Public Education In The Tentacles Of The World Bank

T Narayanan Vattoli //

Our public education system is breathing its last breath on its death bed. The novel project of the International Development Bank, STARS (Strengthening Teaching_Learning and Results for States), is initiated to accomplish the task of hammering the last nail on its coffin. The World Bank came in 1994 offering loans with this unhidden intention. Though tremendous criticism was raised against this programme by well-known academicians and dignitaries the government of Kerala was determined to go forward with this programme. It led to rapid deterioration of the quality of the state funded primary School system (class I-V) and widespread loss of its credibility among the common people, especially among the Scheduled castes, Scheduled Tribes, OBCs, Muslims and other impoverished sections of society. Lakhs of students left the government-run and aided public school stream and it was the period of great celebration to unaided private schools. Though CPIM leader Sitaram Yechury was vehemently against it in 1995, the LDF government that came to power in 1996 began to propagate the project as a progressive one. Sastra Sahitya Parishad which in 1994 published a book accusing that DPEP was a conspiracy of the World Bank to obliterate the deep-rooted public education system in Kerala, now became the staunch promoter of the project when it was recognised as an NGO to assist the implementation of the project. The World Bank everywhere insists that their educational project must be implemented with the support and participation of a Non-Governmental Organisation. The Governments. in Kerala ignored the criticism raised by the parents and teachers and Sarva Siksha Abhiyan of the World Bank followed DPEP. Subsequently it is renamed as Samagra Siksha Abhiyan and now STARS is going to be launched by the Central Government as the third phase of education reform though it is a part of SSA. The present LDF Government in Kerala claims that they could bring back a section of the students who left the public education system. Upholding the World Bank’s ideology to privatise and commercialise the entire education system how can the Government protect the public education in the state that was admired all around the world?

The Government of India had given approval to the World Bank to intervene in Indian education through STARS programme in October 2019. Subsequently a loan agreement was signed between the bank and the GOI on 24th June 2020 as per Project ID-P 166868. The World Bank team was led by Shabnam Sinha, the education specialist of World Bank and Marguerit M Clerke, the Senior education specialist of WB Human Development network. Shabnam Sinha is now the official who leads the WB team for Kaushal Vikas Yojana department of the GOI. Her work focuses on result-based financing and analytical tasks in Vietnam, Indonesia, Korea and Africa. She also works in the areas of Public Private Partnerships (PPP) in Education. Before joining the WB, Mrs Sinha was CEO of PPP education in a large private sector company. She was senior Programme Adviser (Education) with United States Agency for International Development (USAID), New Delhi. She has worked at the NCERT on curriculum development and instructional material development including textbook writing and educational undertaking, planning and appraisal. Marguerite M Clerke has acquired PhD in educational measurement and programme evaluation. A former Primary and Secondary education teacher, she now leads the Bank’s work programme on learning assessment.

In the first phase, Six States are included in the pilot programme of the STARS project. Kerala is one of them and the others being Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The project is for six years and the closing date is specified as 31st December 2025. Kerala is admired in the books, Primary Education in India and Secondary Education in India, published by the WB as a state which accomplished successfully all the guideline parameters laid down by DPEP and SSA.

World Bank has its own vision in implementing the STARS project. It aims at an educational programme deeply based on neoliberal corporate ideology. The Bank wants a total reform basing on its vision in the fields of curriculum content, teaching, learning, training and results. It wants to give trainings not only to officials and teachers but to parents also. The parents should feel that they are the part and parcel of education and their active participation is an essential condition in the implementation of the project in the local level. The planners expect to minimise, thus, the protests from parents against the project too. More over participatory development is a World Bank ideology.

World Bank wants to make a total change in Indian Education so as to make it acceptable to the market oriented global development. PPP model education, implementing the doctrine of community ownership, skill development scheme, delivering a curriculum that keeps pace with the rapidly evolving needs of the job market, clubbing schools with industrial workshops, establishing education Voucher system and school accreditation system, making assessment through high stakes achievement tests etc. are the major steps to be taken to achieve the goal. Reform in this direction will be made from ECCE (Early Childhood Care and Education) level onwards.

