Sachin N, June 26, 2016

The crucial question is, will the New Education Policy, 2016, empower all who are eligible for education. With a tagline that exhorts to ‘Educate, Encourage, Enlighten’ and a commitment to realise ‘knowledge, qualification and employment’, this 230-page report by the five-member committee headed by former Cabinet secretary T S R Subramanian makes an interesting read.

To expect this committee to directly confront the government on its biased understanding of education was unrealistic, but many remained hopeful about an affirmation of the constitutional vision of an inclusive, equitable, secular and scientific education.

Instead, from what is available, one is forced to say that this report is evasive at best and toothless in general, while unquestioningly accepting the neoliberal paradigm of commodified education. It envisions nothing to arrest the private loot in education and hides behind the right-wing dogmas of vacuous nationalism and value orientation.

In a country where only 3.5% of the GDP is allotted to education, where four out of 10 students who join Class I fail to complete Class VIII, even with the recent no-detention policy, where caste, class and gender disparity restricts access to education, it is criminal to list four core objectives of education for the coming years in the order of priority as “building values, awareness, knowledge and skills”. Such an understanding posits that the values that can be or that are to be built are prior to knowledge formation, that is, values mandated by the system of the day is to be uncritically accepted, while creation of knowledge that should produce values can wait.

A great opportunity is lost when the recent Allahabad High Court judgment, the most radical and transformative directive to emanate from a constitutional body in the current times regarding school education, is only cursorily mentioned once to lament the poor quality of teaching in government schools. The committee spectacularly fails to assess the corrective impact of this judicial intervention that mandates all government and public personnel to send their children to government schools.

If implemented strictly, it would certainly rejuvenate the crisis ridden public school system and deliver it from the shadows of increasingly privatised system of schooling and tuition centres. That this committee did not look at this opportunity of corrective introspection in any detail even when there are everyday reports of thousands of government schools being shut down across the country, indicates the extent of the charade in public policy.
The most carefully articulated position in this report concerns ‘no-detention policy’ and regulation of post-school entrance examination system. Six years of implementation of no-detention up to Class VIII is rethought and this policy is now restricted up to Class V, while students in Class V up to Class VIII get three official chances to get promoted.

No concrete proposal

In the case of college education, the report proposes a national, discipline-wise entrance examination for admission to colleges. This seems  tentative as there is no concrete proposal to rein in or regulate the shadow education industry of private tuition and coaching centres that will not be wiped out even with limited number of exams.

The report also stays away from promoting the controversial four-year degree programme or universalisation of choice-based credit and semester system in higher education. Likewise, the report seeks integration of skill learning as a separate component at the school level, essentially by private training providers under the National Skill Qualification Framework and in tune with Skill India Mission, to formalise the greater vocationalising of academic curriculum.

Neighbourhood public schools will continue to be neglected, quality of learning in schools and colleges will continue to suffer, private institutions will continue to thrive, capitation, donation and tuition fee will increase, education will become more stratified and hierarchical, as the poverty of the common people in terms of financial resources and access to education is matched only by the poverty of philosophy in the report.

Whether this report empowers everyone while educating, encouraging and enlightening the people to achieve equitable living is the litmus test of this report, which it will certainly fail given the shape of the available document.

The ministry has not made the report public. It shouldn’t delay as this is very much in line with the current government’s policies of greater privatisation and indoctrination. It is for the common people to fear the portents of New Education Policy, 2016 that doesn’t dare to call out the lie of ‘resource crunch’. The report is couched in the same reform rhetoric of many of its predecessors of the last three decades without addressing the reasons of failure or the nature of the reforms from the point of democratic, equitable, qualitative and liberatory education.

(The writer teaches at Dyal Singh College, New Delhi. He is an elected member of the University of Delhi Academic Council and a member of All India Forum for Right to Education)


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