The National Education Policy (henceforth NEP) 2020 is a welcome step in equipping the Indian education system for the twenty-first century. Looking only at the text of the NEP, one can begin to envision its futuristic outcomes. However, reading the text without taking into account the context is only expected from a naive reader. Text and context are always interdependent, complementary, and in a close relationship.
The NEP has been formulated at a time when the corridors of power in India are controlled by right-wing politics. The ruling party, the BJP, is based on the ideological foundations of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). The RSS is known to be anti-minority, anti-diversity, and monolithic in its cultural ethos.
The NEP will replace the 1986 education policy. The NEP has been under process since 2016, when the TSR Subramanian committee submitted its report to the union government. Later in 2017, the government constituted the K Kasturirangan committee which submitted its draft in 2019, based on inputs provided by the Subramanian committee. This draft of 484 pages was thrown open to the public for feedback when the Modi government was re-elected to power. It has received more than two lakh suggestions. However, this policy was approved by the union cabinet without discussion and debate.
—Till now, playschools were not regulated but this policy provides for their regulation. This is justified on grounds of keeping in check the practice of charging exorbitant fees by these schools. Now, three years in the foundational stage are to be spent in the already distressed Anganwadi centres. There is no objection to introducing Early Care and Childhood Education (ECCE) but the concern is whether Anganwadi Centres are developed enough to take this additional responsibility.
The NEP also replaces the 10 + 2 system with 5+3+3+4. Under this, a child is entitled to Early Care & Childhood Education for three years and twelve years of formal education. The provision of introducing breakfast along with the two-decade-old mid-day meal programme will help to diminish malnutrition. Internships right from the 6th standard seems a good step forward but educationists have raised concern over the vocationalisation of education at such tender age.
This policy seeks to undo the rigid compartmentalisation of streams like arts, science, humanities, commerce, and so on. It provides flexibility in choosing subjects and hence erases hierarchy among different streams. The NEP also seeks to achieve a Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) of 100 % in school education by 2035.
The ambiguity over the medium of instruction up to the primary level and preferentially up to the middle level is going to end up in a tussle in a diverse country like India. When the ruling party proclaims the slogan ‘Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan’, it is evident that the Hindi language will get the most attention. It is quite clear why the ambiguity of regional and mother language is there in the new policy.
The provision of multiple entry and exit points in colleges and flexibility in choosing subjects across streams seeks to do away with the traditional academic system in colleges. I think giving flexibility to such an extent in choosing subjects will raise confusions and mismanagement in colleges.
One year of research (optional) during Bachelor’s will obviously develop research aptitude among students and will be a valuable experience before stepping further to higher education. Also, phasing out the affiliation of colleges with universities and giving graded autonomy to colleges is welcome but will the administrative appointments in colleges be free of politicisation and influence?
The UGC (University Grants Commission) & AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education) is to be merged and replaced with HECI (Higher Education Council of India). It will act as an overarching body for all higher education, excluding medical and legal studies. Its four independent verticals will also be responsible for all grants, funding, standards, & accreditation to make it one of the most centralised regulatory institutions. Many educationalists fear that such centralised regulation may impede the evolution of higher education in the long run.
The NEP 2020 says that the centre and state governments will strive to increase expenditure on education to reach 6% of the GDP. But our national exchequer is currently stressed by public health and national security, so it is likely that education will receive little priority. Moreover, the Modi government has a track record of cutting down funds meant for education.
Another aspect that should be borne in mind is that ever since this regime came to power in 2014, the space for student politics is diminishing in higher educational institutions. Students and staff are intimidated or punished for taking a stand against any of the policies of this regime. Hyper nationalism has taken the place of dissent, while every effort is being made to culturally assimilate students to a particular racial superior culture.
The intent may seem quite good but it is the implementation of NEP 2020 which will determine its pros and cons.
The writer is doing a master’s in political science at Central University of Kashmir and is associated with J&K RTI Movement