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2005: Historic Year for Indian Education

Education World, 30 June, 1999
By Parth J Shah

The year 2005 was remarkable for unprecedentedly frenzied activity in the education sector. Like latter day Rip Van Winkles, India's somnambulistic politicians seem to have woken to the reality that the rest of the world which was quick to discern the vitally important connection between education and national development, has left the sovereign, socialist, secular, etc Republic of India which harbours over 350 million complete illiterates, way behind.

Hence a flurry of activity in the education sector in the year that was. The presentation of the most pro-education Union budget in Indian history; the formulation of a new child-friendly National Curriculum Framework for School Education; establishment of a National Knowledge Commission to transform India into a 21st century knowledge society; circulation of a draft Right to Education Bill 2005, which makes it mandatory for the State (i.e. government) to provide free and compulsory elementary education to all children between ages six-14; promulgation and passage of the 104th amendment to the Constitution which makes it obligatory for all non-minority aided and unaided education institutions to provide state government determined quotas for scheduled castes, tribes and socio-economically disadvantaged classes.

All these initiatives which will deeply impact the future of the nation's primary, secondary and tertiary institutions were taken during the past 12 months. Moreover for the first time since the First Plan era, the Central and state governments' combined allocation for education crossed 4 percent of GDP.

In the following pages Education World's Summiya Yasmeen presents a more detailed retrospective of landmark initiatives of the recently concluded calendar year which may well prompt future historians to notify it as an annus mirabilis when education moved from the periphery to the near-centre of national consciousness.

Unicef highlights India 's child neglect record

January 1. India received a damning indictment of its pathetic child health and education record. Unicef's The State of the World's Children Report 2005, highlighted that 175 million children (below 18 years) in contemporary India suffer utter poverty and deprivation. Of every 100 children born in this country, only 35 births are registered, seven won't make it to their first birthday (of whom five die of malnutrition), 47 remain underweight and only 53 complete primary school. Girl children suffer more. An estimated 43 percent of adolescent girls are anaemic and 31 percent drop out of school every year.

The indicators of child deprivation defined by the report are lack of shelter, unsafe drinking water and sanitation, health and food insecurity, lack of school access, low infant mortality, malnutrition, child labour and child abuse. The report indicates that only 33.9 percent of India 's child population has proper shelter and a mere 30 percent accesses sanitation facilities. Moreover only one in four of 26.2 million children suffering chronic diarrhoea receive basic oral rehydration treatment.

Comments Unicef director Carol Bellamy in her preface to SWC 2005 : "As children go, so go nations." (See Education News, EW January 2005)

Supreme Court crackdown on private varsities

February 11 . A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court forced closure of 97 self-financing private universities registered in Chattisgarh, declaring the state law which had allowed 112 private varsities to spring up in the newly demarcated state (November 2000), ultra vires . According to the Supreme Court order in Prof. Yashpal & Anr vs state of Chattisgarh & Ors, ss.5 and 6 of the Chattisgarh Private Sector Universities (Establishment and Regulation) Act 2002, enacted by the Congress government led by chief minister Ajit Jogi (voted out of office in 2004) which empowered the state government to register and establish universities through a mere gazette notification and to set up campuses anywhere in the country with prior (discretionary) approval, were unconstitutional.

This verdict hit several high profile varsities including Amity, Rai and Kalinga, endangering the future of 30,000 students, 1,000 faculty and a network of ancillary study centres and mini-campuses of private universities established as far afield as Haryana, Delhi , Punjab and farther.

Reacting, a University Grants Commission (UGC) committee constituted by the Union HRD ministry recommended that the nearest UGC recognised universities take students of denotified varsities under their wings. (See Education News, EW March 2005)

India 's most pro-education Union budget

February 28. Union finance minister P. Chidambaram gave education top billing in the Union government's Budget of 2005-06. "On priority sectors and flagship programmes falling under the NCMP (National Common Minimum Programme), I propose to provide an additional sum of Rs.25,000 crore in the next year. For example the allocation for education in 2005-06 will be 18,337 crore ( cf. 10,475 crore last year). Next only to education, the plan allocation for rural development will be Rs.18,334 crore. On subsidy for fertilisers the estimate is Rs.16,254 crore. The estimated expenditure on health and family welfare is Rs.10,280 crore," said Chidambaram in his budget presentation address to Parliament.

