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Basic Blunders and Fundamental Flaws

Draft New Education Policy, 2019

Vivek Monteiro (vivekmonteiro@yahoo.com) is a trade unionist who was trained as a theoretical physicist. He is currently a secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, Maharashtra.

 

The draft National Education Policy 2019 suffers from deep-seated flaws like the comprehensive disempowerment of states, retreat from the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 and National Curriculum Framework 2005, cultural and ideological blinkers and several other missing concerns, including the problem of unemployment.

 

There can be little disagreement with the basic vision of the draft National Education Policy (NEP), 2019 (DNEP henceforth) when it says that:

The National Education Policy 2019 envisions an India centred education system that contributes directly to transforming our nation sustainably into an equitable and vibrant knowledge society, by providing high quality education to all.

The problem, however, is not just in the details. It is flawed in at least four main areas.

Comprehensive disempowerment of states: Its final chapter, Chapter 23, is its main flaw. Briefly, the provisions of this chapter grossly violate the federal basis of the Constitution. Chapter 23 proposes to completely reformat the strategic policy and operational decision-making structure of the education system. It proposes to concentrate, in totality, all policymaking and administrative powers in the hands of a central Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog. A few of the relevant provisions are excerpted below:

The collective vision, under the leadership of the PM, of a body of eminent educationists, researchers, and professionals, with their holistic understanding of the complex demands of the knowledge society will provide an effective high level direction to the national education endeavour.

Educational governance as a standalone effort will not achieve the desired success unless the rest of the components of the society have the appropriate attitude and culture. This Policy, for its realisation in the coming years, would certainly call for extraordinary steps in governance, which are unprecedented, and in a sense will precede similar action that India would have to adopt in other national endeavours, in the context of realising the totality of development.

A new apex body for education—the Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog: A new apex body, designated as the RSA/NEC, will be constituted. The RSA will be responsible for developing, articulating, implementing, evaluating, and revising the vision of education in the country on a continuous and sustained basis. It will also create and oversee the institutional frameworks that will help achieve this vision. Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog Appointment Committee: A RSA Appointment Committee (RSAAC), consisting of the PM, the Chief Justice of India, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the leader of the opposition in Parliament, and the UME [Union Minister for Education], will be constituted to enable the appointments to the RSA and to other key related roles and structures.

The role of the states is limited: For example, the Standing Committees on Coordination states that:

The vice chairperson of RSA will also chair two SCCs. The first will consist of the Ministers of Education from all the States ... They will be supported by the Joint Review and Monitoring Board (JRMB) (p 23.14) to ensure timely coordination and implementation of goals and targets associated with the vision for education articulated by the RSA.

Rajya Shiksha Aayogs/State Education Commissions: Similar to the RSA, a RjSA/State Education Commission (SEC) may be constituted in each State, chaired by the Chief Minister with the minister of education, nominated by the chair, as vice-chair. The respective SECs can have as its members the ministers of education, ministers of other stakeholder ministries related to education, eminent educationists and professionals, and a senior representative from the RSA. The creation of the SECs in the States will facilitate better coordination with the centre.

Chapter 23 proposes a comprehensive disempowerment of the states in the sphere of education. With education in the concurrent list, the present rights of the states under the Constitution are eliminated and they are reduced to mere coordination with the centre and implementation of policies decided by it. At the centre, also, all effective powers are concentrated in the hands of the five-member RSAAC, with majority ensured to the ruling party.

The Kasturirangan Committee which formulated the DNEP 2019 included some eminent persons, with a record of high achievement in their areas of specialisation. Therefore, it is difficult to understand how they gave their approval to Chapter 23. Though experts in their specialisations, they appear to be politically uninformed and unaware of the fundamental provisions of the Constitution in regard to federalism and education.

However, those who ultimately drafted the DNEP 2019 are aware about the constitutional obstacle. This is clear from one sentence which recognises that the recommendations will require amendment to law: “Over a period of time, as the roles and functions stabilise, the RSA will be given Constitutional status through an Act of the Parliament.”

