There should be greater social accountability in institutions established under PPP, says Dr. K. N. Panikkar.
K. N. Panikkar, renowned academician and historian, has been spearheading the ongoing transformation of the State's higher education sector.
As the Vice-Chairman of the Kerala State Higher Education Council, Dr. Panikkar elaborates on the various aspects of the draft State higher education policy, which is being finalised. In an email interview with The Hindu-EducationPlus, Dr. Panikkar speaks on a variety of issues including the plan to set up a College Service Commission.
The draft policy on education prepared by the Ananthamurthy Committee constituted by the State Higher Education Council recommends a common school system.
The Right to Education Act does not provide for it. Is there any possibility of reconciling the two positions?
The school education prevalent in the country is highly discriminatory. The children of the upper class families are able to study in relatively better equipped schools, both in quality of instruction and infrastructure.
They have greater access to the modern sources of knowledge and facilities to familiarise themselves with the latest developments. Moreover, they get the opportunity to acquire command over English language, both at home and school, which is a crucial factor in career prospects.
In contrast, the children of the poor and underprivileged sections of the society study in ill-equipped schools; in some States classes are conducted in open without benches, and in some cases without even a blackboard. Therefore they start with a disadvantage.
The Right to Education Act is indeed an important step and a major advance, but it does not address the discrimination inherent in the present system. A solution for that lies in providing education through common schools, instead of a 'stratified' structure based on power and wealth.
At present the possibility of reconciling the two is very remote because 'elite education' is a major source of power. Those who possess it is not likely to let it go.
The draft speaks about the need for separation of aided, unaided and government streams. But the Union government is promoting the public-private partnership (PPP) model. Is there a place for PPP in the scheme being envisaged by the council?
Yes, there is. The primary responsibility of providing education vests with the government. Since the colonial administration had not owned up this responsibility charitable institutions, philanthropic individuals and Christian missionary societies filled the void. Therefore, there is already a substantial presence of private investment in education.
Moreover, the governments, both Central and States, have not been able to earmark sufficient funds to democratise and modernise education. The public-private cooperation should be able to meet some of these demands. Such a system should have adequate public accountability and also should guard against commercialisation.
The problem today is that education has become a saleable commodity. The public-private participation should not promote commercialisation, as is happening in professional education in Kerala.
With this caution private participation should be welcome. But PPP is now a euphemism for privatisation.
herefore apprehension is expressed that PPP model mooted by the Planning Commission for implementation in the 11th Plan would lead to substantial transfer of public funds to private agencies without concomitant benefits to the public. It would be necessary to ensure greater social accountability in institutions established under PPP.
Do you think that there would be a political consensus on the proposal for setting up a College Service Commission?
I doubt very much, mainly because the private managements use appointments as a prerogative. I am told that there is massive corruption in appointments. Consequently, it is not the merit or ability that matters, but money power.
Several interests are involved in it; it is not just managements alone. There are religious and political forces that protect them. Without able teachers, the higher education sector, whatever the syllabus and curriculum may be, cannot deliver.
The idea of an independent agency has been mooted in this context. My own suggestion is an educational recruitment board, which would be responsible for selection of teachers, both in schools and colleges.
The board should be responsible for the initial as well as in-service training of teachers. Do you think that it would be possible to reconcile autonomy with accountability?
Actually the problems inherent in autonomous institutions have not been seriously debated in Kerala. At present there is 'blind' opposition to autonomy. The main reason is the manner in which private institutions function, which has led to a sense of desperation.
There is a genuine fear that autonomy would lead to commercialisation, authoritarianism and victimisation. But the future of higher education lies in autonomy. Both teachers and students should be able to actively participate in running the institution.