National Education Policy (NEP) 2020: Does It Push Out Poor from Education?

Vidyarthi Vikas

Since the beginning, India's political economy intention has not provided quality of education to its people, while an influx of time, aspirations and demand has been increased; need introspection and call an attention of the intellect of the society on the eve of introducing the NEP. A long awaited education policy was introduced in country with many right intentions including Indian ethos, echoed across the country because it will change the fate and direction of the nation. The policy is a compressed form of the draft National Education Policy (2019) that was submitted by K. Kasturirangan Committee, offers a plethora of promises for quality of education on the basis of 'philanthropic' concept'. It may be apprehended that policy eventually promotes centralisation, privatization, commercialization, sanskritisation, isomorphism, and marginalization in the country, resulted exclusion of poor from education system. The NEP may be remembered as 'of the people, by the government, and for the Industry', requires close scrutiny.

National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has many positives, including affirms the 'Public Good' nature of education, and reiterates 6% of GDP on education may be encouraged the nation but contrary to this private philanthropic investment promoted, raising concerns. The policy starts with listing the higher education problems currently faced by India's current education system. The listing may be comprehensive but there is no analysis in details and strategies to come over rather emphasizing that the current policy will re-energise and overhauling the education, "what the policy envisages is to build the edifice of an entirely new ecosystem with the degree of autonomy of the Institution". The vision of the policy is quite wordy, repetitive, fence and in-sequential around the same things. I refer to some proposals and issues here. The NEP, an ambitious and complex document, laying down a road map for the next two decades in words, has been adopted amid of a pandemic and a lockdown, which renders discussion and debate difficult. Not only this, but NEP could not address the undesirable couple effect of Corona and lockdown in access the education, large number of students are unable to pay fees, may be drop out, pushed into labour market, facing homelessness, and health issues; need timely intervention. In this way, what NEP says and what it does not say will have far-reaching impact, thus it is a matter of deep concern.

Some words that have been overemphasized in the policy will have far-reaching impacts with specific limitationson Indian education system such as vocational courses, digital education, holistic personality building not rote learning, 4-year integrated multidisciplinary B.Ed., critical thinking, education in the local language, emphasise on Socio-Economically Backward Groups (SEDGs), ashramshala in forest areas, multiple entries and multiple exits, multidisciplinary, technique-based learning (TBL), Indian ethos, community involvement, vocational courses in middle school, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2030. ECCE will also be introduced in Ashramshalas (alternative schooling) in tribal-dominated areas and in all formats of alternative schooling in a phased manner. The process for integration and implementation of ECCE in Ashramshalas and alternative schooling will be similar, may have good intention but using the 'word' ashramshala for schooling purposes of schedule-tribes may not be very academic, needs introspection while using this term. This paper may explain some of them.

Before that it may be pointed out that some of the issues arising out of this NEP on which the silence of the document is disturbing are Reservation, RTE Act, anganwadi system, and field of studies such as Media Studies, Women or Gender Studies, Cultural Studies, Dalit Studies, Discrimination and Exclusion, Environmental Studies and Development Study, all of which have developed over the last three to four decades in a coordination with government and civil society. Many of these have engaged with multi-disciplinary/inter-disciplinarily in exciting and disturbing ways, bringing to the fore issues of diversity, difference and identity. While discontinuing the M. Phil. course will squeeze the space of young aspirants seeking higher education and research, as 18649 candidates were enrolled in M.Phil. Course in 2018-19 (All India Survey on Higher Education 2018-19). M.Phil. students are potential candidates who carry forward the research at next level, will have significant impact in academia.

The policy advocates a plethora of promises at many fronts basically i.e, Structural and Administrative. The NEP offers a list of structural changes in education which is a welcome step with some observations such as the structure of schooling 10 + 2 in the format of 5 + 3 + 3 + 4, four year undergraduate program with multiple entry and multiple exit, integrated B.Ed course, autonomous college, teacher training, new regulatory body, Health check-up, linking early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) (in the form of anganwadi) with the school, emphasizing mother tongue, offers world class top 100 universities in the country, to increase the Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in Higher Education from the current 26.3 to 50%, tri language formula, Special emphasis on Mathematics subject, Investment on education should be increased from 4.67% to 6% of GDP. The policy could not advocates about serious arrangements for the plethora of pressing proposals, notwithstanding the aim of the policy is to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in education, meaning thereby the number of existing colleges and universities will have to be doubled but policy indicates to close the institution or reduce the number of the institution using graded measurement or NITI Aayog's School Education Quality Index (SEQI). To achieve high GER one needs to increase investment and expand affordable educational institutions to meet aspire of the masses.

