At the outset, it is problematic to call it as a draft National Policy on Education (‘draft report’). It is only a report submitted by a committee, constituted by the Union government towards evolving a National Policy on Education. The Policy has not yet been officially notified by the government.
Even though the subject – ‘education’ is in the concurrent list, the central government did not follow the due process of consulting the federal states regarding constituting such a committee in a democratic and consultative manner. This could have been discussed in the Central Advisory Board for Education (CABE) before constituting the committee. A democratic process could have provided a platform for states to raise their concerns on controversial issues like language policy.
First, the chronology of the whole process should be examined. After the NDA government took office, it initiated the process of consultation to evolve a policy from January 2015 with a set of questions. There was no perspective document or discussion paper. The process was haphazard right from the beginning.
Later, a committee for the evolution of NEP was appointed on 31st October 2015 headed by Shri.T.R.S. Subramanian along with other four members. The rationale for appointing four members and how that adequately represents the 29 States and 7 Union territories remains unclear. The committee submitted its report on 30th April 2016. The report did not see the light of the day. More or less, it was rejected. However, the MHRD prepared a document called ‘Some inputs for the draft National Policy on Education -2016’ and opened it for discussions.
Instead of drafting a policy based on the 2015 inputs, the report submitted by Shri.T.R.S. Subramanian committee and the inputs received on the 2016 document, the MHRD constituted another committee headed by Dr.K.Kasturirangan along with eight other members on 27th December 2017.
The deadline to submit the report was extended a couple of times. Finally, the Report on to evolving the draft National Education Policy 2019 was submitted to the Ministry on 31st May 2019. The document says that it was signed by the Chairperson and all members on 15th December, 2018. The delay of almost six months in releasing the signed draft for the public debate, is not explained. It is clear that the NDA government was not interested in debating this as a core policy issue in the recently concluded Parliamentary elections, denying a great opportunity to the public.
The process adopted was grossly inadequate and arbitrary. The committee hardly consulted intellectuals and stakeholders such as eminent educationists, school teachers and their organisations, students and their organisation, School Development and Monitoring Committees and local constitutional bodies like ZP and GP. For instance, of the 217 ‘Eminent Persons’ with whom the drafting committee of the NEP 2019 interacted was from only three metro cities viz., Bengaluru, Mumbai and Delhi. Of the 35 states/UTs, the Committee did not interact with anyone in 21 states/UTs which include large states like Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Kerala, Uttarakhand and West Bengal and resurgent UTs like Chandigarh and Puducherry. It is unbelievable that the Committee did not find even one ‘Eminent Person’ worthy of interaction in these areas. The lofty claim of the then Minister in his covering letter “. . . an unprecedented, collaborative, multi-stakeholder, multipronged, bottom-up, people-centric, inclusive, participatory consultation process” is a great myth and that stands exposed.
Nevertheless, the present committee has submitted its report and has now opened it for public scrutiny. A quick reading of the draft report, particularly the early sections meant for providing a broad VISION for building a national system of education for equity and social justice, raises many concerns in my mind. Firstly, it talks of education for the 21st Century and at the same time, it also talks about India’s traditions and value systems. That looks a little contradictory. Revamping of all aspects of the education structure, its regulation and governance, to create a new system that is aligned with India’s ‘traditions and value systems’ without outlining what are these traditions, is a loaded statement. The 1986 policy clearly visualised the important role of education in Indian society in accordance with the core Constitutional values.
The Indian education system was not inclusive from the beginning. The impact of Varna System- the social stratification dividing the society into four Varna’s called Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras, had a very negative impact in terms of access to education. Education was more of a privilege than a Right. Para 6.3 of the Policy has made two important recommendations regarding the education of children from SC/OBC backgrounds-the recruitment of more SC/OBC teachers, and translation of learning material. This should not be a mere 1-page recommendation but an important vision target of the new NPE. Children should be taught to introspect on the history of exclusion within the education system. This is important to raise awareness, develop critical thinking and the ability to make informed decisions.
