It’s the most unkindest cut of all. In the Prime Minister’s May 12 Rs.20.97 lakh crore pandemic aid package for small-scale industry, agriculture, public health and free foodgrain for migrant workers that stimulated 48-point headlines in the media, there was no provision for the country’s collapsing education system with 300 million children and youth on their muster rolls. This despite the demographic reality that 21st century India grudgingly hosts the world’s largest cohort of young citizens in the 0-21 age group.
Given the massive size of contemporary India’s child and youth population, it’s unsurprising that there are 1.4 million anganwadis (government-run early childhood nutrition and pre-primary education centres), 60,000 private preschools, 1.2 million government and 450,000 private K-12 schools, 52,000 undergrad colleges and 1,000 universities across the country. All of them have been shuttered since mid-March following outbreak of the devastating Coronavirus pandemic which has infected 7.1 million and killed 109,000 citizens countrywide (October 12), and shows little sign of tapering off. This prolonged closure of education institutions has turned the lives and learning of the country’s already educationally under-served students’ community upside down.
Children enrolled in 90 percent of private schools — especially India’s unique 400,000 budget private schools (BPS) — are particularly hard hit because their managements can’t afford end-use digital devices (PCs, laptops, smart phones) for online teaching-learning. Moreover, their already low incomes — only 9.4 percent of private schools charge tuition fees above Rs.2,000 per month — have been disrupted by foolishly reckless notifications and circulars issued by populist state governments, advising parents to stop paying tuition fees of the lockdown period. Therefore, BPS across the country are reeling under heavy financial loss and thousands of them are up for sale. These and other myriad problems of private schools obliged to continue paying teacher and staff salaries, are highlighted in our detailed cover story researched and written by managing editor Summiya Yasmeen, who makes a strong appeal to the prime minister to carve out an education aid and relief packet from his May 12 pandemic package.
In our special report feature, against the backdrop of the huge ruckus in Parliament caused by passage of three Bills crafted to direct the winds of liberalisation and deregulation into much-neglected rural India, we highlight the sins of omission and commission of the country’s 71 ivory tower agriculture universities whose managements, ever ready to grovel before their political masters, are hell-bent on remaining unaccountable to the larger public. There’s much more in this information and insights-packed issue. This time, there are four insightful expert comment essays, an informative people section, interesting international news and engaging book reviews. All highly recommended. Stay well, stay safe.
Also read: Letter from the Editor| September 2020