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Critical Analysis of the New Education Policy, 2020

As the Union Cabinet approves a New Education Policy after a 34-year long gap, it has not been presented in the parliament just yet. Since it is only a policy, the implementation will depend on consultation with the states as ‘Education’ falls under the concurrent list.

Students study in a classroom.

The MHRD says that the policy is comprehensive and provides a strong framework for both school and higher education. Congress claims that the National Education Policy (NEP) misses “the fundamental goal of human development and expansion of knowledge” and questioned the government’s move to push it through during the coronavirus [COVID-19] pandemic without adequate consultation. Congress also said that instead of a proper sit down discussion with academicians, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) has been consulted. Former MHRD minister M. Palam Raju and former Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Gowda outrightly said that the NEP was high on ‘catch phrases and verbosity’, an ambiguous article but lacks critical finances and a proper roadmap for its implementation. The attempt to move towards digitalisation in terms of education, while is a progressive attempt. However, with the lack of resources with half the percent of the population seems like a far-fetched attempt. Only about 54.29% have the access to internet connection, furthering the divide between the rich and poor. This further leads to privatisation of education concentrating it in a few hands of the privileged class.

The Congress questions the government about the fall in the economy saying how it will deliver on its promise of spending 6% of the GDP on education when it has already fallen from 4.14% of GDP in 2014 to 3.2% right now. Mr Surjewala, chief spokesperson, said the new policy will remain a document on paper as the required finances are not there. The government needs to fill 12 lakh vacancies of school teachers; only 10% of government schools in the country have access to computers and just 4% have network connectivity.

Moreover, student and teacher bodies have called the NEP 2020, ‘anti-democratic’ and have come out with statements against it. DUTA, in a statement, said: “The DUTA's opposition to the draft NEP rested, among other things, on its proposal to dismember universities and handover every higher educational institution to a Board of Governors, which is to enjoy all powers hitherto vested in the governing authorities of colleges and universities as well as the UGC and other regulating bodies.” DUTA also asked the government to refrain from “bulldozing changes” which will have “grave consequences” for the country. The teachers also criticized “the feedback system” where opinions are “sought” but “not debated” and have asked the government to engage in a dialogue with academia. It also said that the creation of “centralized” bodies proposed in the policy is “against the federal structure of the constitution as education comes under the ambit of both the central and state governments.

The CPI (M) condemns and says that the most disconcerting feature of the DNEP is its failure to recognise the clear Constitutional delegation of equal authority to the states and the Centre, on education. Educational policy has been a prerogative of states, keeping in mind the diversity of regional interests and needs. The Constitution was amended to include Education in the Concurrent List, giving the responsibility of coordination and funding allocations between states to the Centre. The DNEP has virtually robbed the states of their pre-eminence and given overarching powers to the Centre. It has done this by creating an excessively centralised structure of authority and vesting overarching powers with the PM-led Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog (RSA). States are expected to function merely as local-level units of the RSA, without having the freedom to establish their own priorities or position themselves critically against the policies of the Centre. The RSA hierarchy of decision-making is an insult to the Federal character of our Constitution and its clearly defined relationship of the states to the Centre.  Malnutrition has not been given the consideration it merits. It tops the list of global malnutrition figures at 46.6 million children (2018 figures, Global Nutrition Report). While the NEP argues that “over 85% of cumulative brain development occurs prior to the age of six”, it fails to see the role that such a shamefully high rate of malnutrition plays in stunting the brain development of the vast majority of Indian children. There are no observations on the shortcomings of the Mid-day Meal scheme or the inadequacy of budgetary allocations towards it. In fact, the chapter on early Childhood Care and Education is scandalously silent on the need to commit adequate public resources and efforts to eradicate the problem of Malnutrition.

The SFI mentions the preparation of study material only by the centre. According to the NEP, states will have a very minimal role in preparing the text books. Centre will be preparing the framework for the study material. Even the private sector will have a role in this. Such a move will cause undermining the specific needs of the states as far as the study materials are concerned. It is said that additional textbook materials would be funded by the public - private partnerships.

The non-mention of scheduled castes and tribes show the lack of sensitivity amongst the framers. Even Mr Surjewal said, “There is no mention of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes in the entire policy document. There is no discussion about these underprivileged sections who comprise over 50% of the country's population.” The constitutionally mandatory seats reserved for the SC/STs continue to remain vacant every year. There is not a single concrete proposal in the 484 page draft national education policy to address this issue of social exclusion in higher education. Despite this, the document stresses that Private higher education institutions shall not be mandated to adhere to reservation guidelines other than those stated in this Policy and their formative Acts with respect to local State students. This may lead to a situation of more wider exclusion while the policy is intended to increase the number of private institutions with autonomous status. The negligence towards the fundamental duty of ensuring social justice is the major lapse in the document.

The draft claims to be inclusive uses the term 'Children with Special Needs', a term rejected by persons with disabilities themselves. It not only fails to provide a Braille or audio version of the draft but also shows no concern of the organisations that work for the betterment of disabled students. In fact, the role of special schools which are run mostly by NGOs is being neglected in the draft. 43 lakh disabled students across states may drop out, unable to cope with online education.

As the praises for the NEP are boasted all over the mainstream media, it is important and responsible to also critically evaluate some of its aspects. The ambiguous nature of the document needs to be dealt with providing more clarity for its implementation with proper consultation of academicians and experts.

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