This article has been written by Vaibhav Yadav.
Education undoubtedly is one of the most important factors in the development of a country. To be a good knowledge and skill base, it is necessary that robust quality education is imparted with an effective teaching/learning methodology. However, education in any country can’t be perceived independently, without fair consideration of the societal differences and widespread inequalities. It is one thing to design a good education system; it is quite another to make it accessible for everyone.
The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 comes with a number of suggestions and measures to ensure that there is a significant transition from the current system of rote learning and exam centric approach but it lacks in addressing the shortcomings from an access point of view. In some areas in fact the NEP can even widen the existing gap. This article seeks to focus on such issues in the NEP where its propositions and promises are not satisfactory on a scale of inclusivity and thereby create an inconsistency with the Fundamental Right to Education provided in the Constitution.
Language dilemma and the NEP
The issue of language under the NEP is mainly two-pronged:
- The medium of instruction; and
- The number of languages to be taught.
The NEP 2020 suggests that wherever possible the medium of instruction should be the mother tongue or local/regional language at least till class 5th and preferably till class 8th. Though teaching in mother tongue has cognitive benefits and facilitates better understanding but at the same time, it poses a threat of exclusion to a group of students.
For instance, this strategy can cause severe inconvenience for students whose parents undergo inter-state job transfers or are forced to move to other states due to other reasons. On moving to any other state, they will be faced with a completely different language and thus wouldn’t be able to continue their education in the usual manner.
The NEP is silent on how it seeks to address this issue. Also, more focus on regional languages combined with the present domicile based reservations in states would further challenge the existing inter-state inclusivity in educational institutions and employment opportunities. Moreover, as there is no compulsion on the higher educational institutions to teach in regional languages, a serious inconsistency could emerge between the medium of instruction in primary/secondary and higher education. This could lead to comprehending problems for students who have been taught in regional languages in schools and who have had no exposure to English at home.
NEP and the role of English language
The NEP supports the three language formula and requires that at least two of the three languages taught are native to India. Interestingly it doesn’t consider English as a native Indian language. The NEP therefore significantly reduces the role of English not only as a lingua franca but even as a subject. Shifting focus to native languages while neglecting the communicative and connective advantages offered by English could deprive many socially backward sections from an emancipatory chance. This is because English proficiency in the present Indian society is still understood as a special skill in itself and therefore is a powerful factor in the breaking of primitive social chains.
Caste, rural-urban and gender-based inequalities under NEP
Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Groups
The policy is inadequate in terms of provisions made for addressing the social gap in the society within the educational arena. The term ‘Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Groups’ (SEDGs) has been used to collectively to refer students from backward castes, female, transgender students etc. The word ‘reservation’ does not have even a single appearance in the policy document. It is expected of a policy claiming to revolutionize the educational sphere to be clear and vocal on the required amendments/addition (if any) to the current reservation system in educational institutions.
The NEP instead tries to compensate for the lack of clarity on the reservation issue by trying to focus more on scholarships. An eccentric aspect of the policy’s vision for overhauling the higher education system is encouraging private institutions to provide increased scholarships. However, it is unlikely that such private institutions which operate with the prime object of profit-making will be willing to do so. Instead, it acts as a disincentive for the government to make education more affordable as the burden would then shift upon the private players to an extent.
Common school system
The NEP 2020, unlike its predecessors of 1968 and 1986, does not have any idea of the Common School system which means a system in which all students of a nearby area regardless of their caste, economic status, etc. would study in one school. Contentions have also been raised on the emphasis placed by the policy upon vocational education, internships at a very young age and how they could lead to child labour. The policy, therefore, accepts and in fact reinforces the caste hierarchy.