However an EducationWorld budget analysis cover story (April) highlighted that the Rs.18,337 crore budgeted by the Central government has to be spread over 31 states and four Union territories of India . Assuming that 375 million of the 415 million children under 18 years require some sort of education, the per capita provision of the Union budget is Rs.489 per year or a mere Rs.40 per month, i.e less than $1. If the 29 state governments' combined outlay for education (Rs.92,000 crore) is added to the Centre's budgetary allocation for education, the per capita expenditure on education for 375 million children rises to Rs.2,940 per year or Rs.245 (US$4.5) per month. (See Cover Story, EW April 2005)

National Curriculum Framework 2005 presented

May 7 . The draft National Curriculum Framework (NCF) 2005 for school education authored by National Council for Education Research & Training (NCERT) was formally presented to the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE). NCF 2005 was the outcome of a mountain of labour spread over ten months of 21 national focus groups supervised by a National Steering Committee and chaired by well-known scientist and former chairman of the University Grants Commission Prof. Yash Pal. The steering committee comprising 35 highly respected educationists - professors, NGO leaders, school teachers and intellectuals from across the country - edited, abridged and incorporated the recommendations of the 21 focus groups into the draft NCF 2005.

Despite protests from BJP-ruled states, NCF 2005 whose stated objective is to reduce the "curriculum load and the tyranny of examinations", will be implemented across the country in the academic year beginning June 2006. (See Cover Story, EW July 2005)

Tamil Nadu entrance exams ban

June 6. Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa signed a government order abolishing all entrance examinations to institutes of professional education (medical, dental, engineering, business management, pharmacy, etc) for the academic year 2005-06. Under the order, marks obtained in the Plus Two (class XII) examination would be the sole criterion for admissions into colleges of professional education in Tamil Nadu (pop.62 million).

This out-of-the-blue diktat promulgated on the rationale that it would create a level playing field for rural school leaving students who don't have access to the state's ubiquitous (and expensive) coaching classes, elicited a chorus of protest from students across the state, particularly from 2.5 lakh students who had already written the Tamil Nadu Professional Courses Entrance Examination (TNPCEE), All India Engineering Entrance Examination (AIEEE) and the state government's 'improvement examination'. Over 400 writ petitions were filed in the Madras high court in the immediate aftermath of the order.

Admitting the petitions on June 23 and hearing preliminary arguments, a two-judge bench (Chief Justice Markandey Katju and Justice F.M. Ibrahim) ruled the June 6 order inoperative for professional colleges in the academic year 2005-06. Since Tamil Nadu hosts schools affiliated with three examination boards - the state board, CBSE and CISCE - common entrance tests are mandatory, observed the judges. "If the government relies only on the marks obtained in the Plus Two examination, Article 14 of the Constitution which provides equal opportunity to all is violated," they opined. (See Education News, EW July 2005)

Private schools quota recommendation

June 30. A 88-page Report of CABE ( Central Advisory Board of Education ) on Free and Compulsory Education Bill and Other Issues Related to Elementary Education was submitted to the Union human resource development minister Arjun Singh. Constituted by the HRD ministry to "suggest draft of legislation envisaged in a new Article 21A of the Constitution" ( viz , "the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may, by law determine") enacted following the 86th amendment to the Constitution in 2002, the CABE committee, chaired by Union minister of state for science and technology and ocean development Kapil Sibal, recommended a revolutionary draft Bill.

The most controversial recommendation of the committee was the reservation of 25 percent seats for "children belonging to the weaker sections" in class I in all private aided and unaided schools countrywide. (See Cover Story, EW September 2005)

National Knowledge Commission launched

August 2. Prime minister Manmohan Singh formally inaugurated the National Knowledge Commission charged with the mission of transforming India into a full-fledged 21st century knowledge society. The commission is chaired by Satyen ('Sam') Pitroda, the charismatic technologist-visionary widely acknowledged as the leader of India 's telecom revolution, and comprises a stellar panel of commission members including intellectuals, businessmen and academics.

Specifically, the brief of the Knowledge Commission is: to "build excellence in the educational system to meet the knowledge challenges of the 21st century and increase India's competitive advantage in the fields of knowledge"; energise the country's moribund science and technology laboratories; promote knowledge application in agriculture and industry, and install workable e-governance systems towards "making government an effective, transparent and accountable service provider".

