July 28, 2019

Draft NEP Perpetuates Discrimination


THE draft of the New Education Policy(NEP) is profoundly regressive and overwhelmingly undemocratic. It continues to perpetuate the existing discrimination against the disabled. It fails to invoke a rights-based approach and refuses to break away from the traditional method of viewing disability.

Despite ‘access’ being claimed to be a key “guiding principle”, non-availability of the draft in accessible formats, deprives large sections of the disabled an opportunity to go through a crucial document that will be shaping their lives and those of disabled children and adolescents. Only a PDF version is available in Hindi and English. No text version, Braille or audio version has been provided. Such a denial can also be held as a barometer to gauge the impact, within government circles, of the much tom-tomed ‘accessible India’ campaign!

While the opening message from the former HRD minister, Javadekar claims that the draft was prepared after “unprecedented, collaborative, multi-pronged, multi-stakeholder, bottom-up people-centric, inclusive, participatory consultation process”, however the claim made is absolutely false. It does not list any organisation working among the disabled which was involved in the process. Even the nodal ministry, the ‘ministry of social justice and empowerment’, the ‘department of empowerment of persons with disabilities’, the ‘national trust’ – are all glaring omissions from the list. Even the Rehabilitation Council of India, which is mandated “to regulate and monitor services given to persons with disability, to standardise syllabi and to maintain a central rehabilitation register of all qualified professionals and personnel working in the field of rehabilitation and special education”, does not figure in the list.

The lackadaisical approach to matters concerning the disabled gets exposed by the fact that neither the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which India ratified nor the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 have been taken cognisance in the draft. Both of these have sizeable sections on education. Oddly, it talks of a non-existent Persons with Disabilities Act, 2005!

With the thrust being towards commercialisation, the overwhelming majority of disabled, who come from economically poor backgrounds and study in government schools, will stand deprived further. The proposal to either close down or merge schools to create school complexes, which may be far away and inaccessible, will adversely impact the disabled.

While the draft talks of inclusiveness, it uses the term “children with special needs”, a term rejected by persons with disabilities. The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 also does not use this term. Strangely, the draft talks of school education only and avoids spelling out measures to address concerns of students enrolled for higher education, which for a variety of reasons continues to be inaccessible for persons with disabilities.

Despite a host of provisions contained in the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, “access” here is merely understood in terms of provision of ramps, handrails and toilets. Even in the matter of physical access, according to reports only 22.4 per cent of schools have disabled friendly toilets and in around 20 per cent of schools where ramps are required, they are absent.

Apart from the innumerable issues associated with deploying unqualified “local heroes”, “to formally help students who have fallen behind”, the usage of terms like “Remedial Instructional Aids Programme”(RIAP) is disparaging to a section of students who may for a variety of reasons, not be able to academically ‘perform’ like their peers.  The RIAP will lead to segregation. It militates against the principles of equality and inclusiveness. Disturbingly, the draft fails to acknowledge the huge shortage of special teachers.

According to the MHRD’s own data, amongst the various groups, the highest number of out of school children, are children with disabilities. In the year 2014, the figure for this group was 28.07 per cent. The draft however, does not lay down any concrete measure to increase the enrollment of disabled children. On the contrary, the policy proposes to do away with the 25 per cent reservations for marginalised sections provided for in the Right to Education Act.

The draft NEP is completely oblivious of special schools and their role. The status of such schools, run mostly by NGOs, which are under the domain of the ministry of social justice and empowerment, is left unanswered. Whether they would be brought under the MHRD and guidelines framed for them is not spelt out in this draft.

There has been an alarming increase in the number suicides by students. While the draft does mention about providing counsellors in schools, it is obvious that it is underplaying the magnitude of the issue. In this context, the policy fails to acknowledge the existence of the Mental Health Care Act, 2017. Additionally, while the MHC Act sets the qualification of clinical psychologists as MPhil, this draft recommends the discontinuation of MPhil.

The alternate models of education suggested will deprive children with disabilities from getting quality education. As opposed to inculcating a scientific temper it will promote regressive ideas and superstitious beliefs.

No review of the existing policy including with regard to implementation of strategies worked out earlier is provided. The compelling reasons to frame a new one has also not been outlined clearly. The NEP is inconsistent with our federal structure with the centre seeking to impose its own unitary version on the states. It has failed to incorporate the best practices being adopted in various states.

The financial commitment of the government of India for the implementation of this policy are not forthcoming, though it does talk of enhanced allocations. This is especially crucial for the disabled, as putting in place enabling environments, providing reasonable accommodations and universal accessibility, would entail added expenditures.

The NPRD is of the opinion that the draft NEP is violative of the fundamental right to education including those of the disabled. Equality of outcomes including those of the marginalised and disabled is given a complete miss. It fails on all the three parameters- “sab ka saath, sab ka vikas and sab ka vishwas”.

The draft goes with the presumption that since the government has labelled the disabled as “divyang” and bestowed them with divine powers, no intervention is required on the part of the government.

Such a policy which furthers privatisation and commercialisation that disadvantages a huge section of the population including the disabled and perpetuates inequalities and discrimination cannot be accepted. The NPRD would be submitting a detailed response to the government.