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Abstract: Collaboration and networking are the oft repeated themes in GC 35 and 36. This paper presents some of the concrete attempts of Madurai Jesuits towards advocacy and policy intervention through collaboration and networking. NEP and NEET are the two issues, taken up for this.
Collaboration and networking are the repeatedly affirmed themes in GC 34 to 36. GC 35:142b says that apostolic collaboration with others is the need of the hour. Decree confirms that collaboration is at the heart of mission and calls for an effective networking among all apostolic works (212.29a). To respond today to the pressing needs of our complex and fragile world, many hands are needed. Hence our desire is to join people of good will in the service of the human family. Collaboration is the way we respond to this situation (35.213).
GC 36.35-36 further affirms that because of the magnitude and interconnectedness of the challenges we face, it is important to support and encourage the growing collaboration among Jesuits and Jesuit apostolates through networks. International and intersectoral networks are an opportunity to strengthen our identity, as we share our capacities and local engagements in order to serve a universal mission. Collaboration with others is the only way the Society can fulfil the mission entrusted to her.
Discernment, collaboration and networking offer three important perspectives on our contemporary way of proceeding (2.3). Networking builds on a shared vision and requires a culture of generosity, openness to work with others and a desire to celebrate success and this is a contemporary move towards greater synodality.
Here are some attempts and initiatives by Madurai Jesuits towards collaboration and networking for advocacy and policy intervention.
Initiatives of Madurai Jesuits:
Two issues were taken up for collaboration and networking at the province level.
1. New Education Policy: The credibility of our central government has been going down day by day. Any document coming from the Central Govt, certain trends are clearly observed. We need to view any policy that comes out from the perspective of the underprivileged majority of India. NEP is a project of saffranization and neo liberal economic policy. It will lead to market oriented commoditization of education. NEP has been prepared with a Brahminical mind set to maintain the hegemony. In short, NEP is an attempt towards centralization, corporatization and communalization of education.
2. NEET: National Eligibility cum Entrance Test is nothing but a procedure to ‘eliminate and eradicate’ the students from socially and educationally backward classes and living in difficult circumstances from pursuing Medical Education. The poor and rural children do not have the access to information and facilities that the affluent section of the society living in urban India have. The test that is only convenient and helpful for affluent cannot be made universal. How can unequal be treated equally and allowed to compete in a Common Exam.
NEET coaching is a huge market. Several crores of rupees are spent in advertisement by the business houses offering coaching classes. By charging heavy fee for coaching, these institutes are sure to make huge profit. How can an ordinary daily wage earner or salaried employee pay such huge fee.
If NEET is going to be ‘Eligibility’ for Medical Education and State Government is forced to spend huge amount of its resources to train students for NEET, then why do we need to have Higher Secondary Course. Higher Secondary Course practically becomes irrelevant. Imposing NEET and denying the Right of the State to decide its own admission norms is literally a transgression on Rights of the States. The Government of India is trying to treat State Government as it treats a private college.
The Government of India is pushing India towards a ‘unitary’ form of Government from ‘federal’ form of Government. It accumulates all authority and power to decide on all matters. State Governments are practically becoming irrelevant. The introduction of a National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET) for medical admissions would be a direct infringement on the Rights of the State and would cause grave injustice to the students of Tamil Nadu who are already covered by a fair and transparent admission policy which has been working well.
Merit does not come from scoring in a competitive exam. The indigenous knowledge, compassion for a fellow being, and social responsibility of an educated to strive for establishing a society of equals are all part of wisdom that a person gains through her / his school education. The quality of professionals is understood by the deliverance of her / his knowledge with a skill and understanding of the practical situations and not by the knowledge she / he acquired. Therefore a test like that of NEET at the admission level to an educational institution is unreasonable and unfair.
JCERT (Jesuit Council for Education Research and Training), SEC (Secondary Education Commission) and HEC (Higher Education Commission) of Madurai Province networked with several human rights groups, educationists and education action groups in Tamil Nadu towards advocacy and policy intervention in education. The following are the programmes and affirmative actions towards this.
1. Symposium on NEP
Jesuits were the first to organize a symposium in Tamil Nadu on NEP. This was organized in collaboration with Loyola College of Education on 29th November, 2016 in Loyola College of Education. Eminent educationists like Prof. Ramanujam, Dr. Vasanthi Devi, Dr. S.S. Rajagopalan were the resource persons. About 350 participated in this. Participants included heads of minority institutions, education coordinators of different congregations and action groups fighting for education rights. As a result of the symposium, many letters as responses, were sent to MHRD from various institutions in Tamil Nadu, signed by parents, teachers and school administrators.