There is no reason to club ECCE with the first two years of primary education. This will only create confusion as they are saying that early childhood care would be done through anganwadis, standalone nurseries or pre-primary schools as it happens in private schools. How can this be an equitable educational system as anganwadi worker is not a professionally trained teacher? Anganwadi teachers will be offered online training from 6 month to 12 months based on their qualification but that is not enough for early child-care. I believe as mention, they have done it to bring in more community teachers, volunteers, social worker and student tutors. An adhoc system may be adopted for the ECCE rather than more comprehensive anganwadi system. Anganwadi system is covered by the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), a government programme in India which provides food, preschool education, primary healthcare, immunization, health check-up and referral services to children under 6 years of age and their mothers. Question is, will ECCE cover all the measures and facility therein?

There is scarcely any mention in affirmative action in the form or reservation for the Scheduled Cast, Scheduled Tribes, Backward Class, and Minority. NEP is completely silent on 'reservation' which is a great equaliser to bridge the educational gap among caste and class in the country, need review. While, 'reservation' word was once used in the draft NEP 2019, indicates that new version of NEP does not have concerns over social inclusion as per SDG 2030 while, NEP repetitively used the 'terms' SDG 2030.

The document frequently reiterates about Indian ethos to enhance the knowledge of India that could restore the country's educational heritage from the glory days of Nalanda & Takshshila Vishwavidyalaya. To transform it in a reality, the NEP envisages the synergy of philanthropic investment and public resources. The vision of the NEP is to transform Indian as an Indian who is deep-rooted pride in being Indian, not only in thought, but also in spirit, intellect, and deeds, as well as to develop knowledge, skills, values, and dispositions. The policy aims holistic development of students in changing existing pedagogical practices to experimental learning with Indian languages, autonomy, multidisciplinary curriculum, vocational courses, and fit India movement across the educational standard. By doing so, the NEP recommends multiple entries and exit points, thus, removing currently prevalent rigid boundaries and creating new possibilities for life-long learning. In this way, policy mandated isomorphism, promote drop out, and ignoring the benefit of comparative advantages or specialisation theory.

Sometimes, NEP repeated, and overlooked past practices, and overemphasised on some words, like multidisciplinary, used 71 times and the 'autonomy', it has been used 21 times in the report, but in the name of autonomy, it is either matter of promoting privatization or centralisation. There is a running refrain of the word, 'Autonomy' and choice of the document; this is circumscribed at a crucial juncture. For instance recently, a good number of students of the JNU, DU, Jamia Millia Islamia, Hyderabad University, Patna University are facing sedition charges and are under threat, when they raised their voices in a university where critical thinking, political argument, and debate is increasingly embattled. While we have been hearing about Atma-Nirbhar-Bharat (vocal for local) and policy offer foreign universities within higher education proves the contradictory statements. NEP moving around vocational courses across the standard and it assumes that a technology based learning (TBL) system is a capsule that can cure all the educational challenges. While, India's digital divide is well known. India's digital divide that has been highlighted and deepened by the COVID-19 pandemic and recent economic depression in the economy needs special attention but policy fails to address the same, as an on-going series of reports in the newspapers during the lockdown has reported that the classrooms itself is under pressure like never before. Disparities between the rich and poor, urban and rural, show up strikingly is access to digital divide. Surely, the digital divide will increase the social and economic divide among caste and class.

Dozens of articles have been written on the shortcomings of technology-based learning (TBL). By doing so, according to Census 2011, at all India level, the number of households' computers with the internet is only 3.1% while it is only 0.7% in rural areas and 8.3% in urban areas. If we take, the State of Bihar as an example, it is known that at present 22.28% of schools have electricity facility and 2.37% of schools have computer facilities. The speed of the internet and shortcomings are well known. This technology-based digital divide will widen the social divide and in due course, push up the poor from education. The social, economic, and educational divide will be deep rooted among the marginal section of the society.

