The Broad Mind | The 20-point lag

By R. Srikanth

On Government of India’s Twenty-Point Programme

Recently, it was reported that the Prime Minister and the HRD minister were to mail out a “personalized message for children” to 13 lakh schools in India, as a push to implement the NAC’s “Right to Education” law.  This brought back memories of another time back in 1975 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi pushed the first version of a  “Twenty point programme”.  As a student in one of the many  small privately owned and operated schools,  this centrally organized scheme to push the twenty-point program was a pointless and disruptive distraction for many  weeks.    After the PM’s grand announcement of her “20 point program” on state-run Doordarshan TV, and the full-page advertisements in all newspapers by the Govt. that followed, the school administration was visited by the local politician, who impressed the school board with the need to make educating children about the 20-point program a very high-priority goal.  The immediate effect of this 20-point program blitz was  many weeks of pointless distraction from school work for the teachers and the children.

The main outcome of all this was the “memorize the 20 point program” contest for different age groups. Students were allowed to take time off class work to memorize the 20-point program word for word, to be regurgitated verbatim in front of the whole school.  By the time the contest was over, a lot of time and effort was spent putting up posters and handing out sheets of paper with the 20-point program printed on it, along with a smiling visage of the Prime Minister and various local politicians.   Mind you, there were no discussions or debates on the merits of the 20-points in the program. Students barely understood the reason why they were being made to memorize 20 bullet items from the government.  When I recall this as an adult, it is clear to me that this was all a bare-faced attempt to enlist the school administration to do political propaganda on behalf of the ruling political party. There was no attempt by anyone to relate the diktat from the central government to the Civics lessons taught in class.  My entire batch of classmates graduated from the Tenth Standard (and +2) without any understanding of the Federal structure of the Indian government or the responsibilities of the local government, or other basics of separation of powers in the constitution.

The 20-point program itself went through major surgery four times since 1975, and the latest version of the twenty-point program was “restructured” in 2006.  The “20-point program” was significant in having completely vague goals as “agenda items” such as, “Health for All” and “Attack on rural poverty” or “Housing for the people”.  One of the twenty points, “Expansion of education” has now been recast as “Right To Education”, and the current government plans to mail out 13 lakh letters to school teachers for the same reason they were co-opted in 1975.  To conduct political activity in schools under the guise of implementing policy.   Clearly, an open letter to all school children is not a “personalized note from the Prime Minister and HRD minister to every child”, not matter how you slice it. So this government uses public funds to run its political campaign, so what? you may ask.

The problem is that political games are being played with the serious matter of educating children in our schools.  These campaigns do nothing to teach school children on the nature of government or governance, and worse, is a distraction from regular school work.  Wastes the scarce time of teachers in activity that is meant to help political parties rather than school children.   We are told that “volunteers” will ensure that all schools are “RTE-compliant”, whatever that means.  So who is going to “volunteer” for this busy work that the government just created on an already over-burdened school system?  Yes, it is the same teachers who are tasked with teaching lessons to children and who get blamed for poor performance of kids in school.  How does distracting teachers and schools from focussing on their job of teaching kids help with the “Right to Education”?  Maybe the Prime Minister and Mr. Kapil Sibal would be kind enough to explain that to parents who are spending a lot of hard-earned money to send their kids to school.

Follow R Srikanth, Cyber strategies researcher at Takshashila Institution on Twitter

DISCLAIMER: This is an archived post from the Indian National Interest blogroll. Views expressed are those of the blogger's and do not represent The Takshashila Institution’s view.