Power, Propaganda and Pedagogy

Published in The Telegraph

Despite intense publicity there is little information in the public domain about the details of AAP Government’s policies in education in Delhi. This is significant given the national fulmination on the state of education in our country and because AAP’s work in education is an important part of its political plank in states where it’s looking to expand. While the Aam Aadmi Party has declared itself post-ideological, strains of thought processes which advocate forced vocationalisation of marginalised students and de-professionalisation of teachers are evident in the initiatives being implemented by the Delhi Government. These initiatives include the segregation of young children into groups based on their academic performance – one group for failed students (vishwas); another for “potential failures” (nishtha); and third for the bright ones (pratibha). Students of the same grade have not just been divided into different groups based on their apparent learning ability, but “weak students” are being taught a lower order syllabus and will be administered a different assessment from the bright ones. The syllabus too has been unilaterally pruned and the official textbooks supplanted by new “Pragati” books prepared under the guidance of an NGO. Educationists and many Delhi Government teachers have protested the lack of coherence and dilution of progressive content in the Pragati books. Other initiatives include life skills training for teachers which espouses a philosophy of “metaphysics and parapsychology”, the use of CCTV cameras in classrooms and the outsourcing of the leadership of these changes to private organizations.

Concerned at the implications of these initiatives on what should be an equitable and inclusive public education system, the Congress Party has raised two demands: a whitepaper to explain the AAP’s approach to education reform in Delhi; and transparency of the details of these and other changes in the Directorate of Education. These demands are in the public interest. Many of these initiatives run counter to law (Right to Education Act) and policy (National Curriculum Framework 2005), which govern education in our country. It is notable that the RTE and the NCF 2005 are outcomes of deeply consultative processes, wherein an attempt was made to delink learning from its sole purpose of passing an examination to helping children make sense of their everyday life and harness their creative potential. It was thus incumbent on the Delhi Government to have located these changes in participatory public opinion in the first place. The demand for transparency of a democratic government should need no further justification. Citizens are entitled to know how their children are being schooled, what is being taught to their young, the private organizations contracted to perform public functions, monies paid to private organizations and consultants, other expenditure incurred, purpose thereof and so on. In fact, as per law this and more information should have been in the public domain in the first place (RTI Act, Section 4).

Unfortunately, the response by the AAP has been instructive only in how completely it has assimilated the mores of politics oarvind-for-cm-modi-for-pmf power: arrogance over accountability and partisanship over public interest. Instead of responding to the central demand for transparency, the AAP has deflected questions by attempting to discredit the questioner (here: Congress) and in the classic style of propaganda, invoked the “people” amidst a mishmash of self-congratulation. The nature of AAP’s response is characteristic of the public discourse today and bears discussion.

First, in a democratic set-up, questions will be asked of the ruling Party and cannot be deflected by harking back to the real or perceived acts of omission and commission of previous governments. The Aam Aadmi Party is in power in Delhi and therefore it is incumbent on AAP to explain its education policy. As Opposition, the Congress has every right to question the AAP Government, but more pertinently the concerns raised echo many widely respected educationists, teachers and practitioners in Delhi Government itself. Does the AAP Government not find it worthwhile to engage with their concerns or should one presume that it too concurs with its education task force member, who dismissed the questions as petulant carps of “perceived educationists” and members of “bogus expert committees” constituted by the former Government.

Second, any attempt at genuine decentralization and institutionalization of people’s participation in governance is laudable. However to use “people” as a shield against expert critique is suspect. There’s a value in specialization, research, and analysis which cannot be supplanted by “people” alone. On questions of pedagogy – what and how children should be taught, the AAP’s repeated invocation of “school monitoring committees” (parent committees) is a non-sequitur. Moreover, official circulars make it clear that parents are being informed after – not consulted before the changes are put into place to “ensure cooperation for the implementation [emphasis added] of the New Academic Plan”

Our role as a political party is not to appropriate the role of educationists and argue pedagogy within the confines of an opinion piece. We highlighted some issues in the Delhi education policy which instinctively disturb our liberal sensibilities. The Congress Party is thus demanding that a transparent and participatory process be followed before cementing such wide-ranging changes. The result of such a consultative approach will be a lively public debate, which will inform us and the citizenry, and perhaps even some members of the Aam Aadmi Party. Such a debate will also allow people to understand the ideological underpinnings of the changes in question. Instead AAP’s response is disingenuous, sidestepping central questions with partisan attacks and self-congratulation.

The approach to education is one of the most overtly ideological pursuits of any Government. It is not clear if the leadership of the AAP is aware of the possible implications of the changes it is presiding over or whether it is riding roughshod over legitimate concerns in its hurry to show “results”. There is evidence too of shortcuts and showmanship. An open debate around these changes is imperative. At a time when the level of public discourse is at an all-time low, the Delhi Congress is making an effort to engage in a public debate on issues and in public interest. Delhi Government’s lack of transparency and consultative approach is not just undemocratic but also not in the aam aadmi’s interest.

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