Modi government’s draft education policy reads like a bad PhD thesis

The draft education policy offers nothing new and trivialises education. The report hasn’t reviewed our educational system, takes an obvious saffron hue and a neo-liberal path

Modi government’s draft education policy reads like a bad PhD thesis

Ashlin Mathew

The government had put out the draft National Education Policy, which was chaired by K Kasturirangan, and soon came out with a revised draft National Education Policy after the suggestion of imposition of Hindi in the report stoked controversy particularly in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

While highlighting the three-language formula, what many didn’t say is that this 484-page draft is almost an exercise in futility. “The report is full of platitudes, feel-good things, but without anyone of the sections actually meaning anything. It doesn’t even read well,” says Apoorvanand, a Delhi University professor.

Agreeing with him is educationist Krishna Kumar, former director of NCERT. “There is hardly anything new that this draft offers and it has trivialised education. There is no acknowledgement of where we are.”

In 1993, National Advisory Committee, with Yash Pal as chairman, was set up and the report of the committee titled ‘Learning without Burden’ is also the starting point for this new draft education policy. In 2005, there was the National Curriculum Framework. Later in 2009, as a part of another committee, Yash Pal had discouraged stand-alone universities. He had advocated for regulatory mechanism that would make rational and consistent rules for setting up institutions (both public and private).

“What will work for Uttar Pradesh may not work for West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. This draft has not differentiated between private and public schools. What works for private schools doesn’t work for public schools. This policy doesn’t address privatisation of education and its effects. There is a great denial of where we are and no vision of what we want to achieve,”points out Krishna Kumar.

“Do we know what Liberalisation means in Education? In 1990s, we tried to start a conversation on it and now almost 30 years later, that is still the main question. Everyone is still reluctant to address the question because the state would still like to be seen as in charge of education,” highlights Krishna Kumar, and acerbically quipped that this was not even like a PhD thesis.

“Why hasn’t this new committee shown what work the other committees have done? Why hasn’t it taken stock of what has happened in these years and improved or suggested alternatives? This new draft policy isn’t taking the conversation forward at all. This draft goes back to 1993,” explains Apoorvanand.

“In the introduction, the draft pans to the nationalist narrative of the government. This government itself is a hindrance to education. We know what will happen to education, committee or no committee. This doesn’t read like the report to improve the education of the nation,” emphasises Apoorvanand.

The draft mentions the exalted status of Sanskrit, highlighting that it was a great repository of knowledge pertaining to numerous subjects including science, mathematics, medicine, mathematics, law, economics, politics. It suggests that Sanskrit will be integrated with literature and mathematics, suggesting the inclusion of Vedic maths, which isn’t maths, says Anita Rampal, DU professor and faculty member of department of elementary education.

“National Curriculum Framework had a focus on making education inclusive, more rooted in children’s cultural contexts and basing it on children’s construction of knowledge. This would bring in experience, recognise that children come from diverse and unequal backgrounds and also highlight the need for differently paced teaching and learning of mixed ability classrooms. Now the focus is too much on standardised assessment and learning 'outcomes', which is problematic, because you then forget the provisions and the process on which learning depends, and put the onus only on the child,” asserts Rampal.

“There is now an emphasis on 'census' testing both at the state and Centre level – in Class III, V and VIII. When you do that you are not focusing on children coming from diverse backgrounds. You are trying to centralise everything and make it uniform. This doesn’t provide for a nurturing environment especially to those from poorer backgrounds. This is worrying as it pressurises teachers only to 'teach to the test'. There is little in the draft which points towards inclusion and equity,” contends Rampal

The Kasturirangan NEP has stated that the Right To Education Act will be reviewed and amended, but they have suggested that it will be to incorporate improvements on the basis of the “learnings gained since it was enacted”. What those learnings are, the draft doesn’t mention.       

However, this draft looks at extending the RTE Act to include the secondary education Grades 9-12; typically ages 14-18), which is a welcome move, emphasises Rampal. The draft states that by 2030, all students can enrol and participate in quality school education through Grade 12. Earlier the Act included students between ages 6 and 14.

They have proposed setting up of Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog, which will be the new apex body for education. “It will be responsible for developing, articulating, implementing, evaluating, and revising the vision of education,” states the policy.

“This is a completely government-controlled body, which is to be chaired by the PM, and includes the Niti Aayog Vice chairman and several ministers. This kind of complete centralisation of education goes against the spirit of what all our earlier education policies had envisioned to make education a democratic endeavour. People on the ground must have involvement, the states must have a role. This does not allow any autonomy for the significant actors and institutions in the field,” stresses Rampal.

This government wanted a similar body Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) for higher education to replace the University Grants commission. HECI was meant to be completely government controlled and there were huge protests against it and now they are trying to do it for the entire education sector,” says Rampal.

“What we are seeing now is that Niti Aayog, is increasingly getting involved in education. It has in fact taken a few states and has been asking for school mergers and closures, which even the education ministry has not done. At least 14,000 schools have been closed and merged in Odisha, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. If this happens, how are we going to have a more equitable public education system? This will also encourage a lot of low-cost private schools to come up, which is a big market and is completely unregulated. These policies are also being promoted by leading corporate organisations and those like Central Square Foundation, Pratham, etc.” points out Rampal.

Rampal says this policy draft doesn’t talk about good quality, equitable public education. “The government’s decisions such as the school management committee and parents to decide and take decisions are also problematic. Can parents regulate schools? ” points out Rampal, and goes on to ask why the government cannot provide adequately resourced schools like the kendriya vidyalayas to every child. Why does public education have to be so stratified, with the poor getting a poor school, whereas they deserve more nurturing attention?

They have changed the three-language formula, but it is not in line with how children learn languages. “Children cannot learn reading and writing in three languages simultaneously. First, the focus has to be on gaining proficiency in the first language or the mother-tongue and after sometime the second language can be introduced, through a specific pedagogy of a second language. Here we need a planned process based on an educational understanding of language learning, not a political mandate. We have never really had a good language policy. The three-language formula came in the late 50s and 60s, when it was looked upon as a political formula to help national integration and to resolve tensions between states that had been newly formed on linguistic factors, but even then it did not dwell on how children learn. Between then and now, there has been tremendous research on how children learn language and that hasn’t been taken into account,” explains Rampal.

There is a complete neo-liberal thrust to education and that can be seen in this education policy draft too. “Niti Aayog and related agencies and NGOs have been calling for the RTE to be thrown out as they claim it focuses on ‘inputs’, not on ‘outcomes’; but this is misleading, the RTE has not been implemented, and only ten percent schools are compliant with its basic requirements. How then can meaningful learning happen without qualified teachers, good materials and nurturing learning environments?” reiterates Rampal.

What is indicative of the times to come is the inclusion of businessman Mohandas Pai, who is the chairman of Manipal Global Education, as one of the peer reviewers of the draft education policy. One still doesn’t know why mathematician Manjul Bhargava was on the committee. In the drafting committee was also a person from the Reliance-funded Observer Research Foundation as was a director of Veda Vijnana Shodha Samsthanam. All our education commissions right from the Radhakrishnan Commission of 1948 onward had academicians in it. There were scholars recommending policies and not simply administrators.

VVSS is an organisation, which quotes RSS ideologue MS Golwalkar as their guruji and reinforces the idea that “Bharatha is the land where the sacred Vedic aadhyatmayoga, spiritual knowledge originated and is being practiced, preserved and propagated from time immemorial.”

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Published: 07 Jun 2019, 8:30 AM