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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 38, New Delhi, September 5, 2020

Aggressive Privatization May Accentuate Exclusion Further | D. M. Diwakar

Friday 4 September 2020

by D. M. Diwakar∗

The National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) was approved by the government of India in its cabinet on July 29, 2020, after a gap of more than three decades. This NEP2020 is a concise final report of about 65 pages out of 477 pages of the Draft New Education Policy 2019 (DNEP2019), which was prepared by an 11-member committee, headed by Dr K. Kasturirangan, a former Chairman of the ISRO, Bangalore. I have already written an article on DNEP 2019 in Mainstream earlier. This article is intended to understand the NEP 2020, which appears generous to accommodate bunch of good words with choicest rhetorical expressions, such as quality universal education, that too in mother tongue, equitable access to education, inclusive, education as public goods, autonomy, romanticism of Indian tradition, values and prides, quality higher education and research, principles and visions, etc., which bagged very high expectations too. However, it earned a little appreciation with contradictory provisions of aggressive privatization and digitization. This 65 page report uses 32 times the words private and often uses public and/or private interchangeably.

Needless to mention that education being one of the important instruments for social reconstruction and social change, education policy is a reflection of a vision of a social order that a society cherishes to achieve. This vision is generally built on perceived ideals, which change with the growing consciousness of society. This NEP 2020 in reference claims to be rooted in ancient Indian ‘knowledge’, ‘tradition’ and ‘ethos’. It is worth mentioning here that popular perception of ideals rooted in literature of Indian tradition (i.e., Shruti, Smriti, Upanishads, etc.,) may be traced broadly as peace and universalization of happiness, healthy lives, welfare, away from discrimination, scarcity, crises and sorrow ingrained in traditional value system. However, it was also the perception (in Subaltern and Folk literature,) that our society has been divided into several castes and class and a large section of society remained historically discriminated despite having a legacy of composite learning from inter alia Vedvyas, Valmiki, Shukrcharya, Shambuke, Kalidas, Buddha, Kabeer, Narayan Guru, Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule, Periyar, Sahuji Maharaj, Gadge, Ambedkar, Tagore and Gandhi, etc., who have their visions of social order. Although this NEP 2020 claims, a vision rooted in Indian ‘ethos’, surprisingly this Indian ‘ethos’ and wisdom of composite tradition has neither found a place in NEP 2020 nor there is clarity about Indian ‘ethos’.

It is worth mentioning here that Baba Saheb Bhimrao Ambedkar was influenced by the values of the French Revolution, i.e., Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, a vision of social democracy. These values of the French Revolution have become so universal that no society can now publicly refuse to acknowledge. These values were perceived long back by Mahatma Buddha and Kabeer, Narayan Guru, Mahatma Phule and Jyotiba Phule, before Ambedkar took it up. Rabindranath Tagore advocated for inclusive vernacular education well connected with nature for local and global context. Viswa Bharati became a monumental experiment for modern education system. Mahatma Gandhi brought this vision into broader socio-political spectrum. He developed a vision of non-violent social order of Mahatma Buddha and a corresponding education system, i.e., Nayi Talim, a life cycle education. This vision was formulated during freedom struggle after national level discussion and deliberation at Vardha Conference in 1937 and subsequently a committee headed by Zakir Hussain was constituted to draft education policy for independent India.

The National Education Commission (1964-66) headed by D. S. Kothari also commissioned many studies and after informed deliberations education policy was framed. However, unlike Kothari Commission Report, Kasturirangan Committee lacks such intellectual exercises and informed bases for this NEP 2020. Like DNEP2019 this final NEP2020 report has retained its structure, which has been divided into four parts. Part one deals extensively with school education since early child care, pedagogy, teachers, inclusive and equitable education, rights and protection besides proposals for what to teach, how to teach, numbers, languages, curriculum framework, diversity, school cluster, accreditation, etc. Part two discusses higher education along with liberal arts, quality, learning environment, capacity building for teaching and research, hard and soft infrastructure, equity and inclusion, vocational education, effective governance, leadership and regulations. Part three deals with additional key focus area, such as professional education, adult education and promotion of Indian languages, arts and culture, integration of technology, ensuring equity in digital education. And part four focuses on strengthening Central Advisory Board of Education, financing affordable and quality education to all, and implementation.

