ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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NEP 2020 and the Language-in-Education Policy in India

A Critical Assessment

The National Education Policy of India 2020 is a significant policy document laying the national-level strategy for the new millennium. It is ambitious and claims universal access to quality education as its key aim, keeping with the Sustainable Development Goal 4 of the United Nations Agenda 2030. One of the highlights of the NEP is its emphasis on mother tongue education at the primary levels in both state- and privately owned schools. The present paper critically assesses the NEP 2020, primarily in relation to the language-in-education policy. The paper argues that it presents a “contradiction of intentions,” aspiring towards inclusion of the historically disadvantaged and marginalised groups on the one hand, while practising a policy of aggressive privatisation and disinvestment in public education on the other.


The author is thankful to the anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments on the earlier draft that helped sharpen her arguments. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the public lecture organised by the students of the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2019, and the author is grateful to them for giving her the opportunity to talk on this subject. The usual disclaimer applies.

The National Education Policy of India (NEP) 2020 is a landmark policy document being the first education policy to be drafted in the new millennium. The last NEP was formulated in 1986. Some amendments were added in 1992. It is a significant public policy instrument for India, a country that is proud of its large youth population. It provides the ground on which the education structure, objective, and the future of the young minds of India is to be built. The government has remarked that the new education policy marks a notable shift from what to think to how to think in the digital age (Bhasin 2020). Claiming that the NEP lays foundation for a new India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi opined that it will promote imagination by moving away from herd mentality (Express News Service 2020). The new policy underlines the need for online and digital platforms in teachinglearning and stresses multidisciplinary and forward-looking vision with a light but tight approach under a single centralised regulator, that is, the National Higher Education Commission1 (NEP 2020).

The draft NEP 2019 and NEP 2020 have attracted many scholars who have highlighted various segments of the policy and presented critical appraisal (Agnihotri 2020; Jha and Parvati 2020). However, there seems to be a dearth of a critical discourse on the question of language policy and mother tongue education in the NEP 2020 within the paradigm of social sciences, especially the realm of political studies. Language policy and language-in-education remains mostly discussed by linguists and educationists and not considered seriously within political science. This paper marks a shift by arguing that language is very much a political question and education policy has long-term political-social ramifications. The choice of language is equally a matter of power dynamics in society. From defining what constitutes a language to whether it is incorporated or ignored by school and university curricula is a matter of choice. This further raises the question as to who chooses and whose choice becomes paramount? What about the future of minority language speakers? In this respect, the paper critically analyses the aspects of NEP, such as the recommendation of establishing special education zones (SEZs), recruitment of teachers, the rigour towards privatisation, and the issue of social justice. It concludes that the NEP 2020 in its present form exhibits a contention of intention. Especially at a time when the studentteacher ratios have gone awry with reports on severe shortage of teachers and faculties in higher education institutions, the rollback of public funding for education when India has fallen back in the progress it made in poverty reduction between 2006 and 2016 (Press Trust of India 2020). It is estimated that during the pre-COVID-19 period, about 35% of the rural population was poor and this can grow to 50%55% in rural areas and 30%35% in urban regions. This adversely impacts the poor and marginalised, especially the people belonging to the Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) communities (Ram and Yadav 2021). Education is a major path to bring in positive economic development and improve the dipping graph of employment in India.

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Published On : 17th Jan, 2024

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