August 23, 2020
New Education Policy 2020: A Policy Refuting Federalism and Diversity

C Raveendranath

EDUCATION is a subject directly or indirectly linked to each and every family of the country irrespective of social, cultural and economic diversity. Hence the National Education Policy should reflect a clear vision on the future of the nation that goes in tandem with the articles and principles set out by the constitution of India. Before proposing new policy, assessment of the success and failures of the action programmes undertaken as a continuation of the earlier policies of 1968, 1986/1992 seems inevitable. It is essential to locate whether any systemic failures happened for non achievements or under achievements, if so what are the measures going to be taken through this policy. While assessing we have to look whether the policy ensures access, equity, equality, quality education for all. It is also most important to assess whether the policy addresses the actual premise of the Indian educational system where visible inequality of educational opportunities exist in the form of even access for dalits, tribals, rural and urban poor, and other socially, economically and educationally deprived sections of society even after 10 years of Right to Education act. 

To understand the basic positions or contours of NEP 2020, even in depth reading is not needed. NEP 2020 stands for an intelligent withdrawal of the central government  from its responsibility of providing public or common  education even in school years and its main thrusts are on centralisation negating the federal structure of the country, privatisation and commercialisation by opening up all avenues of education to market, communalising or even saffronising  not only the content of education but the structure itself, withdrawing from all constitutional commitments for social justice, equity and equality, social security and even from reservations and other assenting actions especially for socially exploited, marginalised and disadvantaged sections. For undertaking all the above said tasks together the policy proposes to deregulate all the existing regulations and structures to ensure the wiping out of any democratic possibilities.

This NEP is not originated in vacuum. This education policy reflects the blatant political, economic and cultural ideologies of the ruling class. Education has always been an instrument as well as a process to nurture citizens, specially students, in tandem with the political and economic and cultural positions and perspectives of the dominant or ruling class. In the 1968 policy, the basic aim was to create a future society upholding national integration and prepare a generation involving in national development. Democracy, secularism and socialism were non-negotiable as per that policy.  Even the 1986 policy, which was revised in 1992 and evolved in the backdrop of the opening phase of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation, didn’t fully retreat from the concepts of democracy, secularism and socialism. But NEP 2020 consciously kept away ideologies and even terminologies like democracy, secularism and socialism. These concepts or even terminologies seem alarming to the right wing politics which is more prominent in the global scenario for the time being. Hence one can expect an education policy at this juncture, which will function as a tool to uphold the right wing politics and their prescriptions, and also nurture a generation compliant to those policies. It is obvious. And in our country, the ruling class is implementing the right wing LPG policies by utilising and exploiting the ignorance of the majority people who are still tied up with the belief system and giving more importance to customs and rituals.

The narrations inside the policy document seem to be very progressive and go in tandem with the modern educational principles. For example (introduction - p3 para 4)  “Education thus, must  move  towards  less  content, and  more  towards  learning  about  how  to  think  critically  and solve problems, how to be creative and multidisciplinary, and how to innovate, adapt, and absorb new material in  novel  and  changing  fields. Pedagogy must evolve to make education more experiential, holistic, integrated, inquiry-driven, discovery-oriented, learner-centred, discussion-based, flexible, and, of course, enjoyable.”  One can see these kinds of flowery envelops and lofty and rosy-sounding ideals which couldn’t do anything with the basic premise of the policy.