The DNEP 2019 is a document published by the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD)—a government body. Any government document must necessarily be consistent with the existing law. It cannot make recommendations which are in violation of constitutional provisions. Chapter 23 of the DNEP therefore cannot be rectified except by withdrawal.

Apart from this fundamental objection it is also difficult to comprehend how members of the Kasturirangan Committee gave their acquiescence to the sweeping powers of the RSA and the RSAAC even on simple academic considerations. Were they not aware of the essential and close connect between education quality and academic independence? At the risk of appearing ridiculous, it could be asked: Would they have assented to a proposal putting President Donald Trump in charge of all education in the United States? But that is essentially what they are recommending for India!

No Homework

Absence of base line analysis and the homework deficit: A second major flaw of the DNEP is its homework deficit. A base line is completely lacking in the document. There is no description of contemporary ground reality, no narration of history, progress and problems, no summary of relevant data, either in matters of economics and development, or in the field of education.

On the other hand, the draft document contains the following lament:

While crafting the Policy we had a serious problem with acquiring authentic data in both quality and quantity. Education policies are largely the outcome of analysing trends in the patterns of evolution of important parameters of education. A major effort is called for in the country for data collection, organisation, analysis and the building capability to study trends and patterns of the various aspects of education.

Anybody familiar with the state of education in India will be aware that absence of data is not the problem. There is a huge body of data on education at various levels which have been systematically collected and documented by many statutory bodies and institutions at the centre and in the states over the years. The authenticity of this data is also not in question.

There is little evidence in the DNEP that the data readily available on the state of education in the country has been at all looked at in its preparation. The “serious problem” as regards data referred to above appears to be only an excuse for a serious lack of homework.

The chairperson of the Kasturirangan Committee is himself a well-known former head of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). He would be undoubtedly aware about the amount of homework and preparation that precedes a rocket launch. He would also know that with the kind of homework deficit evident in the DNEP 2019, a rocket would not even reach its launch pad, leave alone take off.

Retreat from RTE 2009 and NCF 2005: A third fundamental flaw in the DNEP is in the area of school education. The objective of DNEP 2019 in this area is defined thus:

Objective: Achieve access and participation in free and compulsory quality school education for all children in the age group of 3–18 years by 2030.

While this might appear to be a welcome proposal for the extension of the coverage of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE) to the age groups three–five years, and 15–18 years, it is actually a big step back from the existing provisions of right to education of good quality for the children between the ages of six and 14 years.

Education of “good quality” for all child citizens between the age of six and 14 years is a fundamental right mandated by Section 8 of the RTE Act. What is “education of good quality” is also defined clearly in NCF 2005, which has been notified under Section 7 of the RTE Act. The members of the Kasturirangan Committee seem to be unaware of these provisions and rights. “Equality of outcomes” of the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) 2005 is sought to be replaced by mere “access and participation” in DNEP 2019.

A central pillar of the NCF 2005 is the linking of “quality education” with “equality.” The NCF 2005 defines quality education as that which delivers “equality of outcomes,” not just “equality of access,” What DNEP 2019 proposes is therefore a dilution of the NCF 2005 and the abandonment of this perspective on quality for equality. Whether this is merely due to the insufficient study of the NCF 2005 by the committee members, or whether it is a deliberate decision taken after due study of the NCF 2005, is an important but open question about which we will not speculate here.

It is pertinent and necessary to reproduce here excerpts from the NCF 2005 on the issue of “what is quality education:”

The formal approach, of equality of treatment, in terms of equal access or equal representation … is inadequate. Today, there is a need to adopt a substantive approach, towards equality of outcome [emphasis ours], where diversity, difference and disadvantage are taken into account.

