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Fatal Script, Horrifying Timeline

Fatal Script, Horrifying Timeline

After so much of talk, the Draft National Education Policy final document is ready. Surprisingly, the 484 page document submitted by Dr. Kasturirangan Committee has been reduced to a mere 55 page document. School education policy in the Draft National Education Policy 2019, starting from page 45 spanning through 8 chapters and ending at 197th page is reduced to mere 14 pages in the Final Draft. The VISION of the document is not given in the Final Document. A lot of confusion is visible, yet the govt. is determined to make it their pet policy this year itself. All our requests and suggestions have been ignored. Demand for a 6 month extension to submit the studied suggestions have been overlooked! I am sure that Dr. Kasturirangan himself will be surprised to see the reduced final Draft the cabinet going to pass it as the policy of the Government soon. Such a serious policy, in my opinion, needed more time and wider consultation before it is implemented. It should not be partisan, or ideologically driven. It is the future of India, and therefore, all sections of peoples and communities must have been represented in finalising the Policy Document. India is diverse and it is a must that we keep up the diversity intact. We still doubt, why is there a hurry to implement it within five months of the Draft New Education Policy was published. Why the 480-page draft released for public comment in May 2019 has been cut down to just 55 pages?

Many of the organisations, like Ecumenical Church groups, CBCI, Private School Associations, Muslim-Christian Minority groups and several others, placed suggestions for reviewing the Draft.   Several State governments too opposed many of the suggestions in the Draft. For example as per the newspaper reports “during consultation with states on NEP some time   back, some states had opposed against such a body (state level regulatory bodies) saying that the existing body of department of school is sufficient but the Centre did not agree with that”. It is obvious that the Ministry is in no mood to listen to many suggestions put forth by educationists from all over the country.   

The Final Draft for Cabinet approval contains the following as it was in the main Draft prepared by Dr. Kasturirangan Commission. It proposes revamping of the entire curricula. In fact, it replaces the current structural set up of primary, upper primary, secondary, and senior or higher secondary system to a radically new structure. The final Draft policy proposes a rejig – a “5+3+3+4” structure with stages comprising pre-primary to class 2, classes 3 to 5, classes 6 to 8 and classes 9 to 12 with 3 to 8, 8 to 11, 11 to 14 and 14 to 18 as the corresponding age brackets. The curricular framework and teaching strategies will be altered accordingly. 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”.   The Final Draft Policy also proposes r educed curriculum and choice. For secondary school, it proposes an incredibly resource-intensive system of giving students “flexibility and choice” of subjects so that they may “design their own paths of study and life plans”. Teacher education will be a major area of reform according to the Final Draft. The Draft had recommended the institution of a “Remedial Instructional Aides Programme” with paid staff – akin to the Shiksha Mitra system of Uttar Pradesh – and a “National Tutors Programme”.   What we notice here is only the deletion of details. It retained the idea of a community of volunteers to support the teachers.

To train full-fledged teachers, it has recommended that teacher training programmes be eventually moved to multi-disciplinary institutions. By 2030, the minimum degree will be an integrated four-year B.Ed degree that will combine undergraduate liberal arts with B.Ed degree. In places where there is a shortage of teachers, a large number of scholarships will be offered to encourage talented youths to join and special incentives will be provided to those who agree to go to these places, including housing. It says, “Vertical mobility of teachers based on merit will also be paramount; outstanding teachers with demonstrated leadership and management skills would be trained over time to take on academic leadership positions in schools, school complexes, and at BRCs, CRCs, BIETs and DIETs” (5.18). This appears to be an attempt to abolish affirmative actions offered to the less privileged sections of our society, which could have been avoided.

The document says, “by 2030, the minimum degree qualification for teaching will be a four year liberal integrated B.Ed degree that teaches a range of knowledge content and pedagogy, and includes strong practicum training in the form of student-teaching at local schools. The 2 year B.Ed programme will also be offered, by the same multi-disciplinary institutions offering the 4 year integrated B. Ed and will be intended only for those who have already obtained Bachelor’s Degrees in other specialised subjects” (5.20). This promise is a consolation for those who aspire to be teachers after a degree in any other subjects.   Finally, in line with all the other revisions, the National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education 2009 will be revised by 2021.