There are three types of autonomy in this policy - (a) Administrative (b) Academic (c) Financial which will be graded i.e, a high grade will get all types of autonomy, the rest of the Institution with lower grade will have to attain higher grade, failing in which stringent action against the substandard institution. After the implementation of 'Financial Autonomy', all higher education institutions will also apply arbitrary fees, which will make higher education costlier. In this way, by adopting the process of financial autonomy, the government will get rid of all the educational institutions and may be handed over to the philanthropist. Various higher education institutions will be evaluated by the central agencies or faceless agencies, suspecting that if not performed at given scale, grade, and criteria, it may be closed or hand over in private hands. NEP also says that Colleges will be 'autonomous' and gradually phasing out the system of ‘affiliated colleges’ over a period of fifteen years through a system of graded autonomy. In due course, colleges will have autonomy in academic, administrative, and finance. Meaning thereby, college can recruit the teacher, frame their curriculum, and fix the fees.

The main thrust of this policy regarding higher education is to end the fragmentation of higher education by transforming higher education institutions into large multidisciplinary universities, colleges, and HEI clusters/Knowledge Hubs, each of which will aim to have 3,000 or more students brought a variety of options and strategies to close various educational institutions, such as the merger of colleges with less than 3000 students, closure of schools if fewer children and teachers. In this way, lakhs of schools and colleges will be closed in the country in the name of Ivy League, or school complex or graded criteria. The policy aims, by 2030, at least one large multidisciplinary HEI in or near every district create more complications to the students especially, poor, girls, handicapped etc.

In this policy, 'school complex' has been talked about, under which there will be a 'school complex' of schools falling within a radius of five to ten kilometers. NEP believes that private investment will be adequately promoted for a strong, vibrant public education system, and that every government school will have an interdependent relationship with a private school and that the good practices of private schools will be promoted in experimented in public schools and exchange the resources. It is a fact that in most of the cases government schools has more permanent resources which can be used for private schools. Government educational institutions can now use the private investment for the betterment of the schools. Overall philanthropic investment has been described as a necessary resource for encouraging public education. An 'alternative model' has been discussed to promote public education in this policy, which says that now teaching/research institutes will be opened with 'Public-Philanthropic Partnership' to a greater extent.

If this policy transcendent into reality, it may be apprehended that most of the government/public schools will be either merged or closed and takeover by private schools. Scale-dividend theory has been envisaged may not applicable in this regard. As soon as the school arrangements would be merged, the children of primary school will not be able to access their school nearby and it will take away students from his/ her school. The provision of the School Management Committee (SMC) has also been made for the 'School Complex' in which NGOs, community participation will be promoted. According to the study 'Evaluation of Cycle Poshak Yojna in Government run Schools 2016-17/17-18 in Bihar', sponsored by the Department of Education, Government of Bihar as conducted by the author indicates that the State of Bihar has not good experiences of SMC, and basic amenities are not in order, if all the enrolled students come in school, school could not accommodate all the students. The study also indicates that students who are actually attending the schools are mostly belong from poor section of Society specially SC/ST/BC/Minority.

According to NEP, vocational education will be taught in every schools and higher educational institution at every level. At the school level, children will learn carpentry, blacksmith work, pottery work, embroidery, weaving work. It seems that 'Skill India Mission' will now be transcendent into education policy' will have many unwarranted impact. An innovative experiment is that 'all schools/higher education institutes' will be multi-disciplinary, that is, the subjects of arts, science, technology and branches can be read together, here the principle of 'comparative advantage' been ignored. This will reinforce the proverb of 'Jack of all trades is a master of nuns' although this experiment will promote the multidimensional development of students to a certain extent. 4-year undergraduate program with multiple entries and multiple exits would certainly be a good initiative, but the scope would have to be expanded further - for example, if a student is unable to pursue in the same institution, in graduation after one or two years, he or she should be in a position to access other institution as well. His/her half-unfinished certificate should also be acceptable in the context of employment. Ultimately, a person graduation with one year, or two year, may be in illusion of being "educated". A 4-year graduate programme may redundant the Master's degree programme in due course.

