Navodaya schools was formulated in 1986 when Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister.
It envisaged that a model school would be set up in every district of the country. The schools are entirely financed by the Centre, Rs 2,000 crore being sanctioned in the first phase. Barring West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, all states accepted the plan.
It was suicidal on the part of West Bengal to have turned down the idea. The state has slipped to the 11th position in terms of education. The then education minister, Kanti Biswas, opposed the scheme on the plea that it would create an elite class.
Tamil Nadu did not accept it because the medium of instruction was Hindi along with English. Mr Biswas suggested that regional languages should be the medium at least up to class VIII.
The refusal of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu to be part of the scheme has disappointed the Navodaya authorities. Among the Leftist states, Kerala has 13 Navodaya schools for 14 districts and Tripura four such schools in as many districts.
The objections raised by West Bengal and Tamil Nadu are not convincing. JNVs have adopted the three-language formula. Admission tests for class IV can be given in 20 languages, including Bengali and Tamil. The medium of instruction is in the language of the state up to class VIII. Upwards of class IX the medium is Hindi for social science and humanities and English for a science streams. It is not true that only Hindi has been accepted as the medium of instruction
It was definitely a blunder on the part of the CPI-M-led government in West Bengal. The state government may not have considered the fact that 77.19 per cent of the students of JNVs are from rural areas and only 22.81 per cent from urban areas. Twenty four per cent of the students belong to SC and 14.79 per cent to ST categories. Such students in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu have been deprived of the opportunities of quality education essentially because of wrong policies of their governments. The net loss these two states have suffered over the past two decades is tremendous.
Clearly, West Bengal's school education department was short-sighted. What does the Left Front government mean by an "elite class''? Class divisions in society are inherent. Marx divided society on the basis of economic power ~ the bourgeois and the proletariat class. In between there were the petty bourgeois ~ teacher, doctors, small traders, lawyers, government employees etc. In our society there are numerous classes. Every group of professionals constitutes a certain class. The highly educated people belong to one class and they do not readily interact with those they consider intellectually inferior. The workers, farmers, teachers, lawyers, ordinary government employees, senior government officials, ministers, politicians, cinema actors and actresses have separate social groups beyond which they do not or cannot wade. Bengal's communists have not been able to dismantle this social stratification.
The thrust of the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas is to select talented rural children as the target group for imparting quality education, hitherto the preserve of well-do-do families in urban areas. Proper education would enable rural students to compete with their urban counterparts on an equal footing. The National Education Policy, 1986, envisaged the setting up of residential schools to be called Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas (JNV) that would tap the best of rural talent.
There are 551 Navodaya schools in the country, benefiting 80,000 students. Thirty-three thousand pupils are admitted every year through admission tests. Thirty-three per cent of the seats are reserved for girls. Thirty per cent of the students in a Hindi-speaking area have to study for at least a year in a non-Hindi state. An equal percentage of students in a non-Hindi area have to migrate to a school in a Hindi-speaking state. Thus these schools are a symbol of national integration.
JNVs are free residential co-educational institutions. Expenses on food, lodging, uniforms, textbooks, daily-use items, stationery, travel and medicines are borne by the central government. In states, where the climate is cold, the allocation per student is Rs 7,650; in the rest of the country it is Rs 7,350. The state has to offer 30 acres for a new school or a rent-free building for three to four years.
The Navodaya schools are under CBSE much like the several central schools in both these states.
If implemented, West Bengal was entitled to 18 Navodaya schools and Tamil Nadu 22. The investment in West Bengal over the past two decades would have totalled Rs 1,000 crore. These schools could have provided employment to teachers.
Ancillary units such as the suppliers of stationery and laboratory equipment would have also benefited. Shops in the vicinity of these schools would have offered scope for self-employment. In a word, apart from imparting instruction, the Navodaya schools can also gear up the rural economy.
There are many renowned private, but recognised government-aided English and Bengali medium schools in West Bengal where the poor cannot afford to send their children. They are a separate category of schools that are partially funded by the government.
Therefore, the plea that the Navodaya schools will create an elite class is ridiculous. Those who study in expensive schools, colleges and universities in Kolkata and Chennai also belong to the so-called elite class. Have the two governments de-recognised those institutions? The concept of an elite class is a misnomer. There is no logical force in the decision to reject the idea of Navodaya schools.
In December 1919 Lenin lamented, "We know we cannot establish a socialist system now. God grant that it may be established in our children's time or perhaps our grandchildren's time."
The blunder has ultimately been realised by the West Bengal government. Kanti Biswas, the non-performing education minister, was not given nomination in the last assembly elections. The decision was correct, but the damage that had been done to the state is beyond redemption.
The state government has now changed its earlier policy and agreed somewhat reluctantly to cooperate with the Centre and establish Navodaya schools. Eight such schools have been set up in the state and six more have been sanctioned However, these schools have provision only up to class VI. Four districts are yet to be covered owing to lack of initiative.
The network cannot be expanded without the assistance of the local administration. Though West Bengal has relented, Tamil Nadu is yet to give its approval. However, it is better to be late than never.