NEP 2020 provisions lead to undo whatever little rights and access that the deprived sections and the marginalised and disadvantaged sections of society have managed to get so far. Section 3.6 “To make it  easier for  both  governments  as  well  as  non-governmental  philanthropic  organisations to  build  schools,  to  encourage  local  variations  on  account  of  culture,  geography,  and  demographics, and  to  allow  alternative  models  of  education,  the  requirements  for  schools  will  be  made  less restrictive.  The focus  will  be  to  have  less  emphasis  on input  and  greater emphasis on  output  potential concerning  desired  learning  outcomes.” In section 8 the participation of private schools are also clearly mentioned.  This provision along with Section 3.5 lays the footing for diluting or abandoning the Right to Education (RtE) Act. The euphemism of multiple pathways focusing on ‘alternate models’, helps to proliferate the huge industry of low-cost private schools, ‘philanthropic-public partnership’ schools, religious schools, for which “multiple pathways to learning” through non-formal methods, technologies and National Institute of Open Schooling courses (equivalent to grades three, five and eight and later grade ten and twelve) are being justified. NEP proposes access to children to school education from age 3 to 18. These kinds of multiple pathways like alternate models of schooling will limit to non-justiciable “universal access” leading to denial of the constitutional right of children to have access to equitable quality education. And these kinds of suggestions and provisions are only colourful envelops to keep the actual intent – that is the denial of justiciable rights under RtE Act 2009. And these models are violative of the fundamental right of children to good quality education in regular schools; removing Right to Education regulations amounts to depriving the poor and disadvantaged of their most basic entitlements. This will only lead to total privatisation and corporatisation of the school education. 

NEP proposes the formation of various agencies at the national level such as Higher Education Commission of India (HECI), National Research Foundation (NRF), The National Testing Agency (NTA), National Assessment Centre - PARAKH, The National Educational Technology Forum (NETF), Professional Standard Setting Body (PSSB) and National Professional Standards for Teachers (NPST) etc to capture the powers of the State.  The newly formed central bodies will eventually lead to a comprehensive disempowerment of the Indian states in the sphere of education. This is a complete departure from the earlier policies that were based on the constitutional framework. This of course will lead to serious implications for federalism (autonomy and rights of states) and concurrent status of education. With education in the concurrent list, the rights of the states under the Indian constitution are curtailed and the role of the states will be that of coordination with the centre and implementing the policies as decided by the centre. NEP leaves almost no scope for state-level interventions in education. These policies will curtail the efforts made by states like Kerala which gained whatever achievement in the field of education with limited resources by utilising the scope of education being in the state list and later in the concurrent list. 

The central government’s intention is not limited to capturing the administrative powers vested in states. The policy is arguing for National Textbooks with Local Content and Flavour. Section 4.31 of the policy document argues  “…All  textbooks  shall  aim  to  contain  the  essential  core  material deemed  important  on  a  national  level,  but  at  the same  time  contain  any  desired  nuances  and  supplementary  material  as  per  local  contexts  and  needs. Where  possible,  schools  and  teachers  will  also  have  choices  in  the  textbooks  they  employ  -  from among a set of textbooks that contain the requisite national and local material - so that they may teach in  a  manner  that  is  best  suited  to  their  own  pedagogical  styles  as  well  as  to  their  students  and communities’ needs.” In educationally developed countries, at the national level, the nation will formulate a national curriculum framework. States will have to develop a state curriculum and further allow the lower level units to develop materials for learning. This is based on sound education principle. India is a country where diversity is the reality. While formulating the curriculum, one has to consider the divergence and diversity of different aspects – geographical, climatic, linguistic, cultural which includes religion, caste and customs and belief systems.  A balanced curriculum should harmonise universal, national, sub national, regional and local elements. There are universal elements that form part of the curriculum everywhere. There are also national elements that should be common throughout the country. The curriculum should be formulated in tune with the constitutional goals and help the child to inculcate values enshrined in the constitution. The ingredients of these values need to be carefully thought out in a multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society like ours. Obviously, these values should not be identified with any particular religion. The ideas of democracy, secularism, gender equity, dignity of labour, equity and equality and social justice are some of the universal values that deserve to be integrated in the curriculum.  The curriculum, therefore, should reflect the reality and concerns of the people of each state. Even the state curriculum should be flexible enough to accommodate regional and local needs and concerns. A flexible curriculum would keep on evolving to meet the challenges arising out of social transformation.

