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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 43, New Delhi, October 10, 2020

Engendering the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 | Priyanca Mathur and Roshni Sharma

Friday 9 October 2020

by Priyanca Mathur and Roshni Sharma *

In the 66 pages long National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, the word ‘gender’ appears only 16 times precisely. While NEP 2020 claims to have approached gender as a ‘cross-cutting priority’ the mention of the word comes up substantially only towards the end. The single tangible commitment from the government in actualising this priority is stated in the setting up of a “Gender Inclusion Fund”, ostensibly to assist in providing quality and equitable education for all girls,  in partnership with states and local community organisations. This broader goal has been broken down and visualised in term of ensuring 100 per cent enrolment for girls in schooling by 2030 and 50 per cent enrolment in higher education by 2035. Within the goal is also the intention to improve women leadership capacity through positive civil dialogues with women leading institutions, including principals, teachers, wardens, physical instructors, and other staffs. If implemented, this will bring a record participation rate in higher education, decrease gender gaps at all levels and ensure the practise of gender equity and inclusion in society. Only if implemented to its end result.

NEP 2020 also intends to decrease the gender imbalance among teachers (especially in some rural areas), by introducing alternate pathways for female teacher recruitment without compromising on merit and qualification in terms of both education and profession. It focuses on the safety and security of school-going girls both inside and outside of the campus by asking schools have ensure harassment, discrimination, and domineer free campus before enlisting for yearly accreditation. It hopes to increase the attendance of girl children in the class by identifying social mores and gender stereotypes that prevent girls from accessing education and causing regular dropout. The Policy has stated that teachers, Anganwadi workers, and local social entrepreneurs will be trained to deliver proper counselling to girl children’s families.

Under this policy all educational institutions will be mandated to conduct awareness sessions on gender issues to break stereotyped gender roles. Alongside, importance is also given to creating harassment-free environments and equal treatment of genders, imparting legal protections and entitlements for girls and women. These trainings aim to make teachers and educational administrators aware of gender-sensitivity and inclusive classroom management. The problem is that all the above-listed measures merely look like lofty promises covering the entire gamut lacking the critical measures on how these promises will be implemented, or how the progress will be mapped against what time range, putting forth an impression that the intent behind the impressive list is weak and vague. Today in gender studies the debate is beyond the male-female binary but this policy is limited in its vision as it focusses only on female students with a brief mention on including transgender children in schools, bordering on tokenism.

Unfortunately, the Policy does not bring the transgender students within the ambit of the “Gender-Inclusion Fund”. Though, the section speaks of imparting a special curriculum for the transgender students but fails to put forth the necessary tools and methodology to adopt the same. It does not squarely address how to ensure the retention in school of these transgender students and totally misses the point that gender equality is also about boys and men and their battles with toxic male masculinity. The biggest gap is the absence of any mention of how to create gender-equal sensitive mindsets for men and boys and complete absence of any acknowledgement of the need to undo the constant socialisation of young boys to acquire the gender-stereotyped traits of ‘strength’ and ‘masculinity’. Thus the importance of having programmes that are particularly targeted towards boys along with girls and transgenders is glaringly missing. This policy is thus guilty of removing the spotlight from boys and men in establishing a gender-equal education system. The Gender Inclusion Fund cannot and must not be just for the girls.

Gender sensitisation in educational curricula must include sex education for students. But this policy fails to address the critical issue. Sex education must be made a compulsory component of the school curriculum and must include training on good-bad touch beyond mere hygiene practises and anatomical well-being. However, this policy focuses only on giving respect to women and fails to address the same for other genders, namely boys, men and transgenders. We need to address the root causes of gender-stereotyped socialisation that perpetuates gender inequality in society and mere sessions will not be enough.

Though the policy claims itself to be inclusive in nature with the aim of achieving social justice, the policy fails to broaden its approach in terms of bringing in boys, men and transgenders within the fold of gender as an identity. Further, clubbing of different socio-cultural identities with the gender identity under a particular section of the NEP results in diminishing the required attention that the policy should have given to a thorough understanding of the term gender. Thus, a more sincere and conscious effort needs to be made in the implementation and demonstration of the policy in order to build a vibrant and inclusive country, goals which lies at the heart of the NEP 2020.

* Dr. Priyanca Mathur is Associate Professor and Ms. Roshni Sharma is Ph.D Research Scholar at JAIN (Deemed-to-be University), Bengaluru

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