NEP 2020: thorough re-vision or mere-vision

Dr John Mohan Razu

Education per se is not information dumping on the students from various sources or to put it simply transferring information from diverse body of knowledge domains.Asking critical questions and searching for answers—a dialectical synthesis entails theory-reflection-theory process. This process should become a closely integrated web of educational activity. The long-awaited National Education Policy (NEP), was approved by the Union Cabinet without a parliamentary debate, and with educational institutional institutions closed for months.

After thirty-four years, the Government at the Centre has proposed National Education Policy-2020, hoping to transform India as a knowledge hub. In tune to this, PM Modi said that the “NEP-2020 would transform millions of lives by making India a knowledge hub in an era where learning, research and innovation are important.” He added “NEP-2020 is based the pillars of access, equity, quality, affordability and accountability.”

It was long overdue, however PM Modi said, “It would transform millions of lives in the times to come … May education brighten our nation and lead it to prosperity.” NEP-2020 envisions by 2040 all higher education institutions to become multidisciplinary institutions. It envisages Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education from 26.3% (2018 to 50% by 2035). Towards this end, high performing Indian universities will be encouraged to set up campuses in their countries.

The selected top 100 universities in the world will be facilitated to operate in India. Tall claims, high expectations, and grand vision are reflected in the text, nonetheless, NEP failed to accommodate those sections—socially ostracized, economically downtrodden, culturally silenced, and politically disempowered. Whether it is a deliberate omission or an oversight,it is for the architects of the text to answer, but if not corrected this segment comprising of vast majority of people would experience devastative effects in the years to come.

At this juncture it is worthwhile to note the observations of Prof. Anita Rampal—usually the policy documents include a socio-historical analysis of earlier policy interventions and new challenges, but this document in two lines makes some passing references. Further, she points out: “It mentions the Right to Education (RTE), 2009, only in the introduction and later alludes to its restrictive requirements …The policy is silent on what happened in the intervening decade, and where its implementation stands, while RTE is brazenly bartered away.” 

NEP 2020,did emphasize on “outcomes” that are purely dependent on “inputs”. “Inputs”entails a number of things starting from the school/college, class rooms settings, curricula, syllabi, pedagogy, pedagogues, teaching aids, modes and mechanisms and host of other paraphernalia.Without considering these stressing on ‘outcomes’ look rather vague, impractical and non-realizable. 

Barring a few, most of the schools, colleges and higher institutions in our country have no proper ambiance, qualified teaching faculty and learning facilities.But,the draft insists on “outcomes” without taking the settings in which these institutions exist,which is rather pivotal and important. NEP-2020 in subtle ways drifting towards ‘privatization of education’ which means State is gradually withdrawing. 

It is abundantly clear as pointed out by Dr. Kumkum Roy, “This policy is also in denial of the socio-historical underpinnings of disadvantage, deprivation and exclusion, and fumbles with acronyms to obfuscate identities shaped by these realities. Dalits, other caste groups, Muslims are all clubbed under the acronym SEDG—socio-economically disadvantaged groups.”Policy document such as NEP-2020 should reflect the values embedded in the Constitution such as social justice, equality, dignity, freedom and set of others.

Education is supposed to instil values to the learners’ thought process shaping them as good citizens in words and deeds. NEP-2020 policy document ignored Dalits which would further alienate the Dalits to such a miserable state. This is why Constitution of India extends leverages for the Dalits and Tribals opening up reservations and offering employment opportunities in educational institutions.Over and above, the policy document seemed to have undermined and failed to give more importance and adequate weightage to the Tribal community as they also lag behind when it comes to education.

As pointed out by Dr. Kumkum Roy, “Equally disturbing is the passing reference to educational institutions in tribal areas, designated as ashramshalas (NEP 1.8) and envisaged as part of the Early Childhood Children Education programme. What, one wonders, will be transacted in these institutions.”Higher levels of research as of now is increasingly being controlled by the private entrepreneurs. They have huge capital at their disposal to invest for research providing needed infrastructural development. 

In such a climate Tribals and Dalits are placed in such a scenario who would obviously be eliminated and their absence in these is systematically carried out in this schema.When the State via GOI of the day keep pushing for ‘privatisation’, then the signal given imply that SEDGs have no access and should not aspire and pursue higher levels of research as the policy fails to protect these categories with pro-affirmative policies. Policies are meant either to uplift or to eliminate. Where does NEP-2020 stand?Among many buzz words, NEP-2020 uses multi-disciplinary/inter-disciplinary approach by opening a number of combinations so that the students can get into any disciplines with all sorts of combinations.

For example, NEP 11.7 spells out all disciplines with every combination but failed to incorporate or include Women’s Studies or Gender Studies, Cultural Studies, Media Studies, Dalit Studies, Studies of Discrimination and Exclusion, Environmental Studies and Development Studies—all emerged and developed over the last three or four decades. Any policy document particular that concerns matters relating to the system of education should take the Indian Constitution as a framework within which should articulate the proposals and resolutions. 

On the contrary, NEP-20 has kept aside the preamble and principles engrained in the Constitution which is posing serious concern to many. As Dr. Kumkum Roy points that “ …what happens with the Constitution — while an assortment of values are identified as constitutional, including “knowledge and practice of human and constitutional values (such as patriotism, sacrifice, non-violence, truth, honesty, peace, righteous conduct, forgiveness, tolerance, mercy, sympathy, helpfulness, cleanliness, courtesy, integrity, pluralism, responsibility, justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity)” (NEP 4.23), and there is an occasional mention of fundamental duties, one searches in vain for any allusion to fundamental rights. Are these to be erased from the memories of future generations?”

NEP-2020 is indeed a complex document laying down at least a road map for two decades or more than that but has been accepted without any debate and pushed to the public domains in such a hurry when people at large are struggling to co-up against the coronavirus. A number of holes and gaps that need to be plugged-in. Though it offers satisfaction and excitement for some, there are others who feel dejected after going through this document. Certainly, it may have brought hope and happiness to those who belong to the top rungs of the societal ladder.

For the Dalits and Tribals in particular NEP-2020 paints a bleak picture and worrisome situation. This document should be re-visited by those who are concerned about the present and future generations. The current text should go through careful scrutiny before the state governments and citizens of India endorses it—give a green signal because education is the key for self-awareness, liberation and for a just, egalitarian, inclusive and humane society.

As we celebrate yet another Independence Day let us keep in mind education is the core and foundation of any country. Education is the one that steers and navigates the country with eternal values and normative principles—this is what India is all about and it should not be tainted with political and ideological colouring.