Naina Elizabeth Matthew, a fourth-year student at the National University of Advanced Legal Studies in Kochi, India, discusses the shortcomings of India's New Education Policy 2020 particularly for members of India's lower castes...
In India, a new education policy typically comes along only once every few decades. The first education policy was in 1968, introduced by the administration under Mrs. Indira Gandhi. This was replaced by the National education policy in 1986, by her son Mr. Rajiv Gandhi who was Prime Minister at that time. A few years later in 1992, it was slightly modified again by Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao. And now in 2020, approximately three decades later, a new education policy with drastic changes has been brought in by the ruling government. The details of the policy were released to the nation after cabinet approval on 29th June. It was said that this National Education Policy or NEP 2020, would be a comprehensive framework to guide the development of education in the country.
The NEP 2020, which proposes sweeping changes has caused quite the buzz since its introduction. The policy is supposed to address seven key issues of educational development namely easy access for the students, ease of participation, quality of courses offered, equity, system efficiency, governance and management, facilities of research and development, and financial commitment involved. Does NEP 2020 truly satisfy these criteria? What are the hits and misses of the policy?
The new policy proffers a single regulator for higher education institutions, multiple entry and exit options in degree courses, discontinuation of MPhil programs, low stakes board exams, and common entrance exams for universities. It also aims to universalize access to school education at all levels, pre-primary to secondary level with 100 percent Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in school education by 2030 and proffer foundational literacy and numeracy for all.
The school curriculum structure, which is now 10+2, will be replaced with a “5+3+3+4” structure thereby ensuring inclusion of children of all ages (3-18 years) under the ambit of formal schooling in a significant shift from the 1986 policy. This new policy also seeks to ensure that no student is at a disadvantage because they are from a Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Group (SEDG). Gender Inclusion Fund and Special Education Zones will be instituted for this purpose.
It is also suggested in the policy that the medium of education until at least grade 5 should optionally be in the regional language, mother tongue or local language. Sanskrit, an Indic language of the ancient Indian subcontinent, will now be mainstreamed in schools as one of the language options in the present three-language formula. Indian Sign Language (ISL) will also be standardized throughout the country and a new curriculum will be developed for deaf children.
The new policy proposes a shift from an assessment that is based on the outcome of a program to a year-round assessment structure. This entails reduction of curricular content and rote learning and supplements it with conceptual learning, experimentation, and critical thinking. The aim is for this era of Indian students to receive a holistic model of learning, well equipped with cutting edge skills necessary to excel in the 21st century.
Additionally, rigid demarcation of streams or subjects will be removed. There will now be flexibility to choose from interests within arts and sciences, vocational and academic streams as well as curricular and extra-curricular activities. Vocational education will begin from grade six and include ‘Bagless days’ or internship. This will open a real-world understanding of their subject of interest from local experts and inculcate sundry skills at an early age.
Another new feather in the new policy is adding coding as a subject from grade 6. In this increasingly technological era, coding may become the language of the future. And being well equipped in this will ensure no hindrances to innovation and creativity whilst promoting analytical and logical thinking. This new structure will not only be beneficial to school children but also be in tune with the best global practices for the development of the mental faculties of a child.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated that the new education policy will transform millions of lives towards making India a knowledge hub in an era where learning, research, and innovation are important. However, is there more to this policy that was unceremoniously approved by the Union cabinet without any discussion and debate? In India, education is a lucrative field for politicians as it gives them political and ideological mileage for years. While vital reforms needed in the education sector, such as widening the availability of scholarships, strengthening infrastructure for open and distance learning, online education and increasing usage of technology are reflected in the new policy, it is also a political document which can be apprehended from comments of political and ideological organizations.
The policy’s causes for concern are being debated on all over social media with #RejectNEP2020 trending on twitter. According to the Indian constitution, regulations of different sectors of society are demarcated by three different lists, namely the Union list, the State list, and Concurrent list. As these names suggest, the Union government makes laws on matters in the union list, the state government makes laws on issues under the State list and both the union and state government govern matters under the concurrent list. When laws are to be made on topics under the concurrent list, it is first put up as a draft for a threshold period. This threshold period is to encourage suggestions and discourse from the states or eminent personalities from the respective field of the draft bill. Education is listed as a concurrent subject. However, the NEP 2020 was bypassed in the parliament, thereby violating the above code of conduct. A new policy introducing such substantial changes must undergo discourse in the parliament. The government bypassed oppositions and objections of various State governments. Could this be a drive to substitute an already broken system of education with a centralized, communalized and commercialized education system?
