Every activist in indian education suffers from a ‘delusion of knowledge — the notion that the socialist State, i.e. government, is in possession of knowledge that the poor need to succeed in life.In reality, the State is itself based on failed knowledge. Economic liberalisation was resorted to in 1991 after half a century of socialism, precisely because of knowledge failure. And it is only because of ‘liberty that Indian society can now access various fragments of knowledge that were previously unavailable. Now we have modern automobiles, mobile phones, plasma TVs and the like because we allowed knowledge developed abroad to flow into the country. The State-promoted IITs have been operational since the early 1960s but this knowledge wasnt available in India. The State-owned IIMs are of similar vintage — but there were hardly any business enterprises to manage then.
On the other hand, the poor have traditionally been in possession of various fragments of knowledge — but are denied entry into markets by repressive legislation. Poor girls can sing and dance, but the socialist State has outlawed nightlife. Tribals in the jungles of central India distill stimulating mahua liquor from an eponymous flower, but they cannot sell it. Tapping toddy and fermenting it is specialised knowledge. Last year Karna-taka reported a bumper toddy season — but nowhere on Bangalores swanky Brigade Road will you get a glass of toddy. The north-east is poor and underdeveloped; but boast great music bands there. But these bands cannot perform in heartland states because of State-imposed restrictions.
These are all examples of real, hard knowledge going waste. And ironically the State, which is responsible for this waste, wants to teach. If establishment educationists shout in concert, an education tax is immediately imposed. But the ‘planned flow of knowledge from State to the poor never happens, and it never will. The minister in charge of education is a Nehru family loyalist. As such he will teach Nehruvian socialist propaganda. And his loyal educrats will dictate what private institutes will teach and meddle with what they want to teach.
Thus, for the immediate benefit of the poor, and for the immediate spread of real knowledge, liberty is essential. Just as the public has benefited from foreign car companies entering India, so we will benefit from foreign universities setting up shop here. And just as the poor benefit from freedom, so will the national knowledge pool if anyone with a fragment of knowledge can set up shop and teach to whoever is willing to pay for it. The problem which requires resolution is that of transmission of knowledge from one who has it to another individual who wants to acquire it. The market alone can solve this problem. The State has no ‘collective pool of knowledge. Indeed, the socialist Indian State is a naked propagandist, and all its attempts to secure ‘uniform standards in education have only resulted in the uniform teaching of untruths.
Therefore, the Union ministry of human resource development — actually ministry of human resource destruction — should be shut down. Every educrat should be fired, and all schools and colleges freed from government control and supervision over curriculum as well as certification. Private edupreneurs can then compete for testing scholastic competence and issuing certification — as with SAT, IB or the ISC.
What about poor kids in such a scenario? If they learn how to use a calculator, to read, write and speak English, to type on a keyboard and use a computer, to operate a mobile phone and send SMS, and how to drive a car, they will have all the basic knowledge required for success in the contemporary world. I am positive that private for-profit as well as non-profit efforts can easily transmit these fragments of knowledge to them in a manner that is efficient in terms of money as well as time.
Poor kids need to enter the workforce early. for them, 12 years of school is a massive waste of time. The basic knowledge they need, as outlined above, can be transmitted to them by private edupreneurs, cheap and quick. Thus, there is no role for the State in education either for the rich or the poor, in primary, secondary or higher education.
I conclude with what the great French economist Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850) who was also in active politics, wrote in his election manifesto over 150 years ago: Education is also bound up with the same fundamental question that precedes all others in politics: Is it part of the States duties? Or does it belong to the sphere of private activity? I believe that government is not set up in order to bring our minds into subjection, or to absorb the rights of the family… If you want to have theories, systems, methods, principles, textbooks and teachers forced on you by the government, that is up to you; but do not expect me to sign, in your name, such a shameful abdication of your rights.
Indeed, as Bastiat stressed academic monopoly of the State can only work if the State is infallible. In a nation of widespread State failure, the very idea of government infallibility lies in tatters.
(Sauvik Chakraverti is an author and journalist, closely involved with Indias liberal movement)