Streamlining Educational Reforms PDF Print E-mail
JS RAJPUT

Every change of government is invariably accompanied by a series of the promises and assurances to upgrade the quality of life of the poor, the down trodden, the neglected and the minorities. These are articulated in the most people-friendly manner. 'Streamlining the system' is the first task that is undertaken in the concerned ministry by the bureaucracy, 'the gift of the British for the good governance' that maintains the much needed continuity.

There are several interesting phases of this streamlining 'business'. It continues all along even otherwise, particularly whenever a change of incumbent at the senior level takes place. Within hours of my entry-on-deputation to the Shastri Bhawan I was informed of my entitlements for the change of carpets, curtains, partitions and furniture. When I thankfully indicated that the items already available in the room were fit enough for use, I was informed that it was my 'entitlement' and 'change' was the routine practice followed whenever a new officer of my level took over. I could have my personal choice of the furniture and the furnishings and decorate the room as per my 'aesthetic' sense. I liked the use of this particular word, aesthetics' in the ministry. Persisting to know the upper limit of the expenditure that could be incurred, I was politely informed that though there was such a limit but I need not bother about it. That's how the streamlining begins. For full five years I observed this phenomenon with considerable interest and learnt how the governments function and discharge their responsibilities. Every one is keen to contribute to see that the 'change' takes place for the benefit of the people. A bit of it could also be for the individual concerned who toils so hard!

My acquaintance with streamlining is generally limited to the sector of education. I am one of those who still admire the 1986 national policy on education. Great enthusiasm ensued after its formulation and the bureaucracy in the Ministry of Human Resource development had its hands full. Several schemes and programmes were planned for implementation for which the state education departments too had to launch several new initiatives. There was work to do and every one was conscious of the same. The change of government from Rajiv Gandhi to V.P. Singh brought every thing to a standstill for a certain period. Not, of course, the 'routine' streamlining. A new government means new announcements, new initiatives, new ideas and new individuals. It also means change in the nomenclature of the existing schemes and programmes. The Policy on Education received the prime attention; it was so necessary to have a policy change again. A committee under the Chairmanship of the noted educationist Acharya Ramamurthy was appointed to formulate a new policy on education. It did a commendable job. Swift political change took place and Chandrasekhar succeeded V.P. Singh. Again, a period of wait and watch ensued, which too could not prolong itself beyond a couple of months. Then there were elections and P. V. Narsimha Rao, the Human Resource Development Minister responsible for the formulation of 1986 policy was back, now as the prime minister of India! Traces of concern and uncertainty were visible in the ministry. What to do with the Ramamurthy Committee Report now? But there lies the strength of the Indian bureaucracy. It streamlined the situation in perfect and acceptable manner. If there is no dearth of problems in education, there is no paucity of solutions that continue to emerge from the learned-and-powerful ones. The most thoughtful and secure course of action that emerges invariably is: appoint another committee. That was the acceptable and safe alternative. Accepted.

A committee headed by the then chief minister of Andhra Pradesh; N. Janardhana Reddy with a large membership was constituted. It met several times and brought out a beautiful report. The sum and substance of this report was interpreted as: all that is the essence of the Ramamurthy committee report is 'already contained in the national policy on education 1986'. The national educational policy was reviewed in 1992. Another programe of action document was prepared. The continuity of the 1986 policy was ensured. The intervening period was just forgotten.

Educational reforms and the need to streamline the systems are the continuous processes in every dynamic enterprise of education. This is a basic requirement. The essential stipulation is: it has to be an academic process, free from all the non-academic overtones. Further, it has to be perceived so by the people and particularly by the stakeholders in education. The success of proposed reforms at the implementation levels totally depends on the involvement of the functionaries in pragmatic programme formulation in the specific context. One could recall the much-hyped District Primary Education Programme; DPEP; launched in early nineties. The so called district level plans were invariably prepared at the state capitals with repeated 'corrections' included at the instance of advisers from abroad. Top-down bureaucratic approach has not paid dividends in educational reform processes and this valuable insight gained over the years need not be overlooked at any stage. Some how, it invariably happens that a change of the government invariably focuses more on what 'wrongs' were committed by the predecessors than what 'right' is to be achieved in future. This is a great drawback that almost ensures rejection of the endeavors of those who were in the saddle earlier. Outcomes of the deliberations amongst the like-minded ones can never expect universal concurrence. It may have short-term gains and some publicity but would completely miss the larger point; arriving at a broad-based implemental consensus in educational advancements.

