I grew up watching a lot of American TV shows and movies. It would be interesting to be exposed to a Western way of life. The American dating scene, school and college life, Halloween, Thanksgiving, parenting styles amongst other things.
In particular, I recall that American parents would start saving up for their child’s college education from the very birth. “I’m working three jobs for her college education,” “we had to take money out of your college fund,” “we need to save money for your college fund,” etc. In contrast with Indian parents who would start saving for their daughter’s dowry, American parents seemed to be very progressive to my impressionable young mind.
Truth be told, my parents were never too concerned about my college fund. Government college fees for many middle class parents come as a huge relief, especially for those who educate their children in private schools. My graduation cost my parents 30K, post-graduation 20K, and my PhD about ₹5000. My entire higher education cost my parents 55K, which is still lesser than my private school’s fees for one year. I learnt, what I thought was a cultural difference between American and Indian parents, was actually the difference between the economic policies in the two countries.
Over the last few years, there have been no new government universities, no increase in number of seats in existent universities, no increase in number of hostels, no increase in allocation of funds for infrastructure, and no permanent appointments of faculty. College fees have been hiked, research funds cut, teachers’ salaries have slumped and promotions denied. Not so coincidentally, there has been rampant proliferation of a number of private institutions that treat students as customers and education as a business.
No doubt, many middle class parents have started saving up for their child’s college education. “DU main toh hona bahut mushkil hai, private ke liye paise chahiye,” (It’s difficult to get into DU, so we need to save up for a private institute) or “Government medical main nahi hoga toh paise deke management seat se private main medical kara denge,” (Pursuing medical studies at a government institute seems impossible, maybe we’ll use the management quota to apply at a private institute) or “Engineering kara denge private se.” (We’ll organise for an engineering seat at a private institute)
IITs, DU, AIIMS, and IIMs are coveted because they still offer quality education at affordable prices. But should it be this competitive? Have we ever asked ourselves, why are these cut-offs so high? Why are the chances of getting through IIT, IIMs, AIIMS so slim? Could it be that I’m intelligent, but there are not nearly as many seats in colleges as there should be?
Where does our education cess go if not to educate our children? Why is our money used to bail out non-performing assets and a free reign given to Lalit Modi, Vijay Mallya and other crony capitalists? Is there any accountability? Do we indeed have a right to education?
In a not so dystopian future, students will be heavily burdened by debt, the ease with which one could otherwise change their fields of study because of affordable education will be all but lost. Parents and students will be indebted heavily to a system to ever question the unfairness of it.
Education will become accessible for privileged few, leaving behind a large section of the society, the socio-economically disadvantaged, the differently abled, and women. Oh, the women! Dowry still hasn’t ceased to be nearly as important as women’s education in our country.
I’m here, I’m fighting, it gets scary and lonely, but I don’t know any other way to be. Call me naïve but I believe in the power of education. Not the education that can be bought and sold, but the education that our texts speak of – sa vidya ya vimuktaye (that which liberates is education).
Privatisation of education will make slaves of students, teachers, and the society alike. Neo-colonialism someone called it, nationalism, shouted another on TV. Koi toh poocho, mandir wahi banaayenge, par college kaha jayeenge? (Will someone ask, if the temple is to be built where it is, where are the colleges going to go?