Use of technology
The emphasis placed by the policy on the increased use of technology for teaching purposes needs a deep introspection. The closing of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to our observation the wide technological and connectivity gap in the country. While the NEP proposes to make digital libraries, develop online teaching programmes and virtual labs it does little to recognize and resolve the wide disparity in rural and urban internet connectivity and access to digital devices like mobile phones and laptops. According to a National Statistical Office (NSO) report of 2017, only 4.4% of rural households had computers as compared to 23.4% in urban households. For internet facilities, this percentage is 14.9% and 42% for rural and urban areas respectively.
Also due to provisions in the NEP like teaching coding to students from class 6th these differences would be further intensified as those without PCs/laptops wouldn’t be properly able to grasp the skill of coding. Therefore considering the present state of affairs if increased focus is placed upon the online and digital modes of learning, the benefits accruing from it would be highly disproportionate and would largely profit only those who at present have the means or resources to access.
In order to reduce gender-based inequalities, the NEP makes reference to the female and transgender students and seeks to create a ‘Gender-Inclusion Fund’ for them. The policy however completely ignores the LGBQIA students and does not contain any welfare provision for the said group. This constitutes a serious shortcoming of the policy as many times homosexual students aren’t aware of their sexuality and as a result of it face discrimination from fellow students and even teachers which leads to a significant drop in their enrollment rates.
Hygiene in educational institutions
Also the NEP only talks about maintaining hygiene in educational institutions in general and does not focus upon specific matters like menstrual hygiene for girls which is a prime factor for restriction of female students from going to school especially in rural areas.
Consolidation of small schools
There is also a provision in the policy for the consolidation of small schools. While this may ensure that the quality of education is not compromised and proper facilities are maintained it creates a physical/distance barrier especially for female students in rural areas where the parents are not much willing to send them to a distant place for studying.
Privatisation due to NEP
Due to the difference in the overall quality of education and other facilities provided in government and private educational institutions, people with good or even moderate financial conditions prefer private schools over government schools. In case of higher education, the situation is turned upside down and government colleges are given priority over private ones.
As in case of higher educational institutions, there are a limited number of vacancies/seats in the government colleges therefore for many students the only way to continue their education is through private institutions. It is highly likely that most people aren’t able to afford the high fees of private colleges and therefore would be left with no other option than to quit education.
The NEP has been criticized for its approval of the private-corporate dominance in the Indian education system. The NEP sort of promotes private institutions by use of terms like ‘public-spirited private’ and ‘philanthropic private’. As the policy does not in any way distinguish between public-spirited private and profit-seeking private, it creates a very vague situation. It also proposes to minimize the differences in regulation of private and public higher education institutions and thus gives more freedom to the private institutions.
The lack of strict regulation of private schools poses a threat that it could work hand in hand with the language issue and would further aggravate the differences between the English and Non-English speaking students. This is because in the absence of adequate checks private schools can continue teaching in English while students in government schools would not be getting sufficient exposure to English (due to being taught in local languages).
The policy also makes way for the entry of foreign universities in India by relaxing the regulatory, governance and content norms and granting them an equal status as autonomous Indian institutions. The entry of foreign universities poses a threat of increase in education costs and accentuating of existing hierarchies.
On an overall view, the policy seems to be undermining the responsibility of the state in education. This is highly unjustified considering the current ratio of students studying in private and public institutions. According to a 2015-16 government survey, private colleges account for 67% of the total enrollment. Also, the percentage of students studying in private schools has almost doubled in the last decade. This dodging attitude of the state is against the spirit of the Fundamental Right to Education under Article 21A of the Constitution.
The NEP 2020 on the face of it appears to be a promising and revolutionary policy which has the potential to bring a much-required overhaul in the Indian education system. However, a close examination of the policy shows many of its shortcomings and flaws. Maybe the policy in the near future could produce hundreds or thousands of brilliant individuals with great theoretical and practical understanding but it could also render a lot more than that devoid of the opportunity to achieve the same feat.
Implementing the policy without making it more accessible and inclusive would make it functionally similar to the pattern of income distribution in India where the aggregate level of education would rise without a proportionate distributional increase. The environment thus created by the policy would lead to a new aphorism “Education is that which enslaves”.
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