Thursday, 02 February 2023

The central executive committee of SFI releases this note following a wide consultation throughout the country regarding the draft ofNew Education Policy (henceforth NEP) placed by the NDA government. We would continue the same process with larger participants in all the states and produce a detailed report on how the NEP is going to affect the education system in each state, later. Here, we are drawing the attention of the public to some of the crucial elements included in the document. It is also about certain key areas and issues which have been neglected in the policy document. In general we demand a complete re-working on the policy approach with much more deliberations and study about the existing educational system all over the country.

Over the years the education system of the country have been facing huge challenges of commercialisation, centralisation and communalisation. We have time and again raised the issues ranging from social justice to campus democracy and quality of  education to accessibility. This document have been prepared keeping all those discussions in mind and listening different sections on how do they perceive the NEP.

We recognize that the integral democratic processes, constitutional outlooks and progressive approach were missing in the very making of the policy documents which itself has made the draft ill-prepared. Merely, less than two months have been given for the public to study the 484 page (in English script) document (and in Hindi it is about 650 pages) for submitting their feedback. In fact the document has not been made available in different regional languages which itself makes the lesser possibility of large participation of people of all walks of life in the process. Among the eleven members in the committee who drafted the education policy more than half of them are neither experienced people from academia nor educationalists. Some of them were just part of the administrative positions at different educational departments. This does not suffice to comment on the different aspects of education. Even in the list of organisations and eminent personalities the committee consulted prior to the preparation the NEP does not include the representatives of many marginalised communities and different important stake holders of education because of which many aspects of exclusion have not been addressed with the vigour it demands. The committee also failed to listen the student organisations including the SFI and democratically elected students unions in different campuses which have been working actively for the betterment of the people of academic communities and to address the concerns they are raising over and again. We have also witnessed a lot of educational experiments taken place in different states in the country over the last seven decades of independence following which commendable progressive results have been produced. The public school education in Kerala, the strongest public funded school system in India, is one among them. Unfortunately, the committee could not study any of those properly to draw examples from such successful initiatives. Not only more time, but a more inclusive process is needed before preparing a policy which may bring gigantic changes in the Indian society as a whole, not limiting to the education sector per se. Here are some of the problematic elements in the NEP.

Any policy document prepared for the government to implement in any field must be framed under the constitutional parameters and also invocate the constitutional values and goals. The constitution does not find such a space and rank in the NEP. According to the chairman of the drafting committee, Dr.Kasturirangan, the attempt is “to create a new system that is aligned with the aspirational goals of 21st century education, while remaining consistent with India’s traditions and value systems”. What is evident is that the makers of NEP have forgotten that the constitution of India itself is made fighting the many so-called traditions and value systems existed/existing in the country.

Attack on Federal Character of the country and education

While drawing down the essential general character Indian education system ought to have, the NEPthrusts to create an “India-centred” education system that will lead to the creation of an “equitable and vibrant knowledge society”. But many of the proposed structural changes are standing contradictory to the actual sense of this.  The NEP does not consist of proficient suggestions to achieve this, rather goes absolutely against the spirit of ‘Indianness’ in education sector.

No reform can be made in education system without taking the federal character of our country into central consideration. Keeping the state also at the central stage of decision making and charting out the plans and implementation is important since the country cannot afford to have a homogeneous structure in education, neither in academic nor in administrative levels. Education, especially the school level education  was supremely handled by state government in India till 1970s. Therefore all states could design its educational sector according to their own specific needs and conditions. It was during the emergency period, the Indira Gandhi government changed it to the concurrent list and centre began sharing a major role. Even after that the primary and secondary level of education remained mostly under the arena of state governments. The NEP submitted by the Kasthurirangan committee proposes a complete alteration of this aspect. One single method have been proposed in administrative, academic and structural level for the entire country. This itself is a violation of the federal values of the constitution. The idea of ‘Indian-Centred’ education need not be completely isolated from all other orientations emerged in foreign lands, ratherit should be an amalgamation of the deferral characters, democratic ethos and vibrant diversity of the country in every aspect. But in contradictory, the NEP has copied many of the failed neo-liberal experiments from the global experiencesand heavily neglected the divergent plans and programmes the people of India needs according to the specific conditions of their societies.

We welcome the recommendation of renaming the HRD Ministry as the Ministry of Education. But just a renaming will lead to no progressive change unless a concrete plan is made to ensure fruitful functioning of the entire system. While the draft proposes to rename the ministry on the one side, it also proposes a more rigid and centralised political intervention in the name of national education commission (which is a supreme authority of all matters pertaining to education) led by the supreme political leadership and with prime minister as the head. This is a governing body which has a lesser participation of people of academia but filled with the political leadership and the high level bureaucrats. Such a state intervention will only destroy the democratic nature of any academic system. The proposed national education commission headed by prime minister will shape the entire education system into a tool in the hands of supreme political leadership of the country. This proposal must be withdrawn and the constitutionally guaranteed federal character of education should be upheld.