The new document talks about the previous policies . “The previous policies on education have justifiably been preoccupied largely with issues of access and equity, but as a result have unfortunately dropped the baton with regard to quality of education” (1.1). This is not a fair judgement. Earlier policies concentrated on Constitutional values, excellence, equity, expansion, employability and national integration.

The Final Draft too failed to identify the root cause of social discrimination and deprivation of so many people. It does not mention the age old Caste system. It calls the Dalits and marginalised groups as Underrepresented groups (URG ). “ Underrepresented groups (URGs) in education can be broadly categorised into those having given gender identities (including women and transgender individuals), given socio-cultural identities (such as Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, OBCs, Muslims, migrant communities), given special needs (such as learning disabilities), and given socio-economic conditions (such as the urban poor)” (6.2). This categorisation seems to be only looking at economic deprivation. But actually the issue is not only economic for a Dalit.

The Final Draft talks about, “The school curriculum will include material on human values such as respect for all persons, empathy, tolerance, inclusion, and equity early on; any biases in school curriculum will be removed, and more material will be included that is relevant and relatable to all communities, and which develops these human values”(6.10). However, the cherished Constitutional values of Democracy, Socialist, Secular principles are not stressed adequately.

The proposal of School Complex continues. The reason given for implementing school complex sounds good.   It says, These small school sizes have made it economically suboptimal and operationally complex to run good schools, in terms of deployment of teachers as well as the provision of critical physical resources. Teachers often must teach multiple grades at a time, and teach multiple subjects, including subjects in which they may have no prior background; key areas such as music, arts, and sports are too often simply not taught; and physical resources, such as lab and sports equipment and library books, are simply not available across schools” (7.2). However, closer look at the proposal will reveal that there will be more dropouts in the villages of rural areas due to the distance. Dropout rates of girl children may increase due to the distance and socio-cultural situations in the villages. Here, one expected that the government will take measures to strengthen the existing schools and increase the facilities to serve the rural people.   

The Final Draft talks about freedom and autonomy on the one hand in administration and on the other hand more strict controlled system of governance is proposed. “ An independent, state-wide, regulatory body called the State School Regulatory Authority (SSRA) will be created for each state. All regulation will be carried out by the SSRA, based on a very minimal set of basic parameters (namely, safety, security, basic infrastructure, the number of teachers across subjects and grades, probity, and sound processes of governance), to bring down significantly the heavy load of regulatory mandates currently borne by schools” (8.6b). Many states have opposed this move.

“Public and private schools will be regulated on the same criteria, benchmarks, and processes, emphasising online and offline public disclosure and transparency rather than mandates, so as to ensure that public-spirited private schools are encouraged and not stifled in any way. Private philanthropic efforts for quality education will be encouraged - thereby affirming the public-good nature of education - while protecting parents and communities from usurious commercial practices, including arbitrary increases in tuition fees. Public disclosure on the school website and on the SSRA website - for both public and private schools - would include (at the very least) information on the numbers of classrooms, students, and teachers, subjects taught, any fees, and overall student outcomes on standardised evaluations such as the NAS and SAS” (8.7). The issue here is the vulnerability of many of the well-functioning schools in the hands of a hostile crowd who wants to create problems for the Minority owned schools. Equating the government and private schools in all fields is not justifiable.

On RTE Act the Final Draft is more lenient in nature. It says, “RTE Act will be considered for extension downwards to include up to three years of early childhood education prior to Grade 1, and upwards to include Grades 11 and 12. The RTE 12(1)(c) clause will be better enforced or suitably amended to ensure the intended effect of including disadvantaged students across the education system” (8.8).

On the language front, the Draft had originally proposed mandatory Hindi-learning for students in non-Hindi-speaking states. That was hurriedly dropped after the protests began from many states. Sanskrit will be offered at all levels of school and higher education and other classical languages (Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Odia, Pali, Persian and Prakrit) will be “widely available”.