Now is another occasion to forget the six-years of much hyped 'communalization and saffronization' for which even a small fry like yours truly has been vigorously targeted. This targeting of individuals is the 'new' innovation in education, projected as the most potent vehicle to achieve the constitutional goals and streamline the system of education. Replacing Shiva Prasad by Ram Prasad is indeed a new bureaucratic input in education, never attempted earlier at such a large scale as during the last one year. And that is not the end. Never before, education had so many enquiry committees, and obviously the grateful enquiry officers, as at present. Irregularities are being unearthed with great regularity. People have begun to ask questions: why are the main issues being sidelined?

It would be clear and obvious to every dispassionate observer of the growth and development if the Indian education system that the increasing divergence between what is preached and what is followed has reached a point of no return. Even to the dye-hard optimist, concepts like common school system appear just as routine clichés in which the system hardly seems to be interested. It is another matter that a pious reference to it is often made, clearly aiming at 'for public consumption only'. People understand this duality even in the remotest corners of the country. They understand the meaning and relevance of good quality education and are left with no other option but to fall back upon the 'private entrepreneur' in education. This enterprise is no longer confined to professional institutions and public schools in cities and district capitals alone. It has several allotropes and is a flourishing 'business' even in villages and large habitations. In these places, non-functioning primary school and absentee teachers is a routine phenomenon that attracts no attention any more. It is so easy to pick up any important document published by the government of India or the national level bodies established by it and see pages and pages describing the achievements in the primary schools, along with the mention of the new innovations proposed to launched immediately. It would appear to someone uninitiated to the system that within a couple years the face of education in India would change dramatically. Not to those who spend a lifetime in the system.Every change of government is invariably accompanied by a series of the promises and assurances to upgrade the quality of life of the poor, the down trodden, the neglected and the minorities. These are articulated in the most people-friendly manner. 'Streamlining the system' is the first task that is undertaken in the concerned ministry by the bureaucracy, 'the gift of the British for the good governance' that maintains the much needed continuity. There are several interesting phases of this streamlining 'business'. It continues all along even otherwise, particularly whenever a change of incumbent at the senior level takes place. Within hours of my entry-on-deputation to the Shastri Bhawan I was informed of my entitlements for the change of carpets, curtains, partitions and furniture. When I thankfully indicated that the items already available in the room were fit enough for use, I was informed that it was my 'entitlement' and 'change' was the routine practice followed whenever a new officer of my level took over. I could have my personal choice of the furniture and the furnishings and decorate the room as per my 'aesthetic' sense. I liked the use of this particular word, aesthetics' in the ministry. Persisting to know the upper limit of the expenditure that could be incurred, I was politely informed that though there was such a limit but I need not bother about it. That's how the streamlining begins. For full five years I observed this phenomenon with considerable interest and learnt how the governments function and discharge their responsibilities. Every one is keen to contribute to see that the 'change' takes place for the benefit of the people. A bit of it could also be for the individual concerned who toils so hard!

My acquaintance with streamlining is generally limited to the sector of education. I am one of those who still admire the 1986 national policy on education. Great enthusiasm ensued after its formulation and the bureaucracy in the Ministry of Human Resource development had its hands full. Several schemes and programmes were planned for implementation for which the state education departments too had to launch several new initiatives. There was work to do and every one was conscious of the same. The change of government from Rajiv Gandhi to V.P. Singh brought every thing to a standstill for a certain period. Not, of course, the 'routine' streamlining. A new government means new announcements, new initiatives, new ideas and new individuals. It also means change in the nomenclature of the existing schemes and programmes. The Policy on Education received the prime attention; it was so necessary to have a policy change again. A committee under the Chairmanship of the noted educationist Acharya Ramamurthy was appointed to formulate a new policy on education. It did a commendable job. Swift political change took place and Chandrasekhar succeeded V.P. Singh. Again, a period of wait and watch ensued, which too could not prolong itself beyond a couple of months. Then there were elections and P. V. Narsimha Rao, the Human Resource Development Minister responsible for the formulation of 1986 policy was back, now as the prime minister of India! Traces of concern and uncertainty were visible in the ministry. What to do with the Ramamurthy Committee Report now? But there lies the strength of the Indian bureaucracy. It streamlined the situation in perfect and acceptable manner. If there is no dearth of problems in education, there is no paucity of solutions that continue to emerge from the learned-and-powerful ones. The most thoughtful and secure course of action that emerges invariably is: appoint another committee. That was the acceptable and safe alternative. Accepted.