The intension of this kind of centralisation in curriculum is evident. By putting the quality banner in the forefront, the central government is consciously imposing its agenda of communalising education. During the Covid-19 pandemic period, the CBSE cut the syllabus and everybody knows where the cutting blade had gone. All content regarding secularism and patriotism and rational thinking had been eliminated in the name of lessening the burden of content load.  Even the topic ‘Evolution’ was removed. Nobody knows when schools will function in a normal way in this academic year. Without having any idea of how many working days the schools will get this year, how and why the education organ of the central government (CBSE) cut the syllabus in an ad hoc manner without any academic justification. It is clear that it is a politically motivated action. Hence centralising the curriculum is not for addressing quality; it is a blatant attempt to communalise education.

The policy is proposing common examinations at grades 3,5,8,10 and 12. And for fixing national standards, a new national body named as National Assessment Centre, PARAKH, will be formed for Performance Assessment, Review, and Analysis of  Knowledge. In a country where inequality is promoted by the ruling class, how can a system make national parameters for assessing the educational performance? The system is not providing adequate school facilities, teachers for each grade, minimum facilities like infrastructure for learning, toilets, drinking water and materials for learning such as text books etc. What is the academic intention of common examination in standard 3rd, 5th and 8th? Let’s relate this attempt with Albert Einstein’s remarks “that everyone is a genius, but if we judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid”. Hence, these are all processes for making the marginalised communities feel that it is because of their children’s incapability that they couldn’t continue their education. Hence this policy is not a policy of inclusion but it is policy of exclusion.

The whole policy document is promoting the transition of education system from academics to managers and technicians. Academics role will become irrelevant even in academic matters. This will lead to total stoppage of the any kind of innovation in the field of school education. And the new policy document can be a source for the development of a future society that never questions and never defies the tendencies that cause inequality and discrimination, and also addressing the huge gaps between haves and have-nots.

The document recommends 5+3+3+4 structure of schooling. But it doesn’t say whether the states have the flexibility to adapt the structure considering the state specific socio-economic-cultural and academic needs. Linking preschool with the formal system has a danger of downward extension of the formal system to the child of three. According to some experts in this field, this will hinder addressing the physical, mental, emotional and social development needs of the child. Many more debates and dialogues are needed before implementing this structural change.

A highly debatable recommendation in section 7 proposes school ‘rationalisation or consolidation’ through the set up of ‘school complexes’. This would be done through mergers and by closing down ‘financially suboptimal and operationally complex’ small schools, something which has long since been targeted by corporate NGOs and funding agencies. There are social and pedagogical reasons for setting up of schools (lower primary) within one kilometre radius for those children below 10 to 11 years. The concept of school complex put forward by the Kothari commission is for academic enlightenment. Though the word school complex is the same, the intentions are contradictory. Here school complex is envisaged as an administrative unit. The need is for a natural linkage between nearby schools as a collective for enhancing quality education and equitable sharing of all kinds of resources judiciously.

The policy document has not assessed the impact and shortcomings of the National Literacy Mission (NLM). As a result, literacy goals are not properly addressed to eradicate illiteracy. India’s current literacy rate of 74.24 per cent is way behind many other developing countries. And we have to address the literacy needs of more than 30 crores of Indian citizens. The suggestions in this regard seem as a retreat to the old model of adult education and also a retreat from the collective or social mode of addressing this issue.

Critical reflections on the ideas articulated in the draft document unfold an embedded relationship between vested interests and corporate systems that have major consequences for the prevailing education system. This relationship opens the door for the growth of privatisation and commercialisation of education whether it is school or higher education sector. It would obviously erode the idea of welfare approach and instead, provide for multiplying the prevailing inequality in our society manifold. The federal and secular nature envisioned by the constitution will be usurped. It will be a setback for the values enshrined in our constitution.

(The writer is the minister for general education, government of Kerala)