Limiting debate: Some clarifications and responses

July 23, 2015

Rohit Dhankar

Some readers have raised a few objections to my recent article in The Hindu, mentioned in the title here. I am responding to two such readers as their objections contain others’ as well. Some readers have raised questions that I find genuine and, therefore, response worthy.

First, I would like to thank all of them for a careful and critical reading of the above mentioned article. This forms a good example of public debate where seeking justification and argument is integral part of informed opinion formation.

That brings me to two clarifications one reader has sought in his letter. One of the objection is regarding the limit of 500 words; as there is option of uploading pdf files as well, according to them this is a baseless insinuation. The second is regarding a quote I have given, and callng the interpreting group a “mysterious group”. I will address these objections one by one. The reader who wrote an email has mentioned the second objection listed above first, but I have changed the order as the second clarification draws on the first as listed above.

Limiting debate to 500 characters
The readers are right in pointing out that one can upload a PDF file, image, and even a video on the website MyGov.in discussion group on New Education Policy. However, this detracts nothing from the argument I am building regarding this kind of ‘discussions’.

The points I am making are:
• Opinions are asked on specific questions under specific themes. These themes and questions leave out the broader issues that need to be discussed in formulating a policy on education; for example what is the general direction our education should take in 21st century? Opinions on specific questions can make sense only in the light of principles generated through the broader discussions.

• Though one can upload a file on the site, but in the overwhelming majority the opinion is expressed in those given 500 characters only.

• As a result this medium fails to generate a “discussion”, which should not be the case as the group is called, a “discussion group”. It becomes only a “suggestion collection site”, never graduating to a “discussion group”.

Now if one goes to the site and looks at the opinions expressed as self-evident truths my point is more than born out. Please see an example from the supposed to be discussion group on “Revamping Teacher Education for Quality Teachers” in Appendix-1 at the end of this note. We should remember that this is one of the most serious problems we as a nation are facing today.

As I said above, and in my article, this is collection of ‘suggestions’—bits of opinions—devoid of any argument and disconnected with each other. The Appendix-1 also has two pdf files that are part of this ‘opinion collection’. One is simply one line, perhaps in Telugu, (sorry I do not recognise the script) and other builds two very brief arguments connecting competency and motivation; and for professionalization of teaching. The arguments need several clarifications, I am very much doubtful if anyone will download the pdf and look at those arguments.

My argument is that this is the limitation of the medium and the organisation of the site, it inhibits discussion. It can still be very useful to gather peoples’ opinions, but the claim for formulating education policy on the basis of such discussions is too outlandish to accept. Hope I have been able to explain why the limitation of 500 characters should be seen to serve only a very limited purpose.
That brings me to the second point. As the Appendix-1 shows this site generates only ‘fragmented opinions’ devoid of their rationale and full meaning. So there has to be someone who collates these fragments and creates a coherent—at the least seemingly—policy out of them.

The issue of the mysterious group

Other discussions will be held in meetings on the basis of “A questionnaire template covering the 33 themes covering School Education and Higher Education giving set of questions for discussions at village, block, district and state” level.

We all know that pre-decided themes and questions serve to ‘guide’ discussions in pre-decided directions; and that necessarily leaves out some other things. There is nothing wrong in using this method to focus discussion per se. But the question is: who decided the 33 themes and the questions under them? Where was the discussion on these themes? Are these the most appropriate themes for policy discussions? On what grounds? The final consolidation of all the fragmentary opinions is likely to be done by the same group who decided on these themes. Can such a process be called coming up from the grassroots? Or is it simply a method of more opaque “top-down” process with a spurious claim for mass involvement? This is the issue I am discussing.

Before I come to the ‘group’ let us see how the consolidation will be done. It is not clear who will do the consolidation at the panchayat level. But from block to state level it seems to be only the bureaucracy and education department functionaries; or that is what one can make out from the proposed “workflow” mentioned in another MHRD document titles “National Consultation for New Education Policy”. Appendix-1.

