The Draft ‘National Education Policy’ 2019 and Smokescreens of a Segregationist Education

  • July 5, 2019

The plans of this “Modi 2.0” Government as described in the policy document can be classified into 5 basic moves: Centralization, Segregation, Privatization, Informalization and De-regulation of the Education system. Can such a policy be ‘bettered’ through ‘Feedbacks’, or should our efforts be directed elsewhere? Tathagata Sengupta writes. 


“Without education wisdom was lost; without wisdom morals were lost; without morals development was lost; without development wealth was lost; without wealth the Shudras were ruined; so much has happened through lack of education.” – Mahatma Jotiba Phule, on the importance of Education for social revolution.


The recently released [Draft] National Education Policy (NEP) 2019 lays out the current regime’s ‘visions’ and plans about education in the country – from Anganwadi to Post-Graduation studies. The draft came recently to public limelight when it triggered a controversy regarding the language issue. Its proposal of imposing Hindi on non-Hindi states drew strong protests, particularly from the southern states including Tamil Nadu. The particular clause had to be subsequently withdrawn.


True to the times, the NEP, drafted by a committee headed by ex-ISRO Chairman Dr. K. Kasturirangan, has a good dose of liberal and populist promises and ‘visions’ – things like freedom and flexibility in choosing curriculum or even “Boards of Assessment”, ‘learning how to learn’ instead of rote learning, easing of the pressures of Board Exams by splitting them up across subjects and dispersing the ‘subject-specific’ Board exams throughout the year, allowing multiple attempts, introducing Breakfasts into the mid-day meals program, low student-teacher ratios, doubling the budget share of education from current 10% of the Government’s budget to 20% over the next ‘n’ number of years, etc.


But while visions come and go, what is going to stay is the architecture of this ‘new’ education system that is being proposed. These nuts and bolts are therefore what we must focus on, these are what are going to determine the education of our future generations to come. Overall, the plans of the “Modi 2.0” Government as described in the policy document, can be classified into 5 basic moves: Centralization, Segregation, Privatization, Informalization and De-regulation of the Education system.


I. Centralization

By dissolving the UGC and bringing full control of nation-wide education directly under the Prime Minister, through the so-called “Rashtriya Shiksha Ayog”, education – a Concurrent list subject – is being taken away completely from the control of the States. The RSA is going to be the key engine that would run matters related to Education now on. 50% of the RSA members will be private individuals – “eminent educationists, researchers and leading professionals from various fields”. State Level “Shiksha Aayogs” will also be set-up under the control of the Delhi-based RSA, presumably replacing [at least partly] the current State education administrations, though the Draft doesn’t clearly demarcate where the National administration ends, and the State administration begins. The RSA will take all the key decisions about the entirety of education – from Anganwadi to PG – replacing existing bodies like the UGC.


The policy talks of a “national common [core] curriculum” for each subject, and of centralised National Tests to be conducted by a central Testing Agency. This ‘core’ curriculum, of course, includes courses and portions on ‘Indian’ culture, tradition and history. In sweeping reductions bordering insult, it claims that merely adding what it calls “local variations”, “local knowledge”, and “local flavour” at State levels will make this curriculum ‘relevant’ and ‘relatable’ to everyone! In a similar vein, it had also tried imposing Hindi across the country’s education system, but that move was resisted.


II. Segregation

Government schools will now be organised into what are called “School Complexes” – with one secondary school, and a bunch of primary and middle schools around it. The secondary school will receive funds for running libraries, laboratories, etc., and for hiring ‘key subject’ (Math, Science, English, etc) teachers. These teachers will be then shared by the primary schools in the “Complex”. None of the primary or middle-level schools will have infrastructure like library or laboratory. Instead of 5 maths teachers for 5 schools, it will now be only 1, for 5 schools. Funnily enough, the student-teacher ratio is bound to improve in such a system, where essentially 1/5th of a teacher will be counted as 1, every time such reports will be filed. The NEP declares schools with less than a certain number of students, or those with high student-to-teacher ratio as ‘unviable’, and asks for downsizing them. Just like the crisis-ridden American 3-tier school system, this is a roadmap to concentrating all public funding to a few “top-tier schools”, and stripping the huge bulk of primary and middle schools across the country of any kind of public spending.


