Dear Friends-

We would like to share with you a letter that we have just sent to Members of Parliament in India regarding the 93rd Amendment on the Fundamental Right to Education. The purpose of this letter is not to enter into constitutional debates or legal technicalities; nor is it to initiate more letter-writing campaigns and play the game of political advocacy. Rather, we hope to open up more genuine spaces for critical and constructive dialogue about meaningful lifelong and lifewide learning. Such dialogue is particularly crucial for those of us who have serious questions about the agendas of Development, Globalization and thought-control. We ask that you share/discuss this letter with your friends and colleagues and get back to us with your reflections.

Best wishes,

Manish Jain

Shikshantar Andolan

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November 2001

Dear Respected Member of Parliament:

Currently, the 93rd Amendment is appearing before the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. While some see this as a positive step in ensuring ‘Education for All’, others (like the National Alliance for Fundamental Right to Education-NAFRE) believe it is incomplete. We are writing to you in order to voice a very different perspective: the 93rd Amendment, either as currently written or even modified, is actually detrimental to real learning and empowerment. Indeed, any effort to make School Education a Fundamental Right will ultimately be counter-productive, wasteful and destructive.

You are perhaps aware that NAFRE is demanding more from the Amendment Bill. They want free and compulsory education, including Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE), to be made a fundamental right, ensured by the State, in a definite timeline. They also want the State to ensure the ‘same’ education for everyone; i.e., there should be no ‘second-class’ alternatives for poor children and families. NAFRE believes this Fundamental Right should be guaranteed for both public and private institutions. To accomplish this, they feel that adequate financial allocations to education be ensured by the government (approximately Rs.1,40,000 crore) plus additional money for ECCE, health and nutrition. If the State does not meet the above commitments, citizens will be able to sue it.

However, on closer look, NAFRE’s seemingly reasonable demands are based on several questionable assumptions: a) pouring more money into the current model of schooling will mean better quality education; b) homogenization and standardization will lead to greater equality and democracy; and c) all children in school will mean healthy families and communities and a better future for India. In light of research evidence and practical experiences from many of the so-called ‘developed’ countries around the world (which have achieved 100% enrollment), these claims are highly suspect.

Furthermore, research and experiences from the grassroots also suggest that many parents and children do not want education in the form of schools. Oftentimes, when parents say they want ‘education’ for their children, they actually mean that they want ‘government jobs’; they send their children to school with these great expectations. However, we doubt whether the government or NAFRE is prepared to guarantee that they will meet these expectations of employment. We should clarify that while we are also deeply concerned about dehumanizing and exploitative child labor, we do not believe that forcing children into the school-prison will end the abuse of children (or will result in the elimination of such labor conditions).

With all of this in mind, we would like to share with you why we feel School Education as a Fundamental Right is, in fact, extremely detrimental to the dignity of children, to their lifelong learning, and to the empowerment of the so-called ‘deprived’ majority of Indians. In brief:

  1. The various processes of schooling (competition, ranks, exams, rote knowledge, labels, hierarchies, orders, etc.) demean individuals’ full potential, their diversity, creativities, intelligences, learning styles, knowledges, languages, etc. To succeed in this cut-throat and sterile atmosphere, children must give up their sensitivity, honesty and compassion -- essential qualities for being human.
  2. Schooling degrades and demeans many other knowledge systems, wisdom traditions, ways and spaces of learning. Far from being ‘ignorant’ or ‘uncivilized’, these people form the heart and soul of India, and of the vast majority of your constituents. This amendment will force one way of knowing, one form of communicating and one type of knowledge down everyone’s throats. It will expand the monoculture currently being pushed through globalization and development. This is a serious threat to India’s greatest asset -- its diversity.
  3. ‘Schooled’ children and graduates today are doing little to address the growing violence, inequity, environmental catastrophes, and exploitation in India today. If anything, the type of consumerism, fear, selfishness, and alienation cultivated in school are only adding fuel to this dangerous fire.
  4. Making schooling compulsory takes power and choices away from children and families. Compulsion, centralization of authority and force by the State goes against the spirit of natural learning, community empowerment and Swaraj. Parents should have the right to decide what kinds of educational opportunities they would like to have for their children. This may include opportunities for non-exploitative and non-hazardous work. This may also involve choosing not to send their children to school.

Education in India today is in a deep crisis. We hope that, as someone concerned with quality education and the complex challenges facing India, you will take these matters quite seriously. At the very least, we hope you will recognize that expanding the outdated Macauley model of education in India is not the solution (as many previous national-level educational commissions have warned over the past 50 years). In fact, the bigger the education system gets, the more difficult it is to change it. Rather, a commitment to meaningful education requires that we open up spaces for children and their families to identify and discuss their real learning needs and learning resources, and to weave their own diverse and decentralized learning webs. We can draw much inspiration from visionaries, such as Gandhiji, Tagore, Krishnamurti, Aurobindo, Vinoba, Vivekananda, and Iqbal, as well as from the diverse wisdom traditions and knowledge systems held by our local people today.

Given your position of leadership, we hope you will begin by rejecting simplistic, straightjacket solutions -- which are not only a waste of public money, but also of precious time. The social commitment to achieving quality education will not emerge through constitutional amendments, legal battles or bigger budgets. Instead, we request that you take this opportunity to engage with your colleagues and constituents on important questions such as: What broader principles of education encourage human dignity? What roles and responsibilities should individuals, communities, NGOs, the government, businesses, etc., have in framing these principles and in creating relevant experiments to actualize them? How can we begin to support the diverse learning spaces, relationships, and processes that allow every human being to nurture their full human potential and make positive contributions to their communities? We invite you to dialogue further with us on these and other critical questions facing education and the future of India.

Best regards,

Shikshantar Andolan

21 Fatehpura, Udaipur, Rajasthan 313004

Tel: 0294-451-303; Fax: 0294-451-941

www.swaraj.org/shikshantar