One of the first steps taken by the newly elected BJP government was to put up on the public domain the draft National Educational Policy (NEP) 2019.
The draft claims that the aim of the Policy is to attempt “to create a new system that is aligned with the aspirational goals of 21st Century education, while remaining consistent with India’s traditions and value systems”. Its aim is to transform India into a “global education hub” over the next 5 years.
Workers, peasants and working people across the country aspire that their daughters and sons should get good quality education and find a means of livelihood that enables them to ensure a decent standard of living for themselves and their families. Our youth aspire to acquire the most modern education and skills that will equip them to deal with the technological and social challenges of the 21st century. This aspiration remains unfulfilled.
A serious study of the Draft National Education Policy 2019 brings out that while it claims to be something “new”, “a break from the past”, it does not address but actually covers up the actual causes that have prevented this aspiration from being fulfilled, even 72 years after independence from colonial rule. It is clearly not a policy to eliminate the actual economic, political and social conditions that remain a roadblock in the path of achieving this deep and long-standing desire of our people.
It is a well-recognised fact that the most fundamental problem in education in our country is the utter lack of a universal, state-funded and state-administered good quality, comprehensive school education system in all parts of the country.
The state school education system that was set up in the 50s -60s has been systematically and deliberately neglected by successive governments. Government schools are deprived of funds, infrastructure, libraries, laboratories, teachers, non-teaching staff and other essential requirements. Guest teachers and para teachers employed on a casual basis at a fraction of the stipulated wages are routinely performing the work of teachers as well as non-teaching staff in a majority of the state run schools.
Enrolment of students in government schools, as a proportion of the population, has dropped sharply over the years. The difficulty of travelling long distances, absence of neighbourhood schools, absence of teachers in the schools, lack of drinking water and functioning toilets, especially for adolescent girls, unavailability of books and stationary, poor infrastructure, lack of school buildings, class rooms, etc. are some of the causes for this, which have long been recognized.
Private schools teaching in English medium and catering to the relatively better off section of working people have flourished. They have been provided subsidized public land at prime locations in the cities, subsidized water and electricity, but these schools charge exorbitant fees from students, in the name of providing “quality education”.
The destruction of government schools has led to the mushrooming of private schools of dubious quality claiming to address the demand of poor families for quality education for their children. Many of them do not have trained teachers. Poor families send their children to such schools with the false hope that they would receive English medium education and have a bright future.
Policies of education of earlier governments and the more recent law on right to free and compulsory education, the Right to Education Act 2009, have acknowledged these problems. Lofty plans have been put forth for their elimination as well as deadlines set for meeting the stated targets. The draft NEP 2019 does more of the same. The deadlines in each of the earlier cases have been systematically shelved; the problems have remained and grown more acute. The need and demand of our people for a universal, state funded, quality school education, accessible and affordable for all, has remained a distant dream. Side by side, private school education has become a flourishing and highly profitable business.
Privatisation of government schools has been pushed by the government over the past 5-6 years through the so called PPP (public private partnership) model. Under this model, the state provides the infrastructure and resources for operating the schools and thereafter hands it over to the private partner to run. The private partner will have a say in setting the curriculum, in admission of students, deciding the fee structure, salaries, selection criteria and working conditions of teachers and other staff, etc. It is obvious that private businesses would take over only such schools which can be run as profit making businesses. Privatisation of government schools has been vigorously opposed by teachers unions and students all across the country.
The draft NEP 2019, like initiatives of earlier governments for school education, envisages the creation of “model schools” or “innovation schools”, where a handful of selected state-run schools in big cities are provided with high class infrastructure, smart class rooms, etc. However, only a miniscule fraction of students will benefit from these. It will not fulfil the need for providing universal, good quality education to all.
Rather than seriously developing and expanding the state funded school system to make it really universal, accessible and affordable for people, the draft NEP 2019 puts forward proposals for further withdrawal of the state from the responsibility of ensuring universal education. It openly advocates setting up of more private schools which can provide the latest educational and communication tools, running schools on PPP model, handing over state run schools to private companies, etc.
