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In the Wilderness

The new National Education Policy creates problems at all levels of education.


Education in India functions like two systemic discs placed one on top of another. The larger, lower disc is historically older and functions mainly with state-level resources and serves a provincial population. The higher, smaller disc—popularly perceived as “central”—is a later creation, its birth dating roughly to the same period when denser relations among provinces were evolving, both in politics and markets in the early 20th century. Exam boards act as greasy buffers between the two discs. State boards maintain regional order through their higher rates of failure, while a central board (in addition to a private one) allows regional elites to transcend their social surroundings and compete in a restricted national arena. A supra-administrative device to coordinate the two systemic discs was invented in 1919. It still exists, and the newly formulated National Education Policy (NEP) says that it will be strengthened. Known as the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE), this coordinating device has had no statutory powers, nor does the NEP 2020 present such a prospect. Instead, it proposes a slew of structures to help the centre perform a widening array of regulatory roles. While some of these structures are reincarnations of older ones, others will be added to control the wilderness, which will expand to enable offshore outfits of foreign universities to flourish.

The NEP was in the works for over five years. That it got ready to be announced in the middle of a pandemic could hardly be a choice. The text carries only a few passing references to this, and at one place (p 38), a “scenario of epidemics and pandemics” is mentioned as if the present one is about to end and we are prepared for others. Clearly, the NEP does not anticipate COVID-19 to pose any major challenge to the resources that even a partial implementation might require. Nor does it respond to the advisories issued by United Nations (UN) bodies concerned with the young. The NEP lists no pandemic-related challenges. Hence, the promise that the combined centre–state public expenditure on education will reach the 6% level etched by late D S Kothari 54 years ago must be read, at the present moment, in the context of a likely shrinkage of the gross domestic product itself.

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Updated On : 18th Aug, 2020


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