The long-awaited National Education Policy (NEP) was approved recently, without a parliamentary debate, and with educational institutions closed for months. The 500-page draft put out last year, now suitably trimmed, had presented the direction the policy was taking. Some interventions have already been made in the past, such as large-scale school closures and mergers. It now proposes a School Complex to ‘consolidate’ suboptimal schools, citing the Education Commission (1964-66), though that had meant to create synergy between a better resourced high school and smaller primary or middle schools.
Policy documents normally include a socio-historical analysis of earlier policy interventions and new challenges; this policy takes two lines. It mentions the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009, only in the introduction and later alludes to its restrictive requirements. This Fundamental Right to equitable quality education in regular schools with professionally qualified teachers had legally changed the role of the state from one that shall ‘endeavour’ to provide free and compulsory education, with its ever shifting targets and timelines, to one that was bound by law from April 1, 2010. The policy is silent on what happened in the intervening decade, and where its implementation stands, while RTE is brazenly bartered away.
Unlike what was claimed in the media, NEP does not commit to extend RTE from 6-14 years to 3-18 years, as had been recommended by last year’s draft. Instead it calls for ‘alternative models of education’, through ‘multiple pathways’, which also include elementary courses of the national or state institutes of open schooling.
It claims to review the regulatory framework “to ensure that all students, particularly from underprivileged and disadvantaged sections, shall have universal, free and compulsory access to high-quality and equitable schooling from early childhood care and education (age 3 onwards) through higher secondary education (till Class 12)”. Having brokered a bargain, it repeatedly assures that the emphasis will be on “outcomes”, not inputs. Requirements “will be loosened, to allow suitable flexibility for each school to take its own decisions based on local needs and constraints”. Lessening of inputs for non-government philanthropic organisations, through “public philanthropic partnership” — a new twist to the acronym PPP — piously avoids the term private while openly pushing to expand the market.
The shift in the discourse towards Learning Outcomes is a discourse of denial of the basic right of children, especially the disadvantaged. This policy is also in denial of the socio-historical underpinnings of disadvantage, deprivation and exclusion, and fumbles with acronyms to obfuscate identities shaped by these realities. Dalits, other caste groups, Muslims are all clubbed under the acronym SEDG — socio economically disadvantaged groups.
Unlike other policy documents that elaborate on a transformative vision of social justice as embedded in the Constitution, this document hastily states its intention: “An education system rooted in (the) Indian ethos that contributes directly to transforming India, that is Bharat…making it into a global knowledge superpower” with ‘truly global citizens’.
An impressive wish list of its fundamental principles has an array of terms like creativity, critical thinking, multidisciplinarity, etc with an intriguing ordering in the bullet point on “ethics and human and Constitutional values: empathy, respect for others…cleanliness, courtesy, democratic spirit, respect for public property, scientific temper, liberty, responsibility, pluralism, equality and justice.”
Important recommendations for including Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) are to be seen in light of its ambiguous commitment to equitable quality. There is no logic to the clubbing of primary classes 1 and 2 with ECCE, run in anganwadis (whose workers are not professionally trained teachers) and in elite pre-primary schools. The Foundational Literacy and Numeracy Stage makes minimalist expectations for education and opens the space for community volunteers and even ‘peer tutors’, to outsource the most challenging task of educating children needing professional ‘inputs’.
Similarly, clubbing classes 9-12 allows an early diversion into vocational courses of those not considered ‘able’ for more sought-after academic courses. Vocational education needs creative and credible courses developed with some inputs of education, not just skills designed by the industry. The policy declaration for SDG Goal 4 needs serious commitment to ensure “inclusive and equitable quality education” for all. Populist proposals of “easier” Board exams or cuts in curriculum to the core essentials, with the experience of recent CBSE chapter deletions, don’t inspire trust or elevate expectations.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.