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Considering India’s diversity, friction amongst socio-economic religious communities, recent changes in the geopolitical landscapes and the Covid-19 pandemic, it is necessary to question whether the Education Policy empowers or empower “ALL”. It is crucial to consider whether this policy change boosts the quality of education for those who are already privileged or create spaces for those who are still alien to the concept of education. One may wonder whether this policy truly fathoms diverse educational needs or simply hopes the marginalized will benefit from it. This article aims to evaluate whether the policy best aligns with the demands of the 21st century and is tailored to today’s unprecedented circumstances.
In August 2019, the BJP government repealed Article 370 and Article 35A of the Indian constitution. The Education policy is evidently unperceptive to the education rights of the people of Kashmir. The Telegraph reported that as of August 7th, 2020, “13,600 public and private schools closed their doors and an estimated 2.5 million students were confined to their homes”. While the rest of India had the opportunity to thrive on some form of online education, the lack of internet connection and 4G facilities in Kashmir robbed students off of the opportunity to study effectively with a backlog on their previously missed year.
Despite this, not once has the National Education Policy mentioned the word “Kashmir”. Part III devotes an entire section to “Online and Digital Education: Ensuring Equitable Use of Technology”. There is an evident emphasis on providing “A rich variety of educational software, for all the above purposes”. However, this policy seems to improve the quality education of those that already have access to technological devices rather than those that do not at all. This policy equips those with newer, more robust forms of technology while others are simply left with none at all. Statement 23.7 highlights India’s fear to be at a digital disadvantage with the rest of the world. Instead of focusing heavily on adopting new technologies, this policy fails to consider that students in Kashmir do not have basic access to the internet and are at a disadvantage with those residing in other parts of India. Before the policy seeks to compete and close the digital divide with the rest of the international community, it must not turn a blind eye to the already existent digital divides within the country.
Scheduled castes and Scheduled tribe
It is crucial to understand that improving systems of education goes beyond the numbers. Improving systems of education must relate to the human experience around education. India consists of 1108 castes across 28 states and 755 tribes across 22 states in its first schedule. The use of an umbrella term “schedule castes and schedule tribes” propagates a one size fits all notion. While the stigma around scheduled castes and tribes in rural schools still persists, how can the national education policy ensure that Dalit students, with unique challenges themselves, for example, are incentivised to go to school. On what basis is it assumed that integrating Dalit students with students from other socio-economic backgrounds will allow them to thrive rather than simply survive? High enrolment rates do not account for bullying, exclusion and deteriorating mental health. It is necessary to consider that these public policies impact humans that have diverse experiences.
Moreover, statement 6.2.3  heavily generalises. As the public on the receiving end of this public policy, it is necessary to understand where these conclusions stem from. It is unclear whether there was a survey conducted to gauge this information or are these misconstrued perceptions. Assuming the source of this statement is credible, there is a little recommendation of mechanisms that create culturally sensitive education spaces. Another crucial consideration is discrimination due to the quota system and reservations. On the 17th of February 2019, the Print published an article “The IITs have a long history of systematically othering Dalit students” that highlights the perpetually misconstrued notion of quota students being less deserving or able than mainstream students. While the policy aims to “Strictly enforce all no-discrimination and anti-harassment rules” there is little mention of how these entrenched stereotypes will be uprooted.
On the 22nd of April 2020, the Hindu released an article titled “No 100% quota for tribal teachers: Supreme Court”. The court ruled in favour of the fact that 100% reservation was discriminatory as “It is an obnoxious idea that tribals only should teach the tribals”. The National Education Policy does not incorporate this recent phenomenon. Some of the following questions are left unanswered: If tribal teachers are not teaching tribals students as the reservation is capped at 50%, in what ways does the policy ensure tribal students will not be discriminated against and feel as included as with the case of teachers from the same socio-ethnic background? In what ways will language not serve as a barrier when tribal teachers apply for vocational training and how will their needs be catered for? What are the long-term goals to incentivize teachers from scheduled castes and tribes to enter the labour force?
Another key consideration is equity versus equality. The initial aspects of the policy focus on the need to provide equitable education. The latter half aims to provide the “same opportunities of obtaining quality education as any other child”. It is crucial to understand that there are a diverse group of students. While providing the same opportunities is one way to improve the quality of education, equity will ensure providing the resources that meet the diverse needs of all students that allow them to fulfil their complete potential.
Refugees, Internally Displaced People and Education “On-the-Go”
Not once does the National Policy mention the word refugee but when it does mention “migrant” there is a little emphasis of what education would look like “On-The-Go” during the Covid-19 pandemic. The following statement from the National Educational Policy “migrant labourers and other children who are dropping out of school due to various circumstances are brought back into mainstream education” highlights sweeping generalisations without considering that there are various types of migrants with a unique set of challenges. It is not considered that the sense of inclusivity that political migrants seek is different in the extent to which environmental migrants do. Teaching climate change to environmental migrants especially when academic concepts might be sensitive to them is a consideration that the policy must undertake. In what ways are classrooms equitable to tailor and consider these experiential needs of different types of migrant children. A second key consideration is “mainstream education”. Why is it necessary for migrant children to be placed back into mainstream education when their experiences are different to non-migrant children. How does the policy promote equity when providing all children with the same education irrespective of their background?
Another keynote is on promoting multilingualism through the three-language formula in statement 4.1.3 . While multilingualism might have key benefits of its own, it is crucial to consider the added barrier migrants face when they attempt to integrate into traditional classrooms. How does the national policy expect migrant students to master the language demanded by mainstream education and two other languages? For a number of non-migrant students, Hindi is already their mother tongue which may be less likely for migrant students. In what ways do we prevent migrant students from being victims of the language gap and in fact benefit from the three-language formula?
In conclusion, the national education policy cannot be inclusive unless it includes diverse individuals from Kashmiri students to displaced individuals. The policy does acknowledge these special needs but is opaque in laying out tangible and actionable methods to achieve these ambitious goals. The policy also seems to strengthen the quality of education for those who have access to it rather than ensure those, alien to the concept, are at least aware of it. Instead of placing individuals with unique experiences under blanket umbrella terms, there is a need to further branch and flesh out the needs of those, not at the forefront of education access. It is also crucial to note that the above critique does not cover other marginalized groups but in fact, serves as a foundation to explore those duly.
 “Other Key Areas of Focus”
 “Particular attention will need to be paid to emerging disruptive technologies that will necessarily transform the education system” “to cope with these rapid and disruptive changes places us individually and nationally at a perilous disadvantage in an increasingly competitive world”
 “Children from tribal communities often find their school education irrelevant and foreign to their lives, both culturally and academically”
 “The impact of refugees on the labour market: a big splash in a small pond?”
 “The three-language formula will continue to be implemented while keeping in mind the Constitutional provisions, aspirations of the people, regions, and the Union, and the need to promote multilingualism as well as promote national unity”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Salwa Mansuri is a second-year undergraduate student pursuing Politics and International Relations at the University College London, School of Public Policy.
In Content Picture Credit: Sean MacEntee