Thursday, 11 August, 2022
HomeOpinionDegree, naukri, textbooks and fees: How India’s education mafia works

Degree, naukri, textbooks and fees: How India’s education mafia works

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It would be an understatement to say that India’s education sector is in a bad shape.

From darkness to light. Or so I thought when I heard about my shifting from the dark dungeons of coal mines, as coal secretary, to the bright lights of school education, as secretary for school education and literacy.

However, I discovered soon that in the coal sector, mining was underground and mafias operated above it, but in the minefield of school education, it was the other way round. All the education mafias existed underground, and they were all masked, masquerading as so-called noble giants. Having taken on some of the mafias of the coal sector and partly succeeded in bringing the sector to order, the task was now to handle these ‘noble giants’. It was made more difficult as there was no public outrage against invisible scams in education as was in the case of coal.

Everything seemed to be apparently in order.

To make matters worse, I was the fifth person to hold the charge of secretary in the education department in just two and a half years. Most of my predecessors with impeccable credentials in the education sector did not continue or were not allowed to continue. The government apparently found in me to be the most ‘educated’ person (I had never worked in this sector except for a brief tenure of three months in 1997 in adult education in Uttar Pradesh) to handle this sector.

It would be an understatement to state that the education sector was in bad shape – both in terms of budgetary allocation and human resource management.

Also read: My friend told me the coal sector was like ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’: Former secy Anil Swarup

The budgetary allocation for school education was Rs 55,115 crores during 2014-15. This amount got reduced in subsequent years. For instance, the allocation for 2016-17 was Rs 43,554 crore.

On the human resource front too, the situation was alarming. The department had five secretaries between 2014 and 2016. A number of joint secretaries were also changed during this period. It was like musical chairs reminiscent of my days in UP where it was rumoured that the only industry flourishing was the transfer industry.

In the two biggest states of the country, the positioning of top management followed a peculiar pattern. Whereas in UP, there were two additional chief secretary-level officers manning school education and secondary education separately (creating huge coordination problems), in the state of Bihar, one officer looked after both the education and health departments. Consequently, the health of education continues to suffer.

In addition to this, the mafias were having a field day, eating into the system, like termites. Fortunately, like all mafias, those in the education sector too were not a majority, but played a dominant role in decision-making. They were extremely well connected and deeply entrenched. There were a host of mafias, but the prominent ones were operating in these areas:

  1. Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) and Diploma in Elementary Education (D.El.Ed)
  2. Examination centres
  3. Publishing
  4. Private schools

There are around 16,000 B.Ed and D.El.Ed colleges in the country. A large number of these exist only in name.  If you pay them well, you can get a degree without an effort.  It was rumoured that if you pay them more, they could even arrange for a ‘naukri’ (a government job). Action was initiated by then chairman of National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) Santosh Mathews, an upright officer, by issuing notices to all the colleges to furnish the details of their existence on affidavits. The idea was to ensure that only those that actually existed got recognition and in case of wrong information they could be prosecuted. It worked initially, but the colleges realised that quite a few of them could be in trouble. Despite the support he got from most of the states, he was put under enormous pressure by the mafias who took the ‘judicial’ route to pin down the chairman. He had to quit.

In a few northern states of the country, a number of examination centres are given on ‘theka’ (contract) for copying. These centres are highly ‘priced’ as they facilitate mass copying or cheating during examinations.  The current chief minister of UP, Yogi Adityanath, came down heavily on this mafia. This was last done by Kalyan Singh in 1991, but thereafter no chief minister could dare to do that. Consequent to the steps taken in UP in this year’s exams, more than one million students chose not to give exams.  It is a reflection of the ‘addiction’ to mass copying.

Also read: To fix India’s education system, we need good action plans not policies

The publishing industry thrives on the education sector. People with vested interests want to maintain status quo as this benefits them.  It happens at two levels.  As respective state governments provide free books to students, there are various ways in which money is made. The ‘mandatory cuts’ in getting the books printed centrally constitutes a substantial portion. The initiative taken by the UP government in 2018 and the consequent savings thereunder lends credence to this allegation. The Bihar government is toying with the idea of direct benefit transfers recognising the ‘dealings’ inherent in central printing and distribution.

The other level of money making is done by a handful of private publishers who enter into an ‘arrangement’ with the private schools in the name of quality, and compel the students to buy almost four to five times more expensive books as compared to the NCERT ones. If all the students of around 20,000 CBSE-affiliated schools were to source NCERT books, there would be an estimated annual expenditure of around Rs 650 crores. Compared to this, if they source books from private publishers, it would cost around Rs 3,000 crores per annum. The difference is too great to justify the quality argument.

The NCERT did a wonderful job in the current academic year to ensure that books were available on time so that the students were not compelled to buy expensive books, but this effort will need to continue. The NCERT will always be under pressure from people with vested interests to be ‘inefficient’.