The Policy in fact has an elaborate plan for the complete ruin of whatever is left of the primary and middle schools across the country today. All “para-teacher” (Shikshakarmi, Shikshamitra, etc.) systems across the country are to be further informalised and converted to “volunteers” and “teaching aides”. Teacher recruitment, on the other hand, has been made even tighter, by requiring a separate Teacher Eligibility Test, after a B.Ed. Programs, that will be 4-year long programs now on. Nothing has been mentioned about the fate of those B.Ed. passouts who might fail the TET. To fill the void of teachers in public schools, volunteers called ‘teaching aides’ will be drawn from the local community, to supplement teaching activities! Incidentally, one of the few 4-year B.Ed. programs currently is being run by the Azim Premji University (APU), and Prof. Anurag Behar – VC of APU is one of the co-authors of the NEP.


The school curriculum will be restructured into “a new 5+3+3+4 design”, replacing the current “10+2” format – 5 years of ‘Foundational Stage’ (3 years of pre-primary school and Grades 1, 2), 3 years of the ‘Latter Primary’ Stage (Grades 3, 4, 5), 3 years of ‘Middle’ Stage (Grades 6, 7, 8) and 4 years of the ‘Secondary’ Stage (Grades 9, 10, 11, 12). Three extra nation-wide examinations, called “Census Examinations” at Grades 3, 5, and 8, have been added to the existing Board Examinations in Grades 10 and 12, threatening far higher rates of ‘drop-outs’ [a term that should be replaced by ‘push outs’] than what we have today – an alarmingly high number already, and further segregation of the entire learning process, and curriculum, for children from different backgrounds.


While Government run schools have been described as ‘unviable’, and their teaching mandate cut down, Government will instead spend public money on “Clubs and Circles” (Math Clubs, Science Clubs, Classical Music Clubs, Puzzle Solving Clubs, etc.) exclusively for “students with Singular Interests and Talents”, to be chosen through “rigorous merit-based admissions”.


On the other hand, for the typical Government schools, presumably mostly in rural areas, education will be reduced to skill education: ‘extra-curricular’ and ‘co-curricular’. Sports, yoga, dance, music, drawing, painting, sculpting, pottery-making, woodworking, gardening, and electric work, etc., will now be subjects especially at the secondary level (from class IX to class XII). These will replace science, humanities and social science subjects. The policy gives a positive liberal spin to this hideous plan of dismantling education for working-class Bahujan students, declaring “no hard separation of vocational and academic streams” now on, and that this will reduce the ‘curriculum load’ on students. “At the secondary stage, students will study almost forty-eight subjects,” writes Naaz Khair in this report that talks about the likely impact of these plans on Bahujan students. “A careful reading of the policy document suggests that these subjects would perhaps be in the nature of crash courses!” she adds.


The Policy thus basically speaks of not one, but two parallel education systems – one for the economic and cultural rich, and another for everyone else. A segregated education system.


The words “merit” and “meritorious” together occur as many as 47 times in the document. Salary structure and promotion of teachers, for example, will be solely based on “outstanding performance and merit”, instead of on “seniority” or “other arbitrary factors”.


The word “reservation” occurs exactly once in the entire document, that too, in the following sentence: “Private HEIs shall not be mandated to adhere to reservation guidelines”. There is no mention of Nomadic Tribes and De-notified Tribes and their education in the entire document. The 500-page long policy has just half a page on the education of Dalit students, and the word ‘Secularism’ does not find even a single mention!


