NEP 2020 Critique: No money, no administrative reforms and building castles in the air

From NPE to NEP, that is (National Policy on Education, 1986 to National Education Policy 2020), it is not only the ‘P’ that has changed the place after 34 years in the new policy document, but NEP appears to be an outright knock off document where instead of being a reform of the existing apparatus, building on the existing framework, making improvements, reinforcing its good and adding newer changes reflective of changed world, it has chartered an independent route and ignored continuity of the earlier document.

Inconsistencies and deviation from being a policy document is one characteristic of the NEP 2020 evident in several ways. ‘Education is a requirement for vibrant democracy’ had found a mention in the draft but doesn’t find a place in the final document. The constitutional values as enshrined in the Preamble have not been spoken of though fundamental duties are. There is no talk of fundamental rights including right to education even as it expansively deals with universalization of education from 3-18 years. Interestingly, it mentions ‘universal, free and compulsory accesses for this age group in the policy review section.

The Constitution of India recognizes marginalized categories as Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Other Backward Classes and in course of time the Supreme Court has reinforced these categories as separate categoties but NEP authors without caring for this constitutional propriety clubs all these into SEDG (socio-economically disadvantaged groups) and worse includes disability and gender into it as well disregarding diversity and sensitivity.  By the way the combined SEDG may be the 80% population group leaving just 20% for actual policy application.  

NEP 2020 talks of a single integrated B Ed programme for teacher education wherein a prospective teacher will undergo training for foundation, primary, middle and secondary etc. It is unscientific pedagogically and against Justice Verma Commission recommendations which wanted clearly targeted B Ed prgrammes at various levels.

With 95% of teacher education in the private sector, the performance in the teacher eligibility test (TET) has been an eye-opener for several years now. The number of qualifiers ranges from as low as 1% to just 17%. This made a strong case for increase the state capacity of teacher training capacity but it has not attracted attention of authors.   

Peer tutoring and community volunteers have been mentioned to supplement teaching efforts. Without acknowledging the astronomical figure of vacancies and lack of teachers, how can senior students teach junior when they themselves suffer lack of teachers? Instead of improving teaching /learning, the policy is seeking to legitimize a parallel system.

The new pedagogical and curricular structure of 5+3+3+4 in place of earlier 10+2 has been touted as a major reform in school education. However, the ground level reality is that apart from CBSE-affiliated K-12 schools (majority of which are private) and a few others, several states have schools only upto class 10 standard. Afterwards, it may be inter college in Bihar and UP, junior college in Karnataka, Andhra or Maharashtra. So, this policy will suffer in implementation in these many schools.

NCF 2005 has been by far one of the best works done in independent India and it has also a component of preschool education. Yet NEP doesn’t talking of it as if nothing of this sort existed in the country.  The policy talks about pedagogy and curricula but is silent on improving schools. Primary schools are majorly a state government functional area but this policy is seeking to centralize curriculum when it says it will make a depository available. Primary schools are not meant for sophisticated pedagogies but simple and engaged ones where small children are taught the fundamentals and skilled on writing and numeracy skills.  India is a diverse country. Here culture and language are sensitive issue and best left to states, but a standardized curriculum will potentially cause centre-state conflicts.

 Biscuit lobby which has been building an intense pressure to become a substitute for hot cooked midday meal and resisted for two decades gets a route through gur-channa (Jugglery-Gram) passage.  There is a certain lobby which has come with the reasoning that 50% of private schools charge less than Rs 500 as fees and should be given government aid to function is a way of seeking low quality schools.   In the name of alternatives, there is an attempt to protect and promote certain types of schools.

What is sold as revolutionary already existed before. Vocational education was first talked by Dr. A. Lakshmanswami Mudaliar Commission in early 1950s. Several committees, task forces and others worked on it and largely failed to get it started. Now by introducing it as fun, it will be a certification market program.

No money, no administrative reforms and building castles in the air.  Bad polices don’t get implemented. And, even if these are good, it is the bureaucracy or administrative machinery that often derails it. For instance, a teacher going for training has to take sanction from secretariat. The reform from top to bottom and decentralization are the key. In absence of these, we end up adding more structure by way of committees, task forces, more control systems.  From 1970 onwards there is a progressive withdrawal of government from the education and as a result less number of government schools are opening. The education budgets are falling and contribute to implementation issues.   

There is a sense that the implemental plan being prepared will come up with centrally sponsored schemes. These schemes are actually at the heart of problem and undoing good of education. These create parallel systems and often the real warriors—the education departments of states lose their agency.  A policy must be deliverable. It must achieve most of the targets in five years. This country needs an honest policy.

(Based on talks by Prof R Govinda, former VC NUEPA,  Prof Poonam Batra, Professor of Education at DU,  and Prof Mujkund Dubey , former foreign secretary and President of Council for Social Development at a webinar organized  by RTE Forum on August 7)