The W. B spends only 14.93% of the total project cost of 36806 million dollars for STARS. (Section14, page7, the STARS Programme Information Document dated June 3, 2020). 53. 43% of the cost has to be spent by the central government. and the rest, 31.64% will be the share of the state governments. 500 million dollars have already been allotted to the Central Government. by the W. B. A total of 250 million students (between 6-17), 1. 5 million schools and over 10 million teachers are claimed to be benefitted by the project. More than 3 billion dollars have already been spent so far by the WB through DPEP and SSA. We can see that World Bank’s contribution would amount to only 1.4% of what GOI and the State/UT governments will spend together on the entire school education. This is the same proportion which the World Bank contributed to DPEP in the 1990s. DPEP designed and sponsored by the WB was implemented in 18 states and almost half of India’s districts during 1993-2002. Here a relevant question arises. If 98.6% of the total amount required for SSA can be mobilised by the central and state governments why a meagre amount of 1.4% also can’t be spent by them? Thus, the World Bank intervention can be easily prevented in Indian education if desired. But India too is a member of WTO which decides the educational perspectives to be accepted by each and every member nation. So, it is not at all a question of a lack of financial resources or of pedagogical expertise that is driving the GOI once again into the bankruptcy of World Bank controlled programmes. The class interest of GOI is entirely in line with the World Bank’s Market ideology. Indian capitalist class is now against the constitutional imperative of building an egalitarian education system based on social justice and freedom from discrimination. Instead, the government. wants to dismantle the state funded education system and replace it by a corporatized and elitist education system in which the majority of the population especially SCs / STs / OBCs / Muslims and other impoverished sections will not get access. It is done to safeguard the interest of the Indian capitalist ruling class which is in the moribund stage. During the freedom struggle the national leaders stood for setting up nationalist institutions and boycotting imperialist institutions and for establishing Independent Indian education on a completely new foundation. In 1944, the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) stated that the purpose of education was holistic to develop the personality and talents of the individual, to prepare the ground for a livelihood and to nurture independent citizens of a modern democratic state. This rich legacy influenced the Constituent Assembly Debates too. Thus, giving equal right to quality education for all became the responsibility of the Indian state. In 1993 in a judgement the Supreme Court declared right to education to be a fundamental right. The capitalist class now has lost all its progressive character and in its moribund stage it is curtailing all rights and is trying to dismantle the constitutional values.

The reform initiatives focus more directly on the delivery of education services at the state and district levels by providing customised local level solutions towards school improvement. The local market need is important and the curriculum also will be customised. Providing only job skills to the wards is the local need.

The real intention of the World Bank is to transfer the responsibility of education on to the shoulders of the local community from the government. The crisis of education can be solved by creating community ownership of education, they profess. The ‘non state actors ‘ will be promoted to manage the School system. The fund to maintain education establishment will be mobilised by private corporate investors, non-governmental organisations, charitable societies, religious organisations, social organisations, parents who are liable to pay fees, SMCs, local level education committees and panchayathiraj institutions. Creating community ownership has been the professed goal of SSA. The very first sentence of SSA Framework for Implementation clearly says: “SSA is an effort to universalise elementary education by community ownership of the school system. ” DPEP Guideline of 1997 also has stated clearly that the government funding would be gradually reduced. The programme intends to create an education system which would be cost effective, replicable and sustainable. STARS is the continuation of the Samagra Siksha Abhiyan. STARS is based on stronger accountability for results, more freedom and “power” for communities and more choices for parents.

The project claims giving special attention to the vulnerable sections. The SC, ST and minority communities will be focused to deliver a curriculum that keeps pace with the rapidly evolving needs of the job market. Means the curriculum will never focus on inculcating knowledge based on basic science, history, literature, culture, fundamental disciplines, critical thinking or character building. The only intention is to make the students cogs in the economic and technological machine. The learners will be made sheer instruments to achieve the levels reached for its predetermined set of outcomes. This reduces the teaching – learning process from being a diverse and complex interactive relationship to functioning merely as a conveyer for transmitting pre-set modules of information from teacher – facilitators to student recipients. The experience so far of Kerala is an eye opener. After the implementation of DPEP and SSA, the rate of functional illiterates is fast increasing. For students who were not able to acquire basic language and math proficiency in primary level are given additional coaching in higher classes through the schemes “Malayala thilakkam”, “Aksharappulari”, “Meetti hindi”, “Easy English”, “Ganitham Madhuram” etc. “Every Student Succeeds” policy was adopted in Kerala and as a result, 98.82 per cent students passed in SSLC exam in 2020, still leaving 1.18% of students behind. Though it is below the target government. projects it as a great achievement. But the standard of education is at the abysmal depth.

Public-Private Participation (PPP) in education is the model projected by STARS programme. PPP model is proposed in the Right lo Education Act of 2009. The 11th plan (2007-2012) was declared by Mr. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister, as the educational plan. The PPP model provides for no government or social control over education. It will lead to the privatisation and commercialisation of education using public funds. The 11th plan proposed the setting up of 6000 new model schools in secondary education, affiliated to CBSE. Of these 2500 school were to be under the PPP model. All the students are liable to pay fees. The general students will be charged any amount as fee. The vulnerable section will have concessions. They are allowed to join PPP model schools. But their fees amount can be reimbursed by the private management from the government. Private institutions are thus promoted using public fund. Both the reimbursement and Education Voucher scheme are intended to pass the public money to the private sector.

Education voucher scheme is there in many Western countries including the USA. While the government may continue to finance the education system, it need not run its own schools to provide education. The funds follow the student rather than the school. The government would provide the students with education voucher of a fixed amount and the student can use it towards paying their fee at any school of their choice. The spokesmen of the scheme claim that it is a progressive step because it gives the student freedom of choice and equal and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education. Actually, it becomes an incentive for private entrepreneurs to set up their own schools utilising the public fund.

