Modi govt’s new education policy is nothing but a national exclusion policy, say experts

The National Education Policy will be used to disempower people and is a blueprint for privatisation of education, education experts said after going through the 60-page document

Representative Image (social media)
Representative Image (social media)

Ashlin Mathew

More than 13 months after releasing the draft National Education Policy, the Central government finally put out the document on their website late on July 30. It was done almost two days after the policy was announced in a press conference held by Union HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank and former HRD and current Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javedekar. Additionally, the HRD ministry has been renamed as the Ministry of Education.

While the draft read like a bad PhD thesis , the policy document, which has spelling mistakes, is replete with glossy language. It leaves enough space for the saffronisation of education, which is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s agenda. In the document, it has been phrased as ‘building upon India’s traditions and value systems’. It adds that the rich heritage of ancient and eternal Indian knowledge and thought has been a ‘guiding light’ for this policy.

The new education policy hammers to smithereens any hope the underprivileged and the socially disadvantaged people have of improving their precarious lot in life through education. While the draft spoke of extending the Right to Education Act up to Class XII, the policy cleverly misguides readers into assuming it does. “This is a National Exclusion Policy, not an education policy. The NEP 2020 is a blueprint for privatisation of education and ideological takeover by the right wing. Education will be used to disempower people further,” said Nandita Narain, associate professor at St Stephen’s College.

Academician and former director of National Council of Research and Training (NCERT) Professor Krishna Kumar wanted to know why the government had only released the 60-page summary and not the 200-page policy document. “I can only say that the NEP should be sent to Parliament. Aren’t the members of Parliament going to demand that it be put up in Parliament before it be called a policy? This document has no annexures, no explanations or details of almost anything. Why?” asked Kumar.

School Education

The NEP 2020 is all for reduction in school curriculum and weight of school bags primarily. They have specifically mentioned that textbooks should be available in regional languages, but also must be downloadable and printable. This is, according to the policy makers, for conservation and reduction in logistical burden.

This policy assumes that most schools are in urban areas with students having access to phones and tabs, forgetting that only 28% of the adults in the country have smartphones.

This document also does not mention the Right to Education Act. The RTE Act may not be scrapped, but DU professor and Department of Elementary Education faculty Anita Rampal said the current government feels there are many restrictions in the Act, which come in the way of opening a school. “In this document they have not mentioned RTE at all. The RTE Act specifies a certain basic infrastructure as anything cannot be called a school. There are certain requirements to become a teacher; then there is a specified pupil to teacher ratio – all of that is likely to be amended. They will allow private players to exploit the system,” added Rampal. This is a major concern.

“The policy says that access to high-quality and equitable education will be given especially to children aged 3 onwards to higher secondary education. It states that there will be a particular focus on historically marginalised, disadvantaged, and under-represented groups. The NEP 2020 does not mention it as a right. If it were a fundamental right, they would not mention it as particularly for this child or another child. In the government’s presentation, they had mentioned that the universalisation would be done by 2030. This is not the RTE model. If it were a fundamental right, a government cannot take its own time to implement it,” emphasised Rampal.

The formative years’ education is being called foundational learning in the NEP and its main issue is that of exclusion. The current 10+2 model will be restructured to 5+3+3+4 covering ages 3-18. While the current system includes only from age 6, the NEP includes children from age 3 onwards and it is being claimed that it is aimed at promoting better overall learning, development, and well-being.

“There is no reason to club early childhood care in education with the first two years of primary education. This will only create confusion as they are saying that early childhood care would be done through anganwadis, standalone nurseries or pre-primary schools as it happens in private schools. How can this be an equitable educational system as anganwadi worker is not a professionally trained teacher? They work for nutrition, but the education there is minimal unless a few NGOs are doing it differently,” explained Rampal.

