Schools or Garrisons? Prioritizing narrowly perceived “national” interests

Vaibhav Karajgikar

The Kashmir region, a border state between India and Pakistan, has been disputed over by both countries for the last sixty nine years and is now entering a phase of unprecedented struggle to provide a safe environment for education. In an area embroiled in deep rooted religious divide, clash of political ideologies and controverted control over geographic resources, it would seem that education is foregone as a casualty of regional instability.

Outlined in an article in a popular national newspaper The Indian Express (Aug. 24,2016) is the general disbelief and public indignation at the military occupation of several schools in the region since August, 2016 as a strategic move by the Indian government to curb violent protests following the killing of a popular separatist leader by the Indian Army in July, 2016.  Enforced curfew in the region for over seventy days now has resulted in a collapse of educational services. With only a few makeshift schools operating irregularly and far apart (BBC News; Aug. 23,2016), the immediate future is uncertain for students. Furthermore, the exposure to a high pressure situation and the heavy presence of military has created an air of volatility that has a deeply scarring impact on children (Firstpost.India; Aug. 29,2016).

A comparative read of the articles show a common denominator that is shocking in the context of the largest democracy in the world, a complete disregard for the widespread opinion that education infrastructure must not be utilized to further military agendas. The article in The Indian Express captures the abrupt and forced takeover of educational institutions by paramilitary forces, downplayed by local law and order authorities. The callous attitude is reflected in the State Education Minister’s directive to continue preparations for board examinations in an environment that does not guarantee student safety, let alone the resources and stability for students to focus. Rising incidents of stress and mental trauma among children (Firstpost.India; Aug. 29,2016) is a cause of concern for parents and educationists. Those families that can afford it are looking for avenues to continue educating their children away from the region, which can result in psychological impact and social problems arising from displacement. For the vast majority, the last resort are the makeshift schools run by volunteers and people from the communities (BBC News; Aug. 23,2016). A critical analysis of these articles raises the following disturbing questions:

  •         Why must military use schools as bunkers given that there are other alternatives available and a strong budget at their disposal?
  •         For how long can makeshift schools operate in a region stretched thin on resources?
  •         In an environment where education is uncertain and fraught with dangers, is the system creating disillusionment and discontent that can result in youth partaking in activities that further destabilize the situation?

It would seem then that a unidimensional approach by those in authority would only serve to intensify problems in the long run.

References:

1)    http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/kashmir-unrest-bsf-stays-in-srinagar-schools-people-question-govts-sincerity-about-education-2993637/

2)      http://www.firstpost.com/india/schools-in-kashmir-turn-into-armed-fortresses-as-students-watch-in-muted-horror-2980890.html

3)      http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-37128457

Fees Must Fall Movement in South Africa

Anna Venguer 

Potential stark increases in higher education fees in South Africa have incited a wave of violent student protests that have swept across university campuses (ENCA, 20 Sept. 2016). These proposed tuition fee increases, estimated to be between ten and twelve percent, sparked a series of protests on a national scale last October that have culminated in a powerful year-long movement known as ‘Fees Must Fall’ (BBC News, 23 Oct. 2015). Driven by the notions that these fee hikes do not only disproportionately impact the poor, but also have a racial dimension to them, university students have shed light on South Africa’s continuing struggle to rectify their historical legacy of racial segregation and pervasive inequality (The Washington Post, 23 Sept. 2016).  

The protests abated when President Jacob Zuma decided, in response to the student uproar, that there would be no fee increases in 2016 (The Washington Post, 23 Sept. 2016). Nevertheless, the violent protests erupted once again last Monday after the Minister of Higher Education and Training granted universities the discretionary power to decide for themselves whether or not to raise fees in 2017. Since Monday, police personnel have been deployed on various university campuses across the country including the University of Wits, University of Cape Town, and the University of Pretoria to mitigate the intensity of the protests (ENCA, 20 Sept. 2016). Although the majority of the demonstrations have been peaceful, there have been some instances of severe violence both from the activist students and from the police. A local newspaper outlined how students were caught throwing rocks at security guards while the police has been accused of firing stun grenades and rubber bullets at protesting students. Further, in the wake of the spiraling protests, there have been widespread arrests for noncomplying students and many universities have resorted to suspending their lectures until the violence subdues (ENCA, 20 Sept. 2016). 

The Washington Post article alludes to an underlying “bigger struggle” that university students are fervently fighting to overcome, namely racial segregation (The Washington Post, 23 Sept. 2016). South Africa has a turbulent history with racial discrimination that stems from colonialist ambitions to subordinate the native Black population. Despite the collapse of the Apartheid regime in 1994, traces of racial prejudice continue to be present as the Black population remains underrepresented both at the student body and faculty level (ENCA, 20 Sept. 2016). The author of this article underlines that the Fees Must Fall movement seeks to “redress systemic inequalities” (The Washington Post, 23 Sept. 2016). This conflict theorist argument suggests that the colonial attitude persists and the privileged race is attempting to use education as tool to preserve its economic and political power by impeding lower-income students, who tend to be primarily Black, from obtaining tertiary educations. Although the article portrays the struggle through a racial lens, a more Marxist view would argue that this increase in fees is geared primarily towards reducing the opportunities for the lower-income students, irrespective of their race.

