All that glitters is not gold: Analysis of the National Education Policy 2020

Abhishek Kabra

It is very difficult to survive lung cancer. But, not trying to cure the cancer at all and asking the patient to smoke freely until she/he dies is never a good idea. The person will die soon and once the patient dies, cancer gets blamed but not the habit of smoking. Imagine all the wealth that the person had acquired in life being taken by her/his successors and how pity the situation would be, when the successors are none but the owner of the brand, whose selected advertisers suggested the person to smoke, even after having a lung cancer.

The above lines may sound harsh but the National Education Policy, 2020 is built on this similar line of argumentation. Undoubtedly, after 34 years of last policy for education, India needed changes and rationalisation in its education system. But when the same comes at the very cost of the death of its sick public institutes and their replacement by planned agenda of privatisation, the NEP, 2020 breaks the promise it did in the very first line of its introduction that spoke about development of an equitable and just society.

Coming as it does 34 years the National Education Policy 2020 was expected to objectively review the achievements and failures of the last National Policy on Education, assess the new challenges that have emerged in the intervening years, and articulate a vision that can robustly connect ground realities and democratic aspirations to Constitutional directives in this key area of nation-building. Instead, we have before us a document that frustrates these expectations.

NEP 2020 speaks of Graded and Financial Autonomy. Let us assume that I have a cow in my home and I tie a rope in the neck of the cow. Every morning at the same time, I take the cow through the same path to the same ground. The cow eats the grass from same part of the ground and I bring it back home at the same time every evening. The process continues for twenty long years. After twenty years, I suddenly decide that I should give autonomy to the cow and I opened the rope. But what I saw was even after opening the rope, the cow was going through same way, at the same time, eating the grass from the same part of the field and returning back home at the same time. NEP,2020 talks about autonomy but at a time, when the spirit of autonomy has been already killed by Classical Conditioning of the State and creation of “Yes Boss-Yes Boss” kind of environments.

However, the dangerous think with Autonomy in NEP 2020 is the inclusion of Financial Autonomy, where an institute will itself bear its expenses. Now, let us take an example of Sarvodaya College from Assam or any venture institutions where the students too belong to a poor socio-economic background. So, if the institutes are given financial autonomy, the only way they can manage to ‘not -die’ is by increasing the fees. And which will come at the cost of depriving the poor and underprivileged students from attaining any education at all. The makers of the policy have very cleverly included “Multiple Entry and Exit points” where the only way for these students will be to exit after a few years and become the workers of some industries. This will increase business prospects for the crony capitalists at the cost of educational future of the Dalits, the poor and the underprivileged. And when this entire vague concept of financial autonomy is followed by setting free the establishment of Foreign Universities with their skyrocketing fees and marketable education, the recruitment priority for higher levels of job in future gets clearly evident, say, Mumbai’s Antilla and Dharavi.

NEP speaks of independent subject choices. However, the limited experience we have had with it are not much healthier. In Assam, in 2016, JB College Jorhat came with CBCS i.e. Choice Based Credit System. But what was later seen is the lack of “CHOICE” making the ‘C’ in ‘CBCS’ as nothing but compulsory. Because of the lack of adequate number of teachers and the infrastructure required, the curriculum and pedagogy of almost every college under Dibrugarh University remained more or less same but named it CBCS namesake. So, the thing that is boosted as a key feature that people can even study Law and Physics and History together is nothing but a myth.

In the present Government’s rule, Choice has become an alien word. Education is an element of the concurrent list in the Constitution. However even after receiving oppositions by various states, the Government made tactful use of the pandemic to implement the same without consent from the states and any re-assessment of the same by academicians. Not considering the importance of a single Parliamentary Discussion and coming with NEP 2020 is highly undemocratic and is against the basic ethos of Indian Constitution. Page 96 of 484 paged draft NEP talked about inculcating the constitutional values; ironically it comes at the cost of demeaning the constitution itself.

The problem of child sexual abuse is very high in India. Almost 70% of Indian children has been harassed in one way or the other. Also, apart from safety and security issues, the importance of inculcating sex education since primary classes is extremely high. However, the NEP includes Sex Education as late as 9th Standard. Ironically, it also acknowledges the importance of early education till 8 years of age as an important tool for attitude building.  The policy perpetuates Gender Discrimination too. Gender-related themes and provisions are absent across curriculum and the failure to recognise gender as a cross-cutting concept is clearly evident. The policy fails to recognize that gender is not just a women and girls’ issue and that, it also pertains to boys, men, and the LGBT community and the inherent discrimination both in policy and implementation. Post the NALSA judgment the policy does not recognise the need to take measures to ensure a conducive atmosphere in schools for children who may not identify with the gender assigned at birth.