On thematic consultations: “Bureau Heads of MHRD will hold consultations with stakeholders and experts on each theme in which he/she is the responsibility Centre. Assistance of autonomous bodies of MHRD (e.g., NCTE, NUEPA, NCERT, AICTE, UGC) will be taken for organizing these thematic discussions.”
The final draft at the national level: “The Thematic notes will be synthesised into a single consolidated Consultation Document to be placed before National Education Policy Task Force (NEPTF) for consideration. The NEP Task Force under the Chairmanship of AS(TE), MHRD has been set up to monitor the progress of the consultation process from time to time . After deliberations on the Consultation Document in the NEPTF, Consultation Document to be given the shape of Draft National Education Policy, 2015. The Draft National Education Policy, 2015 will be placed for consideration of the Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE).”

Now it is as clear as daylight that:
• The themes and questions are decided by some group perhaps headed by a bureaucrat. We do not know this group.

• The fragmented opinions devoid of integrative principles will be interpreted and consolidated by some MHRD groups. These opinion fragments will be in thousands, if not in lakhs, they will be divergent; therefore there is ample opportunity to be selective and interpreting them as one likes. And we do not know this group.

• The final consolidation will be done by the NEPTF headed by a bureaucrat. We do not know this group either.

• The final draft will be placed before the government and the CABE, no public debate on that is mentioned anywhere.

• Therefore, the public and so-called stake holders are individuals giving fragmented opinions and the actual decision making on what to include in what kind of formulation remains in the government with a “mysterious group”.

This is the argument I have built in the article. There has been an inadvertent mistake in referencing; I concede the readers’ point that the quote given from the site refers to the so-called “discussion group” on the website, that is not mysterious; and is fully known. And I apologise for this inadvertent mistake.
But I also stand with full responsibility by my conclusions in both cases that (i) the site limitation does not allow these groups to be “discussion groups” and opinions are fragmentary; and (ii) the final interpretation and consolidation will be done by a group unknown to the public. The article in spite of the mistake in referencing is factually grounded and is not built on factual errors.

I would like to make another point here, which was left out in the original article due to word limit. National Education Policy effects every citizen’s life in the nation. Reducing the general public, academics and educationists to the level of ‘discussion participants only’ and keeping the formulation in the hands of the bureaucrats and chosen ‘unknown to public experts’ is unacceptable methodology of formulating a policy on education. What is dangerous is that a myth of public participation is being created; while the participation is kept at an impotent and toothless level.

Hope in spite of disagreements the people who have raised objections will at the least pay attention to my arguments and examine them critically; and accept my apology for the inadvertent mistake in referencing.
*****

Appendix-1
vikas sharma1 day 23 hours ago
One example is that technical graduates could be effextive science teachers and also for 11 and 12th
they can teach bio chem phy based on their qualifications. Tgey will also
vikas sharma1 day 23 hours ago
Graduates with technical background likd bpharm btech mpharm mtech mba should be considered for
teaching positions at govt schools. They are already been employed by private schools at some level
but not eligibke for govt schools teachers job. Please considet this point
Rakesh Kapoor3 days 4 hours ago
Teachers do not teach willingly in our schools. No morality or character building is done in B Ed
courses. Morality is built upon spirituality. There must be good spiritual education according to a
person’s religion, in our teacher training programs. Secularism in teacher education makes teachers
immoral & corrupt, so they do not teach in schools after doing B Ed and so most Indian children are
poorly educated & undeveloped.
Krishna Murary upadhyay3 days 20 hours ago
नमस्ते, गुणवत्ता म􀉅 सुधार हेतु 􀍧श􀂢क􀉉 क􀈧 􀂢मता 􀇓नमार्ण एवं उन्ह􀉅 अ􀍧भप्रेरण के 􀍧लए 􀇓नम्न सुझाव है —
पांच सूत्री फामलूर् ा —
1 – प्र􀍧श􀂢ण
2 – प्र􀇓तस्पधार्
3 – प्रशंसा
4 – पुरूस्कार
5 – प्रेरणा
प्रश्न यह भी है 􀍩क, कै सा प्र􀍧श􀂢ण, प्र􀇓तस्पधार् कै से, प्रशंसा कौन करेगा,पुरूस्कार 􀍩कसे
और प्रेरणा 􀍩कसके द्वारा ।और भी प्रश्न है. …. ।चचार् क􀈧 जाए ।
Amnesty International India5 days 19 hours ago
Revamping Teacher Education for Quality Teachers
RevampingTeacherEducationforQualityTeachers.pdf
Avinash Patwardhan5 days 23 hours ago
First of all remove reservation in appointment of teachers. Teachers should be appointed on basis of
merit only. This will give us quality teachers. There should be quarterly training programme for
teachers which will keep them updated.Teachers from one school should be sent for a month to
another school which will increase the interaction and will reduce the monotony of teaching in the
same environment. This will be refreshing for all the teachers.
Krishna Murary upadhyay6 days 16 hours ago
नमस्ते,
* वतमर् ान समय म􀉅 उत्तर प्रदेश के 􀍧श􀂢क प्र􀍧श􀂢ण संस्थान􀉉 म􀉅 60% के लगभग प्रवक्ताओं के पद खाल􀈣 ह􀉇
।एसे म􀉅 􀍧श􀂢क प्र􀍧श􀂢ण अस्थायी व्यवस्था के तहत 􀍧श􀂢क􀉉 के द्वारा ह􀈣 संचा􀍧लत ह􀉇 ।
* प्राथ􀍧मक 􀍪वद्यालय􀉉 के बच्च􀉉 क􀈧 􀍧श􀂢ा क􀈧 िजम्मेदार􀈣 िजन्ह􀉅 द􀈣 जानी है उनका प्र􀍧श􀂢ण बहुत हल्के म􀉅
􀍧लया गया है ।
* 􀍩कसी भी देश क􀈧 प्राथ􀍧मक 􀍧श􀂢ा उस देश क􀈧 प्रग􀇓त का आधार है ।और आधार बनाने का काम इतना
लापरवाह􀈣 से, अफसोस! पूरे ढाचं े का क्या होगा ?
gsssmorkhanabikaner6 days 22 hours ago
govt.sr.sc.school morkhana,bikaner,rajasthan
MADHUSUDANA RAO K N1 week 14 hours ago
The teacher should not be overburden with other works in addition to his regular teaching work.
Now a teacher has to prepare lot of documents for his higher officers, so a teacher is unable to
concentrate on his teaching. And each classroom must have one teacher each
==========================

