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Above: A teacher marks attendance
in a government school/Photo: Anil Shakya

The new draft national education policy encourages unbridled privatisation, with the State withdrawing from its constitutional obligation to provide good and equal-quality public education. India will then no longer be a welfare state

 

By MG Devasahayam

The “New India” government was sworn in on the night of May 30, 2019. Within hours, a committee led by Dr K Kasturirangan, former ISRO chief, submitted the voluminous Draft National Educational Policy (DNEP) to the new Union Human Resource Development (HRD) minister, Ramesh Pokhriyal. The public was given just a month to express its opinion on a policy that will gravely impact the future of India. Such is the tearing hurry.

In 2015, the HRD ministry had initiated the process of formulating a new education policy to “meet the changing dynamics of the requirements of the population, aiming to make India a knowledge superpower”. For this purpose, a committee under the chairmanship of TSR Subramanian, former cabinet secretary, was constituted, which submitted its report in May 2016. This report of 200 pages was trashed by then HRD minister Smriti Irani. The Kasturirangan Committee, set up in 2016, submitted its 484-page report on May 31, 2019.

The DNEP is stated to be built on the foundational pillars of access, equity, quality, affordability and accountability. To start with, the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) model as an integral part of school education is proposed. A 5+3+3+4 curricular and pedagogical structure based on cognitive and socio-emotional developmental stages of children is recommended.

The draft policy also proposes establishing “school complexes”, a new concept. The DNEP seeks to reduce content load in school curriculum. There will be no hard separation in terms of curricular, co-curricular or extra-curricular areas and all subjects, including arts, music, crafts, sports, yoga, community service, and so on, will be curricular. It promotes active pedagogy that will focus on the development of core capacities and life skills, including 21st century skills.

The committee proposes massive transformation in teacher education by shutting down sub-standard teacher education institutions and moving all teacher preparation/education programmes into large multidisciplinary universities/colleges. The four-year integrated stage-specific B Ed programme will eventually be the minimum degree qualification for teachers.

In higher education, a restructuring of its institutions with three layers is proposed. A new apex body, Rashtriya Shiksha Ayog, chaired by the prime minister is proposed to enable a holistic and integrated implementation of all educational initiatives and programmatic interventions and to coordinate efforts between the centre and states. The National Research Foundation, an apex body, is proposed for creating a strong research culture and building research capacity across higher education.

The four functions of standard setting, funding, accreditation and regulation are to be separated and conducted by independent bodies: National Higher Education Regulatory Authority as the only regulator for all higher education; creation of an accreditation
ecosystem led by the revamped NAAC; Professional Standard Setting Bodies for each area of professional education and UGC to transform to Higher Education Grants Commission. Private and public institutions will be treated on par and education will remain a “not for profit” activity. These are the claims of the proponents of DNEP.

However, a close scrutiny of DNEP would reveal several flaws and fallacies. Education is in the Concurrent List and states have designed and developed their own model for ensuring universalisation of education. The DNEP totally ignores the role of state governments in evolving a policy best suited to them. It proposes an all-India formula, right from anganwadis up to higher secondary. Learning outcome assessment is also to be based on a national benchmark. This is extreme centralisation which falls foul of the democratic and federal structure of the Indian Union.

Coming to ECCE, it is ill-designed. It merges pre–primary and primary grade 1 and 2 and prescribes a formal syllabus for pre-primary. This will deprive children of the joys of childhood. Abolishing anganwadis is also an unwise move.

National Tutors Programme, Remedial Instructional Aides Programme and the role of instructional aides, termed as local heroes, is nothing but undermining the role of teachers and the responsibility of society as a whole in ensuring the enrolment and education of children.

The DNEP envisages a paradigm shift from input method to output method. Providing all resources and facilities for students in every school is the input method. Only this will ensure equitable access to education for all. Output method is based on the result shown by the school, or in other words, the learning output that the student is able to exhibit. It is also called performance-based investment. This is a market concept that will deny access to good education for disadvantaged children.

Restructuring school curriculum and pedagogy in a new 5+3+3+4 format is totally unwarranted as the present system of 10+2 is working fine and should continue with certain changes and better provisions for learning. Compulsory tests in Classes 3, 5 and 8 will put severe stress on the children and could lead to much more dropouts, particularly in marginal and disadvantaged communities. Structured vocational education will further accentuate this. Plus, burdening school children with three or more languages is unnecessary. If the mother tongue is taught effectively, one could learn any language a child needs at any stage of life. And granting exalted status to Sanskrit is an aberration.

The DNEP emphasises the need to have good teachers. But the centralisation prescribed is unrealistic and unsuitable for Indian conditions. It should be left to state governments to draft syllabi and design courses according to their teacher needs. The idea of creation of a school complex and sharing of resources could lead to merger of schools with poor infrastructure and low student strength, thus denying students from poor families access to schools in the neighbourhood. While the affluent may have access, the poor need to travel where the government provides schools, which is scarce.

Coming to higher education, there is restructuring of its institutions with three types: Focused on world-class research and high quality teaching; focused on high quality teaching across disciplines with significant contribution to research; high quality teaching focused on undergraduate education, tantamount to segregation. The last will become community colleges imparting only average education to which a majority of poor and disadvantaged students would be condemned to. At the same time, DNEP extends invitation to the top 200 global universities for establishing 500 high quality educational institutions in the country by 2030. This is purely elitist.

Worse is the policy of admission to higher education strictly through national-level entrance tests to be administered by the National Testing Agency, making 15 years of school education virtually redundant. This will give a massive boost to the rich business of coaching which is already being coveted by MNCs like Reliance.

Higher education could become an unreachable fruit for the poor because they just can’t afford the costly mode of coaching.

Taking away the regulatory powers of states and universities set up by the state governments would be an assault on the federal scheme of things which is the basic structure of the Constitution and therefore inviolate. This is autocratic and authoritarian. States should be allowed to decide the qualification and admission process in colleges and universities.

The DNEP encourages unbridled privatisation, with the state withdrawing from its constitutional obligation to provide good and equal-quality public education to all children and youth. In the event, India will no longer be a welfare state as mandated in the Constitution. This violates Article 41 of the Constitution: “State shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing right to work, to education….” Rubbing salt to wounds, education is being thrown at the mercy of non-governmental philanthropic organisations and models—gurukuls, pathshalas and madrassas rather than being public-funded.

Though private education is supposed to be “non-profit”, there is no provision to rein in profit-making. And there is no control over commercialisation. Mysteriously, the DNEP recommends peer-tutors and volunteers to take over the responsibility of teaching poor children. As of now, only the RSS with its vast wealth and cadre of volunteers is equipped to do this. Is it unconcealed saffronisation of education?

The DNEP is akin to the National Economic Policy of the early 1990s that brought in liberalisation-privatisation-globalisation (LPG). This LPG economy has led to extreme inequity. As per Global Wealth Report-2018, the richest 10 percent own 77.4 percent of the country’s wealth and the bottom 60 percent just 4.7 percent. The same would happen in education and soon enough, 60 percent of the youth may be denied high quality education, condemning them to menial jobs and vocations. This is nothing but advancing apartheid!

A single, overarching, micro-managed education policy for a country of immense demographic, social, cultural, linguistic, developmental and historical diversity is unacceptable.

Originally, education was a state subject. In 1976 (during Emergency), it was made a concurrent subject by the 42nd Constitution Amendment. The current government is arbitrarily trying to make it a central subject and the DNEP paves the way for it.

The DNEP has no people’s mandate. If such a policy is to be adopted, it should be only through a referendum.

—The writer is a former Army and IAS officer

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