The New Education Policy (2020) has been declared in the previous month by the Union Government, which consists of drastic reforms in the educational sector coming in after nearly twenty eight years. The summarized document of the policy of about sixty five pages which has been put up on the Education Ministry’s website, talks about structural reforms including - a three tier language system, restructuring of the schooling system to 5+3+3+4, multiple exit points in the higher education courses, one regulatory body - which are certain changes that people think are justified.
Even the idea of setting up foreign universities in the country is being heralded by the general masses. But, these aspects sugar coat some detrimental effects that may unfold in the due process of implementing this policy. So, people may want to reconsider their reaction to this move, as oftentimes the packaging of any policy appears fantastic on the outside but its content may not be so. Hence, a little skepticism can be a handy tool while forming opinions about this New Education Policy.
The first National Policy on Education was unveiled in 1968, which visualised “education as a public good”. It was heavily influenced by the Kothari Commission and it was unveiled at a time when New India was still vastly a socialist republic, and therefore its leaders insisted education to be accessible to all on an equitable basis. The second National Policy on Education of 1986 still encouraged accessibility of public education for all. But it laid the foundation for privatisation of education in the country, and this especially got amplified after the country went through Neo-Liberal reforms in the 1990s. Policy Framework for Reforms in Education (PFRE) later opened up the possibility of the establishment of private universities and their legitimization. So the commercialisation or commodification of education has been a gradual and systematic process that has been spanning over three decades up till now.
The New Education Policy 2020 has granted the establishment of foreign universities in our country. Not only that, but it has also reiterated the need for strengthening local private universities by reducing the stringent regulations that are in place currently, so that these private universities can be at par with the public universities. The document (NEP) talks highly about these private entities, and even uses terms like “philanthropic private” to glorify and legitimise their upcoming better statuses. While this may sound grand on paper but, in reality, the increasing function of capitalism in public education is alarming.
Capitalism has been always attributed as a perpetrator of the rhetoric of segregating and discriminating on the basis of caste, class, tribe and other factors. While the upper caste and middle class always enjoy the sheer privilege of accessing a commodified form of education, and while the story has always gravitated towards them and their benefit, but never towards the downtrodden masses of the society, not towards the needs of the lower caste and not towards the needs of the lower class. Capitalism has always ensured erasure of the reminder to help the downtrodden, rather it has always benefited from their exploitation. If private institutes develop at the expense of the public institutes, the privileged section of society will be compelled to choose these institutes over the public ones. This will make education exclusionary. The privileged will rise higher because of access to quality education, and the unprivileged will fall deeper into the rabbit hole because of disparity in this particular area.
What is even more alarming to be noted in the New Education Policy, is the determination to grant more and more autonomy to educational institutions. Autonomy means lesser regulations, and that in turn means deregulated fee structures. An overarching body called Higher Education Commission of India is about to replace UGC and other grant making bodies. The HECI will focus more on setting rules for the functioning of the universities and less on giving grants to educational institutions. It is indeed not a novel idea. With funds declining and fee structures showing increment in the educational institutions, the government should talk about this particular funding crisis or disparity.
Earlier, the Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) had criticised the NEP. Student bodies such as Students’ Federation of India (SFI) had also criticised the new education move as “radicalised privatisation”. It is not logically and ethically ideal to give in to the capitalistic outlook of the policy. Education is never a commodity, but a common good. We must realise by now that privatisation of education is a blooming threat to the “inclusivity” that we can at least see in public institutions today in our country.