• Tanya Madan

India's New Education Policy: Savior or Saffron?

The Government of India recently proposed the draft of its New Education Policy 2019, stirring another round of social unrest like most of its other policy decisions. However, unlike the myriad of controversial policies, the new NEP at least at the face of it paints a promising liberal, forward-looking, “non-saffronized” picture for the future of the educational landscape in India. The 500-page policy document proclaims to be a panacea for the crippling Indian Education system, but whether the policy solutions can chisel their way through the red tape to a successful implementation or will this draft render to be yet another unfulfilled promise of an election manifesto, is a matter a contention for many across the country.

The new draft proposes to restructure the current education system through a systematic change in both curriculum and pedagogy. It also focuses a great deal on the early education system, the school education will now cover children of 3-18 years, instead of the present 6-14 years under the RTE Act. Under the new structure, 5+3+3+4 design covering the children in the age group 3-18 years is proposed. Under this, Pre-Primary & Grades 1-2 is considered as foundational Stage; Grades 3-5 as Preparatory Stage; Grades 6-8 as Middle Stage and Grades 9-12 as Secondary Stage. Children will move through stages of play or activity-based learning to more formal systems. The policy proposes an “art integrated and sport integrated education” also, reduced curriculum with content to be pared down “to its core essentials”. Board exams for higher classes are set to become easier as they will test “core capacities” and can be taken twice in a year. While all these policies might on the surface help attain higher enrolment ratios (as envisioned in the policy), but it is essential to understand that all these reforms are mere a symptomatic treatment to improve noticeable outcomes. None of these measures, target the quality of education which is essential given India’s ludicrous performance when it comes to International Assessment tests of student outcomes like PISA.

Quality of education cannot be improved by merely restructuring, or higher enrolment and passing ratios. The focus should have been on modifying the outdated syllabi, upgrading the poor or non-existent infrastructure and creating better conditions in terms of both work and remuneration for teachers in order to improve the student outcomes. The three main scientific bodies, namely, Indian National Science Academy (New Delhi), Indian Academy of Sciences (Bengaluru) and National Academy of Sciences, India (Allahabad), even agreed that the policy fails to make a convincing case for such radical alterations. The policy does contribute a lot in terms of teacher training and recruitment and also lays emphasis on the need for good infrastructure to foster the process, however, fails to explain how such radical changes will be funded. The prescriptive nature of the policy lacks a foresight of the resources required to enable such a transition. Given the promising recommendations of the policy, one might expect a fiscal stimulus but it is far from reality, with reports of a speculated budget cut of Rs 3000 Cr for the education ministry.

Beyond the implementation impediments of its recommendations, careful observation of the documents shows that the presence of nuanced elements of the government’s intrinsic ideology. Firstly, the policy paper fails to address the problem of marginalization and rampant inequality riddling the whole education system. Nowhere does the document mention reservation or attempts at bridging disparities or address the surge in suicide deaths of several thousand of students from marginalised communities in higher education institutions as the combined result of socially discriminatory practices and insensitive responses from peers, faculty and administrators.

Secondly, the initial draft of the policy proposed a three-language formula (English, Hindi and Local Language) for students till VII, however, the committee was forced to roll back Hindi as a mandatory language due to the heat faced by southern states. Nonetheless, promoting Hindi and Sanskrit still remains the responsibility of the Centre, bolstering the attempts to impose the idea of a Hindu Rashtra and blatantly neglecting the diverse set of languages prevalent. Thirdly, the creation of the Rashtriya Shisksha Ayog, a centralized body to be chaired by the Prime Minister which shall act as the apex regulator empowered with decisions related to curriculum, administration and financing. This body is supposed to be the one fit all solution to diverse stakeholders and agencies in the education system. The problem with such a body is two-fold: first, this violates the powers states have in controlling and regulating education. It is important to understand that Education is a concurrent subject and not a centre subject. Secondly, such a body can lead to a dangerous level of appropriation of power to the selected few.

This concentration of authority given to any regime in power can be preposterous to the autonomy of educational institutions and the stakeholders running them. The power might lead to a wave of privatization as well, based on the whims of political leaders running this apex body. Further, the policy also suggests the establishment of a National Research Fund(NRF) which shall unilaterally channel all research grants to students and research institutions. This again becomes problematic as a flow of funds shall depend on the will of a particular body and might lead to differential treatment for certain research areas over others, forcing students to depend on grants from the private sector. The creation of RSA, NRF is a poor attempt at centralizing an intricate and diverse education system which needs customized solutions rather than standardized ones, subtly hinting towards a thirst for “authority” rather than a “vision” by the policymakers.

The policy as its hearts tries addressing the most compelling issues at hand. However, its saffron tinted digressions make us question the intent. Rather than jumping at out of the box altercations, it is supremely important to understand the current system at hand and try to refine and upgrade it rather than changing it entirely. Additionally, it is essential that the policy document acknowledges the feasibility and implication costs associated with each recommendation. The strides of the government in cutting education budgets run stark opposite from what the policy recommends, indicating the seriousness of the government towards the NEP. The education system of any country is the backbone of its economic and social progress and hence, it’s imperative that we don’t let political propaganda come in the way, sabotaging our educational structure and its academic authenticity.

Views expressed are solely those of the author.

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About the Author

Tanya is currently a Master’s student at the Delhi School of Economics, India. She also holds a Bachelors in Economics from Hans Raj College, Delhi University and has also served as the President of the Economics Society at the College. Apart from being deeply passionate about the subject, she has also been a debater and a travel enthusiast. She finds bliss in the undiscovered nooks and niches of the world, exploring the world – and herself, one destination at a time. In her free time she finds solace in music, books and a warm cup of coffee.

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