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A CRITICAL REVIEW OF THE NATIONAL EDUCATION POLICY, 2020: GILDED TOMBS DO WORMS ENFOLD?

Introduction
Educational policies determine the social and economic development of the nation but are often treated with apathy in legislative spheres as they don’t provide immediate outcomes for political manifestos. 
Following intense deliberation in the Constituent Assembly, education ultimately found constitutional expression in the DPSPs. Right to Education only gained the title of a Fundamental Right in 2002 by means of the 86th Amendment.  The State is bound to formulate a national policy on education to fulfil its constitutional responsibilities conferred by Articles 21A, 41, 45, 46.
A national policy on education was first promulgated in the year 1968 in response to the recommendations of the Kothari Commission and has been renewed twice since in 1986 and 1992 to lay down the principles governing the education system. The Kasturirajan Committee was constituted in 2017 and submitted its education policy draft in 2019.
Armed with multiple sweeping changes, the National Education Policy (NEP), 2020 aims to revamp the educational framework by shifting focus from rote learning to making education more holistic, and promising equitable access to all.
Welcome Changes Introduced
In a novel move, the NEP emphasises the quality of education by promoting conceptual understanding and critical thinking. It promises to make education multi-disciplinary, well-rounded and discovery-oriented; and removes the compartmentalisation of streams by allowing students greater flexibility in choosing their subjects.  It also addresses the need for higher standards of imparting knowledge by curating the National Professional Standards for Teachers (NPST) and a new National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education (NCFTE).
The NEP emphasises universal access to education along with plans to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio and put a stop to the spiralling drop-out rate. It proposes a change in the approach to education from the 10+2 model to a 5+3+3+4 model to encompasses early childhood care and education. It also provides for regular assessment of nutrition and health, acknowledging mental health too, and assures a nutritious breakfast in addition to mid-day meals offered to the underprivileged.
Providing exit options for the undergraduate degree, this policy in part seems like a welcome relief to students currently crumbling under the pressure of the education system. The introduced peer-review system may smoothen the teaching-learning process. These factors will pave the way for students to experience a holistic learning process.
Policy Pitfalls
A good education policy considers resource mobilisation, curriculum drafts, and formulates the possible consequences of the policy on each stratum of the society – something NEP, 2020 fails to do. Certain proposed changes herein are vastly flawed.
Various aspects of the policy will further class divides in Indian society. The mandatory vocational training is likely (in keeping with historical trends of caste differentiation) to be directed with greater vigour towards systemically downtrodden sections; particularly towards the lower castes who have consistently been confined to professions of manual labour.
Moreover, the aim of digitalisation is feasible only in urban developed areas owing to the dearth of resources. The encouragement of digital libraries in public and private schools, modern digital-enabled classrooms in every Higher Educational Institute (HEI), and the exposure to digital literacy and coding are all utopian aspirations in underdeveloped rural educational institutes which scarcely have adequate infrastructure to support the same. Thus, the policy may see the further advancement of the privileged, while increasing their in consonance with the underprivileged.
Under the garb of multilingualism benefitting cognitive abilities, the NEP attempts to strip India of one of its greatest strengths –effective communication in English. The proposed medium of instruction is regional languages preferably till Grade 5, which will have the higher classes learning English at private schools or at home, at the disadvantage of first-generation English speakers from the lower strata. The plight of people with transferrable jobs within our multilingual nation remains ignored.
The policy aspires to the internationalisation at the university level, wherein some among the top 100 universities in the world will be permitted to operate in India. This seems far-reaching and provides no incentive to foreign universities to collaborate. Moreover, while there is a clause requiring a legislative framework facilitating entry, there is no provision for funding, which is problematic as fees for private foreign institutions would be exorbitant for the majority; thereby being exclusionary. At the same time, the emphasis on internationalisation would seemingly lower the comparative worth of premiere national institutions.
 The policy envisages a regulatory approach mandating full public disclosure of finances and procedures and aims at reducing the commercialisation of education which is a fundamental right. In doing so, it encourages public-private partnerships (PPP), and public-spirited private schools. While said commercialisation is to be curbed through a mechanism of checks and balances, the policy specifies neither what those checks are, nor what will incentivise private institutions to be philanthropic. This move is, therefore, quite a travesty, as it may lead to greater privatisation along with the harms that come with it, including higher fees.
It is pertinent to note that the increased number of private institutions will not be bound to observe the Fundamental Rights of students. This will grant a larger portion of the education sector to breach part III of the Constitution, such as the prohibition of discrimination. No mention is afforded to reservations for socially and educationally backward classes, thereby effectively reducing the protection granted to disadvantaged sections, and further deepening the social divide. Moreover, the little indication is given in the NEP of the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2005. The education framework at large has been revamped instead of making gradual progress towards the goals laid down by the RTE. The policy must not be misused as a tool to supersede the RTE, since it has not been created in consonance with the same; as this would pose a grave threat to the constitutionality of the policy.
The vision to grant all HEIs academic and administrative autonomy over a phased-out span of fifteen years, and to mandate colleges currently affiliated to a university to become autonomous degree-granting colleges is a misguided one. While it is maintained that the autonomy of public institutions will be backed by public financial support and stability, this claim is dubious. The removal of institutional affiliations is likely to result in mismanagement and uncertainty, at least until the phasing-out process is complete, especially as the extent of public financial support is not confirmed.
Education being in the concurrent list, this policy needs co-operation from the states for acceptable execution.  The NEP ignores the balance of power between the Centre and States while making the decisions. Unsatisfactory answers to the states’ concerns are bound to obstruct implementation.
The NEP, 2020 mentions the undergraduate degree as being a 3 or 4-year programme, failing to learn from history. A similar experiment with regard to the 4-year undergraduate programme undertaken by Delhi University, owing to improper implementation, was scrapped years ago. The policy does not provide any solutions to the problems earlier encountered, particularly considering the failures of a longer degree with less specialisation.
Under the National Testing Agency (NTA), a non-compulsory, application-based common entrance exam will be conducted to test conceptual understanding for admissions to all universities and colleges for undergraduate degrees. However, standardised testing is inherently problematic especially with a wide range of diversities as exists in India. No provision mentions lower cut-offs within these standardised tests for backward classes that are victims of an unlevelled playing field. Moreover, common admission tests are more likely, owing to their rigid uniformity, to fail to gain a holistic grasp of a student’s capabilities; while the teaching process too will be narrowed down to fit the limited scope of these tests in order to maximise scores at the cost of meritocracy.
The policy commits to significantly raising educational investment, without identifying the source of this additional financial burden. While pointing out the past failure to reach the stated goal of 6% public spending on education, the policy fails to spell out how it will overcome the pre-existing obstacles. The NEP mentions various utopian changes with introducing greater infrastructure, building new institutions and creating various bodies, but doesn’t mention a plan of action, or the funding sources for the same.
Conclusion
While numerous portentous promises are made by the NEP, 2020, they are scarcely time-bound or guaranteed. It establishes no mandatory mechanism for the enforcement and universalisation of the proposed changes. While briefly mentioning the creation of a Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog, but does not specify the scope or method of its functioning.
 The highly ambitious and largely rhetorical policy, owing to its inherent classism, casteism and lack of clarity regarding implementation showcases the government’s lackadaisical attitude towards education. The NEP, 2020 would benefit from an overhaul, incorporating changes in accordance to the interests of all major stakeholders, especially those who are most disadvantaged in status quo, after deliberation with experts in the field.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

 

Mahek Shivnani is a second-year law student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune.

 

 

 

 

Aashna Mansata is a second-year law student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune.

 

In Content Picture Credit: EdTechReview

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