There will be curricular reform that will lead to a new National Curriculum Framework and new textbooks. In addition to the highly-subsidised books provided by NCERT and the state-level SCERTs, the policy allows “additional textbook materials” to be procured through “public-private partnerships and crowdsourcing”.  

Board exams for higher classes are set to become easier as they will test core capacities and can be taken twice in a year. The policy also proposes a “regulatory body” at the national level for regulating assessment and evaluation norms and standards. So far, the Centre has had no control over any board except the Central Board of Secondary Education. State boards have all functioned autonomously and been regulated by state governments. In this way the Govt. is moving towards a Centralised system. Remember the earlier criticism against the policy was it aims at Centralisation, Commercialisation and Communalisation. The National Testing Agency (NTA) will take over the board exams. The proposed NTA will conduct tests for admission into higher education institutions and common entrance exams.

There is a substantial shift in the formulation of Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog (RSA). It was proposed that the PM will be the chairman and Chief Justice of India will be part of the NITI AAYOG model of National Educational Council. However, due to intense pressure from all quarters, the new proposal removed the PM and CJ from the RSA. The new Final Draft says, The RSA will be chaired by the Minister of Education and shall consist of 30 members, 2/3rd of whom shall be eminent educationists, researchers, and leading professionals from various fields such as the arts, science, business, health, agriculture, and social work, from India and from across the world; these members shall be of high expertise, unimpeachable integrity, and independence. Membership of the RSA shall also include some of the Union Ministers, in rotation, whose ministries impact education directly (e.g. Health, Woman and Child Development, Finance), as well as a few Chief Ministers of States, in rotation, Vice-Chairperson of the Niti Aayog, the Secretaries in the Ministry of Education, and other such senior bureaucrats/administrators as the government may deem appropriate” (24.2). Changing the PM was a demand; however, the concern is that the purpose of the Aayog is not changed.

After going through the Final Draft we feel, t he final draft NEP’s prescriptions for higher education, though less detailed now, remain much the same as the Dr. Kasturirangan draft. It reorganises institutions into large, multidisciplinary universities, phase out the system of affiliated colleges, tenure-track for teachers, autonomy and deregulation. However, many of the targets the policy had set – for instance, having 150-300 “research universities” enrolling 5,000 to over 25,000 students and 1,000-2,000 “teaching universities” with a similar number of students enrolled – have been dropped altogether. A few cosmetic changes one can find here include: the draft policy had allowed private institutions to set their own fees, “subject to discharge of social responsibility in the form of scholarships for 50% of students in all their programmes”. The final Draft does not set a minimum target saying only that the institutions must ensure that a “significant proportion” of their students are able to secure fee waivers or scholarships. For public education – higher and lower – the policy suggests spending to the extent of 20 per cent of all public expenditure.   

The final draft of the NEP reiterates the previous draft’s plans on reorganising all of higher education into three types of higher education institutions – research universities, teaching universities and colleges. Colleges will eventually themselves become autonomous. In the long term (by 2040), the Indian Higher Education system will consolidate into a smaller number of institutions, across the three types of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and HEI clusters, but the average enrolment of these institutions will be much larger than the average enrolment today; this will help increase resource efficiency, multidisciplinary capacity and quality, as well as Gross Enrolment Ratio” (10.7). All admission will be through tests conducted by the National Testing Agency. The Final Draft confirms that Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities will be established to serve as “model public universities”. The PhD programme will require the four-year programme with research or a Master’s degree. The MPhil programme shall be discontinued.

All educational institutions – schools, colleges and universities – will be required to run vocational courses along with regular academic ones such that all students passing through the system pick up at least one vocational skill. By 2030-’35, the policy document says, undergraduate vocational education ought to be widespread enough to claim around 50% of the total enrolment. “Lok Vidya”, or popular knowledge, will be part of the vocational courses.   

However, The  National Education Policy 2019 remains a draft till it is cleared by the Union Cabinet and Parliament. It will likely be tabled in Parliament during the winter session. Till then we have to wait to have a clear picture of the Policy.

(Published on 04th November 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 45)