Does NEP-2020 Stand by its Goal?

Nainar Sultan N

The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 is the third education policy of Independent India that has come 34 years after the National Policy of Education (NPE) that was framed in 1986 and revised in 1992. The first education policy was announced in 1968. The central cabinet of the Narendra Modi led BJP NDA government has approved the policy document on 29 July 2020. Earlier, a Draft NEP was published in 2019 and the public was requested to submit their opinions. The government had stated that it had examined over two lakhs responses received from various stakeholders.

What the NEP 2020 Stands for?

Apart from the Introduction part, the NEP 2020 document is divided into four parts, (i) School Education, (ii) Higher Education, (iii) Other Key Areas of Focus and (iv) Making it happen. The Introduction part of the document also discusses about the previous policies, principle and vision of the current policy.

Developing an equitable and just society, universal access to quality education, social justice and equality, national integration, cultural preservation, high quality educational opportunities to all are the key features mentioned in the very first paragraph of the document.

Support achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), developing an education system with equitable access to the highest-quality education for all learners regardless of social or economic background, achieve 100% Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) to secondary level, instill respect for diversity, constitutional and democratic values among the student community are the statements widely seen in the aim, principle and policy statements of the NEP 2020.

Does NEP Endorse Its Own Principles?

Constitutional Values and Democratic Spirit

The NEP 2020 has listed constitutional values and democratic spirit under the fundamental principles that should guide the education systems. Also, it mentions that the public education system is the foundation of a vibrant democratic society, but the way the National Education Policy drafted and approved by the cabinet is verily undemocratic and is against the constitutional values.

The document was approved by the central cabinet in a situation when the whole world, especially the nation is under pandemic attack and the situations are not normal. India has been in the list of top three nations affected by the pandemic, and it was one of the top nations with more confirmed cases per day.

The policy is imposed on the people in an undemocratic way without any open debates, and even without being presented in parliament and democratically approved. The government had given a transparent opportunity neither to the people’s representatives nor to the major stakeholders, i.e. teachers and students.  

The government had asked for the public responses on the draft document released in 2019 and claims to have received two lakh responses from various stakeholders. But the details of the public responses and concerns that were taken into consideration are not made public. After the release of the final document, various movements, student and teacher organisations, educationalists and opposition parties had raised their voice stating that their concerns and opinions that they submitted to the MHRD about the Draft NEP have not been addressed.

Education is a subject which belongs to the concurrent list, but the policy denies state governments their constitutionally provided federal power by placing the centre at a predominant position. The policy by centralising education, weakens the federal structure of the country and it is against the constitutional values.

Developing respect towards constitutional values among the students is mentioned as a principle in the document, but the way the NEP 2020 is drafted and approved by the government demonstrates its disrespect towards the constitutional values.

Equitable Access, Inclusiveness and Opportunity

Developing an equitable and just society, universal access to quality education, social justice and equality, high quality educational opportunities to all are some of the key features mentioned in the very first paragraph of NEP. Equitable access to the highest-quality education for all learners regardless of social or economic background is stated by NEP as the aim that is must for India.

‘To ensure inclusive and equitable quality education to all’ is a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) adopted by India. The NEP states it supports achieving such SDG. Producing citizens for building an equitable, inclusive, and plural society as envisaged by our constitution is stated as one of the principles of the policy.

In spite of having equitable access, inclusiveness and equal opportunity in aim and policy statements, NEP lays the roadmap for exclusion of the Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Groups from formal education, especially the higher education. Students’ and Teachers’ movements across the nation have called NEP as ‘National Exclusion Policy’ and ‘Blueprint for Privatisation of Education’. The NEP serves the interest of the rich, and the government may escape from its responsibility of providing educational access to its citizens irrespective of their socio-economic conditions.

Education is a fundamental right. It is the duty of government to provide access to formal education to every child irrespective of their socio-economic status.  The Kothari Commission Report 1966 recommends in  to increase the educational expenditure to 6% of GDP.  Fifty years passed, not even a single government had spent 6% of GDP for education. Current spending of around 3% cannot ensure providing education access to all.

The NEP encourages privatisation of education paving the way for the government to shirk its responsibility of providing access to quality education for all. Encouraging philanthropic initiatives and providing scholarship supports may not be sufficient initiatives to withhold the socio-economically disadvantaged students from dropping out from the formal education system.

It was and it is evident from the facts that the distance from home to school has kept a big number of students out of schools and it acts as a main reason for dropouts, especially for girl students. NEP proposes to close down schools and develop school complexes at particular distances which will push more towards dropping out from the formal school education as the education ladder goes up.

