Roots of the scandal

Print edition : August 07, 2015

Anil Sadgopal. Photo: K. GOPINATHAN

Interview with Anil Sadgopal, a botanist by training and a vocal critic of the privatisation of education.

Anil Sadgopal, botanist-turned educationist and campaigner with the All India Forum for Right to Education, has been a vocal critic of the gradual privatisation of education in India. Based in Bhopal, he has seen the VYAPAM scam unfolding. One of the foremost critics of the profit-driven private education industry which involves politicians, businessmen and corporate houses, Sadgopal talks to Frontline on how India is turning into a breeding ground for more scams like VYAPAM.

The VYAPAM scandal is one of the biggest scandals in free India. What are your observations?

Since 1991, when globalisation policies were adopted by India, we have had economic growth without employment growth. The rate of employment growth was almost zero per cent through the 1990s and 2000s. The demand for employment, however, is very high, especially among educated people, and the supply is extremely short. The entire information technology boost to services accounts for no more than 0.3 per cent of the employment growth rate. It looks like big growth but meets only a small proportion of our employment needs. The IT industry used huge amounts of capital without generating proportionate employment. This is the main crisis of globalisation. Our former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took more than 20 years to acknowledge this fact when in 2012 he said that it was true that we had not had enough employment. Ninety-three per cent of Indians are still employed in the unorganised sector and only 7 per cent are in the organised sector. There has been no change in this proportion for 25 years.

The jobs for which people are applying through VYAPAM fall within that 7 per cent. It should be recorded that when supply is so scant despite huge demand, people will pay any price to secure a job. That is why this scam is so massive.

Do you see this scam as a natural consequence of such policies?

Yes, what emerges from the VYAPAM scam is a severe crisis of education. Since globalisation, our governments —both State and Union—have worked under the structural adjustment conditions imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. This meant that we have been asked by these agencies to decrease our public expenditure on education, health, social welfare and poverty alleviation schemes. As a proportion of the GDP [gross domestic product], public expenditure on education has steadily declined. For the last 10 years, it averages to around 3.5 per cent of the GDP. This decline in public expenditure has directly reflected in the number of schools, from the pre-primary level to the senior secondary level. We have an inadequate number of schools, poor-quality education and a very poor pupil-teacher ratio. The entire teaching community in schools has essentially been contractualised. Since 1994-1995, State governments have employed teachers only on a contract basis. The teacher education programme has totally been ignored. Most teachers are not paid regularly.

Single room-single teacher schools have become a policy now. Schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan and Right to Education have become policies to divert attention from this blatant neglect of education. The result is a massive exclusion of children from schools. According to the government’s own data, out of 100 children who are admitted in Class 1, only 17 pass out of Class 12, if we take into account children from all sections of our society. If we break down the figure, only 6 per cent of tribal children, 8 per cent Dalit children, 9 per cent of Muslim children and 10 per cent from the OBC category cross Class 12.

Class 12 figures are important as this is the threshold for children to become eligible for any form of professional education and liberal higher education. Almost 90 per cent of the backward sections of society are not even eligible for higher education. The ones who are eligible are hardly prepared for good-quality higher education. If you combine these data with the declining public expenditure on education and the declining quality of schools, then the scenario is extremely dangerous.

The only way most of them can expect to get through an entrance examination after Class 12 is to bribe their way around. This excludes a vast number of students who come from poorer sections of society. The whole education system is geared for scams like VYAPAM. In a system like this, coaching institutions, which train students to make good guesses in the name of education, flourish. To access good education, you have to go to either very expensive private schools or a handful of good government schools like the Kendriya and Navodaya Vidyalayas. There are only 1,100 Kendriya Vidyalayas and 650 Navodaya Vidyalayas across the country. Almost 14 lakh government schools across the country are in a horrible shape. The whole country must be embarrassed about those schools. The driving force or the motivation of the government for destroying school education is to privatise school education.

You also see a flaw in the way entrance examinations to professional courses are conducted.

Hardly anyone has been talking about the use of optical mark recognition (OMR) sheets in entrance examinations. The computer detects the answers in the sheet. This means that there is no way to know whether the student has comprehended the ideas of the subject. No test for comprehension, writing, creative thinking or expression of ideas! All you need to do is good guess work, and if you are bad at it, you are provided with illegal means, like in the VYAPAM scam, to qualify.

You are building up a community of professionals who are not professional enough. This has resulted in a situation where there is a lot of cynicism in our young generation. We are destroying a whole generation of India. This scam is not just about money but about encouraging cynicism among the young people of India. Their faith in values like honesty and hard work is slowly being decimated. VYAPAM scam will have a great cultural impact.