A critical function of education for equality is to enable all learners to claim their rights as well as to contribute to society and the polity. We need to recognise that rights and choices in themselves cannot be exercised until central human capabilities are fulfilled. Thus, in order to make it possible for marginalised learners, and especially girls, to claim their rights as well as play an active role in shaping collective life, education must empower them to overcome the disadvantages of unequal socialisation and enable them to develop their capabilities of becoming autonomous and equal citizens.

Another major concern is that quality school education has still not reached to a large section of our population. There is no doubt about some “islands” of excellence, but the large majority of marginalised groups such as girls, socio-economically disadvantaged children, etc, do not get meaningful learning experiences in school, which will give them a sense of dignity and confidence. Curriculum design must reflect the commitment to Universal Elementary Education (UEE), not only in representing cultural diversity, but also by ensuring that children from different social and economic backgrounds with variations in physical, psychological and intellectual characteristics are able to learn and achieve success in school. In this context, disadvantages in education arising from inequalities of gender, caste, language, culture or religion need to be addressed directly, not only through policies and schemes but also through the design and selection of learning tasks and pedagogic practices, right from the period of early childhood. Education must empower them to overcome the disadvantages of unequal socialisation and enable them to develop their capabilities of becoming autonomous and equal citizens. The National Curriculum Framework—2005 is focused on providing quality education to all children.

First, universalisation of education and quality in education are not to be regarded as two “opposing” needs. They are complementary and reinforce each other. Quality cannot flourish for long in a society that is not based on equality and justice for all. Likewise, universalisation can be an empty slogan unless quality is assured for all. Second, NCF-2005 interprets the quality dimension holistically, departing from its narrow connotation of excellence in particular subject areas.

In the entire DNEP 2019, the word “universalisation” is absent, except for one mention of “Universalisation of ECCE.” The crucial mandate of “Universalisation of education of good quality.” which is the substantive content of the RTE Act, is truncated in DNEP 2019 to mere “Universalisation of ECCE.” While the addition of ECCE to the mandate of RTE is welcome, the price cannot be a withdrawal and retreat from existing rights of schoolchildren.

What the DNEP 2019 states (p 26), that “In the decades since Independence, we have been preoccupied largely with issues of access and equity, and have unfortunately dropped the baton with regard to quality of education,” evidently, applies to its own perspective on quality education.

The Missing Concerns

It is not only the word “Universalisation” that goes missing in the document. Several other missing concerns speak loudly about the real concerns of the DNEP 2019, and constitute a fourth fundamental flaw.

A real disconnect between education and the problem of employment is apparent. Unemployment is mentioned only once. There is no mention of job loss, jobless growth, employment generation, economic viability, cooperatives, industrial worker, industrial workforce. “Farmers” are mentioned only twice.

The document has also comprehensively ignored major sectors that are driving the Indian economy today. The examples given below have not earned even a single mention in the DNEP, despite being among the main drivers of employment and growth in the Indian economy: (i) railways, rail transport, road transport, water transport, aviation; (ii) Communication technology, microwave, 4G, 5G, optical fibre, data transfer; (iii) “Information technology;” (iv) fermentation, food preservation; (v) leather, meat, protein, carbohydrate, oil, oilseeds; (vi) cinema, television, entertainment, media, film industry, advertising; (vii) “self employed,” “self help groups;” (viii) tourism, travel industry; (ix) retail trade, wholesale trade, trading.

There is scant attention paid in the DNEP 2019 to the needs and requirements of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education, which is considered essential for a modern society. There is just a single mention of STEM while the following terms are found to be glaringly unmentionable:

(i) Universe, Cosmos, earth, atom, molecule, atomic theory, periodic table, biochemistry, rare earths, carbon, silicon, material science,

(ii) Darwin, Evolution, molecular biology, genetics.

(iii) Inquisitive, spirit of enquiry, questioning attitude. What is scientific temper without questioning?

(iv) Geometry, algebra, mathematical sciences, mathematical physics,

(v) Long on catchwords, but short on content—for example 27 mentions of the word “ecosystem,” but no mention of “ecology,” except one in the context of ancient India.

