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Persistent Voice

Krishna Kumar

By Amrik Singh
ICFAI University Press, Hyderabad, 2004, pp. 211, price not stated.

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 10 October 2005

I remember the day this book was released by Dr. Manmohan Singh at his residence. His entry into the room where we were sitting was so sharply punctual – the door opened as the watch moved off the 59th second before 6.p.m. I wondered how it could happen at all. I couldn’t help contrasting it with annual functions held at schools, where VIPs who have little to do with children are invited as Chief guests. At times, the delay in their arrival is as long as an hour. Little children wait with garlands in hand, absorbing the obvious message that punctuality is not a major value in democratic India. Meetings at various levels have a similar fate, and my own institution is no exception. Loose punctuality is merely a symptom of the chronic illness of low motivation the system of education lives with, waiting to be reformed.   Few individuals have sustained their anxiety about our unreformed system as persistently as Professor Amrik Singh has, over the last four decades or so. This book is his comprehensive affidavit, cove-ring all sectors of the system. As you read the details, you feel sorry all the way. The kinds of issues Amrik Singh raises and the remedies he suggests look mostly like common sense. Why has nothing happened? ‘Nothing’ is a matter of perception, one might say, but the quantity of measures taken to improve things does look inadequate when you consider the growth in the population of children, number of institutions, and so on. On matters like the neglect of state-level structures for higher education, boards of examination and teacher training, the remedies this book outlines are the familiar ones.   One reason why action didn’t follow accep-tance of these remedies is that no one was pressing. I feel Professor Amrik Singh underestimates the role of social indifference to educational reforms. He does recognize the implications of middle- class dominance in matters like language policy, but he persuades us to believe that even without a coherent social demand for reforms, administrative improvement can make a difference. Occupying an administrative seat for the moment, I have no choice but to agree with him. In any case, it is true that good governance can indeed make things better for rural teachers, for example. As I say this, going by chapter 8 which discusses the inadequacy of administrative provisions, I am acutely aware that a ...

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