High stakes test is proposed by the STARS programme as a test used to make important decisions about students, educators, schools, or districts most commonly for the purpose of accountability. It is to ensure that students are enrolled in effective schools and being taught by effective teachers. In general, High Stakes means that the test scores are used to determine punishments such as sanctions, penalties, funding reductions, negative publicity etc. and awards, grade promotion and compensation. The quality of teaching, learning and governance are assessed according to the objectives of STARS Programme. The officials of the Education department, the teachers and the parents will be trained and equipped to manage this transformation. They will be made relevant to the market needs. Foundational learning of the children from ECCE will be strengthened preparing them with the cognitive Socio-behavioural and language skills to meet future labour market needs. Junaid Ahmad, the World Bank country Director said, “India recognizes the need to significantly improve its learning outcome to fuel future growth and meet the demands of the labour market. STARS will support India’s response to this challenge by strengthening implementation at the local level, investing in teacher capacity and ensuring that no child of any background is left behind from the right to education. Investing more in the early years of education will equip children with the skills required to compete for the jobs of the future.”

Right to Education Act of 2009 is only the copying of No Child Left Behind Act, 2002 of the USA which was an utter failure and it led to the promulgation of the new law called Every Student Succeeds Act, 2015. The NCLB Act proved that the punishments on the basis of high stakes test only hurt the schools and do not contribute to the improvement of student education. The focus on standardized testing encourages teachers to teach a narrow subset of skills that the school believes increases test performance, rather than achieve in-depth understanding of even the overall curriculum. ” Teaching to the test “has been observed to raise test scores, though not as much as other teaching techniques. Schools and teachers are held accountable for how kids learned and achieved. The schools that do not show improvement are penalized. This paves the way for the students to choose a private school for further studies employing the facility of education Voucher scheme. This is claimed to be giving fair, equal and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education!

STARS proposes accreditation to schools. Accreditation is an official recognition that the school is credible. The students and faculty should have the professed level of educational standard expected by STARS. The acceptable level of quality should be acquired by the schools. The educational and industrial organisations should recognise the level of educational standard. If the school loses accreditation it will no longer be eligible to receive financial aid from the state. Students’ enrolment also will be dependent on the credibility of the school and it is decided by the accreditation of minimum standard of quality. So, we can observe that this is also a strategy for privatisation.

STARS is unduly focused on advocating technology-driven quick-fix solutions to all the problems of the education system. Education sector was neglected for decades. It has no necessary infrastructure and pedagogical essentials. Adequate teacher training was not given. Sufficient number of permanent faculty was not appointed. The current trend towards online teaching-learning as the answer to problems of access on the one hand and to homogenizing “knowledge” into digitally consumable units on the other is vigorously advocated by STARS. It is not concerned either for its pedagogical limitations or for the enormous exclusion that would result because only 8% households with children from 5 to 24 years of age have access to both a digital device and internet connectivity. Digital learning can only be an additional aid to a well provided for and adequately expansive formal system of interactive classroom teaching-learning. It certainly cannot substitute for it particularly when the vast majority of children of the relevant age groups come from the most disadvantaged and marginalized sections of society.

Privatisation and commercialisation of school education increased at a large scale during the post DPEP decade. It was higher than in any of the previous decades since independence. This is precisely the World Bank’s ideological agenda. We all know that World Bank is an institution devoted to protecting and advancing the interests of International Financial capital. It is not an institution equipped or concerned with the educational rights and pedagogical concerns of providing quality education to the vast majority of the India’s children who are currently deprived of the benefits of education. They see the students of India as a market for Corporate investors. They see them as an instrument to drive their market machinery. Free, universal scientific and democratic education based on knowledge acquisition is the aspiration of the common people who want to liberate themselves from the yoke of capitalist exploitation. But World Bank, the instrument in the hands of global corporate capitalism wants to make the young generation only the slaves to labour for their capital interest. So, they want to give them skill-oriented education instead of knowledge-oriented education.

Constitution of India guarantees equal rights to all citizens. The constitution is based on egalitarian, socialist and secular values. But STARS programme, if implemented, will be against our constitutional values. S C/ST and other backward communities will be deprived of basic education. The dreams of the renaissance leaders for an education system based on scientific, secular and democratic principles will be scattered. When the well-meaning people of India are demanding to allot at least 10% of the central budget to education the GOI is curtailing the education budget constantly. Now they want to shift their responsibility to give education to people on a set of “non state actors” including corporate investors who are interested only in profit making. People of India, especially the academic community should realize the situation and rise up to save education from the tentacles of the World Bank.

(The writer is the General Convenor, Committee For The Protection Of Right To Education, Kerala)

Originally published in The Truth: Platform for Radical Voices of The Working Class (Issue 4/ August ’20)

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