The National Test Score is going to be, for most purposes, the sole determinant of admissions and fellowships – of “merit” – including for those from the “Under Represented Groups”, women, physically differently-abled and Muslims. The National Testing Agency which has been tasked with conducting this National test, today conducts the All India NEET exam and has already been accused of serious mismanagement of the exam process. One of the tasks added to the NTA’s mandate, is that of maintaining a database of the performance of every student [presumably along with their other personal and socio-economic details] that would be used for “analysing their progress”.


III. Informalization and Communalization

The NEP calls for a complete informalization of primary education in rural and “educationally backward” areas. “URGs” – specifically women – will have to participate in various, presumably unpaid, volunteer programs to supplement for teachers in rural schools. For others like the children of migrant workers, leaving them to learn from the internet, through things like “e-learning”. Online distance learning programmes will be expanded. However, “a nominal fee will be facilitated and encouraged” when it comes to distributing this content in any form.


Those who are passing exams successfully in the primary and middle-level rural Government schools under such difficult situations, will now be tasked with “up to five hours a week” of teaching younger students in these primary and middle schools! Even retired teachers, army officers, “excellent students from neighboring schools”, and “passionate socially-conscious college graduates” will be signed up (somehow) to volunteer as what the policy calls “Tutors”! In “tribal-dominated districts”, members from specific tribal communities will be chosen as such volunteers. In this case these “coordinators” will also work with the Ministry of Tribal Affairs! Women from “local communities” will be (voluntarily again, presumably – since the document mentions nothing about pay scales, or the nature of employment for such people) enrolled to bring school drop-outs “back into the fold.” These women will also have to hold special classes during school hours, after school hours, and during the summer for such children – all for free.


“Social workers” appointed to the school complex will “take charge of managing the database [of drop-outs], interfacing with the community, and ensuring that every child in the database is cared for and helped to return to school.” Let us not forget that one such ‘social worker’, much touted just before these elections for having dedicated his life to Sanskrit and for “uplifting the poor”, recently demanded in the Parliament that those who won’t say Vande Mataram can not live in this country. This ‘social worker’ – Pratap Sarangi – was the Chief of the Orissa Bajrang Dal when Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons were burnt alive in the state in 1999, and actively defended the murders. The NEP gives people like Sarangi a complete free hand to go after “drop out” children from tribal communities for instance, and “bring them back” to their Sanskrit schools.


The RTE Act requirements will be relaxed, to make it easier for Governments and NGOs to run “gurukulas, paathshaalas, madrasas, and home schooling”, in violation of Article 29 of the Constitution which prohibits Government funding for religious educational institutions; and on Article 30 that adds to this an exception, when it comes to religious minorities. And besides, how does one even keep track of how much public money goes for something like “home-schooling”?!


IV. Privatization

As the Government is backing out of the task of providing Education for everyone, profit-making companies are being asked to take up that role, using the mask of charity. The NEP openly calls for “private philanthropic activity” in education, and takes all necessary steps to ensure the kind of policy infrastructure private players want.


Fellowships have been privatized, textbook designing and publishing has been privatized, even private Boards of Assessments have been announced! Individual Universities will now be free to set-up or choose their own “Assessment Boards”, meaning that the University would be free to apply its own standards to assessing its performance, and presumably claim ‘excellence’.


The idea of “Fellowship” itself has being changed from a social responsibility, to that of “Grants” – a voluntary donation, or a charity investment. Private “grant-writing institutions” will manage this new market of “Grants”. Private Higher Educational Institutions have been given the freedom to set their fees, as long as they waive part of the expenses of those from marginalized backgrounds in their classrooms. This is how real estate companies build low-quality and dangerous rehabilitation colonies for slum evicted people, in order to get serious Government concessions for their fancy, profit making projects – projects that are their actual purpose. “Special Education Zones” will be set up funded by private corporations in “educationally disadvantaged regions across the country… (e.g. tribal districts of Madhya Pradesh)”. If Special Education Zones are things modeled after the “Special Economic Zones”, one only wonders what “Education” even means in such a setup.