 School System

Changes in large scale have been proposed in school education in the NEP. If the New education policy is implemented there are all possibilities for the autonomous elected school boards to be merged to form larger boards. The proposed national education commission is a sign of it. The autonomous schools boards are responsible for decentralised management of school clusters. This includes teacher appointments, school structure, academic calendar and time table, curriculum, standards and exams etc. At any point, this cannot be managed under one centralised system as the diversity in different arenas, from the geographical conditions, historical experiences to the specific needs of each state are varying. The direction in the new education policy will only undermine the democratic participation of people in the decision making with consequent decline in the quality of management.

The draft proposes a formal schooling system from the age of three. This is contrary to the globally accepted norm that formal schooling should be after the age of five. ‘Early childhood education and pre-schooling’ is only a preparative phase before actual schooling. Integrating it with the formal schooling would not bring any positive outcome, instead it would reverse the welfare role played by theAnganwadis in the healthy development of children. The draft ignores the contribution made by the Anganwadi system in improving the health and nutrition of children.

By 2023, state governments are expected to cluster schools together into more viable units known as school complexes. The proposed idea of school complexes has completely undermined the diversity of the nation and the level of improvement it has achieved in educational sector. This will only lead to the closing down of many schools in the name of being ‘non-profitable or sub-standard’. What the government has to ensure at this juncture is to take measures to improve the infrastructure, academic facilities and proper teacher and staff appointments in all schools and develop those to the vibrant centres of learning instead of adopting a policy which will crush the fundamental elements of access to school education.

Providing an “exit” point from Class VIII itself without demanding a complete ban on child labour is problematic as the current child labour laws allow children to work in “family” enterprises from 10 years onwards, reinforcing both caste-based occupations and economic exploitation.  This will have a huge social implication and violation of child rights.

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 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 materialswould be funded by the  public - private partnerships. We demand that all text books must be prepared by the academic bodies appointed by the government with transparent mechanism in the relevant department and distributed to all students freely. Making of text books should also keep nurturing of critical thinking, scientific temper and secular-democratic ethos among students as its core objectives. 

The NEP recognises that the mid-daymeal in public schools which played a critical role in the well-being of childrenhas over time become very insufficient because of inadequatefinancial allocation by the government. And it proposes food at all levels of the school to be improved to providefull and adequate nutrition to all students up to Grade 12. This is a positive approach and already been successfully running in states like Kerala. But more clarity is needed on which department and authorities will be made responsible and also the legal mechanism needed to be introduced for the transparent functioning of mid-day meal scheme. Huge corruption and malpractices have been reported from various states in recent years in the same. 

Campus Democracy

There is not even a single mentioning about campus democracy and democratic rights of the students in the entire document of NEP. We have witnessed over and years how did the de-politization and curbing of democratic bodies of students lead to increased  incidents of chaos, ragging, assaults on students, administrative highhandedness in  decision making, undemocratic relationship between teachers and students etc.  Education has an important objective of strengthening democratic values and training  the new generation to be potential contributors of a democratic society. Therefore it is  also crucial to ensure students and researchers are enjoyed all democratic rights  guaranteed by the very constitution of India. Students and researchers should never be  treated as a secondary citizens inside the educational institutions and should be  allowed to performs all democratic activities and engagements in an atmosphere of  zero surveillance. This is why we demand there must be a legislation by the parliament  of India to protect the campus democracy and free and fair elections of students  unions in all educational institutions, irrespective of public or private.

Social Justice

We recognise the absence of measures sufficient to address the question of social justice in higher education. There have been a number of incidents of discrimination against the students belonging to socially oppressed communities in the higher education institutions reported in recent time. Caste discrimination and violence are increasing in education sector. Reservation is not filled in many of the institutions including the central universities. We demand a special chapter in the education policy to  comprehensively address this issue and also propose a stringent law against any kind  of caste discrimination inside the institutions.

The share of student enrolment across all backward groups in India is lesser than their proportionate share in population. OBCs had the highest share of enrolments (35%), followed by SCs (14.4%), Muslims (5%), STs (5.2%), and other minorities (2.2%) following the trendof respective population shares of each group in thetotal population. In this phase, the question of ‘social Justice’ has been systematically ignored. The 27% OBC hasn’t been implemented properly in most of the educational institutions, with cut-offs and eligibility criterion been used to manipulate the rules. 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 intend to increase the number of private institutions with autonomous status. The negligence towards the fundamentalduty of ensuring social justice is the major lapse in the document.

The NEP 2019 has been utterly insensitive towards the issues and needs of the people with disabilities. The draft which 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 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.

Moreover United Nations Convention on Person with  Disabilities (UNCPRD) and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act,2016 which predominantly deal with the education of the disabled students have given an iota of attention. The draft is completely oblivious of the constitutional remedies established for the upliftment of disabled students such as the 25 percent reservation for the marginalised sections mentioned in the Right to Education Act and the issue of suicide of students indicated in Mental Health Care Act 2017.

Commercialisation of education being the central agenda, the draft pushes the disabled children who mostly come from  poor socio economic background to further deprivation and discrimination. The suggestion to construct school complexes by merging schools will adversely affect the disabled students. The idea of alternate education suggested in the draft will prevent the children with disabilities from getting quality education. By undermining the federal system of the country the NEP 2019 has failed to incorporate best strategies adopted by various states in dealing with the disability issue in academia.

