Wolf in Granny's Clothing: Exclusion Masquerades as Education

IF you try to read it as any more than another jumla, the Draft National Education Policy (DNEP) is little more than vinegar in an old wine bottle with a pretty label: it is yet another scheme to shut down public funded education so that the only beneficiary is the private ‘investor’.

After a span of more than 5 years, a National Education Policy has finally been presented to the public. The last date of giving feed-back to the NEP is 31st July 2019.

True to the nature of the regime under which the NEP has been proposed, the draft NEP is 484 pages of exaggeration and sweeping statements, with not an ounce of honest, socially sensitive commitment or sober research. It claims to have gone through a thorough consultation process - but no student or teacher organisation active on the issue of education was consulted. Not one. They did, however, consult with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the lumpen youth wing of the RSS.

Let us begin with quoting the philosophy behind the document as mentioned in its own preamble:  
‘We have proposed the revision and revamping of all aspects of the education structure, its regulation and governance, 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’.

As we read the entire document and connect the dots it becomes clear that in reality the revamping of all aspects of existing education systems is aimed at paving the way to privatisation and is really an open invitation to global education mafia to sell education in India. The ‘aspirational goal of [the] 21st Century’ is meant to be a push towards an insecure and undignified future for India’s youth. The section on higher education states categorically that ‘higher education must aim to prepare its students not just for their first jobs- but also for their second, third and al future jobs over their lifetime.’ This clearly states the intention of the document - revamping the existing education system is aimed at converting India’s youth into cheap labour forced to abide by the hire and fire norm in a contractualised job market. This, for them, is the aspirational goal of 21st century.

DNEP 2019 - Another step towards dismantling the state funded school system:

The present schooling system in India introduces children to a world of discrimination and inequality from the very beginning of their lives. Access to different kinds of education depends on the economic and social status of the family that the child is born into. The systematic destruction of infrastructure in government funded schools and a free hand to private schools to flourish are the key reasons for the existing inequality in schooling. Instead of addressing this inequality in the schooling system, the DNEP has proposes a design in which government funded schools will have to be closed down in the name of optimisation of resources. The document gives free rein to private schools to flourish and make profits in the name of providing education.

Discrimination, inequality and early push-outs from - A dangerous design for school education:

Codename School Complex - Closure of thousands of government schools: Since the first tenure of the Modi government, thousands of schools have been closed down all over the country in the name of mergers. The NITI Ayog document on education as well as this year’s Economic Survey argues in favour of closing down government schools. The same policy perspective has been upheld in the DNEP 2019, whereby it uses the optimal utilisation of resources as an excuse to close down state funded schools. High dropout rates that we see at the moment from the state funded system means that quality infrastructure and greater support from the state is the need of the hour. However, this document tries to absolve the government of this responsibility, and instead proposes that government run schools be shut down so that the field opens up even further to private players who will only make investments to reach areas and classes where profit is possible. This will invariably lead to greater illiteracy among social sections that are lower down on the class and caste ladder, as well as in regions where ‘development’ in the form of pucca roads and rail have yet to reach.

Free Hand to Private Schools: As a solution to the problems that plague the government funded school systems, the DNEP 2019 repeatedly recommends private and ‘philanthropic’ engagement in school education. It mentions that private schools will be free to determine their fees. Moreover, it also proposes that private schools be rid of the responsibility of admitting 25% of their strength from economically weaker sections. It must be noted that institutions of higher education will have compulsory addition of ten percent of their intake from economically weaker sections - a way to work its way around reservations. In the case of universities, this method is being used to subvert reservation policies as well as to put an inordinate amount of pressure on existing infrastructure while at the same time opening the space for private players while government funding for higher education is steadily curtailed. This is nothing if not shameless.

Dilution of Provisions of Right to Education Act: The DNEP 2019 tries to undermine the provision of the Right to Education Act, 2009, that recognised the right to education as a fundamental right of every child in India. The DNEP 2019 calls for diluting the ‘input’ requirement of the RTE in the name of becoming ‘output’ centric. In a country where thousands of children are out of schools, where access and quality remain the main problem of government schools, the perspective of the DNEP 2019 indeed talks a lot about its politics.