The English language is not only paramount value for global outreach, but it is also essential in connecting and communicating with people from other states within India. Career building, outsourcing technical support and skills are dominated by western conglomerates where English has utmost importance. In the new scheme, English will only be offered from the secondary level. Children from families who cannot afford to polish their children’s English competence will lose out on opportunities. Discontinuing English as the main medium might make fluency in English based on whether you can afford private tutors, thus disadvantaging the lower caste population who see English as a way to escape caste hierarchy. Mainstreaming Sanskrit in India would be synonymous to the west mainstreaming Latin. Biblical Latin is a dead language, similarly, Sanskrit is used by less than 1% of the Indian population. Mainstreaming this ancient language would only be seen as a regressive step. At the time of the 2001 census on bilingualism and trilingualism, the number of English speakers in India was at 125 million and this number ought to have increased since then. The English language is what has given India an edge over a majority of south-east Asia. Even the Chinese government, who until recently only promoted the Chinese medium, is bringing in reforms and introducing the English language in their education system.
Under the new policy, private and self-governed colleges will receive more autonomy. When these colleges hand out certifications unchecked, corporatism will follow. This will create a situation where higher studies become a privilege only for those who can afford it. A centralized education system will amount to a stepping stone to social exclusion and dilution of the Right to Education Act. The government stated that it is proposing to improve the quality and autonomy of higher education, however, in a completely backward move, it is dismantling the University Grants Commission (UGC) which was a core structural and regulatory body for higher education. This will only accelerate the commodification and centralization of education, which is perilous considering the probability of the ruling party pushing its ideological and capital requirements. This is in fact not the first time such a move was attempted. The Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government tried to bring in similar reforms but was met with strong opposition. The present education reforms have come into being only as it was passed through the backdoor without the consent of the parliament.
Organizations and institutions when vested with educational structure and financial autonomy will be enabled to create additional courses and departments. However, without funding from government bodies, institutions will naturally turn to the students. The tuition fee will substantially increase, not just for students in that particular department, but all the students attending that institution. This coupled with another feature offered by the NEP, i.e., multiple exit options at universities will increase the dropout rates. Under the multiple exit and entry option, if a student decides to leave mid-course, he/she will receive appropriate certification for credits earned until that point which will be digitally stored in an Academic Bank of Credit (ABC). A ‘certificate’, a ‘diploma’, a ‘Bachelor’s degree’ and ‘Bachelor’s Degree with Research’ respectively will be awarded for each year of a four-year course. With financial autonomy resulting in financial burden on students and availability of certification each year, more students will be prompted to dropout. This creates an immense disparity between financially able and disabled students. Financially better-off students will get higher chances for studies and be able to acquire better opportunities. This would again amount to dilution of the Right to Education Act.
The government has introduced vocational and polytechnic education for school students through the new policy under the title ‘Reimagining vocational education’, which aims to remove the hard separation between academic and vocational streams. Vocational subjects will be introduced as early as grade 6, including internship opportunities from grades 6 to 12. This however ignores the importance of ensuring basic mainstream education to all students till at least grade 10. Students opting for such courses will certainly not be from privileged backgrounds. Children who are economically backward and belonging to lower castes who struggle in English, coding, etc would end up opting for these streams. Introducing this at such an early age will form a barrier for first-generation learners and those from disadvantaged backgrounds to access higher education.
While NEP 2020 aims for many much-needed positive changes, the backdoor passing of the bill and the possibility of amplifying existing fault lines in Indian society needs to be looked into. The policy will seemingly increase the economic divide in a country that is already divided by religion, caste, gender, and wealth. It makes it nearly impossible for disadvantaged classes to climb up the social ladder.
The NEP supposedly envisages decolonizing young Indian mind; however, in reality could that translate to the saffronisation of education? Earlier this year crucial topics for students, such as democratic rights, challenges to democracy, citizenship, food security, gender, religion, caste, and secularism were dropped from the syllabus. Are all of these moves stepping stones to achieve saffronisation? In this scenario holistic, interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, overall learning could possibly be a front to cover all the above aspects. It will take years before the policy goes into full swing and only then will these complexities become apparent. The method of implementation will determine its successes and failures. The flaws in this policy need to be addressed with deliberation through proper code of conduct to reduce the current shortfalls.
Naina Elizabeth Mathew is a fourth-year student, at the National University of Advanced Legal Studies.
Suggested citation: Naina Elizabeth Mathew, A Deeper Look at India’s New Education Policy 2020, JURIST – Student Commentary, August 13, 2020, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/08/naina-mathew-india-new-education-policy-2020/.
This article was prepared for publication by Tim Zubizarreta, JURIST’s Managing Editor. Please direct any questions or comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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