Anganwadis are not geared for formative years’ education, said Rampal, and this is not professionalism. “The government states that anganwadi workers would be given six-months online training, but that is not enough for early child-care. I believe they have done it to bring in more community teachers, volunteers and student tutors. This is the problematic alternative way of education they have been talking about. Here they are abandoning their own commitment to provide a good environment for learning and teaching. To bring in everyone in the name of community volunteers means that they do not want to give much emphasis on the formative education. Earlier they were called ‘instructional aides’, but now they are not talking about it,” said Rampal.

The NEP stresses on foundational literacy and numeracy - the ability to read and comprehend basic text and the ability to carry out basic addition and subtraction with Indian numerals. “This is a dilution of what children can do, and it is not education,” added Rampal.

The NEP 2020 focuses too much on centralisation of education. There will be a National Assessment Centre and it will completely redesign school-based assessment. Using buzz words to state that the current assessment system is harmful, the NEP 2020 glosses over ‘holistic development’, with no specific mention of what it means. Education is a concurrent subject like health, which means that the Centre’s proposals can be implemented only with the help of the states.

“The way exams are going to be held is problematic as all the guidelines are going to come from a National Assessment Centre. Then they will tell the states how to do it. Centralising of assessment does not make sense. Even though they are saying that they are going to make Board exams ‘easier’, that is a questionable word as that is not the reform we are looking for. Their understanding is not deep enough to understand what kind of assessment needs to be done,” highlighted Rampal.

Language Policy

The NEP advocates for the early implementation of the three-language formula to promote ‘multilingualism’. However, this policy aims for ‘Ek Bharat, Shrestha Bharat’ and mainstreaming of the culturally dead Sanskrit.

The Constitution makers consciously decided to have 14 schedule languages. Now there are 22 in the Eighth Schedule. Some of them belong to Indo-European family, some to Dravidian and some other to the Austroasiatic.

“The policy appears nice because the three-language formula is evoked, but there are riders. When we think of a child in a Hindi speaking region, the child will opt for Hindi as the first language; for the second language, it will be Hindi again, which will be higher in complexity or maybe Sanskrit and third will be English. In Kerala, Telangana or Tamil Nadu, it will a language of their own, Hindi and English. The cognitive load is higher for these kids,” said Ganesh Devy, the man behind the People’s Linguistic Survey of India.

Going further, Devy asks, what if the mother tongue of one of the kids is a scheduled tribal language or maybe even Tulu in Karnataka or Kuchchi in Gujarat or Irani in Maharashtra? “They will have to learn their mother tongue up to Class V, then the state’s language, then Hindi and then English. The further we go away from the Centre, the higher is the learning load and the more marginalised groups. It is precisely these children who have remained as school dropouts because their mother-tongues have been different. They will suffer even more if this policy is not implemented with sufficient imagination,” explained Devy.

The census of 2011 shows the number of English speakers as relatively small because when people record English as the second language, it is not counted. “But, if you look at the data for Sanskrit, the number of speakers of Sanskrit will be larger than the 2001 census because where Sanskrit is mentioned as the second language, it is counted. What will happen is that Sanskrit will become the second language learnt because it fetches good scores. Sanskrit is no longer a living language so Sanskrit taught in schools is taught with the help of grammar and not spoken language,” observed Devy.

This means children can score higher in Sanskrit based on what is taught than what is taught in Hindi or Bengali or Odiya. “This will prepare the ground for claiming that there are millions of Sanskrit speakers and go towards creating a Sanskrit-based reconstructed past as the mainstream culture of India. This will also form the basis of funding for other formative languages. The policy looks good, but it is spacious enough for bringing in a cultural bias or what we call the RSS agenda during its implementation. That is objectionable,” remarked Devy.

When the languages were marked as scheduled languages, the demographic of the country was of one kind; today it has changed. There has been unceasing migration from one state to another state. In the process, it has made many of our cities multilingual. “In a given neigbourhood, we will find children belonging to 15-20 different languages. For them this three-language formula is not adequate. The NEP 2020 should have spoken of multi-lingual schools, not tri-lingual schools. Multilingualism should have been the over-arching principle,” said Devy.

If we were to consider Delhi, a school in Chandni Chowk will have multiplicity of Indo-Iranian languages, but in Karol Bagh, there would be a multiplicity of Dravidian languages.