Yet, regardless of which perspective we adopt, it is evident that education is a powerful instrument in shaping and defining the political, economic, and social opportunities of individuals. As the South African youth push the government to tackle the question of the accessibility of higher education they will be forced to consider the implications of this controversial change. Will this increase lead to a disillusionment with the government and an escalation of violent revolts? How will South Africa remedy the widening income and racial inequalities? Will protests continue to disrupt lectures until the government reaches an acceptable consensus? How long will this take? After a year, the Fees Must Fall movement has gained momentum and mobilized students across the country to voice their dissatisfaction with the university and government education policies (Don’t Party, 26 Sept. 2016). The interplay between violence and education in this scenario, reinforces the deep-rooted frustrations in the opportunities afforded to South Africans of different economic classes and races. 

References:

“Is #FeesMustFall the Most Significant Protest of the New South Africa?” Don’t Party, 26 Sept. 2016.  http://www.dontparty.co.za/latest-news/is-feesmustfall-the-most-significant-protest-of-the-new-south-africa/. Accessed 26 Sept. 2016.

Mahr, Krista. “South Africa’s Student Protests are Part of a Much Bigger Struggle.” The Washington Post, 23 Sept. 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/09/23/south-africas-student-protests-are-part-of-a-much-bigger-struggle/. Accessed 24 Sept. 2016.

“Update: Wits Protests Spread, Police Fire Stun Grenades.” ENCA, 20 Sept. 2016. https://www.enca.com/south-africa/ten-arrested-at-wits. Accessed 24 Sept. 2016.

“Why are South African Students Protesting?” BBC News, 23 Oct. 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-34615004.  Accessed 24 Sept. 2016.

 

 

Oaxaca Teacher Protests

Rudolf D’Silva

Despite the efforts of the Mexican government to fix the education system in Oaxaca, Mexico, violence broke out after weeks of peaceful protests. The New York times reported, teachers in Oaxaca were protesting in reaction to education policies passed, which they felt unjustifiably led to the termination of a significant number of teachers (Ahmed, par. 21). According to government officials, in an attempt to reform the education system, legislation was passed in 2013 creating stricter evaluation standards for teachers to abide by (A 18). Teachers who did not meet these requirements were either fired, or received a cut in pay (A 18). Nonetheless, many teachers believe the government passed this legislation under the umbrella of education reform as an excuse to terminate large numbers of teachers (A 21). A significant number of parents and students living in Oaxaca believe it is the government who is at fault, and is using their authority to oppress the people of Oaxaca (A 5). However, there are few who believe teachers are reacting selfishly in protesting. Many of those who believe teachers are reacting selfishly indicate that education reform should focus primarily on benefiting students (A 23). These individuals also believe teachers partaking in the protest are doing a disservice to students, prohibiting them from receiving their education due to the protests (A 23).

Although the protests inevitably broke out into riots, what is most disturbing is the impact these riots can have on the education of Oacaxan students. The New York Times indicates that Oaxaca is one of the poorest regions in Mexico (A 8). It is often the case that those living in impoverish communities feel as though the government does not prioritize their well-being in relation to other political issues. These attitudes are strengthened by beliefs of government corruption and dishonesty, which many times are justifiable concerns. For example, in an article by Al Jazeera, the Mexican government reported, “the attacks with guns came from people outside the blockades who fired on the population and federal police” (Al Jazeera, par. 7). Surprisingly, it is further stated in the article that footage exists of Mexican police using guns on protesters in attempts to calm the riots (AJ 8). Whether or not it is justifiable for police to use deadly force to gain control of violent situations is an argument of its own. However, false statements, such as the one issued by the Mexican government about the teacher riots, contribute to continued distrust amongst the poor and the government.

Education is often viewed as a tool to provide people the skills and knowledge to lift them out of poverty. The element of violence associated to the teacher protests in Oaxaca has potential of creating an ideology that the government does not want to provide Oaxacans proper education reforms. The reason for this is to keep the people of Oaxaca uneducated, and easily exploitable. Whether this is actually the case is up for debate, however, this type of view of the education system is discouraging for those who may want to receive quality education in order to achieve great things in the future.

Works Citied

Ahmed, Azam, and Kirk Semple. “Clashes Draw Support for Teachers’ Protest in Mexico.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 26 June 2016. Web. Sept. 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/27/world/americas/mexico-teachers-protests-enrique-pena-nieto.html?_r&_r=1

“Mexico: Six Killed in Clashes during Teachers’ Protest.” Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera Media Network, 20 June 2016. Web. Sept. 2016. < http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/06/mexico-teachers-protest-160620042629755.html >

Semple, K. (2016, June 26). Mexican federal police officers clashed with teachers protesting an education overhaul and the arrest of two of their leaders in Oaxaca State on June 19. Credit [Photograph]. Agence France-Presse — Getty Images, The New York Times, Oaxaca In A. Ahmed (Author).