Prime minister Manmohan Singh assured the commission of the government's "fullest possible support". Moreover within the academic community there is considerable optimism that the high powered National Knowledge Commission will produce a series of action recommendations which could energise India 's moribund higher education institutions. (See Cover Story, EW November 2005)

Supreme Court frees professional education colleges

August 12. A seven-judge bench of the Supreme Court struck down the prevalent practice of state governments appropriating more than 60-85 percent of capacity in privately promoted unaided (i.e financially independent) 327 medical and 1,346 engineering colleges across the country for students topping the CETs (Common Entrance Tests) of state governments in P.A. Inamdar vs. State of Maharashtra (Appeal (Civil) 5041 of 2005). By this unanimous judgement the apex court upheld and reaffirmed its own earlier 11-judge bench verdict in TMA Pai Foundation & Ors vs . State of Karnataka & Ors (2002 8 SCC 481) which had freed privately promoted unaided colleges of professional education countrywide from state government stipulated caste-based reservations and government mandated tuition fees.

However the Supreme Court's landmark judgement which reaffirmed the right of religious and linguistic minorities to "establish and administer educational institutions of their choice" as mandated by Article 30 of the Constitution and expanded this fundamental right to all citizens, aroused the wrath of Parliament. On August 17 Union human resource development minister Arjun Singh assured angry Lok Sabha members cutting across all party lines that the Union government would enact a constitutional amendment law to overrule the court's verdict to ensure that reservations would continue to be provided for "SC/ STs (scheduled castes and scheduled tribes) and other backward castes" in all institutions of professional education, including private unaided colleges. Soon after the HRD ministry drafted the 104th Constitutional Amendment Bill, 2005 and a Private Professional Educational Institutions (Regulation of Admission and Fixation of Fee) Bill, 2005. (See Cover Story, EW October 2005)

New IIT eligibility norms

September 17. A new format for the joint entrance examination (JEE), topping which is the prerequisite of entry into the country's seven IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) was announced by the joint admission board of the IITs. The key changes in the new format include: eliminating the screening test and making JEE a single objective type written examination; mandating a minimum average of 60 percent or equivalent in the class XII school board examination for eligibility to write JEE; changing the question paper pattern which will henceforth require short write-ups in physics, chemistry and maths followed by objective type questions. In addition the new exam format bars students from rewriting JEE after admission, in an attempt to bag a seat in a more favoured IIT.

The new JEE eligibility requirements sparked vociferous student protests in New Delhi, Patna, Varanasi, Kota, Lucknow and Kanpur drawing an accusation from Union human resource development minister Arjun Singh that the powerful coaching schools lobby had engineered protests against the revised norms. (See Education News, EW October 2005)

Right to Education Bill, 2005 posted for debate

October. Following the recommendations of the Sibal Committee, a composite new Right to Education Bill, 2005 was approved by the Union HRD ministry in October and posted on its official website the same month for public debate. Consequently the Bill which was scheduled to be enacted by Parliament in the winter session has been deferred to the budget session and is under strict scrutiny and analysis. In particular the Delhi-based think tank Centre for Civil Society has launched a 'Stop the Right to Education Bill 2005' campaign with the intention of drawing attention of policy makers and other stakeholders to flaws in the Bill. According to Dr. Parth Shah, president of CCS the bill is flawed as it would restrict school choice of parents and expand the layers and powers of the education bureaucracy. (See Cover Story, EW September and this month).

AMU minority status row

October 4. A single-judge bench judgement of the Allahabad high court pronounced on October 4, shot down the grant of minority status to Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) way back in 1981 as violative of the Constitution. A special AMU Amendment Act, 1981, passed during the prime ministership of Indira Gandhi had conferred minority status upon the university.

On the authority of the AMU (Amendment Act) 1981, in early 2005 the Union HRD ministry had given the all clear to the university management reserving 50 percent of postgraduate capacity for Muslim students. But in his judgement Justice Tandon quashed all admissions and gave the AMU management 30 days to complete the process of admissions afresh.

On October 13 following widespread protests from the university's teachers' association and the student union, the Union government declared its intention to appeal to the Supreme Court against the high court order. Ditto the university's management. (See Education News, EW November 2005)

Constitution amendment for quotas

December 21. Parliament unanimously approved the 104th Constitutional Amendment Bill, 2005 restoring reservation for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in not just unaided private professional educational institutions, but in all private educational institutions including private schools. The amendment Bill received the complete backing of the Lok Sabha with only one MP voting against and one abstaining.

Earlier, on August 12 a seven-judge bench of the Supreme Court had struck down the right of the Central and state governments to appropriate admission quotas at state government determined tuition fees in private unaided colleges of professional education.

Read the report on Education World



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