Public Statement on the Struggle of Correspondence Students of Delhi University

February 17, 2015
This statement is being issued by Krantikari Yuva Sangathan (KYS) as part of an ongoing militant movement of working-class youth enrolled in Delhi University’s School of Open Learning (SOL), which offers distance mode education to nearly four lakh students. We wish to begin with highlighting the huge protest rally held today (17 February 2015) by SOL students outside Delhi Secretariat. The express intention of the protest was to apprise the Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi, Shri Manish Sisodia, of the students’ numerous pending problems. During the protest, a delegation of SOL/Correspondence students submitted a memorandum to the Deputy CM, who also holds the Higher Education portfolio. Students have demanded the introduction of regular evening college in 28 colleges of Delhi University (DU) that are funded by the Delhi Government. Students also demanded the provision of all route bus pass facility for DU’s Correspondence students.

Importantly, under the aegis of KYS, DU’s Correspondence students had earlier too submitted a memorandum to the Education Minister with similar demands on 3rd February 2014, i.e. during the 49 days tenure of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government. At the time the AAP government gave little assurance of taking a proactive stand on Correspondence students’ issues. Of course, it has not escaped our notice that in the 2015 Delhi election, the AAP strategically excluded the issue of Correspondence students from its manifesto. It is precisely for this reason that the KYS-led DU SOL Students’ Union gave the call to Correspondence students to press NOTA when they went to vote.

Given the fact that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) party has come to the office this year with a thumping majority based on promises of alternative politics and of representing the marginalized sections of society, Correspondence students and KYS activists have beefed up pressure. The delegation that met the Deputy CM Sisodia during today’s protest strongly argued that the Minister should take more serious cognizance of the fact that 28 colleges of Delhi University are funded by the Delhi government and therefore can be made to cater to the needs of Correspondence students.

Expectedly, the Deputy Minister Manish Sisodia tried to skirt the issue by resorting to a typical Aam Aadmi Party populist tactic of promising something in abstract. The Minister expressed the willingness to introduce 20 new colleges in DU, while at the same time refusing to engage with the fact that of the existing 28 DU colleges funded by Delhi Government immediate remedial measures could be taken, i.e. by making the existing 28 colleges start the evening college shift and thereby accommodating Correspondence students in the regular mode. The Correspondence students also find the AAP Government’s promise of “reducing the gap between government and private schools” as an empty promise, considering the fact that the AAP government continues to bypass the long-standing demand of the Left movement for common schooling/common education system from KG to PG.

Expectedly, the lukewarm response of the Minister has convinced Correspondence students to strike back with even greater force and take their message to the city’s slums, factories, sweatshops and government schools.

The struggle of Correspondence students is an extremely important one. It is a struggle that has been waging for some years now and is based on active participation and organization of working-class youth as well as students from lower middle-class families. The fundamental issue around which the entire movement has evolved is that of inequality nurtured by the dual education system and the resulting exclusion as well as the marginalization of working-class youth within the university/higher education system.

Through their several protests outside the University Grants Commission (UGC), HRD Ministry (Government of India) and at the level of DU, Correspondence students have continuously exposed that contrary to popular conception, the distance learning mode (Correspondence) student community does not consist primarily of those who wish to pursue studies part-time. In fact a majority of students studying through the distance learning mode consists of those who wish to study in regular colleges but are forced to enroll in the correspondence mode because they do not get admission in such colleges. Majority of students enrolled in SOL come from economically impoverished and vulnerable sections of the society. Most of these youth are products of our country’s neglected government schools (such as Sarvodaya Vidyalayas) and small, poorly-run private schools. In the rat race to get into regular college education in universities like Delhi, they obviously get left behind. This is especially due to the shortage of seats in regular colleges of DU and resulting high admission cut-offs. Ironically then, government school students themselves constitute the largest section of youth who are denied admission to government-funded universities, particularly regular colleges.

Even this year 2,78,000 students applied for the undergraduate courses in regular colleges of DU. But with just 54,000 seats, most of the students have had to settle for the informal mode of education or distance learning. Most of us end up enrolling in SOL because we cannot get past the outrageously high cut-offs of the regular colleges. In such a situation, it is the duty of the Government to gradually try and ensure that an increasing number of such students are properly incorporated in regular courses. Unfortunately, the policies of successive governments have not been moving in this direction at all. As a result, there is a tendency towards increasing informalization of education for an increasing number of students. Indeed, in May-June 2014 there was an institutional pressure on behalf of DU to discontinue the Political Science Honors/B.A./B.Com undergraduate programs in SOL and to replace them with certificate/diploma courses! Due to this unholy design, the DU administration did not apply to the UGC (distance education board) for extension of recognition of its Correspondence courses. Only after much protest by Correspondence students did DU seek extension of recognition and began admission in July 2014.

The engrained anti-working class stand of the DU authorities is reflected in the actual functioning of SOL itself. SOL is running in an extremely informal and ad-hoc manner. The personal contact program (PCP) is most ineffective because the classes are very few and irregular. Even this year the classes of first year students were abruptly stopped after offering just 12 days of classes; leaving more than half of the syllabus incomplete. Similarly, classes of second and third year Correspondence students have started late, i.e. with exams just two months away. Students also pointed to a huge scam in sending messages regarding PCP classes with most of the students getting messages of just 3-4 days of classes.

Expectedly, due to non-completion of coursework and poor teaching during PCP classes, year after year, Correspondence students perform badly in DU’s examinations. With more than 50% students failing in the examinations and almost 95% students out of those passing just about scraping through, the institution’s failure to provide equal and meaningful education is evident. The fact is that there is a huge infrastructure crunch due to which SOL does not send messages to more than 20% student on any of the days of classes. On top of that even a byline is sent in the message saying: PCP classes are not compulsory just to discourage students from turning in huge numbers.

The students also pointed out that despite the fact that the number of students in the Correspondence mode is much larger than in DU’s regular colleges, the number of courses offered is too few. For example, popular courses like B.A. Honors in History, Sociology, Hindi etc. are not made available in the Correspondence mode. Moreover, the study material is outdated and is highly rote-oriented. The Library facility of SOL too is utterly inadequate and in need of a major overhaul. DU’s determination to keep SOL students outside the fold of quality higher education is also reflected in the delayed declaration of SOL B.A. results. Such delay ensures that SOL students cannot seek admission in DU’s post-graduate programs on time. Hence, every year so many eager SOL students have been turned away from seeking admission in courses like LLB, B.Ed, MA, etc. because DU fails to release their third year results in time for them to confirm their provisional admission to post-graduate courses. This is despite the fact that they pay the same examination fee and sit for the same examinations alongside regular college students of DU.

This story is not peculiar to DU’s Correspondence mode. Distance education (both at the school and higher education level) and the perpetuation of the dual system of education (i.e. co-existence of government schools and private schools) is a tool used by the Indian state to just about educate the country’s future workforce and to push working-class youth towards lower rungs of the capitalist labour market. That the interests of the working-class youth across different religious communities and castes are strategically kept out of educational reforms ensures that they continue to be excluded, or at the most, reluctantly incorporated into the margins of government-funded educational institutions. It is the message of this educational apartheid that KYS is highlighting through the struggle of DU’s Correspondence students.

Shahnawaz Jaman & Rohit Singh

Type III/300, Ayurvigyan Nagar, Near Ansal Plaza, New Delhi
Conveners: Md. Shahnawaz, Rohit
Ph.: 9958116114

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