Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Some Thoughts on National Education Policy Draft

By Rajesh K P,


The Draft National Education Policy (Committee for DNEP 2019) is a vision document which aims at a major overhaul of our present education system — school as well as higher education. The document is very detailed and gets into every aspect of the education system including governance, regulation and accreditation. With the mention of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE), there is a significant change in the way we look at foundational education. There is an emphasis on revamping teacher education with higher education reforms providing ways to achieve these goals. Talking of higher education, one could see that the policy document aims at a significant revamp of the higher education system. Two major policy documents with regard to education in recent times were the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) in 2005 and Right To Education (RTE) in 2008. ECCE is expected to make its way into the RTE Act, while NCF could see a significant direction
change with the new policy.

The vision looks grant. Capturing what National Education Policy (NEP) sets in motion is an arduous task. However, there are some aspects which call for attention. First one is the incorporation of ECCE into the thinking on education and the potential positive impact it could have on early education. Another is the aspect of regulation, which is repeated in the document as “light, but tight”  Committee for DNEP 2019). The institutions which are going to be setup to ensure this lighter version of regulation do not appear to be light in terms of size and powers. This would require a closer look. The third aspect is the question on underrepresented groups (URGs) and how inclusivity is going to be addressed in the new landscape of education, higher education in particular. To conclude, we will also see some interesting use of vocabulary in the policy document. Does it have a political tinge which favours the regime in power?

Early Childhood Care and Education — a Welcome Beginning

“Every child in the age range of 3-6 years has access to free, safe, high quality, developmentally appropriate care and education by 2025” (Committee for DNEP 2019). This is how the objective statement on ECCE reads. The significance of this is the acknowledgement that cognitive development in the early ages is fundamental to the outcomes during the latter part of your education. Those who miss out early, tend to miss out altogether. There is an emphasis on improving the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER), which is pretty poor in India compared to developed nations and even BRICS. A high percentage of dropouts is an indication of the problems which exist during the early development of a child and the reasons for this are many. Kids born into less privileged social groups fail to get the necessary attention from their parents, nutritious food in adequate amount and fail to develop the necessary social skills to further help them in education. To ensure that this is available to
all kids in the country, this policy proposes to include “free and compulsory quality pre- primary education for all 3-6-year old” (Committee for DNEP 2019). This is quite remarkable and could prove to be a major step in ensuring “equality of outcome” when it comes to early education. The restructuring of the school education system to 5+3+3+4 with five years of foundational phase restates the stress given in the policy for the ECCE aspect. The foundational phase will have more activity-based learning and the play school type of curriculum could prove to be innovative enough to achieve the ECCE goals. Improved midday meal scheme could take care of the nutritional aspect of early childhood care. Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) linked with Anganawadi system as had some success in this area and the learnings from the implementation of this could provide valuable guidance on ECCE aspect.

Light, but Tightly Controlled?

The idea of ECCE looks significant in terms of vision as well as implementation and it would appear that the concept of “light, but tight” regulation might turn out to be similar — till one tries to go deep into the details. There is an entire chapter dedicated to explaining the structure of Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog (RSA) — a new constitutional body which would be controlling almost all aspects of education including regulatory and governance aspects. Each state will setup its own RSA which would then be controlled by the RSA at the Centre. School education regulation would be with the state education commissions, controlled by the national education commission which is the overarching body. These state education commissions do not appear to be autonomous bodies and are tightly controlled by the RSA. This could prove to be a constitutional hurdle since education appears in the concurrent list with states having significant decision-making powers. The policy document proposes to constitute RSA through an act in Parliament and if RSA is to have the powers mentioned in the document it has to have an impact on the ‘concurrent’ nature of legislation on education. It would also be interesting to see how a centralised governance system could remain light and tight. The proposed regulatory bodies report to the RSA, which also has multiple standing committees, and another Joint Review and Monitoring Board (JRMB).

Changing(?) Ideas on Affirmative Action?

Autonomy in higher education is a frequent demand from several quarters. Various groups call for greater autonomy for different reasons. The presence of a large and powerful body under RSA — National Higher Education Regulatory Authority (NHERA) with the sole responsibility of regulating higher education, and National Research Foundation that could potentially call the shots on what to research and what not to — we are looking at a potentially not-so-autonomous higher education. While things appear that way when it comes to day-to-day educational activities, private institutions seem to enjoy autonomy in terms of admission and fee structure. In terms of admission, they are not bound to abide by the existing reservation norms based on caste groups and the only criterion seem to be with respect to the economic status of the family. Private institutions are free to decide their fee
while providing scholarships based on, again, the income status. With the potential of seeing an increase in participation of the private sector (Shankar 2016) in education, this autonomy could prove detrimental to the caste groups — SCs, STs and OBCs in particular. Given that GER further declines when we consider caste groups, this could have a negative impact on inclusivity and could potentially undo the positives we might achieve as part of ECCE.

Casteism and Secularism — Glaring Omissions?

Implicit endorsement of an economic basis for affirmative action is diagonally opposite to what the Constitution envisioned while talking about a social revolution that would bring about an inclusive society. Talking about the Constitution, one cannot ignore the fact that DNEP document does not invoke secularism even while talking about constitutional principles. There is a mention about patriarchy and racism (Committee for DNEP 2019) as social issues which would be discussed in the curriculum, but casteism fails to make an entry into the document. One could argue that these are not intentional and a mention of a broad spectrum of values could cover these; but talking about inclusive education without the mention of caste and religion is as meaningless as it can get, especially in the Indian context. Given the controversies we have had over NCERT text books, specifically in the recent past (TheWire, March18,2019), the apprehensions over certain omissions are justified.

Great Vision, but…

The 480-page long document is a significant effort and a lot of suggestions have the potential to transform the education sector for good. However, the power of RSA and the potential it has to encroach on the autonomy of institutions could sound as a warning. On one hand, we talk of autonomy, yet NRF could still dictate terms on research topics. The concept of topics of national interest could be further interpreted by these authorities in a way that suits the aspirations of a political regime. The idea of a liberal education could become real only when educational institutions could enjoy greater autonomy. Breaking down the entry barrier is the way to increase inclusivity, but we cannot get there by ignoring social disparities which are largely at play (Shankar 2016). RSA’s potential to override the federal nature of education- related legislation is also a worrying sign. These sections would require a rethink keeping the constitutional provisions in mind, if we were to achieve the goals stated in this omnibus.

(Rajesh K P was a Research Intern at Centre for Public Policy Research. Views expressed by the author is personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research)

References

1. Committee for DNEP. 2019. Draft National Education Policy. New Delhi: Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India.
2. NCERT to drop chapters on caste struggles, colonialism from class 9 history book. 2019. The Wire, 18 March. Accessed on 19 March 2019 at https://thewire.in/education/ncert-history-textbook-caste-struggles-colonialsm.
3. Shankar, Apoorva. 2016. Role of private sector in higher education. PRS Legislative Research. January. https://www.prsindia.org/policy/discussion-papers/role-private-sector-higher-
education.

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