The final draft of the National Education Policy (NEP), which will now go for clearance of the Union Cabinet, confirms many doubts. It took four years for an expert committee, headed by Dr Kasturirangan, to come out with a 484-page document. But in five months’ time the government reduced it to a mere 55-page document. Between the draft policy promulgation and the final draft, the government was flooded with suggestions to improve the policy which is the backbone of the education system in the country. Many had sought a six-month extension to submit more suggestions and proposals to improve upon the proposed draft. The government gave hoot to such suggestions; instead it hurriedly came out with the final draft. This alacrity to implement it apparently from the next academic year sends alarm bells ringing.
Education is in the concurrent list of the Constitution which gives powers to both the Centre and the state governments. But a reading of the draft policy makes it abundantly clear that the Centre wants to have a bigger pie in the execution of education policies. It has proposed a Central regulator for all school boards, meaning the State Education Boards will be regulated by a national body headed by the Union Human Resources Development Minister. So far, the Centre had no supervision over any Board except the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) as State Boards are autonomous and regulated by State governments.
The move to introduce traditional knowledge and philosophy propagated by scholars such as Patanjali, Panini, and Bhaskaracharya may look innocuous. The argument that India’s rich legacies to world heritage must be nurtured and preserved for posterity might look sound. But one should not forget the government’s own findings that there is severe learning crisis in the existing system. For example, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) says that 50% of Class V students were unable to even read the text meant for students three levels below. This proves that children have been lagging in basic learning and numeracy skills. Hence the need of the hour is to focus on improving the standard of education in the existing system rather than diverting the scarce resources to courses in the name of tapping our rich heritage.
The impact of some of the recommendations in higher education is unclear. Proposals like setting up of multi-disciplinary universities and ending the system of affiliated colleges might have adverse impact in a country where majority of people live in rural areas. Concentrating education in a few areas, denying the same through colleges in far flung areas, will make education unreachable for ordinary people. It is also not clear what would be the benefit of redrawing the schooling system on a 5+3+3+4 formula instead of the current 10+2 model.
However, the draft policy has some welcome recommendations like extension of the Right to Education Act from pre-school to Standard 12 instead of Class 1 to 8 as prescribed in the existing Act. The final draft has retained emphasis on extending the Mid-Day Meal Scheme to include breakfast, though the suggestions to improve the menu are not included. Overall, the NEP is seen as a bid by the Centre to alter the soul of education system.
(Published on 04th November 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 45)