Revamping Teacher Education for Quality Teachers
Competence of teachers and their motivation
Both the quality of the initial education of the teacher and her continuing education are crucial to their motivation and their competency, while attracting an increasing number to the profession. The motivation and competencies of the teacher are the fuel for the ‘education engine’. Motivation is driven by trained and qualified teachers receiving competitive salaries with regular opportunities for continuing education. Continuing education can both build capacity and their accountability to ensure the desired learning outcomes. Innovation and technology need to be employed at a mass scale to create a ‘lifeline of learning’ for the teacher’s challenging job – both creating platforms for peer exchange for problem solving and for disseminating ‘new learning’. The integration of HRE provides access to appropriate learning materials for both teachers and students, while ensuring relevant and appropriate curricula and child-centred teaching methods that can adapt to the changing needs of society, and respond to the needs of students within their diverse social and cultural settings. Such material provides the resources and builds abilities and attitudes for non-discrimination in education delivery that seeks to promote human rights principles, such as tolerance, dignity and equality. These need to be integrated both into pre-service and in-service learning approaches and content.

Recasting teaching as a profession
In establishing a definition of quality teaching both the content of, and the approach to, teaching need to be stressed upon. This needs to be part of pre-service teacher education as well as part of the continuing education of the teacher. Relevant and culturally appropriate curricula content that is complemented by teaching methodology, which builds critical thinking, compassion and
responsibility is key. HRE approaches and methodologies not only see this as an objective for the spread of the ideals of human rights but also for ensuring a robust system that provides quality education. CBSE should consider integrating in the introduced Central Teacher Eligibility Test (CTET) HRE related abilities and attitudes into it.
==============================

Proposed Workflow
Gram Panchayat
• Meetings State-wide on a declared date, pass resolutions as per consultation document
• Upload resolution text and images in local language/ English
• @nic.in/@gov.in accounts for GPs in process
• Day for uploading the templates could be predefined at the Block Level
Block
• CEO/BDO or Secy, BP in-charge
• Aggregation of Gram Panchayat Data and finalise own resolutions
District
• Single Nodal Officer for each District
• Aggregation of data collected in English
State
• Nodal Officers – Secretary Higher/Tech Education and School Education
• Monitor and aggregate ULBs and Districts reports and prepare State reports

*******************


False consensus festers ill will and weakens democracy

June 2, 2014

Rohit Dhankar

One of the most flamboyant politicians of our nation thinks that opening up issues like article 370 and uniform civil code for debate is a divisive act and it should not happen. That is, Indian public should not express their views on these, and other similar, issues openly. Whatever is decided at one time in our history is decided for ever.

