"How Factory Schools Are Also Like Big Dams" by Shilpa Jain


In The Greater Common Good, Roy makes the comparison between Big Dams and Nuclear Bombs.  She says, “They’re both weapons of mass destruction…weapons the Government uses to control its own people…both malignant indications of a civilization turning upon itself.  They represent the severing of the link… the understanding – between human beings and the planet they live on.”  The analogy can be extended to factory schools, by building upon Roy’s criticisms of development and applying them to the education system of India:


§          Both dams and schools are propagated as “symbols of progress,” such that increasing their quantity receive praise from those seeking a so-called modern India.


§          Both are heavily financed and advocated by international donor institutions, like the World Bank or other multilateral and bilateral development agencies.


§          Both are supported by huge industries with seriously vested interests – politicians, bureaucrats, and corporations – each has its own manifestation of what Roy labels the “Iron Triangle”.


§          Both dams and schools are said to benefit all affected by them, and in fact, both rely on a type of social engineering (the belief that we can control others’ behaviors to conform to particular ends).


§          Very few (if any) evaluations are conducted to assess the short- or long-term impact of either dams or schools.


§          Neither value the lifestyles, knowledges, or cultures of the traditional/rural-affected as worth preserving or protecting or growing or contributing to the quest for a so-called modern India.


§          The negative effects of both dams and schools, when even acknowledged, disproportionately affect the poor and marginalized (adivasi and dalit communities) and create new kinds of structures of oppression and disempowerment.


§          Simultaneously, when inadequacies or detrimental failures are acknowledged, the beneficiaries of both attempt piecemeal solutions to “mend” the problems, rather than undertaking a serious, systemic, and systematic evaluation of the project.


§          Those who benefit from each project also manage to look away and both implicitly and explicitly condone the sufferings of those harmed by them, thus reinforcing the 20-80 divide (20% of the population benefiting on the backs of the other 80%).


§          Both are commanded and controlled by Government authorities, from their design and planning to the details of their implementation. Rarely are the voices of the “served” heard in any stage of the process; in fact, only a few experts are said to be able to manage and understand the systems.  For example, contractors/builders can be compared to teachers (the expert facilitators of the project), sophisticated, engineering plans to Government curriculum, and displaced tribal communities to enrolled children (since neither have much say in their participation/compliance with the project).


§          Both dams and schools try to operate in an inherently confusing and contradictory system of conflicting interests and purposes – i.e. dams as sources of power, tools for irrigation, mechanisms for flood-control, and reservoirs of drinking water, and schools as places for authentic learning, for completing MLLs, for preparing for examinations, for developing cultivating creativity and civic participation, etc.


§          Finally, both try to posit a “take it-or-leave it” stance.  That is, they claim that despite the problems with dams and schools, we have to take them as they are; otherwise, our only other choice will be to revert backwards to some romanticized, traditional lifestyle, which is unfeasible in our quest for progress and development.  Never are any third, fourth, or fifth options presented in this dichotomy.