Six reasons why SFI thinks the New Education Policy will destroy Indian education as we know it

The leftist organisation submitted its feedback and suggestions on the Draft New Education Policy to Union Minister of Human Resources Development at his office in the Parliament on July 29.
Image of SFI cadres used for representational purpose (Photo | Facebook)
Image of SFI cadres used for representational purpose (Photo | Facebook)

The Students Federation of India (SFI) submitted its feedback and suggestions on the Draft New Education Policy to Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, Union Minister of Human Resources Development at his office in the Parliament on July 29. Rajya Sabha MP Elamaram Kareem also joined the SFI delegation in support of their position on the Draft NEP. 

"We have also mentioned how different proposals in the document is exclusionary in nature for the deprived sections and will have an adverse effect on many states. We demand to stop implementing the NEP and initiate a larger democratic process of study and consultation with different sections in the society, including the student organisations and democratically elected student unions," said Mayukh Biswas, General Secretary of the SFI.

Why they don't like NEP

The SFI said that they have recognised that the "integral democratic processes, constitutional outlooks and progressive approach" were missing in the making of the policy draft which has made it nothing but ill-prepared. Moreover, they claimed that the time period — less than two months — given for the public to study the 484 page-long (in English) document (and in Hindi about 650 pages) for submitting their feedback was insufficient. "In fact, the document has not been made available in different regional languages which itself makes large participation of people impossible," read a document released by the student organisation to explain their stand.

The SFI has put forward six major reasons why they thought the NEP was not enough:

Attack on Federal Character of the country and education

The NEP proposes to create an “India-centred” education system that will lead to the creation of an “equitable and vibrant knowledge society”. But the student leaders think that many of the proposed structural changes are contradictory to the actual sense of this. The NEP does not consist of proficient suggestions to achieve this, rather goes absolutely against the spirit of ‘Indianness’ in the education sector.

"The idea of ‘Indian-Centred’ education need not be completely isolated from all other orientations emerged in foreign lands, rather it should be an amalgamation of the deferral characters, democratic ethos and vibrant diversity of the country in every aspect. But the NEP has copied many of the failed neo-liberal experiments from the global experiences and heavily neglected the divergent plans and programmes the people of India need according to the specific conditions of their societies," said the SFI.

They welcomed the recommendation of renaming the HRD Ministry as the Ministry of Education. But added that just a renaming will lead to no progressive change unless a concrete plan is made to ensure fruitful functioning of the entire system. The proposed National Education Commission headed by Prime Minister will shape the entire education system into a tool in the hands of the supreme political leadership of the country, they said. 

School System

The NEP proposed that autonomous school boards will be responsible for the decentralised management of school clusters. This includes teacher appointments, school structure, academic calendar and time table, curriculum, standards and exams etc. At any point, the SFI claimed, this cannot be managed under one centralised system owing to the diversity in different areas.

"The draft proposes a formal schooling system from the age of three. This is in contradiction with the globally accepted norm that formal schooling should be after the age of five. ‘Early childhood education and pre-schooling’ is only a preparative phase before actual schooling. Integrating it with the formal schooling would not bring any positive outcome, instead, it would reverse the welfare role played by the Anganwadi in the healthy development of children. The draft ignores the contribution made by the Anganwadi system in improving the health and nutrition of children," the SFI added.

Providing an “exit” point from Class VIII itself without demanding a complete ban on child labour is problematic as the current child labour laws allow children to work in “family” enterprises from 10 years onwards, reinforcing both caste-based occupations and economic exploitation.  This will have a huge social implication and violation of child rights.

The SFI had applauded the NEP's proposal provide adequate nutrition to all students up to Class 12. "This is a positive approach and already been successfully running in states like Kerala. But more clarity is needed on which department and authorities will be made responsible and also the legal mechanism needed to be introduced for the transparent functioning of the mid-day meal scheme," they added.

Campus Democracy

The student organisation demanded that they were disappointed that there is not even a single point about campus democracy and democratic rights of the students in the entire document of the NEP. "Education has an important objective of strengthening democratic values and training the new generation to be potential contributors to a democratic society. Therefore it is also crucial to ensure that students and researchers enjoyed all democratic rights guaranteed by the very constitution of India. Students and researchers should never be treated as secondary citizens inside the educational institutions and should be allowed to perform all democratic activities in an atmosphere of zero surveillance," read the document.

"We demand there must be legislation by the Parliament of India to protect the campus democracy and free and fair elections of students unions in all educational institutions, irrespective of public or private," it added.

Social Justice

The SFI said that there was an absence of measures sufficient to address the question of social justice in higher education. There has been a number of incidents, they added, of discrimination against the students belonging to socially oppressed communities in the higher education institutions reported in recent time.

"Caste discrimination and violence are increasing in the education sector. Reservation is not filled in many of the institutions including the central universities. We demand a special chapter in the education policy to comprehensively address this issue and also propose a stringent law against any kind of caste discrimination inside the institutions," the SFI added.

"The NEP 2019 has been utterly insensitive towards the issues and needs of the people with disabilities. The draft which claims to be inclusive uses the term 'Children with Special Needs', a term rejected by persons with disabilities themselves. It not only fails to provide Braille or audio version of the draft but also shows no concern of the organisations that work for the betterment of disabled students. In fact, the role of special schools which are run mostly by NGOs is being neglected in the draft," the student organ added.

The commercialisation of education, being the central agenda, the SFI claimed that the draft pushes the disabled children who mostly come from poor socio-economic background to further deprivation and discrimination. 

Though the draft indicates the necessity of “changing mindsets and halting harmful practices to foster gender equity and inclusion", any explanation about what these "harmful practices" are, remain vague. Moreover, any kind of mentioning about sexuality or alternative sexual orientations fails to find a place in this 21st-century document.

Undermining Independent Research

The NEP proposes to establish a National Research Foundation (NRF) which will be a new apex body set up to facilitate research. Besides providing funds, it has also stated that NRF will create a mechanism for monitoring and mid-course corrections. "This poses a serious concern over the independent nature of upcoming researches. It also undermines the civic or societal role of higher education," the SFI said. Through its Governing Board, the NRF is supposed to act as a liaison between researchers and the government helping to ensure that the most urgent national issues of the day are well-studied by the researchers. "It is unclear that what all topics/research problems come under the purview of this ‘national issues’. More government intervention than an autonomous academic exercise is to be expected, claimed the SFI leaders.

Commercialisation of Education

The SFI claimed that the country's education sector has been heavily privatised over the years. Around 70 per cent of the total students in higher education in India are enrolled in private institutions, said the SFI and added, "There is no concrete proposal in the NEP which addresses the issues of commercialisation of education. Rather it proposes more of a free hand and autonomy to the private institutions. There are also proposals for the government helping the private institutions to open their campuses in other countries. All these are to attract more students to private institutions and to help the government for further withdrawal from spending on education."

The SFI does not think that the NEP offers any kind of guidance on how to reform the education field in order to strengthen the fundamental ethos of democracy. "Even though ‘democracy’ is mentioned "superficially" in some places, the words ‘secular’ or ‘secularism’ are not found anywhere in the draft. The report doesn’t have anything to say about the democratisation of the academic field and the development of a comfortable atmosphere where students from various backgrounds could confidently engage in academic activities.  The draft could cunningly ensure the agenda that the students always remain as second class citizens in academia," explained the document.

(This article was originally published on EdexLive)

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