The problem is that a large number of people do talk about these issues and express their dissatisfaction on them. They think that these decisions were made to appease a certain section of the population. Now, this impression of the people might be wrong and they may be squarely misguided by the propaganda of the Sangh Parivar. We must remember that there is a large number of young people who see such issues as unjustifiable in modern India. These people have had no chance to educate themselves about such issues, they have a very different and consumerist conception of democracy. I think by resisting debate on such issues, and even if one enters the debate then simply declaring these issues closed for all time to come leaves this section of population in the hands of the sangh parivar. The argument that sangh parivar builds is: “there are some people who thrive on a vote bank; they misguide the Indian Muslims and rather than working for their development give them emotional issues of no value. It is in the interest of such politicians and parties that these issues remain untouchable raw nerves and never thought through”.

How do people like Mr. Tharoor hope to counter such an argument, even if it is wrong, without debate? Leaving such issues out of debate will certainly make them fissures in the public thinking which will keep on festering unattended.

The only way in a democracy to resolve such problems is debate, an open and deep debate which takes the public to the very core of democratic principles and educates them on the legitimate basis of such decisions. Fighting shy of debates in a democracy is a losing option.

My personal view if that the 2014 election results is also a reflection of slowly emerging “Hindu Political Identity”. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) started work on building such a Hindu political identity in 1925. Its work is bearing fruit. RSS has been propounding theories of Muslims oppressing Hindus for last 1000 years, Muslim appeasement, and Muslim aggression towards Hinduism. The left leaning intellectuals and most of the political formations shied away from a threadbare discussion on such allegations. They propounded theories that look like attempts at ‘explaining away’ rather than explanation for understanding. The intellectuals considered engaging in such debates with low level understanding of RSS ideologues below their intellectual ken. Their short outbursts of anger and dismissals were not properly understood by the public and therefore remained ineffective. Thus leaving the public mind open for Sangh Parivar manipulation.

Yesterday I was talking politics in rural Rajasthan in 43 degree centigrade, sitting in a veranda facing merciless Rajasthani heat. The people involved in the conversation were the ones who could sway the village voters easily. They all were Modi supporters. I asked them: do you really think the Modi government will bring in economic development? Will it make the farmers lot better?

One of them said: I believe it will create more jobs, bachchon ko nokari milegi.

The other said: whatever happens it will show Muslims their place, they are becoming very arrogant and aggressive.

This village has no Muslims, but the nearby villages do; and these people have economic and cultural relations with Muslims. There are about 20 Muslim families in the nearby village who make bangles, and supply to all women folk. Have significant cultural space in marriages when a special set of bangles is supposed to be brought for the bride. Another village, now resembling a township, has more than 200 Muslim families and they are iron-smiths, rajai makers and have several other essential functions in rural economy.

I challenged them to site examples of the local Muslim population when they have behaved aggressively or with undue arrogance. They had none. One of them said: “our Muslims are good. They are like us. But Muslims in Kashmir and where they are in Majority behave differently.”

I asked them how do they know? A young boy, educated to postgraduate level, jumped in: “Look now, we cannot go to Kashmir and by land, but Muslims from Kashmir can buy land anywhere in India. They can marry four times. Their population is increasing. The Hindu population in Bangladesh and Pakistan is decreasing.” All the arguments given for Muslim aggression and appeasement by the Sangh Parivar.

My point is not that the arguments bear any scrutiny; it is rather, without an open debate unfettered by political correctness how do you dispel this mind-set? We should realise that declaring people who ask such questions communal is no more effective in countering such charges. The opinion makers have to take the responsibility more directly and counter such arguments in public; and if there has been any truth in them then have to admit and find alternatives.

Sweeping issues under carpet in a democracy increases fissures in public opinion and weakens the democracy itself. Rather than calling names the opponent has to be seen as an equal citizen and his/her views has to be given a hearing; and have to be proved wrong is they happen to be misguided. Therefore, in spite of anger of Abdullas and timidity of Tharoors these issues have to be dealt with by means of a fair debate; that is, in case we are concerned with the kind of Hindu political identity that is being formed by Sangh parivar and want to arrest its success. Ostriches don’t win, they can only die in denial.

******