The disconnect in the document from its vision objective of “sustainability” is apparent from the following omissions:

(i) biodiversity, forests, biomass.

(ii) carbon, carbon dioxide, carbon footprint,

(iii) pollution,

(iv) global warming,

(v) resource depletion, non-renewable resources, renewable resources, degradation, environmental degradation,

(vi) hydrocarbons, fossil fuels, fuels,

(vii) mentions of preservation of language and culture, but no preservation of the environment,

(viii) waste, waste management, waste reprocessing, recycling,

(ix) renewable energy, solar energy are each mentioned just once.

Cultural and Ideological Blinkers

An ideological thrust of the DNEP is starkly clear in the following terms being unmentionable:

(i) Directive Principles, Preamble of Constitution,

(ii) Secular, secularism, republic, freedom struggle, freedom movement,

(iii) Nehru, Subhash Bose, Maulana Azad, Bhagat Singh, Mahatma Jotiba Phule, Savitribai Phule, Shahu Maharaj, Sayaji Rao Gaekwad, B G Tilak, M G Ranade, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Vidyasagar,

(iv) Mahatma Gandhi is mentioned once

(v) Mention of Chandragupta Maurya, but no mention of Ashoka,

(vi) Shivaji, Akbar, Jai Singh,

(vii) Thiruvalluvar, Tukaram, Dnyaneshwar, Basavanna, Sree Narayan Guru.

(viii) “sarva dharma sambhaava”, “composite culture,” “humanism,”

(ix) Dravidian, Sino–Tibetan, Austro–Asian, Indo–Aryan, migration, “peopling of India,” multicultural, multireligious.

There are, however, 18 mentions of multilingualism. In the name of “multilingualism,” there are 23 mentions of Sanskrit, 12 of Hindi, five of Tamil, three of Kannada, three of Odia, two of Malayalam, two of Telugu, and two of Urdu. Among the unmentionable languages are Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Konkani, Kashmiri, Nepali, Assamese, Manipuri, Kok Borok, Khasi, Santhali, Mundari and all the other languages of the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution.

English is mentioned 24 times. It is singled out as being the language of the economic elite in India, whose use

 has resulted in the marginalisation of large sections of society based on language ... This attitude has kept the elite class and the jobs they control segregated from the economically weaker sections of society, which of course contain many hardworking, smart, high quality, highly skilled, and educated people who happen not to speak the language of the colonists and current elite.

For true equity and inclusion in society, and in the education and employment systems across the country, this power structure of language must be stopped at the earliest. A major effort in this direction must be taken by the elite and the educated to make increased use of languages native to India, and give these languages the space and respect that they deserve … An importance and prominence must be returned to Indian languages that has been lost in recent years.

How serious is the intention of the present government to include everyone in the discussion on the new education policy is evident in the fact that DNEP 2019 has been published only in English and Hindi.

Though there are a few welcome recommendations and aspects, like those for Early Childhood Children Education, upgrading the mid-day meal scheme, and a section on scientific temper, the bulk of the DNEP is just a shabby political document.

At present the Bharatiya Janata Party is in power in just 11 states—four in the North East, two hill states (Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand), and Jharkhand, Haryana, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. The curtailment of the rights and powers of the states proposed by DNEP 2019 is unlikely to be accepted by the remaining state governments in the country.

The flaws in the DNEP are so fundamental and basic, that the document cannot be rectified by redrafting. It should be withdrawn in the interests of Indian education.

After withdrawing the DNEP 2019, there need not be a long wait till another draft policy is produced. The unfinished tasks and the quality mandate of the RTE 2009 and NCF 2005 can well be taken forward on the basis of the excellent comprehensive Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan Quality Framework document “Framework for Implementation,” published by the MHRD in 2011, which is still available on the MHRD website and also at www.navnirmitilearning.org.

Updated On : 4th Jul, 2019

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