2. Continuous Conscientization on NEP
Teachers, parents, religious and students were conscientized in several places in Madurai, Kovai, Playamkottai and Bangalore on the proposed draft of the NEP. A lot of responses were sent to MHRD as a result of this.
3. Articles on NEP
Fr. Kennedy wrote an article in Jivan, titled New Education Policy – 2015 and its Implications, published in February, 2015 issue and another article with the latest information in Companion magazine, titled Education Policy, published in September, 2016.
4. Seminar for Jesuit Educators
A seminar was organized for the Jesuit educators – 20 selected teachers from each of our schools, in St. Joseph’s College, Trichy on 5th June, 2016. The representative team from each school conscientized the other teachers in their respective schools and evolved action plans after the seminar.
5. Forum for Equal Education
Fr. Kennedy is a core group member in the Forum for Equal Education, evolved in Tirunelveli district with members from Catholic, CSI churches, Muslims and a few human rights groups. This group has been actively involved in several programmes regarding NEP. The following are some of the programmes, done by this forum so far.
- Public demonstration against the proposed NEP on 30th July, 2016 in Palayamkottai. For the first time in the history of TN, both the major political parties – DMK and AIADMK have been brought together to fight for a single cause. All the major political parties took part in this demo. About 10,000 people participated in this day long hunger protest and demonstration.
- In collaboration with the State Platform for Common School System and Forum for Equal Education, we brought together representatives from major political parties and people’s movements for evolving common action plans to counter NEP. The main activity of this collaboration was the public demonstration against NEP in Chennai on 29th September, 2016, involving all the political parties.
- Seventy-two human rights and educationists’ groups, operating in Delhi were brought together under the banner of Joint Action Committee against Anti-People Education Policy (JACAPEP). After two months of preparation, it organized a public rally and demonstration in Janthar Manthar, Delhi on 17th November, 2016. It had the support of all the major political parties except BJP. About 5000 people participated in this.
- A public demonstration against NEET in Palayamkottai on 21st April, 2017. About 2000 people participated in this.
- A human chain protest against NEET on 26th July, 2017 in Palayamkottai involving 4000 students.
6. Kalvi Urimai Pathukappu Kootamaippu (KUPK) (Forum for the protection of education rights)
Tamil Nadu Science Forum, JCERT and SEC brought together 42 unions of the college teachers, universities and schools for a seminar on NEP in Loyola College, Chennai on 30th June, 2016. About 1000 teachers and professors attended this seminar. That was the birth of KUPK. It was decided to have such meetings at the district level unionwise and launch awareness programmes at all levels on NEP. The same group had its second meeting on 3rd August, 2016 in St. Joseph’s College Hr. Sec. School. Fr. Simon, HM of that school attended as our representative. It was decided to continue with the awareness generation programmes and release alternative education policy on 8th October 2016.
A core group was formed under the leadership of Dr.Vasanthi Devi for this purpose. Fr. Kennedy is one of the core group members for evolving alternative education policy. The other members in the drafting committee, besides Fr. Kennedy, are Dr.Vasanthi Devi (president), Adyeesha Nadarajan, Prof. Ramanujam, Mr. Prince Gajendrababu, Dr. S.S. Rajagopalan, Prof. Madasamy, Dr. Murugesan, Shajahan (writer), Deepa (MIDS), Uchimahali (SFI) and Dr. Ponraj (Hindu college retired principal). This draft committee had its first meeting on 13th September in Dr. Vasanthi Devi’s house. Fr. Stephen, SEC Coordinator and Fr. Arockiasamy Xavier, Principal, Loyola College represented us. Topics were devised, divided and given to each one to prepare a draft. Fr. Kennedy has been asked to prepare a paper on teacher education to be included in the draft of the alternate education policy. The consolidated alternative education policy was released during a seminar in Loyola College, Chennai on 8th October, 2016.
- Jesuits were instrumental in evolving both these forums: Kalvi Urimai Pathukappu Kootamaippu and forum for equal education. These groups are now actively involved in several issues of education.
REV. DR. S.M. JOHN KENNEDY S.J., M.A., M.Sc., M.Ed., M.Phil (ENG)., M.Phil (EDU)., Ph.D(Bot), Ph.D (Eng)
Assistant HM, St. Xavier’s HS School, Palayamkottai – 627 002, Tirunelveli.