Open Letter to HRD Minister on the problems of working class youth and students

Shri Kapil Sibal
The Hon’ble Minister
Human Resource and Development Ministry
Government of India.

Respected Sir,

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 your 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 meagre 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. In fact, many of us who are writing this letter have watched our homes being destroyed by bulldozers during our twelfth class examinations this year. 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.

This brings us to the question of how successive governments have failed to address these disadvantages faced by working class youth, and have consciously denied us adequate opportunities at the level of higher education. Sir, we strongly believe that your government’s support for the dual education system, and thereby, its promotion of privatization of education, is a major source of our ruination. By encouraging the private schools on the one hand, and, on other hand, not investing sufficiently in government schools, the government is consciously creating a condition in which affluent students of private schools (who have had access to the best facilities, teachers, as well as tuition) get the lion share of seats made available at the level of higher education. 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 5 to 7 per cent of youth make it to the level of higher education (see National Sample Survey). In actuality, a large share of this 5 to 7 per cent comprises of middle and upper-middle class youth. The working class 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 5 to 7 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 reiterate how misplaced your concern for last year’s and this year’s cut-offs has been. In 2011, when some prestigious Delhi University (DU) colleges declared cut-offs that touched 100 per cent, you expressed grave concern and assured the public that such cut-offs would not be repeated. Back then, and even today, the impact of such cut-offs on working class youth, is something you failed to consider. While your government is satisfied with the fact that the same cut-offs have not been repeated this year, can you claim that under this year’s cut-offs, working class youth will also make it to the Delhi University? And does your decision to allow the entry of foreign, private universities provide a solution to the concerns raised by working class youth? The answer to both questions is a definite no.

Firstly, despite cut-offs that are below the magic 100 per cent figure, the majority of youth who are coming from government schools, will still 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.

Secondly, 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.

High cut-offs and less number of seats are problematic in many ways. For example if there are less number of seats overall, the reserve seats will be lower. Thus reservation which was a constructive policy to bring out Dalits from the villages and traditional occupations would remain an empty box as a large number of students will not get a seat. For example in Delhi University there are 12000 odd seats reserved for SC/ST candidates whereas the number of applicants are around 24000 i.e. double the number of seats. Thus a large number of students from the reserve category are forced to go back to their villages and continue with traditional occupations. This would deny not only upward mobility but also makes Dalit students prone to caste oppression and atrocities in the villages.

Of course, such long term solution need to be supported by immediate relief measures that cater to the concerns and needs of the majority of this country’s youth. One such immediate solution which we put forward and for which we seek government intervention, is the provision of 80 per cent reservation for government school students in every category, i.e. in the general category, SC-ST category, PH and OBC category. We appeal to you and to the society at large to understand and engage with the voice of the majority. Let us not reduce education to the question of who can afford it, and let us not reduce the novel concept of subsidized education to a mockery whereby it is used to provide educational advantages to those who are already way ahead in the race. We appeal to your conscience, and ask you to transform education structure into a truly mass phenomenon in which those who are most disadvantaged, are given an equal opportunity to transform their lives via education.

KRANTIKARI YUVA SANGATHAN (KYS), DELHI UNIT OF ALL INDIA REVOLUTIONARY YOUTH ORGANISATION, T-44, Near Gopal Dairy, Baljeet Nagar, New Delhi-110008. Ph. : 9312654851 , 9313343753

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