The policy claims that earlier policies were focused on equity and access but this policy is full of all good words for all-round development of education, such as, recognizing, identifying, and fostering unique capabilities of the student, achieving foundational literacy and numeracy, flexibility, integrated, multi-disciplinarity and holistic, emphasis on conceptual understanding, creativity and critical thinking, ethics and human and constitutional values, multilingualism, life skills, extensive use of technology, diversity and local context, full equity and inclusion, synergy, integrity, transparency and efficiency, autonomy, governance and empowerment, outstanding research and continuous review, rootedness and Indian pride, education as public goods, substantial investment for strong, vibrant and public education system, encouragement and facilitation for true philanthropic private and community participation in education. These bunches of good words sound extremely rhetorical without any direction of social order and with contradictory provision of agressive private investment.

This NEP 2020 has many positive propositions, which received appreciations but those propositions lose grounds when this policy depends heavily on philanthropic private initiatives. This claims to facilitate a liberal approach to education aimed at transforming the education system to bring in high-quality education and research for national development aligning with global sustainable development goals. It accepts all good words with noble intentions for education, such as education as a public service, universal quality education, equitable, vibrant, not for profit and market, reforms in curricular, examination and restructuring pedagogy, breakfast in primary schools, recruitment of teachers and their capacity building, multiple language learning, school complexes, networking, curtailing drop out rates by ensuring 100 per cent gross enrolment ratio by 2030, etc.

However, this NEP 2020 is a mixed bag having many contradictory provisions as well. For instance, it proposes to replace 10+2 by 5+3+3+4 years without any appealing justification, advocates to group or nationalize with semi-autonomous status for curricular framework, pedagogy, and finance for education, which will necessarily promote marketization of education, where equity and social justice inevitably will be compromised. Proposal for the pairing of public and private school is a dangerous proposition to access public resources. This policy did not forget to recommend emphatically that private school must be encouraged (NEP2020: pp.31-32). However, this policy ignored the Right to Education (RTE) Act completely, as there is no such emphasis on implementation of the RTE.

This policy for higher education demarcates universities into research intensive, teaching intensive and degree granting autonomous colleges with all subjects and thousands of students. At the same time it recommends for national test for admission and recognizes local variations and plurality. Unless they are brought at common ground, this sounds un-implementable. It claims quality education with much more dependence on technology and open and distance learning. It allows private players, setting their fees, self-accreditation and assessment, and still aspiring liberal gestures from so called public spirited private institutions for generosity towards education becoming public services. This policy categorically recommends to ensure all legal provisions to encourage private education (p.39).

It advocates internationalization and world-class quality education with large number of students and independence for their pedagogy without making any reference to the ingredients for denoting parameters of world-class. At the same time it argues for different categories of universities also and still for a National Testing Agency and Higher Education Commission. Privatization of education and fundraising through philanthropic private partners has been emphasized. Needless to mention that corporate social responsibility (CSR) has enough vulnerability, knowing fully that CSR violation is not a crime now, as the government has already announced in Atmnirbhar Bharat Abhiyan package. This report, on the one hand, recommends for entry of foreign universities in India for global integration (p.39) but it delinks research from teaching and under graduation. Moreover, commitment to excel in research a provision of direct admission to Ph.D has been proposed and there is the proposal to do away with initial training for research through an M. Phil programme, which prepares not only for Ph. D. but also for community-based organisations. At the same time, it emphasizes community participation in education too.

The Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) is conspicuously missing in the list of coordinating national agencies for research. Proposal for Higher Education Commission of India, National Higher Education Regulatory Council and proposal of a single National Entrance Test by a Central Agency is another paradox and efforts to centralize educational governance, particularly when the committee recognizes the need of autonomy and diversity in education in forms, contents, curriculum framework, pedagogy, regional language, art and culture. Thus, the NEP 2020 appears a bag full of everything in a dark tunnel with or without a logical end and informed direction. This is precisely why this report is broadly a bundle of good wishes and lacks the backing of evidence like earlier education policies.

The NEP claims to be inclusive but constitutional social categories, such as, SC/ST/OBC/Minorities are conspicuously replaced by socio-economically deprived groups. This NEP 2020 claims that it has derived guiding light from the Indian rich heritage of knowledge, wisdom and truth. But surprisingly, subaltern streams and heritage of knowledge, such as, Valmiki, Shambuk, Shukracharya, Buddha, Kabeer, Raidas, Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule, Sahuji Maharaj, and Ambedkar, etc., who emphasize on inclusive education for liberation, are conspicuously missing even for the sake of mentioning their names if not ideas at all.