In the name of “making education accessible to all”, it emphasizes the use of modern technology and modern communication methods, including television, internet and mobile telephony, to “overcome” the problem of the lack of availability of formal schools, infrastructure and teachers. It proposes expansion of distance and open learning, introduction of massive open online courses, e-learning, e-books, access to global education portals, centralized computer-based testing and evaluation. It promotes simulation (through open distance learning; ODL) in place of actual laboratory experimentation, to avoid government investment in laboratories and equipment. It advocates multiple models of schools including home schooling and informal schooling.
Modern technology and communication methods can contribute to education provided children go to schools with adequate infrastructure and have teachers who can make use of this technology. NEP 2019 is not proposing to create such schools. Instead, the aim is to cut back state investment in school education by eliminating the need for formal schools and teachers.
As long as there are two parallel systems of education – state funded and private – there will remain two levels of education in our country. The goal of universal, affordable, quality education for all children will remain a distant dream.
University education to be further privatised
As on March 31, 2019, out of a total of 924 universities in the country, 334 were private. (See Box) A majority of these private universities have been set up over the past decade.
The draft NEP 2019 pushes for further privatization of university education in multiple ways. This will increasingly make higher education unaffordable for a large majority of the youth.
Different categories of universities
It advocates ending government grants to state run universities and colleges. They will have to take loans for their development needs, the loan to be paid back with interest in a stipulated period, by enhancing students’ fees and other ‘user charges’. It proposes to encourage a variety of “self-financed” courses, for which private faculty will be hired and students will be charged fees.
Over the years, many state funded colleges and universities across the country have been systematically destroyed due to lack of state funding and deliberate neglect by the state. Instead of measures to change this situation, the draft NEP 2019 proposes decreasing the number of state-funded higher education institutions. It advocates autonomy for colleges and universities, whereby the institution will be run by a private management, which will have the final authority in terms of deciding curriculum, students’ fees, teachers’ salaries and recruitment and working conditions. The decisions of the private management will naturally be made with the view to rake in maximum profit. The draft NEP 2019 also aims to greatly reduce the role and participation of teachers and students and their organisations in policy making and other decision making processes in higher education.
Instead of strengthening and developing the facilities and teaching staff in the central and state universities across the country, the draft NEP 2019 advocates the setting up several private universities providing “world class curriculum and technologies”, by Indian and foreign capitalist houses. The draft NEP 2019 has announced that select universities, from among the top 200 universities in the world, will be permitted to open their campuses in India.
It proposes to set up an Inter-University Centre for International Education along with an International Education Centre (IEC) within selected Indian universities. It talks of “multi-disciplinary research universities of global standards”, in order to justify this blatant opening up of higher education to the profit-hungry Indian and foreign global monopolies.
The draft NEP 2019 is clearly a draft for even more rapid and extensive privatization of university education. It aims at further enabling the Indian and foreign big capitalists to enrich themselves by entering the education sector.
NEP 2019 is an attempt to justify that the state is not duty bound to guarantee universal, accessible and affordable good quality school education as a right. It will not lead to fulfilling the aspirations of our workers, peasants and other working people for universal, affordable quality school education for our children.
NEP 2019 will make higher education out of reach for an even greater majority of youth. It invokes the names of Nalanda and Takshashila, while hiding the reality that its actual aim is to fulfill the greed for higher profits of the Indian and foreign capitalists, instead of fulfilling the aspirations of the youth for knowledge, enlightenment, progress and a better life.
NEP 2019 shows that the present government, like its predecessors, has no intention of ensuring universal, affordable quality school education for all. It has no intention of ensuring that the sons and daughters of workers and peasants will enjoy the fruits of university education. It views education from the view point of the capitalist class as yet another arena for maximum profits.