“Why did we have to fight for independence if we cannot study in our mother tongue,” said Anil Sadgopal, eminent educationist and presidium member, All India Forum for Right to Education, at the third memorial oration of the Kuruvila Jacob initiative for promoting excellence in school education.

His lecture was dotted with several anecdotes from his days working with children of schools in Hoshangabad district of Madhya Pradesh. He pioneered the Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme in government schools to impart science education through hands-on experiments.

“In one such school, the teacher had collected water from different sources in the village such as ponds, and spring water and after discussing in groups, the children had to identify and record through a simple experiment, the difference between hard and soft water. There was absolute silence when the time came to record the observations,” he recalled.

Finally, one child stood up and asked, in what language the findings had to be recorded. The teacher at the Hindi-medium school was sensitive, and allowed them to record their findings in any language of their choice. And, they recorded their observations prolifically in Bundelkhandi, he said.

He stressed on the need for an empowered national translation commission that would translate texts, documents, literature, and research papers of every discipline, from the languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule to all other Indian languages.

He spoke extensively on the government’s policy on ‘inclusion’, and about how over the past 25 years, the government’s expenditure on education was declining. “In September 2007, the Prime Minster while heading a meeting of the Planning Commission said that every child must be ‘included’ in the education policy, and in the same breath went on to say that could be done though public-private partnership model,” he said.

When the word ‘inclusion’ is used, who is to be included, and who is to be excluded, on what criteria and who has the power to decide, he asked. Presenting slide-based government statistics, he said that only 10 per cent OBCs, nine per cent muslims, eight per cent dalits, and six per cent tribals who enter class-I cross class-XII. “This means that 90 per cent OBCs, 92 per cent dalits, for instance, are not eligible for reservation in institutes of higher education,” he said. He criticised the neo-liberal policies of the government, and discussed the impact of the global capital on the education system in the country, and raised questions about the gap between social reality and a curriculum based on official knowledge.

Earlier in the day, he along with other educationists released the Chennai Declaration formulated by the Forum in partnership with State Platform for Common School System that aims to build a state-funded common school system based on neighbourhood schools from pre-primary level to class-XII.

The 17-page declaration, which has been drafted with the help of a seven-member committee, analyses the field of education in India from a historical, politico-economic and policy perspective, consolidates the discourse on education pre-and-post independence, highlights the importance of issues faced by minorities, disabled, and OBCs and Dalits perspectives and prescribes the future course of action.

“Under the provisions of the current Act, of the nearly 2.5 crore children in need for admission to class-I, only 18 lakh will benefit even if the 25 per cent reservation in private schools is practiced to full effect throughout the country. “The focus suddenly shifts from the 2.5 crore to the 18 lakh children,” he said.

The Kuruvila Jacob Initiative for promoting excellence in school education began in August 2004 when students and alumni of the Madras Christian College High School of which the eminent educationist Kuruvila Jacob was the headmaster got together to help schools adopt innovative techniques in learning, encourage the use of ‘best practices’ in participating schools and train schools to learn and use Total Quality Management methodologies among other objectives. At the event, certificates were distributed to those who had graduated from their various programmes.

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