To promote the Indian ethos by initiating three language formulas may be appreciated with some hitches that the aspirations and objections of the southern states and its impact on poorer section of caste and class, while policy says that the three-language formula (at least two of the three languages mother-tongue or the regional language) would be the "preferred" mode of instruction till Class 8, "wherever possible" these languages will be used in public and private schools. NEP never says about compulsorily of any specific language of India and offered English in some sense as a third language. What does all this make difference? Recently, Chief Minister, Tamilnadu opposes three language formula and saying that two language formula already adopted by the Tamilnadu in 1968 and raised concern that a person who do not speak hindi/sanskrit would be a Second-Class citizen. Again, poorer section of the society (most of them belong from Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, Backward) will be deprived from English while students from well to do family will have orientation in English, in private schools, makes significant difference. So long as are Sanskrit will be offered at all levels of school and higher education as an important, enriching option for students, including as an option in the three-language formula. Preferably Sankskrit will be offered in north India as a third language.

NEP says that a national level institute will be opened for the development of Pali, Prakrit and Persian languages. Hindi and Sanskrit language will be promoted at the national level is a commendable step but at the same time Arabic and Urdu is ignored, while, 'Arabic' is an 'ancient international language' and 'store of knowledge and prosperity' which is 2000 years old, though the 'Arabic language' is taught in about 70 universities in the country and according to a research the 'Arabic language' is spoken by 13.9 million people in India and internationally by 420 million people It is taught in about 20000 madrasas/schools in Deoband / Nadwa etc. which is necessary to understand Islamic literature? The importance of this language is strategic, political-economic, social, and cultural, which also need attention.

The NEP introduced selected administrative bodies the central level, which will run as faceless institutions and administer all the existing bodies in a view of minimum regulations and maximum governance, "light but tight", like National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC), which will serve as single point regulator except medical and legal education; National Testing Agency (NTA), There will be a National Accreditation Council (NAC) for Accreditation, whose job is to give graded recognition; There will be Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC) for funding; For Academic Recognition (GEC), and Public Disclosure Policy by The Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) will be established. It is a matter of concern that the basic principle of working of these bodies will be technology-based and faceless. In a diverse and developing country like India, policies made without human interface will be like 'shoot in the dark'. Centralization will be encouraged and many deficiencies and requirements of the educational institute will not be resolved properly.

The issue of spending 6% of GDP on education has been repeated as National Education Policy 1968 and 1986. Rather, repetitive promises, the policy may enquire into detail of expenditure to be incurred at the present situation, after 52 years, in estimate, in given circumstances, it may be increased upto 10% of GDP. The research and innovation investment in India is, at the current time, only 0.69% of GDP as compared to 2.8% in the United States of America, 4.3% in Israel and 4.2% in South Korea, while there is no commitment to increase expenditure on research. In recent years, it has been experienced that the expenditure on higher education is being continuously reduced by the present government, such as the UGC budget which was reduced from 10213 crores in 2013-14 to 4601 crores in 2019-20. The budget of the Central University, which was 7286 crores in 2017-18, was reduced to 6843 crores in 2019-20.

In sum, the policy has many provisions for 'exit points' which will push up 'drop out' and push out 'poor' from education. It seems that NEP 2020 may educate people merely on the scale as required by Industry/Private Sector. The whole policy is formulated around 'Public-Private/Philanthropic Partnership' strategy.

Government of India (2019). All India Survey on Higher Education. New Delhi: Ministry of Human Resource Development.

Government of India (2020). National Education Policy 2020. New Delhi: Ministry of Human Resource Development.

Vikas Vidyarthi and Dhak, Biplab (2019). An Evaluation Study on Implementation of Education Incentive Schemes (Cycle-Dress-Scholarship-Napkin) in Schools, Government of Bihar (2016-17/2017-18), Report, Patna: A N Sinha Institute of Social Studies.

Dr. Vidyarthi Vikas, Assistant Professor of Economics, A N Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna

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Aug 20, 2020

Vidyarthi Vikas

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