For a government which loves celebrations, the launch of the new NEP, first time in 34 years, was rather unceremonious. Even the Balakot Strikes, which failed to hit any targets of significance, were celebrated with more wing flapping. To its credit, the policy expands the range of mandatory education from 6-14 years to 3-18 years of schooling, mandates students’ mother tongue as the medium of instruction while sticking to the ‘three language formula’, undergraduate degree will provide multiple exit options, M.Phil degree course will be done away with and higher education will be opened up to foreign players by allowing them to set up campuses here. It reads like a party manifesto, long, vague, skillful at lofty promise-making.
Our governments have never been sincere about reforming education; and the share of the union budget allocated to education has actually fallen from 4.14% in 2014-15 to 3.4% in 2019-20.
The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) comes as a grim reminder each year of the pedagogical deficiencies that our school system is a victim of. These reports have long urged play-based activities and early childhood education; the latter finds mention in the current policy.
Ostensibly, the policy has its objectives straight. “Education is fundamental for achieving full human potential, developing an equitable and just society, and promoting national development”, the first line reads. The eloquent wording will impress the tiny minority that will ever read the policy in its entirety, but the policy itself will fail to impress anyone if it fails at the same points where previous policies did.
Operationalising this policy in a way that brings real change will be a herculean task. Any reform can only be implemented with a collaborative effort from the Centre and individual states, since education is a concurrent subject. And to honour some of these, amendments to the Right to Education Act and Central/State university acts will be needed.
This government’s relationship with education does not inspire confidence about the future of the new NEP. In the past six years, history has been changed by altering textbooks. public education institutions have faced targeted attacks and government stooges have been ordained important positions at public universities. The new NEP, more covert in its intentions, prescribes that curriculum in each subject be reduced to its “core essentials”, a highly-centralised overarching body for higher education be set up, calls for a gradual phasing out of single-discipline institutions in the hope creating a vague ‘multidisciplinary’ utopia, and formulates a ‘light-but-tight’ approach to regulation based on confidence that the private sector will make honest disclosures about their operations.
Despite these issues, if the State manages to deliver what the new education policy promises within the large time frame of 20 years, it will be a laudable feat. Though, if the policy text proves to be empty words on paper and by extension, promises not meant to be kept, it would not amount to anything less than fraud.
(Full disclosure, the Editor himself has not read the policy in its entirety)