Secondly, the draft refers to the Universal Declaration of Human Right (UDHR), 1948 and UNESCO’s ‘Learning: The Treasure Within’ document of 1996 recognizing the four pillars of education, to bring human rights perspective into the policy. Simultaneously, the draft report also recognizes and mentions the recent reports from the OECD, the World Bank, the World Economic Forum, and the Brookings Institutions, and refers to the broad consensus statement of outcomes of learning. This is clearly a neo-liberal agenda, pushed by the WB, IMF and WTO to expand its market and to make education a commodity for sale. Para 8.3 of the draft report does note that education is not a marketable good and suggests a regulatory framework for private schools. At the same time, it encourages the formation of such entities as playing an ‘important role’ in India. It is important to implement a regulatory framework and discourage privatization. This is important from the point of existing inequalities, segregation and discrimination in education in terms of types of schools and curriculum patterns. The segregation is also in terms of urban and rural, male-female and rich and poor. This defeats the core constitutional principle of providing equal opportunities for all without any discrimination.
The Learning Outcomes approach obsessed with assessment is a danger to the basic philosophy of the learning process. It proposes that the problems of education is more to do with easily quantifiable outcomes rather than with the need to create an enabling environment conducive for learning process driven by well qualified competent teachers with well-designed curriculums. More and more resources will thus be used on assessment tools and processes. More than learning outcomes, education is a process of socialisation to achieve pluralism adhering to the core values of fraternity, brotherhood, cooperation and peaceful co-existence. The committee could have envisioned education from this perspective of public good and as a tool for social transformation rather than mere learning outcomes.
Though it has hinted at this by suggesting integration of liberal arts education and courses on critical issues in school curriculum, there needs to be more introspection on the ‘traditional Indian values’ sought to be inculcated at the school level. The draft report nowhere mentions promoting secularism, caste equality or awareness about gender and sexuality (as opposed to the generic term ‘respect for women’), which is increasingly the need of the hour in the 21st century. This becomes all the more important since we witness many negative developments in the recent times when the government is re-writing history and other subjects for political gains and taking away the opportunity to learn things objectively and critically in classrooms, indicates the sensitivity of the issue.
Thirdly, the draft report failed to recognise the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education from the ‘Rights-based perspective’. It is not enough to make a passing reference to the UDHR document. It is also necessary to take on board other UNESCO conventions in general, the Convention Against Discrimination in Education (CADE) 1960 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) 1989 in particular as the basic documents of developing a ‘Normative Framework’ for child development and to recognize rights of children including care, protection, development and participation from a Human Rights perspective.
As we are aware, the Right to education is extensively recognized as a core human right in most of the international legal instruments. It is not only a human right in itself, but it is also essential for the exercise of other socio-economic rights. The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in its General Comment No.11 on Plans of Action for Primary Education while emphasising on the importance of right to education in relation to other socio-economic and cultural rights, in Para 2, emphasised that “the right to education epitomises the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights.” One positive recommendation of the draft report is it has suggested the integration of early childhood care and education under the RTE Act.
In this context, I strongly recommend developing a ‘Normative Framework’ for developing a National Policy on Education by drawing from the international human rights instruments in general, and child rights in particular. The Constitution of Indian and the UNCRC along with all other relevant human right instruments related to education should be the guiding documents whenever for developing a policy framework for issues relating to children. This should be the first step towards evolving a national policy to build a national system of education for equity and social justice.
Let me conclude by raising three fundamental questions that are crucial for building a national system of education, for a larger debate across the country;
- Does this draft report to evolve a national education policy stop the weakening, closing or merger of government schools to ensure equitable quality education to all children?
- Does this draft report promise the holistic implantation of the Right to Education Act by adhering to raise the infrastructural, teacher-related and curricular standards of government schools to at least those of the Kendriya Vidyalaya’s (Central Schools), within a time-bound period as a first step towards establishing neighborhood common school system as recommended by NPE, 1968 and reiterated by the NPE, 1986 (As modified in 1992)?
- Does this draft report in principle adopt a policy norm to recommend that everyone receiving money or benefit in any other form from the government, send their children to neighbourhood government schools as a step to address and remove the existing inequalities and segregation in government schools as pronounced by honourable Allahabad High Court in August, 2015?
The author is a Senior Fellow and Programme Head, Universalisation of Equitable Quality Education Programme at the Centre for Child and the Law, National Law School of India University, Bengaluru.
Image Credits – The Diplomat