The Draft NEP quite rightly, intends to be ‘out-of-the-box’ in its thinking. The 'completely new and far sighted' policy to change the 'Educational Landscape' and prepare the youth to meet ‘Present and future challenges' is to be guided by the five fundamental pillars: Access, Equity, Quality, Affordability and Accountability. This effort to overhaul the entire educational system is praiseworthy. Ensuring universal access to education of 'high quality', as stated, should be the top most priority. The scope of the draft NEP has been enlarged and now encompasses children from the age of 3 years. The inclusion of Nursery, in the ambit, is a step in the right direction.
The document rightly covers the educational tradition of ancient and modern India. Strangely, the medieval period has not found mention. This period was also significant because of the scholarly work done in the translation of Hindu epics in Persian and Urdu as is apparent from historical record of intense academic activity promoted by the rulers. The medieval period should not be omitted. It is an intrinsic part of India’s history.
The draft NEP, to achieve its objectives, must remain within the parameters of the Constitution of India, the fundamental pillar of which is 'Secularism'. The NEP has not made any reference to this important facet and it should have been ensured that educational institutions are shielded from political, market, governmental, financial pressures and prejudices of socio - religious ideologies. Education should bridge the gap between communities.
Another constitutional provision violated has been the concentration of power in the envisioned and over-powering 'Rashtriya Shiksha Udyog'. Over centralization in the field of education is the antithesis of autonomy, which is essential for free thinking and high-quality research. Education comes under the Concurrent List, and the Centre cannot override the powers of the States either in determining or in regulating education which are the prerogative of State governments and legislatures. It is therefore essential that the inputs from all states are accorded due consideration and incorporated.
It is also apparent that the draft NEP envisions that the government will gradually withdraw from the field, especially of higher education, and the private sector would become a major player. This would definitely entail profit making which is the antithesis of the welfare state enshrined in the Constitution. Social betterment and not profit making should be the primary aim of education.
Due importance has been given to vocational training, right from school. It is pointed out that the majority of children, from minority communities, are already adept in various trades as they are utilised to supplement the family income. These children are rightly looking only to improve their academic qualification. It would be more beneficial if vocational training, at school level, revolves around hobbies like gardening, arts and crafts. Greater stress in schools should be given to provision of facilities for games and sports. The schools should be the nurturing grounds for winning Gold Medals in International sporting events.
The policy formulated intends to give an impetus to inclusiveness with stress on the deprived sections of the population. It is essential that those sections of the population, which have been left behind, get special attention in the field of education to enable them to bridge the ever-widening gap. The NEP must ensure a level playing field within the present unequal, unjust and discriminatory social system. The ‘Vision’ Statement must clearly reflect this. It is recommended that to give this required emphasis the ‘Vision’ is expanded with the following additions (given in red):
The National Education Policy 2019 envisions a modern, India centred, Inclusive education system that contributes directly to transforming our nation sustainably into an equitable and vibrant knowledge society, by providing high quality education to all, especially those who have remained educationally backward/ disadvantaged.
Equitable and Inclusive Education have been covered in Chapter 6 of the NEP. This chapter rightly highlights the educational backwardness of the Muslim community and the remedial measures, which are appreciable. There is an urgent need to modernise the 'Madrasas' but it should be ensured that their autonomy, in theological teachings and their management be not interfered with.
To ensure 'Equity' a 'Rationalisation and Merger of Schools' is intended Para 3.1(c) of the draft NEP. It envisages 'Consolidating existing stand-alone primary, upper primary, secondary and higher secondary schools, especially those that have too low an attendance into composite school/ complexes'. The minorities perceive this as a ploy to absorb the schools founded by them into larger institutions with differing ethos. This clause should be applicable only to government schools and not to Minority institutions. How would rationalisation overcome the problem of language (differing mother tongues in the same area), special needs and gender issues, which govern the organisation of schools set up to meet specific requirement of girls, children with special /differently abled, especially of minorities?
Rationalization of schools had been tried earlier with the amalgamation of small institutions. Unfortunately, the merger of so-called unviable schools has resulted in the closure of a large number of such institutions in states which have implemented the scheme.
The main problem in implementation will be budgetary constraints. Implementation of the NEP will require an immediate and massive infusion of funds. The NEP has been drafted primarily by educationists and administrative and financial matters have been glossed over. The success of major reforms rests on the ability of the Government to implement the changes and find resources for the same.
The need to find funding and ‘to find it quickly’ is essential. The experience so far with high fee-charging private schools and private universities has been less than inspiring as an important means for furthering access to education. The public-private partnership (PPP) model has become associated with the commercialization of education. The Draft’s solution is to substitute ‘Public Philanthropic Partnership’ but no attempt at regulation is proposed as it is suggested that ‘autonomy’ will allow space for private ‘partners’ to voluntarily rationalize costs and fee structures. This militates against ‘Affordability’ which is one of the fundamental pillars of the draft NEP.
There have recently been massive cuts in budgetary allocation to education and reduction of seats in public-funded higher education institutions which do not portend well. A way out to cut costs would be greater stress on Information, Communication, Technology (ICT) and Distant Education.
It is encouraging that views and recommendations across all sections of the population have been invited on the Draft. These should be examined to ensure that a document which will guide the destiny of education, for the next few decades, is balanced, inclusive and does not curtail autonomy.
The Drafting Committee must certainly be complimented for the pain staking work done in compiling the NEP. They must keep in mind that India has performed very well in the field of education, compared to where we were at the time of Independence. Well established procedures and institutions, which have stood the test of time, need not be dismantled just for the sake of change. It is also important that the provisions remain within the ambit of the Constitution of India and do not have a deleterious effect on the under privileged and the minorities.
The facts and views expressed in the article are those of the writer.