How is the ‘New Education Policy' being implemented in Delhi University?

The New Education Policy is ambitious and rhetorical on paper but will effectively harm public-funded education, growth of students and teachers. A former DUTA president, Nandita Narain explains

How is the ‘New Education Policy' being implemented in Delhi University?

Sanjukta Basu

The National Education Policy, approved by the Union Cabinet in July 2020, seeks to ‘transform’ India’s education system by 2040. On paper, it reflects the government’s ambition of providing easy and flexible access to education via online mode, ensure autonomy to colleges, private funding of education and stress on technical and vocational learning.

It also claims to offer students more choice, make teachers more efficient and accountable and liberalise ‘education’.

Nandita Narain, Associate Professor of Mathematics at St Stephen’s College, who served as the president of Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) for two terms, tells Sanjukta Basu that both students and parents need to understand how NEP is being implemented. A massive push back to the NEP is needed, she says. Excerpts:

What is the implementation status of the National Education Policy 2020?

Several states have already passed orders or resolutions approving the NEP but it was not discussed in Parliament and both academics and opposition parties have objected.

What aspects of the NEP 2020 are most worrying?

The NEP 2020 is restructuring education on two fronts, the academic and governance, and seeks to privatise education, impact the quality, make teachers dispensable and reduce universities to merely degree dispensing systems.

On the academic front Delhi University recently proposed three regulations, the ABC (Academic Bank Credit) regulation, SWAYAM Regulations and ‘Blended Mode of Teaching and Learning’.

ABC creates a “credit bank” under which a DU student can take 50% of their credits from any other university in India which are graded A or A+ and complete the course in seven years with multiple exit-entry points. DU teachers will have no control on the quality of the learning during those “50% credits” which will be mostly online.

During the pandemic we have all noticed that quality of online education is still not up to the mark. Students do not take them seriously, are not focused and are generally engaged in doing something on the side.

The students are also increasingly getting comfortable with open book online exams in which mass copying has become a norm. Teachers too have become comfortable with the online mode and are not putting in enough effort. The NEP has not addressed the digital gap and accessibility issues dogging poor and marginalised groups.

The ‘Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds (SWAYAM)’, the credit framework for online courses, is aggressively pushing the MOOCs model which has failed in other parts of the world. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) will be prepared by teachers commissioned by the university and will be parked in a government portal called SWAYAM.

The regulation provides that a student can opt for up to 40% of their course work from SWAYAM portal. So, 50% of the courses can be taken from other universities and 40% can be taken from SWAYAM. Therefore, 90% of learning is effectively taken out of the control of the classroom teacher.

The subtext is ‘we do not require teachers’. Fifty percent of the teachers even today are in ad-hoc posts so that they can be gradually pushed out. The teacher-student ratio will no longer matter.

The third regulation provides that up to 40% each course provided by DU and opted by the student will be done through pre-prepared and pre-recorded lectures and rest of the time the teachers will do mentoring and grading.

The concept of student-teacher dialogue is going to be virtually non-existent.

Does this kind of model exist in other countries?

No, a model where there is such a high component of online courses as part of a regular degree is unheard of anywhere in the world. In the garb of the pandemic, the government has pushed through these massive changes which dilute the role of university and teachers and dangles the carrot of easily earned degrees.

The quality of education depends not just on what we do in the class rooms but also on how students interact with their teachers and with each other. A diverse range of students come to DU from various backgrounds, many from marginalised groups and regions. The students’ vision of the world changes as they learn from each other.

NEP isolates students and shrinking the space of learning through human interactions, organizational abilities, through art, theatre and debates. Human bonding and institutional relationships and continuity are being discarded.

The university is seen as a degree dispensing system, though the quality of that degree may not be worth the paper it is printed on. They are dumbing down the youth, producing half- educated individuals as cheap labour for multinational corporations and the gig economy.

The idea of questioning, ‘why am I doing what I am doing’, ‘why is my pay so low’ will no longer even occur to the youth. Space for independent critical thinking will dry up.

What are the changes on the governance side?

Currently all universities and colleges affiliated to universities are governed by the University Grants Commission and its guidelines on service conditions. They have to maintain a certain level of infrastructure, student-teachers ratio, quality of the courses, examinations etc. These are uniform across the country so all central university teachers have the same service conditions.

But NEP provides that UGC will no longer lay down regulations. There will be no affiliating system. All colleges will now be separate institutions for ‘purely research’, ‘research and teaching’ or ‘purely teaching’. Colleges, teachers and students will be in watertight compartments.

Each institution will have a Board of Governance (BoG) which will replace the Executive Council in the university and the governing body in the college.

Presently Executive Council members are mostly academics with some members from University Court and elected teacher representatives from colleges. Now, 2/3rd of the members will be non-academics, representatives of corporate sponsors government representatives and ‘public minded intellectuals’.

What it reveals is that NEP does not envisage public funding of education for much longer. It has been said elsewhere that by 2030 the institutions will become self-financing.

‘Public minded intellectual’ is not clearly defined but it can be assumed that they will be those affiliated to the RSS and others ideologically opposed or inconvenient will be sidelined. These members will then handpick the remaining 1/3rd academics from within the institutions.

So, if there are 18 members in the Board, only six of them will be academics who will be chosen by the 12 representing the government and corporate interests. It is a marriage between the government, corporate and ideology. Seniority or rotation will not be considered. Question of elections is also out. It also says that the old lot will appoint the new lot, so it is a self-sustaining system.

How powerful will be this BoG?

BoG will have all the powers that the UGC now exercises, including courses to be taught, the course content, fee structure, studentteacher ratio, creation of new posts, recruitment policies, service conditions of teachers and their upward mobility. Above all, the BoG will not be answerable to anybody.

How does the NEP plan to maintain and enhance institutional standards?

The institutions will be evaluated and graded. But it would be the first time when Government will not take any responsibility for inputs but nevertheless evaluate the output. There is no emphasis on public funding but a lot of emphasis on testing and monitoring.

If students do not perform, the institution would lose its grade. Factors like whether the institution is located in a remote backward area, the financial background of students or why they are not performing will not be considered.

Are you suggesting that NEP seeks to reduce the number of Higher Education Institutes in the country?

NEP mentions there are about 50,000 HEIs and the number should be reduced to 15,000. It also says each HEIs should be multi-disciplinary and should not have less than 5000 students. So, a college like St Stephen’s which has 1200 students would not be considered viable.

It paves the ground for private companies to take over a bunch of non-viable institutions and bring them under one roof run by one BoG. So, an Ambani or Adani would buy 3-4 colleges which has fewer than 5000 students. A university like JNU which is focused on research will also include a medical college, a business college etc.!

But can such sweeping changes be made in universities set up by individual Acts of Parliament or state legislatures?

The plan is to pass a new legislation which would override all existing legislations such as the DU Act or the JNU Act. Mr. Modi has gone a step ahead of other rightwing leaders across the world because he thinks he can get away with it. Parents, teachers and the youth have to wake up to the attempt at intellectual colonisation.

Is it not possible for liberal groups to come together and set up independent institutions of Higher Education?

Government has not given away control. The BoG will have representatives from government as well as corporates who will look at profit and play by the government’s rules. ED, IT, CBI will be used to harass any institution which does not toe the official line.

(This interview was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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