V. De-regularization

On the basis of a Government decided “framework”, all schools from now on “must self-accredit”. It is shamefully embarrassing how a free ticket for a school-owner – “accrediting himself” – is being made to sound like a regulation by pushing in a “must”. “Self-Accreditation” means the school authorities making public the details of the school’s meeting all basic parameters, and the relevant supporting documents. The primary check for the authenticity of such claims of documents is – “peer review” by 2 other schools. These certificates the schools will be giving themselves will be reviewed by an audit once in five years, though no specifics have been mentioned in the draft about the audit process.


Universities are free to set-up their own Assessment Boards, schools are free to choose their texts and curricula, private agencies are free to develop their own approved texts, private institutions are free to charge whatever amounts of fees they want – all regulations have been essentially removed, giving a complete free hand to everything private.


The Propaganda

For every new Product, there is Propaganda. The Draft NEP also has its own share of buzz-words led Propaganda. It begins with the “Dream of a meritorious knowledge society”, and vows for “Free and Compulsory Education for All”. Nothing in the Draft however gives indications of a plan for such an Education for everyone, other than leaving most of that ground-work to volunteers. In the name of “Autonomy” to educational institutions, complete free hand has been given from designing their own course, to setting fees. Just like the phrase “Transparency” was used as a Trojan Horse to slip in high corruption legislation such as Electoral Bonds, in this case too, “Transparency” has been used to scrap off existing regulatory mechanisms. Getting rid of School Inspectors, the NEP declares that since schools will display all relevant information in the public domain, the parents themselves will be the new “regulator” by making “informed choices”. In the name of “Inclusion”, schools will only be “expected to follow” a criteria on equity and inclusiveness. No legal or punitive measure has been mentioned, in case of incidents of communal or caste or gender-based assault or discrimination. While it repeatedly uses the American model of education – module-based, choice-based, national testing-based – as a justification for various claims, it does not state the current ongoing crisis of the US public school education system, and the teachers’ mass agitation that have been going on there for more than a year now. Neither does it mention the staggering $1.5 trillion student loan debt currently in the US, which is threatening another economic crisis comparable to the last housing loan crisis in 2007-08.


Beyond the Smokescreens

Buzzwords will lose their buzz in no time, and we will only be left with the actual machine, with all its teeth and claws.


All in all, the NEP lays out two separate Education policies – one for the ‘singularly talented and meritorious’, and one for the ‘URGs’, minorities, adivasis, and the general working class population who won’t have the kind of money to attend the private-funded “not-for-profit” schools. “Module-based”, “tech-supplemented”, “choose from the bucket” kind of ideas systematized in the policy are the same model that private engineering colleges in this country have been working with, since the so-called “IT boom” of the 90s. The NEP only extends these failed recipes to the entire system of education, and is hardly different in its ideas or language or ‘reasoning’, to those found in typical private engineering college brochures.


We know today what has been the fate of private engineering education industry in this country, and what it has done to engineering education in this country. The fate of the ‘New Education’ is going to be no different.


Several signature campaigns and feedback drives are going on across academic circles throughout the country, the Government also recently extended the “feedback” window by a month. Educationists have gotten busy dissecting the policy and jotting down its problems and possibilities for ‘improvement’. Few days back, at a meeting on the NEP organised at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, MK Sridhar – one of the key drafting committee members – clearly said that he would take questions on the draft, but only those questions that seek “clarifications” about things written in the draft. Questions or suggestions that are critical of the policy would be ‘heard’, but not responded to. This is the same person whose draft policy claims that “The entire school education curriculum will be reoriented to develop … higher order skills of critical thinking”.


Those who are truly concerned about Education, and think of Education as the basis of social transformations, need to decide whether Manusmritis should be bettered, or burnt. While many might be busy channeling their energies into giving ‘feedback’ to a propaganda machine, the rest of us must spend ours elsewhere – in the fight for a true New Education, that education reformers like Mahatma Phule were talking about.



The author is an education researcher.

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