The “New India” Government was sworn in on May 30, 2019. The very next day, a Committee led by Dr K Kasturirangan, former ISRO chairman, submitted the voluminous Draft National Educational Policy (DNEP) to the new Union Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal. The public was given just a month to express opinion on a policy that will gravely impact not only our children but the very future of India. Such is the tearing hurry of vested interests pursuing a pre-set agenda!
In 2015, the HRD Ministry had initiated the process of formulating a new education policy to “meet the changing dynamics of the requirements of the population, aiming to make India a knowledge superpower.” For this, a Committee under the Chairmanship of TSR Subramanian, former Cabinet Secretary, was constituted which submitted its 200-page report in May 2016. The Government of India (GoI) did not like this Report and it was trashed by the then HRD Minister Smriti Irani. The Kasturirangan Committee, set up in 2016, submitted its 484-page report on May 31, 2019.
As it turns out Dr Kasturirangan is more of a stepney than original tyre. Therein lies a small tale. On August 31, 2011, a Commission headed by Madhav Gadgil, known as Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, submitted its report to GoI suggesting ways and means to protect and preserve the highly eco-sensitive mountain range by restricting predatory ‘development’ activities like quarrying, mining, thermal power plants, large-scale storage dams, big construction projects etc. Gadgil Committee report was not liked by ‘development’ mafia groups and they opposed it tooth and nail. Under pressure, Ministry of Environment and Forests kept the report secret and people were denied access.
Subsequently, Kasturirangan replaced Gadgil and submitted a fresh report on Western Ghats in line with the wishes of the “development mafia”. Kasturirangan report heavily diluted the Gadgil report and provided loopholes for mining and other ‘development’ projects detrimental to environment and ecology. Recent devastation in Kerala caused by huge floods and landslides is attributed to this report. Kasturirangan has played the same role again by replacing Subramanian as DNEP committee chairman and submitting a report to suit a pre-set agenda. So much for its credibility!
In 2011, Kasturirangan replaced Gadgil and submitted a fresh report on Western Ghats in line with thewishes of the “development mafia”… Recent devastation in Kerala caused by huge floods and landslides is attributed to this report. Kasturirangan has played the same role again by replacing Subramanian as DNEP committee chairman and submitting a report to suit a pre-set agenda. So much for its credibility!
Be that as it may, DNEP is stated to be built on the foundational pillars of Access, Equity, Quality, Affordability and Accountability. To start with Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) model as an integral part of school education is proposed. A 5+3+3+4 curricular and pedagogical structure based on cognitive and socio-emotional developmental stages of children is recommended.
Establishing ‘school complexes’ is a new concept. DNEP also seeks to reduce content load in school education curriculum. There will be no hard separation of learning areas in terms of curricular, co-curricular or extra- curricular areas and all subjects, including arts, music, crafts, sports, yoga, community service, etc., will be curricular. It promotes active pedagogy that will focus on the development of core capacities: and life skills, including 21st century skills.
The Committee proposes massive transformation in Teacher Education by shutting down sub-standard teacher education institutions and moving all teacher preparation/education programmes into large multidisciplinary universities/colleges. The 4-year integrated stage-specific BEd programme will eventually be the minimum degree qualification for teachers.
In higher education, a restructuring of its institutions with three layers is proposed. A new apex body Rashtriya Shiksha Ayog chaired by the Prime Minister is proposed to enable a holistic and integrated implementation of all educational initiatives and programmatic interventions, and to coordinate efforts between the Centre and States. The National Research Foundation, an apex body is proposed for creating a strong research culture and building research capacity across higher education.
The four functions of Standard setting, Funding, Accreditation and Regulation to be separated and conducted by independent bodies: National Higher Education Regulatory Authority as the only regulator for all higher education including professional education; Creation of accreditation eco-system led by revamped NAAC; Professional Standard Setting Bodies for each area of professional education and UGC to transform to Higher Education Grants Commission. Private and public institutions will be treated on par and education will remain a ‘not for profit’ activity. These are the claims of the proponents of the DNEP.
Those who herald the policy draft do so in vague terms indulging in hype. G Gopal Reddy, member, University Grants Commission claims that DNEP, when implemented, will make India a knowledge superpower without substantiating it in any manner. He goes on to say that India was once a ‘Vishwa Guru (teacher to the world)’ and it will again become one in the near future. Others say that India is moving towards a 5 trillion-dollar economy and is in the threshold of ‘fourth industrial revolution’ (whatever it is!). They foresee an exponential change in the way technology will change the life styles globally and that the proposed NEP will prepare the youth to face this ‘revolution’!
However, a close scrutiny of the DNEP reveals several flaws and fallacies. Education is in the Concurrent List and States have designed and developed their own model for ensuring Universalisation of Education. The DNEP totally ignores the role of the State Governments in evolving the Policy best suited to the State. It proposes an All India formula right from Anganwadi up to Higher Secondary. Learning outcome assessment is also to be based on National Bench Mark. This is extreme centralisation which falls foul of the democratic and federal structure of the Indian Union.
