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Education & Political Stoicism

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By Roli S

This is election season and no doubt each political party is laying claim to bringing about the change needed to take this great nation forward. The doling out of the sops, in the form of waiving of loans, giving cash rewards and job creation, etc., is high on the agenda. There is also talk of spending huge sums on infrastructure development.
Why is it then that development of the education sector is not taken up as a serious issue by the Indian political class? What holds them up? If education is so important for development, why doesn’t it make a difference to the outcome of elections?
Various theories have been propagated to explain why the emphasis on the development of education sector does not have a far reaching impact on election results.
There is this belief among the political class that decisions in the field of education are usually quite illegible to the public eye. Some of the decisions look inconsequential, while others look so obviously correct that no one bothers to examine them. It neither generates urgency nor sensationalism; their political consequences, therefore, are rare and insignificant. For example the decision — taken with genuine political consensus — about diluting the no-detention policy of the Right to Education Act. Politicians of just about every hue supported it. In the media, too, there was little criticism. Though it was a retrograde step, it looked as if it was the right thing to do at that time. The decision later was amended by many and even CBSE has reverted to the old scheme of examinations recently.
Why have I tabled this example? I have done so to demonstrate that bad decisions taken in education carry little political cost. Rural voters respond to chronic shortages of electricity or bad roads. Urban voters feel good about a party during whose regime the water supply improved or more jobs were added. This kind of urgent reaction does not happen in the case of poorly-maintained schools or high failure rate in examination.
You can’t think of an election in which an education-related demand brought voters together. Nor can you think of an election in which the neglect or mismanagement of education led to a party’s defeat. The status of education as an election issue is much lower than that of bijli, sadak, pani and naukri. Apparently, people don’t expect much change or improvement in education. There is widespread acceptance of the state’s failure on the education front. Acceptance is also reflected in the general willingness of people to turn to privately-run institutions when state institutions fail to satisfy. This point looks a lot sharper as a statement than it is in social reality. The search for private alternatives is part of a long unfolding of common distrust in state institutions and the legitimate feeling that no individual can have a say in how these state institutions are run.
Having deliberated on the issue why education does not impact the outcome of elections and why political parties do not make it a serious election agenda, I would like readers to know about Atishi Marlena, who has changed the face of the state run schools in Delhi area. Though she no longer holds her position as advisor to the Delhi Education Minister, Manish Sisodia, as she was sacked in April 2018, she did during her tenure upgrade Delhi government schools’ infrastructure, improved learning in three months through Mission Buniyaad, shaped the Happiness Curriculum, strengthened private school regulations and shot up Delhi government schools’ pass percentage. In the 2018 Class XII examinations, Delhi government schools recorded a jump in pass percentage of 2.37 percent over 2017, to stand at 90.64 percent. It was 7.6 percent higher than the national CBSE average, showing the best results in 20 years. This promoted a rush to join the state-run government schools rather than private institutions.
This point – this person for education is in the fray for the upcoming Lok Sabha Elections, as people like her will keep their date with their passions. In Atishi’s case this is no doubt education. She belives that parliament is where a lot of questions on education are debated and discussed, but very few in the House know what the real issues are within the domain today. She claims that having worked in education all these years, if she does win the current elections, it would be a win not only for heself but also a win for an important discourse in politics, because, so far, elections have been won on the basis of caste, religion, money and liquor. If education can become a central issue, and elections can be won on the plank of educational reform, then that in itself would be a great, positive shift for politics.
This example of Atishi as a politician and education activist brings me to my initial questions: Why is it that development of the education sector is not taken up as a serious issue by Indian political class? If education is so important for development, why doesn’t it make a difference to the outcome of elections?

(Roli S is an Educator, Author, Teacher Trainer and School Reviewer based in Mumbai)