Andhra Pradesh’s New Education Policy Could Create Lasting Structural Changes

In a two-pronged approach, the state is providing financial assistance to mothers of school-going children and changing the language of instruction in government schools to English.

Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd

Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy announced a few days ago that all mothers from poor families who are sending their children to school will get Rs 15,000 into their bank accounts for educational expenses, under a scheme titled ‘Amma Vodi (Mother’s Lap)’.

The scheme applies to mothers of school-going children whose families are living below the poverty line. To identify beneficiaries, having a white ration card is the deciding factor, similar to several other welfare programmes. The state government has allocated Rs 6,455 crore for Amma Vodi.

Prior to this, the chief minister also announced that from the next academic year, all government schools will be converted to English-medium, with Telugu as a compulsory subject. This double-track educational reform for the first time has the potential to abolish educational inequality in the state.

After independence, though the states were given the power to handle the school education sector, the Central government allowed a diabolical school education system to operate. The poor must send their children to poorly funded, regional-language government schools without any financial aid to the parents. The rich, on the other hand, in the urban and semi-urban areas, could send their children to English-medium private schools which also have better infrastructure.

Money decided the future of child born in a democratic nation. In caste/class terms, the lower castes, who are the working masses, are confined to regional-language, ill-equipped school education, and the upper-caste rich send their children to globally connected English-medium schools.

Jagan has also promised to improve the government school infrastructure within three years. The Arvind Kejriwal government in Delhi has done this, but without combining with the other components that Jagan is offering.

All political parties, including communist parties and extreme right-wing nationalist parties like the BJP and Shiv Sena, accepted the old Congress formula of school education wherever they were in power. The same system continues even today. Even the hypocritical liberal intelligentsia, though talking about quality school education, did not challenge the medium of instruction or offer the necessary financial assistance to poor mothers.

Amma Vodi is likely be a nationwide trendsetter in this regard. The scheme will change the basic structure of the school education system, and the market as well.

Quality government English-medium school education connects the remote rural child to global knowledge systems, along with national and regional knowledge systems. Their location also becomes their knowledge centre, communicable in a global language. Thus, local and global knowledges are connected. The fields around school – where their families likely have roots – make the children firmly grounded the different kinds of dignity of labour and knowledge.

Urban children will not be able to see those connections. More imaginative education in villages leads to quicker learning of languages as well. A child learning while living with her parents makes her more experienced than those who live in hostels since an early age.

Amma Vodi, in my view, will change the market in Andhra Pradesh in a positive way. Unlike fathers, mothers are not likely to spend this money on alcohol. Rather, she will likely spend this money on uniforms, good shoes and quality food. This new purchasing capacity in villages and towns will create a market boom. The Rs 6,455 crore will be ploughed back into the markets that cater to children’s needs. There may even be a chain of changes: the school changes the child’s life, and the child changes the parent’s life.

Amma Vodi could also improve child health in poor families in a significant way. A mother will now see her child as earning Rs 15,000 per year. Expenses on the child’s overall well-being are also likely to increase, in that case.

If there is good school in a village, which makes children creative like Western schools, critical thinking skills improve too. A more democratic cultural environment is put in place, and the caste system also weakens. The school is a better institution than the family to annihilate caste hierarchies and untouchability. The school syllabus should include lessons on the dignity of labour.

All theories of purity and pollution should be taken out of school textbooks. The textbooks must tell children about leather work, washing clothes, cutting hair, tilling land, making pots, teaching and being priests – and that all these jobs deserve the same respect. This is where the seeds of human equality are sown in the child’s mind.

Amma Vodi will have serious implications on the state’s health, education and market. If this programme is implemented with the intent that it is declared, Andhra Pradesh will be a different state within 20 years. This education policy will challenge the New Education Policy of the BJP government at the Centre.

Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is a political theorist, social activist and author.