In the name of making school complexes, the NEP calls for reducing the number of teachers as a ratio to number of students.

Open and Distance Learning Instead of Regular Schooling for Children of Migrant Workers: The only time children of migrant workers are mentioned in the policy is in the context of providing them distance and open learning. The children of the most marginalised in society who needs intense care in class room teaching the most, are being prescribed distance learning.

Higher Education

Closing Down Public Funded Colleges in the Name of Large Universities: The DNEP identifies the number of colleges and universities in the country as a problem. No, not with the intention to increase their number. Instead, it considers the present number as fragmentation. In a country where drop out rate speedily increases from school to higher education, where the percentage of students in the age group of 18-23 who reach higher education is merely 24.5%, the education policy considers the existing number of colleges and universities as too high. In the name of building large multidisciplinary universities the policy gives a road map for closing down government funded colleges and universities. What is more, the document refers to Nalanda and Taksashila to justify its ill-intentioned logic of closing down colleges to build up large universities.

Open invitation to foreign universities: While Indian Universities that are accessible to thousands of students in sub-urban areas will be closed down, the NEP invites foreign universities to open campus in India. The policy even talks of making laws for inviting foreign universities.

A policy to promote and fund private universities: The DNEP 2019 repeatedly emphasises the ‘importance’ of private investment in education. It is not only a clear call for private enterprises to expand their business in higher education, it also promises government help for private universities. Further, the policy promises loosening of regulations for opening new institutions of higher education. While on the one hand, in the name of accreditation and standards, the DNEP is a design of shutting down public funded universities, on the other it promises not to care for quality and standard in opening new universities. We all remember how Nita and Mukesh Ambani’s Jio Institute was given ‘Institute of Eminence’ status even before it opened. Private enterprises do not need to prove their credentials while government institutions are tagged as unnecessary and bearing poor in quality.

The DNEP suggests that private universities will be allowed to seek funds from the newly proposed National Research Foundation. They will access public funds without any commitment of inclusion and implementation of reservation.

Mission Nalanda - New Name for Graded Autonomy and Self-financing: It was only last year that students and teachers across the country rose up in protest when the MHRD declared graded autonomy for universities. The formula of graded autonomy is to impose self-financing courses on universities that will cause massive fee-hikes in the new courses. The NEP brings back the formula of graded autonomy in a new language and formula. It proposes to build up Type I, Type II and Type III universities. Type I universities will be the first ones to be granted financial autonomy or self-financing.

Decimating Social Justice: The promotion of private and foreign universities at the cost of public funded higher education will also mean a decimation of representation of the marginalised communities in education. The DNEP 2019 does not commit to implementing reservation for SC/ST/OBCs in private institutions. The policy also is silent on representation of SC/ST/OBC/minorities or women in apex body like the RSA or in any other regulatory bodies.

The Rashtriya Shiksha Ayog - Centralisation for Fascist Take Over of Education: The NEP 2019 proposes to dismantle UGC and separate regulatory functioning from grant giving function. And the different bodies that will be created for regulation, accreditation and grant will be controlled by the Rashtriya Shiksha Ayog. The Prime Minister himself will chair the RSA. The draft also proposes formation of Rajya Shiksha Ayog for states that will be in coordination with the Rashtriya Shiksha Ayog.

Drunk on power, the present government now wants a total political takeover of the education system. The PM who has been bypassing his own cabinet ministries to take decisions of supreme importance to facilitate certain corporations, now wants to control the education system after dismantling the powers of an institution like the UGC that could regulate as well as make an overall assessment of standard, infrastructure and grants for universities.

The Colour of the DNEP 2019 is saffron and its content and intent is making way for profiteering of private and global capital. By repeated mention of Ancient India the draft represents the same fake nationalism of the present blabbermouth government, while producing a design for the total decimation of accessible and quality education for India’s future. The DNEP also repeatedly mentions the role of philanthropic organisations in Indian education. We know how the RSS has been found pride of place in our educational curriculum and structure since the BJP has come to power. In the name of philanthropy, the draft aims to justify the politically motivated entrance of regressive organisations like the RSS in our education system. In sum, the DNEP 2019 is a betrayal of the youth and children in this country.