On one hand the NEP appreciates the RTE (Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009) as one of the major developments as way to ensure achieving universal elementary education. But at the same, NEP gives options to select vocational education in earlier stages, which paves way for the socially and economically deprived students to exit the formal education system. The proposed national level eligible examinations starting from early stage of school and minimum opportunities from public education system will also keep the socio-economically disadvantaged group out of full-time formal education of equitable quality. They may be forced to adopt vocational education than higher education. The emphasis given for vocational education in NEP (the word appears 76 time in the document) will reduce education to skill training. This is focussed on producing more skilled cheap manpower. This is nothing but a systematic exclusion mechanism to stop the socio-economically disadvantaged students from accessing higher education opportunities.

The overwhelming majority of our population is from the socially discriminated groups such as SCs, STs, OBCs, PWDs, religious and linguistic minorities, the rural and urban poor, especially women from these categories. NEP 2020 makes no mention of the constitutional provision of reservation for ensuring social justice to the discriminated. This may lead to dismantle the public education system and increase commercialisation of education.

More than half of the Indian population does not have access to a proper internet connection. The push for online and digital modes of education, privatisation of school and college education, and closing down schools and colleges are a clear indication towards restricting access for the downtrodden sections to formal education.

The choice based multiple entry exit four-year undergraduate programme is nothing but conversion of the education into a trading commodity. Here, only money will define the quality as well as the extent a student can access education. In order to climb up the ladder, educational loans will only be the module. Structurally this policy is designed to ensure that only the privileged with money and resources will survive, and the poor and marginalised will have neither opportunity nor access to quality higher education.

The common aptitude test for university admissions by National Testing Agency (NTA) will work against disadvantaged groups. Similar kind of initiatives in US had already proven that the disadvantaged groups lose access to higher education opportunities. 

The NEP is therefore an instrument of exclusion irrespective of its policy statements talking about inclusiveness, social justice, equitable access and opportunity to all.

Respect for Diversity

The principle of the NEP 2020 emphasises the importance to sensitise and develop respect for diversity of India in terms of culture, religion and language among the student community. In reality, the document itself doesn’t respect the diversity of India in terms of language, culture and religion.

India is home to several hundred languages. Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Gujarati, Urdu, Kannada, Odia, Malayalam, Punjabi are the languages that are spoken by major population of India. All these languages are rich with its own cultural traditions and knowledge. Out of these, Tamil (in 2004), Sanskrit (in 2005), Kannada (in 2008), Telugu (in 2008), Malayalam (in 2013) and Odia (in 2014) were declared as the classical languages.  Listed among one of the twenty-two languages scheduled by Indian Constitution, Sanskrit is the least spoken language in India with less than twenty-five thousand users.

The 66-page NEP 2020 document mention the word ‘Sanskrit’ 23 times. Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Odia are mentioned once. Hindi is mentioned only once whereas languages like Bengali, Marathi, Urdu, Punjabi and Urdu find no mention.

It is not clearly defined why the Sanskrit language alone has been given such importance when compared to other Classical and Scheduled 8 languages of India. The document talks about ‘Sanskrit Knowledge Systems’ which doesn’t have any scientific validations.

22.15 of the document talks about mainstreaming Sanskrit in school education and higher education. It further talks about establishing and strengthening of Sanskrit Institutions and Universities and professionalisation of Sanskrit teachers in large numbers.  The document doesn’t have similar kind of stand-alone description and roadmap for other classical and Indian languages.

Much emphasis for a language that is least spoken among population compared to other languages comparatively spoken by a large number of population and richness in terms of culture and knowledge clearly demonstrates the disrespect towards the diversity of the nation.

There are many much deeply rooted cultural elements in India which this policy fails to acknowledge.  This policy exhibits Vedic culture as only Indian culture and misrepresents secular vision and colour of the nation. It doesn’t reflect the diversity in our culture and our secular foundations.

Conclusion:

The introduction, aim, principle and vision of the NEP 2020 document is decorated with statements like universal access to quality education, social justice and equality, cultural preservation, high quality educational opportunities to all, constitutional values, democratic spirit and much more. But the policies and proposals provided in the chapters following directly or indirectly demonstrate its disrespect towards constitutional values, structured exclusion of socially and economically disadvantaged sections from access to quality higher education, and its stand against appreciating the diverse nature of this nation.  

India being a nation with its rich culture and diversity, with a major of its population under the socio-economically deprived category, needs an education policy that not only caters the needs of the upper socio-economic categories, but an education policy that envisions providing equal quality educational access to all irrespective of their socio-economic status, not only in its policy statements, also with a clear roadmap. 

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