While India is a diverse and historically evolving entity, the perception of its historical stages of development has been muddied through mere thematic references to the philosophy, yoga, mathematics, literature and political ideas in Ancient India. In fact, Value Education seems to have been held hostage to propaganda of Brahminical ‘virtue’, while anti-caste and anti-racism voices like Ambedkar and Nelson Mandela are included as token diversions.

Research is the fundamental aspect of higher education. And the most important part of research is its independence. But the NEP proposes the constitution of National Research Foundation which will be chaired by the Prime Minister, holding a degree in ‘Entire Political Science’ and the impact analysis quality of whom is so high that beating all the IITs and IIMs, a non-existent Jio Institute becomes Institute of Eminence. So, when the research which a researcher wants to do will have to mandatorily obtain Government’s satisfaction, it outrightly deletes independence and freedom and brings it to fear, the stake of any thesis that includes Criticism of the Party in power.

Undoubtedly, India needed an educational policy to highlight the challenges and shortcomings and devise ways to solve the same. But the few silver linings in the policy can never be a mean to counter the shortcomings. Whenever any student is unable to continue education because of financial problems or bullying around caste ,or any sexual violence, rather than calling it a drop-out , now they will get certificate till the time they were present, thereby normalising dropouts and getting ‘on paper- Zero-dropout rate’ in the country and hence the success of NEP. Instead of addressing the deep-rooted prejudices and forms of discrimination and structural inequality, NEP has unfortunately institutionalised the incidences of dropouts.

NEP proposes a 5+3+3+4 format which makes the schooling system start from the age of three. ‘5+3+3+4’ are nothing but different age groups starting from three years of age. This is in contradiction with the globally accepted norm that formal schooling should be after the age of five. ‘Early childhood education and pre-schooling’ is only a preparative phase before actual schooling. Integrating it with the formal schooling would not bring any positive outcome, instead, it would reverse the welfare role played by the Anganwadi in the healthy development of children.

 It is really welcoming to see the Ministry of Human Resource Development changed to Ministry of Education. The bill gives a good emphasis to curricular and co-curricular activities but at the same time implementation of the same becomes doubtful because of the traditional nature of educational institutes that lends more focus on marks and assessment than learning and knowledge. The pandemic showed real faces of many educational institutes that overburdened students with pressure of exam without worrying about the delivery of qualitative education. The last draft of NEP which was out for public discussion was on December, 2019 and it contained no element of compulsory online and digital classes. But the bill that came a few days ago in an undemocratic way was first of its kind where it added new pages regarding the usage of online and digital medium which a larger section of academicians and students (that happens to be the largest stakeholder of education) are opposing. NEP,2020 undermined any real time queries of the students, the student Unions as well as the academicians.

The New Education Policy is a careful blend of a few progressive assurances and a subtle, yet concrete plan to turn the education system from an equaliser to a service provider. The policy is entirely silent about the element of Campus Democracy thereby going against one of the most important tenets mentioned by Radhakrishnan Committee of Education i.e. Education should be democratic. At the same time, the policy speaks much more on Industry-friendly environment but is silent about Gender Studies, Media Studies, Development studies and so on violating again the second tenet of Radhakrishnan Committee of Education i.e. Education should be Progressive. The Prime Minister asked the people to change this time of difficulty to that of opportunity and the Government took it serious enough and turned the difficulties that they experienced while explaining their agenda to the mass to an opportunity situation by removing only those chapters from the syllabus that spoke of Federalism(which contradicts their idea of centralisation) , Preservation of Natural Resources (which contradicts their idea of curbing the Water bodies, Forests, Land and Resources of Adivasis) , Theories of evolution (which contradicts their idea of promoting mythology more than science) and so on.

The NEP speaks about closure or clustering of Unsustainable Schools. But, if any school goes on to have an administrative cluster, the bill does not speak that which school will be able to hold them as clusters. And we are all aware about the Networks of RSS run schools in the country. But a Government or a Public Administrative cluster will be really a good move. But, if the cluster is physical one, it will bring into question the local area accessibility of the schools to the children. Because if the schools are closed and shifted far, not only contradict the Right to Education but also deprives children of working class and of course the children with disabilities from any education. NEP cunningly ensures that the agenda that the students always remain as second class citizens in academia is fulfilled. NEP missed opportunities. However, there is still a hope that the same gets checked and a re-assessed Policy is implemented in democratic, scientific and progressive manner. 

Abhishek Kabra, Department Of Mass Communication And Journalism, Tezpur University, Assam.

Back to Home Page

Aug 8, 2020

Abhishek Kabra

Your Comment if any