Spread of vocational education is very poor in the country. Mahatma Gandhi emphasized education through vocational skills (i.e., learning by doing) and not vocational education as such, right from the beginning, but it is not vocational education in isolation. The Gandhian framework of education emphasizes on vocational skills for entering into the ocean of knowledge not letters and numbers. This NEP fails to capture the depth of that vision and spirit and emphasizes on numeracy and literacy. Moreover, this NEP 2020 sets goal of reaching 50 per cent coverage of vocational education by 2025, which is merely 5 per cent today. No mechanism has been suggested for this highly ambitious target.

Proposal to spend 6 per cent of GDP on education is not a new recommendation. It has been pending since Kothari Commission and this policy also reiterated and acknowledged that in 2017-18 only 0.69 per cent of GDP was spent on research and innovation and 4.43 per cent on total education. Needless to say that the situation is quite blink to increase funding on education, when economic situation of the country has become worst ever after series of disasterous macro policy interventions, such as, Demonetisation, Goods and Services Tax (GST), and unplanned lockdown of the economy after corona virus pandemic. Demonetisation brought financial emergency and unprecedented loss of jobs, which affected the demand of the economy heavily. This was further aggravated by unprepared implementation of GST. The revenue of the government has been in precarious condition to such extent that the Government is exploring to refuse legal binding to compensate states for revenue losses because of GST implementations.

I have already dealt at length on failures of Government to handle Novel Corona Virus 2019 (nCOV19) sensitively, in my earlier article in Mainstream which resulted into mass unemployment and poverty. This has serious implications on demand, investment, employment and drastic decline in revenue collection. Provisions in the Union Budget have become meaningless, as Government of India has no money to spend on development expenditure, therefore, it has announced moratorium on new projects. Mishandling of Government of India has brought the economy into unprecedented crises, which it is taking a lame excuse in the name of act of God. Basically it is inefficient and uninformed policy decisions of the Government, which has forced the people of India into uncalled for sufferings. Even without COV19 the economy of India was sliding down.

In order to meet committed expenditure, the government has been leasing/selling/auctioning public enterprises one after another to meet basic commitments of establishment cost. Rail, Civil Aviation, BSNL, ISRO, BARC, etc., have already opened for private players. One needs to deliberate that people of India elect their government for five years and the government is leasing public sectors to private players for 30 to 50 years. Who will be accountable? Whether the government has mandate to sale the country? The fact remains that the Government of India is not in a position to pay the salaries of its employees and has already announced cut as well. The dearness allowances and increments have already been frozen. Hence, in such a situation higher investment as has been envisaged in the NEP2020 will come from private sectors. The NEP2020 has opened the gate for it and privatization of education will go with higher speed, which will further exclude deprived section from the access to quality education. Self-finance courses have already destroyed educational environment in the universities. Not only premises of schools, their land and infrastructure but also that of colleges and university will also be opened for private players.

Therefore, the claims for equity and inclusion remained mere rhetoric. Thus, to be safe, one may say that this NEP 2020 lacks a proper vision as to what is to be achieved by implementing this policy and what kind of social order this policy wants to build up does not match. It remains a mix bag of everything sounds good without any clear direction. However, fact remains that this policy is clearly directed for privatization with rhetoric of universal education, public services, equity, inclusion, romanticizing Indian pride to create illusions, which will easily camouflage the inherent dark side of profit motive of private business of education.

∗ Professor & Head, Division of Economics & Agriculture Economics, Former Director, A N Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna, Email: dmdiwakar[at]yahoo.co.in

References:

 Government of India (2020): National Education Policy 2020, Ministry of Human Resource Development, New Delhi.

 Government of India (2019): Draft National Education Policy, MHRD.

 Diwakar, D. M., (2019): Envisioning Gandhi in Draft New Education Policy in India, Mainstream, Vol. LVII, No. 43, October 12.

 Diwakar, D. M., (2020): NCoV19 and Selling India Inc. Model of Self-Reliance with Local Rhetoric, Mainstream, Vol. LVIII, No. 25, June 6.

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