“If this policy were to be read in Russia or Australia, it looks like a fabulous document, but its implementation is going to privilege Sanskrit over tribal languages, Urdu and other Dravidic languages. That is to my mind not fair for a federal country like India, which is multi-lingual and multicultural,” underscored Devy.

Higher Education

The NEP 2020 states that a few universities will be designated as research universities and some only as teaching universities. The research universities will be a mix of state-run and private.

“A university like Jio was given the ‘Centre of Excellence’ badge even before it came into being and such a situation will be repeated again and again. So higher education in the country will be a major casualty,” said Devy.

There are no regulations and each institute can make its own rules and they can decide minimum qualifications, policies, structure, service conditions of employees, courses and student-teacher ratio. The government is planning to reduce the number of institutions in the country to 15,000.

“To reduce the number of colleges to 15,000, there will be corporate-style closures and mergers. Depending on brand value, different people will take various colleges. There will be more people who will want St Stephen’s and what happens if nobody wants a college in north-west Delhi’s Bawana. Forget about freedom of speech, dissent and research,” said Narain.

Research topics are going to be decided by a National Research Association. With that, Narain said, the freedom to choose your research topic is being taken away. “Higher Education will no longer be a tool of emancipation but of perpetuation of certain types of ideology and certain kind of thinking,” added Narain.

Each of these autonomous colleges will have a Board of Governors, which will be constituted according to their will. They will have complete power and there won’t be democratic representation at the decision-making level.

In case of universities, there will be no executive council. There will be a board of governors and no elected representatives. “They will be completely undemocratic and ideologically controlled by those in power, the so-called public intellectuals and primary funders. It is the twin agenda of the right-wing forces with their Manuvadi ideology and by those who want to rake in the money. This is reflected in the policy,” said Narain.

“The alienation of colleges is a problem. Our universities (Calcutta, Madras and Bombay) were established in 1858 and their job was for the next 35 years only to hold examinations. Their job was not to see what the colleges were teaching. We are returning to that structure again by making colleges autonomous. It is good thought. But, today the way the permissions for colleges are granted, it is all about political patronage. The ethical framework for the autonomy of colleges needs to be regulated through a stringent regulator. It is there that the hitch is,” added Devy.

The National Accreditation system has been a flourishing business on the ground level. Rather than eliminating that corruption, a floodgate has been opened for it with a clear political imperative. “There is neither a pedagogical principle nor a regulatory structure proposed for granting autonomy to colleges. It is ambivalent. It will become a nightmare for parents and children. This policy is horrible for higher education and research,” lamented Devy.

Both Rampal and Narain highlighted that there is no commitment to government funding in the entire document. The University Grants Commission is going to be abolished under NEP 2020 and yet there will be control and draconian monitoring. “There won’t be permanent appointments and only five-year probation and tenure track. The service conditions can be discriminatory, different salary levels depending on how loyal you are. There is a golden handshake called compensation, which is for downsizing and throwing out people from their jobs,” explained Narain.

It’s a private model. “Where will most people who cannot afford the fees go to study? What will they be taught and what will they be allowed to say as part of the courses? It’s the sum total of what we have been fighting against over the years,” questioned Narain.

The NEP will impose a four-year graduation programme even after the disastrous results of it being imposed in Delhi University. With multiple exit points, the NEP 2020 is more interested in exits than entry. “They are more interested in throwing people out than retaining them. We know that the marginalised, the physically challenged, the socially deprived and people of a particular gender have reasons for dropping out. Now, all of them will be encouraged to drop out and the ones who will finally make to getting a degree are already people who are highly privileged,” said Narain.

There is no word about reservation in the 60-page document; no provision for reservation in either admissions or appointments. They club it all as ‘under-privileged’ sections and nothing to distinguish the Adivasis, Dalits, women and minorities.

“This is going to be a great divider and enhance the inequalities that are already existing in the country. This policy will neither reduce the gap nor make education a great equaliser,” said Narain.

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