Most of the private schools in India contribute enormously to imparting quality education.  However, some of them are bringing a bad name to this segment. There are some extremely powerful individuals who are able to get away with the most immoral things in education. They violate various norms, legal and ethical, with impunity because having been part of the official machinery at some point in time they know the tricks of the trade.

Also read: How an IAS officer’s Facebook campaign is rebuilding Kerala’s Alleppey

Irrational hiking of fee, charging huge sums of money to ‘lend’ their brand, harassing the brand assignees are some of the many tricks they practice. The chairperson of the CBSE Rajesh Chatur who chose to take them on was shown the door in 2017. His successor, Anita Karwal, one of the finest civil servants, was also set to be ‘sacrificed’. But she held her ground despite pressure.

The good news in all of this is yet again from UP where the state has enacted a law on the fee regulation after consulting all the stakeholders. Hence, the legislation has been welcomed by all. Hopefully, other states will follow suit.

The author is a retired civil servant and former secretary in the government of India.

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  1. Sing no praise for NCERT which has not done its job of framing NCF after 2005. We have fifteen year old policies which we are eulogizing. For some precarious reasons, best know to the masters only, NCERT has not been allowed to function in a normal way. Even CBSE is not doing its job properly except conducting an examination for 10th and 12th Class. The books published by NCERT have not been revised for the last decades. Whatever meagre education growth you can see all around you is due to the Private Publication only, whereas just see 15 year old knowledge does not work in the modern times. Ground reality cannot be caught with mere facts only.

  2. I am an very dedicated, experienced and honest educationist looking for an platform /education department ,where I can share tried and true system based on cumulative experience. It will help all students in the classroom to learn their way. No extra investment is required.

    If looking for real learning outcome in students. Kindly get in touch with me. It is first of its kind, not used in any school.

  3. Truth lies in question paper and answer scheme or marking scheme of an entrance or competitive exam paper .
    If you would see it properly you ll get the answer.

  4. The Lords of Education NEED to reigned in but by whom. Can you ask a thief to catch a thief ? Look at the assembly lines that produce unemployable graduates , engineers, MBAs. Look at the tution factories in Kota.

  5. sadly Not a single line or comments on biggest legalised beneficiaries i.e. Private Schools owned and/operated by minorities and mostly outside purview of State regulations.

  6. Very well written with to the point information by no other than an insider who has seen it all. The education mafia is the right phrase although oxymoronic. I have been engaged doing social work in rural govt. Primary schools in U P and finding how pathetic is the state of children’s learning. The system is failing them, most teachers are doing a naukari for decent paycheck, there is no accountability, the state of midday meal is horrible, etc. I am afraid that even the public servants at the district level who command power, look the other way and offer just the lip service. With what I have seen in India’s education system, it is getting worse not better. Thank you.

  7. Most of the points raised are agreeable but i beg to differ about public outrage which has been consistently happening almost in all the states across India since quite some time now against the commercialisation of education leaving it unaffordable for the less advantaged section of society at large.

  8. The writer has praised UP for several good initiatives in the field of education to control copying, use of only NCERT books by schools etc. But media is not highlighting these. It is praiseworthy that UP is doing well to correct problems in the field of education as it the most populous state with low standard in education.

  9. Whatever may be the ills of private schools, many / most families, including those who cannot afford them, prefer these to government / municipal schools. Unlike in the government sector – not just for education – where is there is an element of compulsion, if a private institution is not delivering a quality product, consumers are free to try out a competitor. 2. If a B Ed institution is not imparting quality education, its products are more likely to get jobs in government schools. They would face a genuine, searching interview in a private school.

  10. There was a time in India where education was not a business and was done out of pure joy, but now a days this is not the case, every school we see is in the race of who has the highest fees and who charges the most donation. We are moving towards a capitalist society where everything is measured by money. The books have become expensive and it is difficult for everyone to buy them which leads to the uneducated population of the country. Katha India is an organisation which serves education and life skills for the under privileged in the society and makes all efforts to make them independent, regardless of your age. They have many programmes for teenagers and adults which will be useful for them in their future like tailoring, bakery and fashion designing. With schools in slum areas they caters kids from the age of 2. Check out their website and get inspired.

  11. All the points raised by writer may be correct but private education is still better than government institutions. If there is copying, it is the job of the govt outfits to control it. Governments such as of Delhi have been harassing private entrepreneurs. Instead they should concentrate on building new schools.

  12. It is sad state of affairs and a few unscrupulous are ruining the education sector. It is not the Roch but the poor man’s child that suffers the most. Those who can’t pay hefty Pvt school fees and even after schooling are unable to hold a decent well informed conversation or perform basic literary skills. The demographic dividend might just turn into India’s worst nightmare if this continues…

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