant issue of Saffronizing textbooks, with instances where the 2002 Godhra riots had the words “anti-Muslim” completely removed from the National council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) textbooks (Chopra, 2018). In other instances, studies of caste conflict and Dalit authors such as Kancha Ilaiah have witnessed their textbooks being removed from reading lists (Ibrar, 2018). The Indian Muslims have been denied their place in history textbooks as well, with Mughals being depicted only as looters and plunderers and in Maharashtra, being completely excluded from the state government’s syllabus for Indian history (Gaikwad, 2017). India has a population that is 74.04% literate on an average but however possesses great regional disparities between states.

Education and the promises in the 2019 party manifestos

The 2019 BJP manifesto, unlike its 2014 and 1996 counterparts does not mention provisions pertaining to academic freedom and the encouragement of critical thought by scholars, students, academics and intellectuals. Possibly in the aftermath of the 2016 Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) sedition row, the BJP is reluctant to mention such notions in its manifesto, despite its predecessor, the Janata Party finding its origins firmly in the student led agitations during the period of the Emergency (1975-77).  The INC has, on the other hand capitalized on this issue and promised a Students Rights Bill that seeks to protect their rights and highlight their obligations.

The BJP has mentioned the setting up of institutions for music, culture, arts, tourism and hospitality and has vowed to ensure their promotion and development to the level of the other renowned management, science and medicine institutions in India. However, institutions for agriculture, civil engineering and for other skill development for the unorganized, informal sector remain neglected. Another distinctive point has been the proposal to connect institutions with scientific research centers in order to promote a more hands on approach. The National Digital Library of India spoken of by the manifesto has met with limited success, but the proposal to provide academic journals and articles free of cost is a much needed initiative for academics in India, who often struggle with obtaining credible and accessible sources. However, it remains silent on the distribution of funds for the same since it also makes no mention of a change in the education budget.

The Indian National Congress (INC) has also taken cognizance of the fact that several entrance examinations like the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) are discriminatory against students from certain states due to linguistic constraints in relation to the language the exam is conducted in. Their proposed solution to hold the exam at the state level in regional languages shall ensure parity and fairness in terms of ease of opportunity and accessibility for the applicants. It has also promised an increase in education Budget to 6% of India’s GDP.

A comparative analysis of the promises in the manifestos

In comparison to certain clauses within its previous manifestos, and especially the ones in 1996 and 1998, the BJP has stopped their discouragement of foreign investment in educational institutions and instead has openly advocated for such investment along with the influx of foreign students in Indian universities, in their 2019 manifesto.

Both the aforementioned manifestos mention technology and its incorporation into teaching methods and the setting up of various teacher training institutes that aim to increase the quality of pedagogy, while making education more interactive and inclusive. The Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navoday Vidyalayas have also been addressed by means of promises that seek to increase their numbers due to the success they have met with since the pre-liberalisation era in providing subsidized, mass education.  However, while the INC has focused on providing a more region oriented approach and making educational vocation training compulsory from classes IX to XII, the BJP has lent itself more to the cause of the diversification of skills being taught and the devolving of funds and duties in accordance with a top-down approach.

Both signify a step ahead, albeit from different viewpoints and considering varied priorities. Ideally, one could foresee an optimum level, rate and form of development if the two different approaches were considered at once and their best aspects implemented.



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Chopra, R., (2018, March 24), In new NCERT book, Gujarat anti-Muslim riots now called Gujarat riots,  Retrieved from: https://indianexpress.com/article/education/gujarat-anti-muslim-riots-now-gujarat-riots-in-new-ncert-book-5109321/

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Gupta, D., (1997, August 8), Positive Discrimination and the Question of Fraternity: Contrasting Ambedkar and Mandal on Reservations, Retrieved from: https://www.jstor.org/stable/4405708?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Ibrar, M., (2018, October 25), Delhi University panel objects to 3 books by Kancha Ilaiah for ‘divisive content’, Retrieved from: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/du-panel-objects-to-3-books-by-kancha-ilaiah-for-divisive-content/articleshow/66354344.cms

Nanda, P., (2019, January 4), Rajya Sabha amends RTE bill, Retrieved from: https://www.livemint.com/Education/7gzaAgUXq9CYoDCo8BIvEO/Rajya-Sabha-amends-RTE-bill-scraps-nodetention-policy.html

Srivastava, P., (2015, August 22), The First Five Year Plan: the beginning of the making of India, Retrieved from: https://www.vskills.in/certification/blog/the-first-five-year-plan/

Singh, H., (2016, October 13), Literacy and Sex Ratio from 1901 to 2011, Retrieved from: https://www.jagranjosh.com/general-knowledge/census-2011-literacy-rate-and-sex-ratio-in-india-since-1901-to-2011-1476359944-1


Image Credits: India Didactics Association

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Written By Anant Venkatesh

St. Xavier's College, Mumbai

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