There are references on sexual harassment and legal protectionsand entitlements for girls and women including the Protection of Childrenfrom Sexual Offenses Act (POCSO), Prohibition of Child Marriage Act,the Maternity Benefit Act (along with its Amendment), and the SexualHarassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal)Act. While these are welcome still sufficient measures have not been introduced to tackle the issues of gender discrimination, harassment and gender gaps.Many of the language used in regard to address gender offences lacks clarity and ends up without offering concrete long-term structural mechanisms of gender sensitisation, especially for men.

Though the draft indicates the necessity of “changing mindsets and halting harmful practices to foster gender equity and inclusion, any explanation about what these ‘harmful practices’  remain vague. Moreover, any kind of mentioning about sexuality or alternative sexual orientations fails to find a place in this 21st century document. The discussions about sexuality is hushed up throughout the draft though it mentions of providing working toilets, menstrual hygiene product, safe transport and gender sensitisation. Women and Gender studies departments, being one of the vibrant and interdisciplinary field present in academia, there is no mention about the significance, scope or challenges faced by such academic disciplines..

Undermining Independent Research

The NEP proposes to establish a National Research Foundation (NRF). The NRF will be a new apex body set up to facilitate research. The NRF willbe an autonomous body that will establish mechanisms to fund and mentorresearch capacity creation.Besides providing funds, it has also stated that NRF will create a mechanism for monitoring andmid-course corrections. This poses a serious concern over the independent nature of upcoming researches. It also undermines the civic or societal role of higher education. Through its Governing Board, the NRF will act as a liaison between researchers and the government helping to ensure that the most urgent national issues of the day are well-studied by the researchers. It is unclear that what all topics/research problems comeunder the purview of this ‘national issues’. Whilewriting down the examples the document has placed issues such as of clean water, sanitation and energy, but not ‘communalism, caste dominance, gender violence or corporate loot’.  Therefore, the idea that education at all stages should foster social transformation and strengthen democratic ideals has been side-lined with the proposal for NRF. More of a government intervention than an autonomous academic exercise is to be expected. We demand that the democratically elected credible academic bodies should have more say in matters related to research and it should also have a federal character in nature.

Commercialisation of Education

The country's education sector have been heavily privatised over the years. Majority of the education institutions are under private control in the County. This has a more scary picture from the higher education sector. Around 70% of total students in higher education in India are enrolled in private institutions. There are no concrete proposal in the NEP which addresses the issues of commercialisation of education. Rather it propose more of a free hand and autonomy to the private institutions. There are also proposals for government helping the private institutions to open their campuses in other countries. All these are to attract more students to the private institutions and to help government for further withdrawal from spending on education. There is nothing exciting about the offer that foreign universities will establish their campuses in the country.  Such ‘discoveries’ stem from the absence of any idea about how universities are established and developed. The suggestion of inviting global universities ranked by business institutions instead of equipping more than 700 universities in India to overcome the existing issues is utterly irrational.

The DNEP does not address the hostile attack on scientific temper. Even the institutions and offices which should be the carriers of scientific temper are promoting and circulating values which are utterly irrational and unscientific. The draft miserably failed to bridge the gap between the common people and scientific ideas. In fact, it is the responsibility of both the centre and states to raise awareness about scientific temper and aid the mass to incorporate such ideas using media and other faculties. Not only that the NEP provides any means to inculcate scientific values and ideas but it also shows absolute ignorance towards the growing threat on scientific temper. The recent times have witnessed the manipulation of academic equipments such as text books and examinations with the increased influx of unscientific approaches in education. The situation becomes worst when the people who occupy the superior positions in academic institutions themselves are becoming the promotors of such irrational deeds. It is alarming that the NEP does not provide any means or shows any concerns in order to curb such undemocratic an unscientific trends in academia.

In short, the NEP does not offer any kind of guidance on how to reform the education field in order to strengthen the fundamental ethos of democracy. Even though ‘democracy’ is mentioned superficially in some places, the words ‘secular’ or ‘secularism’ are not found anywhere in the draft. The report doesn’t have anything to say about the democratisation of the academic field and the development of a comfortable atmosphere where students from various backgrounds could confidently engage in academic activities.  The draft could cunningly ensure the agenda that the students always remain as second class citizens in academia.

The NEP has set its face against any kind of assessment of the existing education system or in providing alternatives to check the inequalities and inadequacies prevail in the sector; rather it is titled towards a structural transformation showing no honest concern for the betterment and inclusiveness of the education sector of the country. This becomes evident since the NEP 2019 has refused to actively engage with the significant documents on Indian education system till date such as the Radhakrishna Committee Report (1948), Mudaliar Committee report on technical education, Kothari Commission Report (1966). These landmark reports have in fact outline the significance of education sector in the over all, development of the country.

Students Federation of India will continue having larger consultations in state level with people of all spheres of education and civil society following which we will submit our feed backs and suggestions to the government along with a detailed alternative education policy material by July 31st.