ECCE is ill-designed. Merging Pre–Primary and Primary Grade 1 & 2 and prescribing a formal syllabus for Pre-Primary will not allow the child to enjoy the childhood. Abolishing Anganwadi is an unwise move. National Tutors Programme, Remedial Instructional Aides Programme and the role of Instructional Aides termed as local heroes is nothing but undermining the role of teachers and the responsibility of the society as a whole in ensuring the enrolment and education of children.
The DNEP envisages a paradigm shift from input method to output method. Providing all resources and facilities for all students in every school is the input method. Only this will ensure equitable access to education for all. Output method is based on the result shown by the school or in other words the learning output that the student is able to exhibit. It is also called performance-based investment. This is a market concept that will deny access to good education for disadvantaged children.
Restructuring school curriculum and pedagogy in a new 5+3+3+4 format is totally unwarranted as the present system of 10+2 is working fine and should continue with certain changes and better provisions for learning. Compulsory tests in Classes 3, 5 and 8 will put severe stress on the children and could lead to much larger dropouts particularly in marginal and disadvantaged communities. Vocational education as structured will further accentuate this. Burdening children with three or more languages is unnecessary. If mother tongue is taught effectively, one could learn any language she/he needs at any stage of life. And granting exalted status to Sanskrit is an aberration.
The DNEP speaks loudly about the need to have good teachers. But the remedy of centralisation prescribed is unrealistic and unsuitable for Indian conditions. It should be left to the State Governments to draft syllabus and design courses according to the teacher needs of the States. The idea of creation of school complex and sharing of resources could lead to merger of schools with poor infrastructure and low student strength thus denying the students from poor family access to school in the neighbourhood. While the affluent may have access, the poor need to travel where the Government provides schools, which is scarce.
Coming to higher education, restructuring its institutions with three types-1: Focused on world-class research and high-quality teaching; 2: Focused on high quality teaching across disciplines with significant contribution to research; 3: High quality teaching focused on undergraduate education tantamount to segregation. The last in the category will become Community Colleges imparting only average education to which majority of the poor and disadvantaged students would be condemned into. At the same time, the DNEP extends invitation to top 200 global universities for establishing 500 high quality educational institutions in the country by 2030. This is purely elitist.
Education is in the Concurrent List and States have designed and developed their own model for ensuring Universalisation of Education. The DNEP totally ignores the role of the State Governments in evolving the policy best suited to the State
Worse is the policy of admission to higher education strictly through national level entrance tests to be administered by the National Testing Agency making 15 years of school education virtually redundant. This will give massive boost to the rich business of coaching which is already being coveted by MNCs like Reliance. Higher education could become unreachable fruit for the poor because they just can’t afford the costly mode of coaching. Taking away the regulatory powers of the States and the universities set up by the State governments that includes admission would be an assault on the federal scheme of things. States should be allowed to decide the qualification and admission process in colleges and universities.
The DNEP encourages unbridled privatisation with the State withdrawing from its constitutional obligation to provide good and equal-quality public education to all children and youth. In the event India will no longer be a welfare state as mandated in the Constitution. This also violates Article 41 of the Constitution: “State shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing right to work, to education….” Rubbing salt to the wound, education is being thrown at the mercy of non-governmental philanthropic organisations and models-gurukuls, pathshalas and madrasas rather than being public funded.
Though private education is supposed to be ‘Non-Profit’, there is no provision to rein in profit making. And there is no control over commercialisation. Mysteriously the DNEP recommends peer-tutors and volunteers to take over the responsibility of teaching poor children. As of now only the RSS with its vast wealth and cadre of volunteers is equipped to do this. Is it unconcealed saffronisation of education?
The DNEP is akin to National Economic Policy of the early 1990s that brought in Liberalisation-Privatisation-Globalisation (LPG). This LPG economy has led to extreme inequity. As per Global Wealth Report-2018 richest 10% own 77.4% of the country’s wealth and the bottom 60%, just 4.7%. The NEP is also advocating LPG in education and soon enough 60% of the youth may be denied high/quality education condemning them to menial jobs and vocations. This will render the DNEP extremely unfair and inequitable. Besides, given the publicly stated position of the RSS against the reservation policy, there are apprehensions that the NEP is meant to do away with this affirmative action through the backdoor!
Mysteriously the DNEP recommends peer-tutors and volunteers to take over the responsibility of teaching poor children. As of now only the RSS with its vast wealth and cadre of volunteers is equipped to do this. Is it unconcealed saffronisation of education?
Furthermore, a single, overarching, micro-managed education policy for a country of immense demographic, social, cultural, linguistic, developmental and historical diversity is unacceptable. Originally education was a state subject. In 1976 (during Emergency) by 42nd Constitution Amendment, it was made a concurrent subject. This Government is arbitrarily trying to make it a central subject and DNEP paves the way for it. Extinguishing the role of States in education would militate against the very grain of federalism which is the basic structure of the Constitution and therefore inviolate. This is autocratic and authoritarian.
The NEP was not a part of BJP’s 2019 election manifesto and therefore has no people’s mandate. The consultation process adopted is abrupt and arbitrary. In the circumstances, the best thing to do is to abandon the DNEP in its present form and opt for a democratic and decentralised policy in line with the constitutional clarion of ‘Unity in Diversity’.
Writer is a former Army and IAS Officer