News scan: NAFRE bicycle expedition for CSS

Pioneer (VivaCity)

The humble cycle and the common school
Latika Padgaonkar

There's a permanent twinkle in his eyes, a restless
energy in his body and an excitement - of new citadels
to be built and old ones to be smashed - in his
language. Sanjeev Kaura is purposeful and spirited,
free of illusions but never disheartened. At 37, Kaura
- as national convener of NAFRE (National Alliance for
the Fundamental Right to Education founded five years
ago by 10 organisations) - has forged the Alliance
into a gigantic coalition of 2,400 grassroots NGOs
across 15 states. The 20 lakh committed people in its
fold probably make NAFRE the largest grassroots
movement in the country.

That breadth and strength will now be on show as NAFRE
launches a north-to-south Bicycle Expedition in the
cause of education. Expeditions are a useful tool:
they whip up curiosity in the onlookers (or
participants, as in this case) and thrill those who
travel the route. Paddling for more than a month from
Simla to Kanyakumari, Kaura and four others (a
filmmaker, a state NGO partner of NAFRE, a local
celebrity and a foreign correspondent) will take the
message of Sabko Shiksha, Samaan Shiksha to people in
nine states.

This 3,600 km expedition for equity (and equity of
opportunity) in education is the first of its kind in
India, although last year, on August 8 (Quit India
Day), NAFRE had clamoured for the Common School System
(CSS) by forming human chains in many parts of the
country. The other Jatha in India for universalising
primary education had been launched by the Bharatiya
Gyan Vigyan Samiti and dates back to more than 10
years. That awareness having been consolidated, the
next step was to aim for equity and quality. Five
cyclists will push off on March 1 and will be joined
by 20 cyclists in every state. In a bid to involve
civil society and build up momentum ahead of the
arrival of the cyclists at the 33 scheduled halts in
various states, NAFRE's state alliances have planned
large public rallies, poster exhibitions and
wall-writing, plays and skits. "It's a great time for
us," says Kaura. "With BSP on the election agenda, we
are confident of adding to it the E of education."

Kaura has been advocating the Common School System as
a vital component of equity and justice for children.
The idea, mooted over 35 years ago by the Kothari
Commission, was accepted by the Union Government in
its policy in 1968. It was restated in The National
Policy on Education (1986) and later in the Revised
Policy (1992); that, up to a given level, all
students, irrespective of caste, creed, location or
sex would be given access to education of comparable
quality. But to this day, the CSS, which sought to
reduce disparities, remains a concept. "None of the
recommendations has borne fruit," says Kaura. "If
anything, every plan of action has gone in the
opposite direction. For instance, non-formal education
centres have been set up which only widen existing
divides." In Kaura's view, the weak political will
gets a shot in the arm by an assertive social will.
This is what the cycle yatra and people's mobilisation
will do - drum up that assertive will.

The ball has to be in the court of the Government, not
in the province of private entrepreneurs in education.
For the "private" portion of education is exceedingly

Says filmmaker Rohit Negi, a friend of NAFRE and who
has made two films on education, "If all the private
and NGO efforts were put together, it would add up to
no more than seven per cent of schools required for
six to 14-year-olds in the country. Making these films
really opened my eyes to the dimensions of the

Then there are the wrong and woolly ideas about our
achievements, even about the achievements of an
educationally progressive state like Kerala. Says Baby
Paul, representative of NAFRE's southern region,
"Education in Kerala is a business; it's a commodity
for purchase. It all depends on your pocket. We are
purchasing a fundamental right." The right to a loo in
school is probably as fundamental as the right to
education. Government schools in Kerala, adds Paul,
are in bad condition. Bad for loos. "In rural areas,
only seven per cent have urinals for girls and only
one per cent have lavatories for girls."

Also wrong and woolly are figures and reports. "Take
the DPEP Report released five years after the
programme was launched," says Ashok Tangde, a member
of NAFRE's Working Committee. "It stated that in
Maharashtra there were no dropouts. Yet immediately
afterwards, the Mahatma Phule Sikshan Yojana was
started, precisely for dropouts."

All this and much more will be debated with the public
at the rallies. To be sure, CSS in the neighbourhood
may not become a reality overnight but if the social
foundations of an equitable, compulsory education of
quality must be laid today, then Kaura and his team
have picked up the gauntlet. What I love is - they
have done it with a smile.

The Common School System was originally advocated by
the Education Commission (1964-66), under the
chairmanship of Dr DS Kothari (hereafter referred to
as the Kothari Commission). NPE, 1968, accepted the
recommendation of the Kothari Commission for bringing
about the Common School System. In the context of the
national system of education, NPE, 1986, restated the
determination of the Government to take effective
measures in the direction of the Common School System.
The NPERC noted that the Common School System still
remained a concept even though mooted by the Kothari
Commission over a quarter of a century ago and
expressed the view that educational disparities are
being further accentuated by the failure to implement
the Common School System. The NPERC advocated concrete
steps to translate the concept into a reality.

Do you Yahoo!?
Yahoo! Hotjobs: Enter the "Signing Bonus" Sweepstakes

Partial thread listing: