The National Education Policy, 2020 (NEP2020) has been approved by the Union Cabinet as of 29th July, 2020. The National Education Policies of 1968, 1986 and Plan of Action of 1992 preceded NEP 2020. Prior to 1976, education was a state subject. Questions have been raised as to why NEP 2020 was not presented and discussed in the Parliament (media reports).
The National Education Policies of 1968 and 1986 (modified in 1992) were based on the Kothari Commission Report of 1966. NEP 2020 draws much less on the Kothari Commission report. Post-Independence, the Kothari Commission was constituted to look at the question of reconstruction of India’s educational system in order to transform India into a modern democratic and socialistic society. The British imperialist system of education could no longer hold in India. What has been the journey of school education for Bahujan pre NEP 2020? Lets us begin with the Kothari Commission report followed by the two NEPs that have preceded NEP 2020. The term Bahujan has been explained a little later in the article.
Kothari Commission Report- An overview of the school education section
The Kothari Commission found that the existing educational system had given rise to a huge population of educated un-employed. Further that, “the under-privileged sections have a very small and disproportionate share in existing facilities in spite of the unrestricted admissions”.
The Commission observed that the educated did not want to take up ‘work’ considered primarily, ‘manual’ in nature. It said in society a distinction was made between education and work, wherein traditional occupations were considered ‘primitive’ and involving work drudgery (Comment: It appears, the fact that these occupations practised by Bahujan masses and interdependent on each other fostered social integration, self-reliance, concern for biodiversity and the environment, and informed a vibrant culture was lost on the Commission).
In this context, the Commission emphasized the need to promote scientific thinking and technology, work experience in education, and vocationalization of education. These measures would bridge the gap between the educated classes and the masses by sensitizing the educated and economically well-off classes to the realities of society and making education productive.
The Commission felt that an ‘open door’ policy at the secondary level had led to a proliferation of secondary and higher secondary schools, which were not all well equipped in terms of teachers and infrastructure requirements. And, was the cause for the rise of the educated unemployed among many of these students and those that went for higher education.
The subsequent paragraphs include recommendations for concerted action to address the issue of education to the masses (pre-independence this was happening at a small scale). The masses in India are predominantly ‘Bahujan’. The term Bahujan stands for the historically oppressed scheduled caste (SC), scheduled tribe (ST) and other backward classes (OBC) that cut across all religions in the Country. It is an umbrella term consolidating the anti-caste efforts of dalits (SC), adivasis (ST), backwards (OBC) and pasmandas (term uniting Muslim dalits, adivasis and backwards) for Bahujan empowerment.
The Commission visualized a national enrollment policy for the next twenty years that included for the first ten years of schooling, General education for all at the primary stage (of seven or eight years) keeping in view Article 45 (under Directive Principles of State Policy) of the Constitution of India that enjoined states to provide free and compulsory education to all children up to the age of 14 years. Thereafter, the Commission visualized a proportion of students will step off the school system and enter working life (about 20 percent), some more will step out of the stream of general education into different vocational courses whose duration may range from one to three years (about 20 percent), and those remaining will continue further in the stream of general education (about 60%). (Note: Article 45 now stands amended as free and compulsory education for children 6-14 years of age has become a fundamental right).
The Commission emphasized the need to vocationalize higher secondary education and to expand the vocational courses to cover about half of the total enrollment at this stage.
Educational system and the economy must work together to determine manpower needs, which the educational system must then deliver and thereafter the economy must ensure their effective employment. In brief this was the outlook of the Kothari Commission report in terms of addressing the culture of education for the sake of education, which had led to the problem of the educated unemployed.
A key recommendation of the Kothari Commission was that the government school system should be a Common School System (CSS) of public education. The CSS envisaged a diversity (including in terms of caste, creed, community and religion, social and economic conditions) of children studying in any given government school at any given point of time. The special schools would be required to admit students on merit basis as well as provide for free studentship up to a prescribed proportion for underprivileged students. The common schools would be free and maintain adequate standards.
Thus, the CSS would promote social and national integration. The existing educational system was segregating children across government and private schools, with parents who could ‘buy’ education sending their children to the private schools, which were better in quality than the government schools. This was creating inequalities in society overtime. With CSS in place private schools would automatically reduce in significance.
Educational reconstruction would aim at developing a National pool of ability by identifying and promoting talented students from all sections of the society and see them through higher college and university education/professional degrees.
Scholarships and reservations to the backward classes (Scheduled castes and Scheduled tribes) would ensure equal educational opportunity. Finally, the education budget of the Country should be 6% of GNP i.e. double of what it was (3%) when the Commission began its work.
(Comment: The CSS envisages ‘general schools’ and ‘special schools’, and does not really do away with private schools. If educational institutions are ‘same’ in all respects (Management, Budget, Teacher qualification/training/professional development, salaries, facilities, social and physical accessibility, etc) for all students in vocational and general education, and general and backward classes of society are proportionately represented in ‘general’ and ‘vocational’ education, that will make for a better model of education for addressing concerns of social and national integration and economic inequalities).
At this stage it will be useful to describe and compare the two components of any educational system, ‘General’ and ‘Vocational’, and also insert a discussion on lifelong learning, before proceeding to review implementation of Kothari Commission’s recommendations under NEP 1968 and 1986 (modified in 1992).
According to the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) “Vocational education or Vocational Education and Training (VET), also called Career and Technical Education (CTE), prepares learners for jobs that are based in manual or practical activities, traditionally non-academic and totally related to a specific trade, occupation or vocation, hence the term, in which the learner participates.” The International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) also defines vocational education in similar terms.
General education on the other hand has programmes designed to develop learners’ general knowledge, skills and competencies, as well as literacy and numeracy skills, often to prepare participants for more advanced education programmes at the same or a higher ISCED level and to lay the foundation for lifelong learning (ISCED).
Researches show that ‘General Education’ has an edge over ‘Vocational Education’. A recent study shows that “vocational education is associated with an earnings advantage in the short term. However, the initial earnings difference declines and develops into an earnings advantage for general education”; further, “vocational education also entails the risk that the demand for the student’s particular skill decreases at a future point in time. General education, however, is assumed to enhance the ability to learn new skills and to make individuals less sensitive to long-term changes in labor demand (Golsteyn, B.H., & Stenberg, A, 2017).
The early years are considered foundational for lifelong learning according to Right to Education Initiative Global Human Rights Organization). A good quality general education at school provides the stimuli for lifelong learning. “Lifelong learning is not limited to an economic outlook and learning opportunities for adults; its objectives include active citizenship, social inclusion and personal fulfillment and realisation of individual needs” (Syslo, 2004).
Reviewing implementation of school education policies pre NEP 2020 (includes my experiences in the education sector).
In view of the Constitutional directive under Article 45 to provide free and compulsory education to all children up to the age of 14 years, the Kothari Commission report had set the goal to provide good and effective primary education of five years by 1975-76 and seven years by 1985-86. However, the review of these goals in NEP 1986 showed that between 1950-51 and 1984-85 nearly 60% children dropped-out between Classes I-V and 75% between classes I-VIII despite expansion in education infrastructure.
The period following NEP 1986 (modified in 1992) saw massive efforts at overhauling all aspects of the public education system, right from education administration through academic support to local service delivery. Several schemes some with state governments and others with the Central Government with external assistance from World Bank, UNICEF, USAID, etc) were launched towards strengthening the public education system of the Country to provide quality education to all children. Scores of International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) in the Country played their own part in working through local grassroots NGOs to create demand for education in the community and demonstrating local best practices.
The result of all these efforts was a mixed one. While government apathy towards education reduced considerably and schools on the ground were increasingly less dysfunctional, however, the replication of the many innovations (multi-grade/multilevel teaching, child centered and two-way classroom transactions, children’s blackboards, use of teaching-learning materials, effective parent and community involvement in children’s education and school management respectively, education MIS, to name a few) introduced by the schemes mentioned above did not take place as desired.
Moreover, the models developed in each area of innovation themselves fell apart once external funding was withdrawn. And classroom transactions returned to the age old one-way transaction (lecture mode). In terms of what children achieved, the National Achievement Survey (NAS, that NCERT conducts) of 2017 showed one in three students in Class III could not read small text with comprehension and one in two students in Class III could not use math to solve daily life problems; the findings from the 2018 Annual Status of Education Report (ASER, an autonomous assessment) report are even more stark — only 50 per cent of children in Class V in rural India could read a Class II-level text, and only 28 per cent of Class V students could solve a division problem (Business Standard, 2020).
While the above was the achievement level of children in the government schools attended by the masses, the achievement levels of children studying in good government schools (like the Kendriya Vidyalaya) and private schools (Delhi Public School, etc) was of very high order. Don’t the common children of the Country deserve Kendriya Vidyalayas?
Low budget for education was identified as a key factor stalling the development of a strong public education system in the Country. The education budget of the Country in all these years (seven decades, 1950-51 to 2019-20) has hovered around 3.1% of GDP (estimated average), whereas the Kothari Commission report had recommended 6% of GDP to achieve the targets of educational reconstruction by 1984-85. As mentioned earlier it was 3% of GDP when the Commission began its work in 1964-66, it remains about the same today. While the public education system struggled to deliver, the private school system expanded exponentially. The Kothari Commission’s emphasis had been on strengthening the public education system, which would automatically curtail the growth of private schools in the Country.
The Right to Education Act, 2009 is considered a watershed moment for the school education system of the Country. The Act laid down the foundation for a strong public education system. The following provisions were made: Free and compulsory elementary education for all children in the age-group 6-14 years of age; re-entry into the school system of dropout and never enrolled in this age-group; norms and standards for all schools; 25% reservation of seats for economically weaker sections (EWS) and disadvantaged groups (DG) in private schools and ‘specified category’ schools like Kendriya Vidyalaya in order to make these schools inclusive; formal schooling (in a ‘physical’ school, in other words, no online school) for all; did away with all kinds of non-formal schooling that had mushroomed in the Country; did away with para-teachers; all teachers to be graduates, trained and TET (Teacher Eligibility Test) qualified; endorsed the National Curriculum Framework (2005), a qualitative curriculum stressing upon child centered constructivist approach in teaching-learning.
Following enactment of the RTE Act, 2009, the Union cabinet of India approved the Child & Adolescent Labour (Prohibition) Act in 2012, making the employment of a child below 14 years in any kind of occupation a cognizable offence, paving the way for ratification of the Act in the parliament. This would be necessary to ensure alignment of child labour laws with RTE Act, 2009.
Among the shortcomings of the Act were it did not consist of a financial commitment to effectively carry forward the various provisions of the Act. Moreover, the Act did not cover the important component of Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) for 3-6 years and secondary education. The Act also did not prescribe a Common School System as recommended by the Kothari Commission report.
NEP 1986 reviewed the task of providing vocational education to school dropouts (up to class 8 and at the secondary stage of schooling), the never-enrolled and children who do not study beyond class X. It also proposed diverting 10% students at the senior secondary stage to vocational courses by 1990. According to it, there is a distinction between vocational courses offered to school-dropouts and never enrolled and vocational courses offered at the higher secondary school stage and by technical institutes like Industrial Training Institutes (ITI). Further, while the latter two cater to the organized sector, which employs only 10% (1980) of the work force, it is the unorganized sector, which absorbs the bulk of the workforce consisting of those employed without training, partially employed or un-employed.
Further, while vocational courses at ITIs are technically at a higher level compared to vocational courses at higher secondary schools (which offer vocational courses), there are mainly some non-formal vocational centres for school-dropouts, never enrolled and those that do not study beyond class X. Thus, there is a hierarchy of vocational institutes too in the Country. Vocational Courses are also offered through the ODL mode i.e. open distance learning mode at a fee not considered affordable by many. According to NEP 1986, “opportunities for further education for students of vocational stream in +2 are almost non-existent”.
Who are the dropouts and never enrolled that enter the unorganised sector unskilled, semi-skilled, unemployed? The following two graphs answer this question. The graphs clearly demonstrate that it is primarily the Muslim, SC, ST and OBC children that make up this category. Muslim, SC, ST and OBC children have a higher dropout rate at both the primary (Classes 1-5) and Upper Primary (Classes 6-8) compared to general students. Consequently, the transition of these children from upper primary to secondary and secondary to higher secondary is also lower compared to general category children (statistics available in NEP 2020).
The out of school children category is also made up primarily of these children (see absolute figures in graph 2). Many out of school children remain never enrolled.The Muslim dropouts and Out of school children would largely come from the Pasmanda sections of the Muslim population. The Pasmandas constitute the bulk of the Muslim population according to the Mandal Commission Report and the Pasmanda Movement.
Source: Status Report of Implementation of The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (2017-18), rteforumindia.org
Source: Status of Implementation of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009: Year Five (2014-15), rteforumindia.org
The pre-NEP 2020 phase appears to have been a long struggle (60-70 years) to establish a worthwhile school educational system in the Country that would be of same quality for all. It culminated with the passing of the landmark Right to Education Act, 2009, which unfortunately has seen only 10% compliance in ten years. This percentage would have been much higher if Central and state governments had cared for Bahujan education.
Impact of NEP2020 on Bahujan school education
NEP 2020 encompasses the goal of lifelong learning. Both the general and vocational educational components of the policy are geared towards this goal. Further, according to NEP 2020, if the Country has to progress into a ‘New India’, the educational system of the Country will have to reconfigure itself. NEP 2020 notes that India sees itself as among the three largest economies of the world (rapidly changing) in the coming years. Briefly, what this means for the educational system of the Country, according to NEP 2020, is that certain responsibilities fall on it to help the Country adapt itself to the fast changing global ecosystem; India’s response to these changes is rooted in its unique culture, ethos and measures introduced for economic development; therefore the educational system of the Country has an important role to play viz. instilling in all children pride for India, further helping India achieve its economic goals; additionally, global economic and social commitments of India will have to be met and the education system of the Country has to prepare its citizens for the same.
I have tried to discuss the impact of NEP 2020 on Bahujan education below. My points are based on learning and advocacy of the education sector and concerns of Bahujan. While there are many good measures in the policy document including measures aimed at ECCE development, local and native language promotion, etc, I feel the following are some issues from the Bahujan standpoint.
- Close on the heels of the first draft of the NEP in 2016, the Child labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016 was passed. It was proposed by the same Government as has proposed NEP 2020. The amended Act allows a child up to 14 years of age to help in the family enterprise. This reverses the earlier blanket ban on child labor involving children up to 14 years of age passed by the Union Cabinet in 2012. A common field experience includes student absenteeism in schools, one major reason being that children work on own family enterprise.
- NEP 2020 equates Indian education system with the education system that produced great scholars like Charaka, Susruta, Aryabhata, Varahamihira, Bhaskaracharya, Brahmagupta, Chanakya, Chakrapani Datta, Madhava, Panini, Patanjali, Nagarjuna, Gautama, Pingala, Sankardev, Maitreyi, Gargi and Thiruvalluvar. It is not surprising that, perhaps, all of these scholars mentioned in NEP 2020 belong to the upper caste because for thousands of years Education was denied to Bahujan. It is only due to the work of Bahujan educationists like Jyotiba and Savitribai Phule, Shahuji Maharaj, Periyar, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedhkar, Maulana Asim Bihari and Dr. Abdul Qayum Ansari, and Constitutional provisions since Independence that Bahujan are able to educate themselves. NEP 2020 has failed to recognize the contributions of Bahujan educationists.
- NEP 2020 holds that teacher must be at the centre of the fundamental reforms in the education system. And then goes on to re-introduce Para teachers, volunteers, etc, into the school education system. The Right to Education Act, 2009 had done away with all kinds of Para and Contractual teachers, thereby putting pressure on governments to prioritize teacher recruitment and fill up of lakhs of teacher positions lying vacant in the Country for many years with qualified teachers – only trained graduates who had cleared TET (teacher eligibility test) could become teachers. In NEP 2020, teachers are child Tutors (in peer-to-pear learning), alumni, educated and active senior citizens, volunteers, and master instructors, in addition to TET qualified teachers proficient in local language.
- The Common School System (CSS) is not on the agenda of NEP 2020 (the earlier policies had it but it was not implemented). Hence, while a large number of government schools populated by Bahujan masses and few Savarnas will have teachers as mentioned above, who will be proficient in local language, schools like the Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV), SOE (Schools of Excellence), RPVV (Rashtriya Pratibha Vikas Vidyalaya) and other such government schools will have the best of teachers. KV teachers are recruited on the basis of their proficiency in Hindi and English language among other qualifications. SOE and RPVV in Delhi are English medium government schools. Further, there are good English medium private schools where children from affluent families study. And, then there are small private schools, etc, as well. To add to this list of schools NEP 2020 has reintroduced non-formal and alternative schools that the RTE Act had done away with. All this adds up to a very unequal school system of education, where Bahujan masses and some Savarnas find themselves at the receiving end.
- NEP 2020 speaks of implementing school rationalization/school/cluster complexes and ODL (online distance learning) mode particularly in those tribal areas, which have small schools or where it says it is difficult to establish a physical school. Compare it with the Right to Education Act, 2009, which lays down physical schools in the nature of neighborhood schools as mandatory for all children, and in the recent past on several occasions the Government was forced to reverse its decision taken in favour of school rationalization. Government schools that were closed down in large numbers were reopened. Physical schools/neighborhood schools promote access and socialization/social integration.
- NEP 2020 speaks of reduced curriculum content, multidisciplinarity, flexibility in choosing subjects, removing distinctions between curriculum and co-curriculum/extra-curriculum, academic and vocational; it emphasizes the need for children to acquire math, science, humanities and vocational skills; learning will consist of arts and sports integrated learning; the learning goal of children will be to develop critical thinking, ethics and 21st century skills. A new curriculum NCFSE 2020-21 (National Curriculum Framework for School Education, 2020-21) will be developed to guide the curriculum vision of NEP 2020. Compare it with the RTE Act. The RTE Act endorses NCF (National Curriculum Framework) 2005, which prescribes child-centred constructivist approach for developing critical thinking skills among children. According to research, “an emphasis upon teaching critical thinking skills seems a natural fit with a constructivist-based approach to learning” (Allen M, 2008).
- NEP 2020 states, Sanskrit will be offered at all stages of school and higher education. Over the years in states where Urdu is counted as a second language there has been a consistent demand for Urdu at every stage of school and higher education, which is necessary for pursuing studies in Urdu literature at higher levels of education. This demand has not been considered under NEP 2020. Further, NEP 2020 lays down promotion of classical languages other than Sanskrit through the online mode. Thus it appears Sanskrit enjoys a dominance over all other languages (classical or other-wise) in NEP 2020.
- NEP 2020 states that ‘knowledge of India’ will be offered as an elective subject in secondary school. Appears from NEP 2020 that it will include study of Sanskrit and Tribal knowledge systems. It is, however, not clear from NEP 2020 whether the proposed subject, ‘Knowledge of India’ will include the study of Pali and Prakrit knowledge systems as well, which inspire large sections of Bahujan.
- “Doing what’s right” is another important area of leaning identified in NEP 2020. However, NEP 2020 does not identify ‘annihilation of Caste’ as one of the many themes that this area of learning will cover.
- Starting with the RTE Act, 2009, the trend has been to place SC/ST/OBC in the same category as several other disadvantaged children (e.g. orphans). This has the effect of diluting the response these constitutional categories (SC/ST/OBC) deserve from the State. The RTE Act puts them in the broad category of EWS & DG (Economically Weaker Section and Disadvantaged Groups), as we know from the implementation of RTE Rules of state governments, while NEP 2020 puts them in the broad category that it terms SEDGs, (Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Groups), which like EWS & DG includes several other disadvantaged children. In the process of clubbing all disadvantaged children together, some state governments have failed to extend 25% RTE reservations to OBC, and have also applied the income criterion on SC/ST. Another issue not clear from NEP 2020 is whether the 25% RTE reservations will continue given earlier drafts of the policy document have dilly-dallied over it.
- NEP 2020 states, once internet-connected smart phones or tablets are available in all homes and/or schools digital pedagogy will be used thereby enriching the teaching-learning process with online resources and collaborations. There is no frame given in NEP 2020 by when this will happen. Well known private schools already have smart classrooms, and children from affluent families are already using online educational apps. According to a statement made by a UNESCO envoy, Forest Whitaker, in 2017, in the developing world, less than 35% people use the internet; the remaining 65% are often poor and remote communities or disenfranchised groups. An analysis shows, within developed economies, 90% of jobs require some level of digital skills. According to a UNICEF report released in 2017, only 26.42% of India’s schools have computers. Pratham’s ASER report of 2017 found 63.7% of the rural youth (age group 14-18 years) surveyed had never used the internet.
- NEP 2020 states that incentives like scholarships, conditional cash transfer, bicycles and mid-day meal will benefit largely SEDGs. There are several reports highlighting poor coverage, misuse and poor implementation of these incentives. Instead of giving these incentives the State must ensure one type of school of the level of KV, or RPVV or SOE to all children as an entitlement; alternately, do away with KVs, SOEs, RTVVs, NVSs, Private, Minority, Philanthropic, PPP schools, etc, so that all children study in the same free government schools. This has always been the Bahujan demand.
- According to NEP 2020 National Testing Agency will hold common entrance test for all children seeking admissions into undergraduate and graduate courses in higher educational institutions. Here the issue that arises is when schools are not common, why should entrance examinations be common for all students? The field experience is one that students studying in good private and government schools have always done better than those studying in the regular government schools and budget private schools in these entrance examinations. A survey is needed to estimate how many government (not including KV and like government school students) and budget school students make it to good institutes of higher learning?
- Finally, NEP 2020 is aiming at 50% learners through school and higher education gaining vocational exposure by 2025. The target in Kothari Commission report is to divert 50% learners at the higher secondary stage to vocational education. The achievement against this was 2.5% in 1980 (NEP 1986). The 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017) estimated less than 5% (age-group 19-24 years) of the workforce had received formal vocational education. NEP 2020 puts in place mechanisms to popularize vocational education; vocational education will be offered across stages of school education through higher education; vocational education students can go for higher vocational qualifications in the general stream; merging AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education) and UGC; a process for certifying vocational qualifications acquired non-formally/informally by dropouts, thus reintegrating them in the formal education system, through National Skills Qualifications Framework (NSQF). NSQF assures a framework of lifelong learning to vocational students. The NSQF has been in operation since 2013. It was first conceived in 2009. The NEP 2020 does not provide any figures as to how many students have effectively used this framework to benefit educationally and professionally.
It took a generation of 70 years for school education to get to the point of Right to Education Act, 2009. NEP 2020 has diluted many features of the Right to Education Act school education and introduced reforms that are primarily market driven, the ground demands being quite different. At the end of the day we are not getting any closer to a Common School System of school education. Unless all schools are the same, full participation in the democratic processes of the Country and elevated jobs in the labor market will be a distant dream for Bahujan.
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Naaz Khair, Development Professional and Pasmanda-Bahujan intellectual