A committee headed by the then chief minister of Andhra Pradesh; N. Janardhana Reddy with a large membership was constituted. It met several times and brought out a beautiful report. The sum and substance of this report was interpreted as: all that is the essence of the Ramamurthy committee report is 'already contained in the national policy on education 1986'. The national educational policy was reviewed in 1992. Another programe of action document was prepared. The continuity of the 1986 policy was ensured. The intervening period was just forgotten.

Educational reforms and the need to streamline the systems are the continuous processes in every dynamic enterprise of education. This is a basic requirement. The essential stipulation is: it has to be an academic process, free from all the non-academic overtones. Further, it has to be perceived so by the people and particularly by the stakeholders in education. The success of proposed reforms at the implementation levels totally depends on the involvement of the functionaries in pragmatic programme formulation in the specific context. One could recall the much-hyped District Primary Education Programme; DPEP; launched in early nineties. The so called district level plans were invariably prepared at the state capitals with repeated 'corrections' included at the instance of advisers from abroad. Top-down bureaucratic approach has not paid dividends in educational reform processes and this valuable insight gained over the years need not be overlooked at any stage. Some how, it invariably happens that a change of the government invariably focuses more on what 'wrongs' were committed by the predecessors than what 'right' is to be achieved in future. This is a great drawback that almost ensures rejection of the endeavors of those who were in the saddle earlier. Outcomes of the deliberations amongst the like-minded ones can never expect universal concurrence. It may have short-term gains and some publicity but would completely miss the larger point; arriving at a broad-based implemental consensus in educational advancements.

Now is another occasion to forget the six-years of much hyped 'communalization and saffronization' for which even a small fry like yours truly has been vigorously targeted. This targeting of individuals is the 'new' innovation in education, projected as the most potent vehicle to achieve the constitutional goals and streamline the system of education. Replacing Shiva Prasad by Ram Prasad is indeed a new bureaucratic input in education, never attempted earlier at such a large scale as during the last one year. And that is not the end. Never before, education had so many enquiry committees, and obviously the grateful enquiry officers, as at present. Irregularities are being unearthed with great regularity. People have begun to ask questions: why are the main issues being sidelined?

It would be clear and obvious to every dispassionate observer of the growth and development if the Indian education system that the increasing divergence between what is preached and what is followed has reached a point of no return. Even to the dye-hard optimist, concepts like common school system appear just as routine clichés in which the system hardly seems to be interested. It is another matter that a pious reference to it is often made, clearly aiming at 'for public consumption only'. People understand this duality even in the remotest corners of the country. They understand the meaning and relevance of good quality education and are left with no other option but to fall back upon the 'private entrepreneur' in education. This enterprise is no longer confined to professional institutions and public schools in cities and district capitals alone. It has several allotropes and is a flourishing 'business' even in villages and large habitations. In these places, non-functioning primary school and absentee teachers is a routine phenomenon that attracts no attention any more. It is so easy to pick up any important document published by the government of India or the national level bodies established by it and see pages and pages describing the achievements in the primary schools, along with the mention of the new innovations proposed to launched immediately. It would appear to someone uninitiated to the system that within a couple years the face of education in India would change dramatically. Not to those who spend a lifetime in the system.

When school children appear in the dreaded board examinations, they do ask one question; which question should be attempted first; easiest or the toughest? They take their own decisions. It applies to the governments as well, to embark upon publicity-providing political stunts or proceed with care and caution on finding lasting solutions to the long felt problems. And it is not an easy decision.

(The Write is former Director of NCERT)