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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 37, New Delhi, August 29, 2020

NEP 2020: Roadmap for Exclusivist Idea of India? | Biswajit Bhoi

Friday 28 August 2020

[This article is part of the New Educational Policy 2020 - Special Focus Issue]

by Biswajit Bhoi*

The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 announced by the Central Government has generated wide debate among the public and media. At a time when the government and people are concerned and struggling to protect their lives and livelihoods due to the covid-19 pandemic the government has shown undue haste to announce the NEP 2020 without even any parliamentary discussion and consultation with the states. But this has become characteristic of the present central government which has scant respect for democratic norms and has tried every effort to weaken India’s labour and environmental regulations, and pushing other reformsunder the cover of the covid-19 pandemic for the benefit of crony capitalists, real estate sector, and the corrupt.

The “vision” of NEP 2020 is “to instill among the learners a deep-rooted pride in being Indian, not only in thought, but also in spirit, intellect, and deeds, as well as to develop knowledge, skills, values, and dispositions that support responsible commitment to human rights, sustainable development and living, and global well-being, thereby reflecting a truly global citizen.”To this end, the entire “curriculum and pedagogy, from the foundational stage onwards, will be redesigned to be strongly rooted in the Indian ethos.... in order to ensure that education is maximally relatable, relevant, interesting, and effective for our students.”

The document repeatedly makes such exhortations but the “idea of India” and Indianness that it propounds appears to be quite distinct from what is usually associated with the plurality and diversity of India.India has always been identified with being open to absorbing and negotiating with philosophical, religious, cultural and technological knowledge from other parts of the world. NEP 2020 states that the “knowledge of India” will include knowledge from ancient India and its contributions to modern India and its successes and challenges, “and a clear sense of India’s future aspirations”. This leap across centuries misses the changing experiences of numerous tribal communities; the powerful anti-caste cultural ideologies, monotheistic movements and cults; and the philosophical contestations within various sects of Hinduism.

The political, cultural and technological shock of the exposure to central Asia, the arrival of Islam and the richness and complexity of its intellectual, cultural and sociological consequences that surround us in our daily lives, are also absent.

Uniformly astonishing is the neglect of the period of colonial rule and the decades-long fight of the people against colonial rule, who, united as a nation, survived the disaster of Partition and emerged as an independent, constitutional,and democratic republic. India is far greater, far more expansive, far richer in detail and far deeper in its experience of inequality and oppression than the “Sanskrit knowledge systems” theory and literature that NEP 2020 attempts to confine it to.The greatest failure of NEP 2020 is its failure to recognize the worth of the totality of our sub-continental history, culture and diminishes the very idea of a plural India that is secular India. NEP 2020 seeks to propound the Hindutva idea of a narrow and exclusivist India as against the pluralistic idea of India based on its cultural diversity and multiple identities.

An education policy that is not capable to reflect this sweep of history does itself and the youth of India grave injustice.The problem of Indian education is not in the format of education, but in the entire system itself. We need a combined effort of all the stakeholders of education to achieve the goal of education. The problem of education in India is not only with any policy but its implementation. It remains to be seen how the NEP 2020 will unfold in next ten years or so.

     Another drawback is its over-centralisation of a crucial subject like education which impacts the lives of everybody and especially the future generations. Given the diverse cultures and identities of India one would have expected that NEP 2020 would put emphasis on decentralization with states also being assigned a major role as a stakeholder. But NEP 2020 has been announced without even consulting states. When he came to power in 2014 the Prime Minister kept repeating his commitment to ‘co-operative federalism’. But in reality, every attempt is being made towards centralization and concentration of powers in the central government.

     A thrust towards privatization of education is also visible in the document. Among others it talks of encouraging the top 100 foreign colleges to open their shops in India. Whether this is to further the cause of education or facilitating profiteering is debatable. Although NEP 2020 talks of the need for greater transparency and especially in relation to fee structure it does not indicate any roadmap on how to tackle the growing malady of capitation fees by private colleges which are mostly run by powerful politicians and religious groups. Education for all will thus remain a pipe dream.

    The question regarding ensuring access to education especially for the marginalized and deprived sections does not get due attention. With education being declared as a right one would have expected that NEP 2020 would tell us how to operationalize and ensure the right to education especially for marginalised and deprived sections.

     The document calls for allocating 6% of government expenditure for education. But whether this will be sincerely implemented by the government or remains on paper need to be seen. For the present the government seems to have abandoned its game plan to thrust Hindi on the non-Hindi speaking states. The document does not spell out how to strengthen the teaching of English at the lower levels- or is this to remain as the privilege of the elites and better-off sections. It also does not spell out how the new educational system will prepare the people to meet emerging global challenges such as climate change and environmental degradation.

* (The author is Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, Central University of Odisha, Koraput, Odisha, India-763004, email-bbbiswjait9[at]gmail.com,Mob-)

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