An assessment of the education development track record of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government which completed four years in office at the Centre in May and is now readying for General Election 2019, seemed the apposite choice for the cover story of this anniversary issue of EducationWorld (estb.1999) which completes 19 years of uninterrupted publication this month. At the hustings and run-up to General Election 2014, the BJP led by its charismatic three-term Gujarat chief minister and prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi aroused great hope and expectations within the electorate fed up with ten years of the 17-party Congress-led United Progressive Alliance whose rule was defined by several huge corruption scandals — 2G telecom spectrum allotment, coal blocks mining awards, the Commonwealth Games construction scam, Air India jets purchases among others — followed by a year of drift, indecision and masterly inactivity.
The UPA government’s record in education and human capital development was specially disappointing. During its first term in office (2004-2009), the focus of the government and Union HRD minister Arjun Singh was expansion of the affirmative action quota in higher education. Although this initiative driven by Singh’s abortive prime ministerial ambitions was successful, the outcome is that except for the degrees and awards of a few top-ranked institutions of higher education, the certification of the overwhelming majority of the country’s HEIs is highly devalued and unrespected by organised sector industry and business.
The main achievement of Kapil Sibal, Arjun Singh’s successor in Shastri Bhavan, Delhi was to push the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 through Parliament. However s. 12 (1) (c) shifts part of the constitutional obligation of the State to provide free and compulsory education to all children in the 0-14 age group, upon private schools. Unsurprisingly, several provisions of the Act are still mired in litigation.
Against this backdrop, the track record of the BJP/NDA government over the past four years has been a patchwork of small successes and large failures. Fiery BJP spokesperson Smriti Irani, the coalition government’s first choice for the office of Union HRD minister, proved a disaster. After Irani was shunted out of Shastri Bhavan in 2016 and former environment minister of state Prakash Javadekar was appointed her successor, some overdue education reforms have been initiated, particularly in higher education. But considerable time to reform K-12 education was lost after the HRD ministry rejected the report of the T.S.R. Subramanian Committee on the New Education Policy, 2016. The detailed cover story in our 19th Anniversary issue explains why the education development report card of the BJP/NDA government deserves a C grade at best.
There’s much else in this anniversary issue of EW. Check out the unseemly drama being played out on the campuses of Allahabad University (estb. 1887) which is struggling to recover its past glory, as also our special anniversary essays, including one from Beijing.