Battlefield: Assembly

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The protest against the formation of Boards of Governors (BoGs) in 26 colleges in Punjab took an ugly turn leading to clashes with police, suspension of traffic on the Mall and adjoining roads for over an hour and the arrest of numerous teachers and students. The teachers have been protesting peacefully against the BoGs for months now, but this time the protest became violent as a student organisation patronised by a religio-political party tried to use the occasion to advance its agenda. Students belonging to at least two colleges where the organisation has influence were forced to join the procession. This combined with the usual highhandedness of the police led to clashes that did little good to the teachers cause.

The decision by the Punjab administration to hand over government colleges to the BoGs was taken without consultation with all the stakeholders. One can understand that the Punjab government is facing financial woes, partly caused by the implementation of politically motivated but unsustainable initiatives like the Sasti Roti: scheme, but this does not excuse the tendency to extend the range of free market economy to public education as well. As the decision was taken without discussing the feasibility of handing over these colleges to BoGs, a perception has been created that public sector educational institutions are being distributed among cronies knowing little about the administration of colleges. There is weight in the argument that since educational institutions are different from business concerns, thus the BoGs should have a fair number of educationists and philanthropists on them.

While teachers organisations need to realise that they stand to lose public sympathy if they allow their protests to be taken over by groups with political agendas, one would also call on the government to give a patient hearing to the case being presented by the teaching community which has been pressing the issue for months without being heard. Although Punjab has finally got an Education Minister, he has been burdened with so many portfolios that that he does not seem to have enough time to address issues related to education. Had the minister agreed to meet the delegation of the teachers, things might have remained under control despite the presence of elements bent upon mischief.