Draft National Education Policy 2016 : Blueprint for Commercialisation and Saffronisation

THE MHRD document ‘Some Inputs for Draft National Education Policy 2016’ is being challenged and protested by students all over the country, who are instead demanding an “egalitarian education system from KG to PG.”

Privatisation and Fee Hikes

The document promotes FDI in education and Government subsidies for private and corporate players in education, disguised as ‘incentives’ and ‘corporate social responsibility.’ Even the scholarships announced for EWS students and ‘open’ learning students will actually go to footing the bills of private institutions. Students are demanding that instead of promoting and pampering private profit-seekers in education by handing over public resources to them, the government must invest public funds in public education.

The document specifically recommends fee hikes in public-funded educational institutions. The experience of the ‘high fees + fee waivers for the poor’ model worldwide has excluded and marginalised the poor and disadvantaged.

The document promotes centralization of curricula and bureaucratization of administration through setting up of an ‘Indian Educational Service’ (IES) cadre under MHRD. It also proposes to corporatized accreditation. In keeping with WTO and other similar trade agreements, it seeks to create separate ‘tribunals’ for grievance redressal – this will mean that students or teachers in the face of violations of their rights will be prevented from approaching Courts for justice.

The document’s move to institute ‘education tribunals’ is specifically designed to ‘free’ the rapacious private/foreign/corporate players in the education sector from any accountability to the judicial system and the law of the land.

The document recommends a mere 6% of GDP for education – which is far from adequate given the fact that education has been starved of funding for decades. Instead of merely parroting basic demands without any clear commitment of fund allocations, the government should instead allocate a minimum of 10% of the annual Union Budget for education.

The Bogey of ‘Outsiders’ on Campuses

The document while paying lip service to student unions, makes a big issue of preventing ‘disruption’ by ‘outsiders’. From Hokkolorob to JNU to HCU to FTII, this is a familiar myth that massive student movements are actually a result of ‘disruption by outsiders’ and that campuses need to be cleansed of ‘outsiders’. This framework deserves a firm rebuff by students, who will instead uphold campus democracy, and demand regular democratic elections to students' unions without undemocratic Lyngdoh-like restrictions and the right of students on campuses to interact with the social and political currents in the country and the world.

Undermining Social Justice

While paying lip service to the phrase ‘social justice’, the document is silent on the rampant reality of caste discrimination and segregation in schooling and in higher education.

There is no mention of specific measures such enacting of the Rohith Act to end caste and other forms of social discrimination in schools, mid-day meals, classrooms, hostels and higher education institutions. The document is silent on the issue of implementing SC/ST/OBC reservations. Indeed, there is no mention of the word 'reservation' in the whole document!

The NEP ought to acknowledge the need for strict implementation of reservations in admissions as well as faculty positions and and recommend to extend such reservations mandatorily to private educational institutions.

The high drop-out rate of school children, with drop-out rates being disproportionately higher for SC/ST students is noted but the document makes no specific recommendations to remedy the problem. The document instead formalises the drop-out process by proposing to restrict the no-detention policy recommended by the RTE Act from Class VIII to Class V. The document implies that drop-outs can be diverted towards ‘skill education’ or ‘open’ learning – which, taken together with the proposed amendments in the Child Labour law, will mean a reproducing of the caste system where the privileged caste/class children will study while the oppressed caste/class children will labour and receive only informal education! The document specifically mentions ‘skilling’ of students in tribal areas: this means that the Ekalavyas of India will again be deprived of the right to formal education, and condemned to vocational ‘skill’ education alone!

Multiple standards in education should no be allowed to continue: we cannot have formal education for the privileged and ‘skill’ and ‘open’ learning for the deprived. Instead, we need a common education system from KG to PG be set up to provide equitable education of equal, good quality to all students. Remedial measures and measures to curb discrimination must be taken up to correct the drop-out rate. ‘Skilling’ cannot replace formal education.

Communal, Patriarchal and Brahminical Bias

The Preamble to the document equates Vedic education and the Gurukul system alone with India’s educational and cultural legacy: completely ignoring the fact that these systems were deeply Brahminical and discriminatory to the oppressed castes, tribes and women. The Preamble is silent on the diverse and plural knowledge-systems of non-brahmnical cultures, languages and regions. The Preamble erases educational developments in the medieval period (which the RSS associates with the ‘Muslim’ rulers).

The Preamble achieves the feat of omitting to mention, in its list of historic contributions of educationists, India’s pioneering woman educationist Savitri Bai Phule, as well as other pioneers like Jotiba Phule, Vidyasagar, Dr Ambedkar, the Ali Brothers (founders of Jamia Millia Islamia), Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (Founder of AMU), Dr Zakir Hussain, Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan (in whose memory Teachers' Day is celebrated) or Rabindranath Tagore in India’s modern educational history.

The document is silent on the need to promote principles of rationalism and scientific temper in society and in education. This silence speaks rather loudly in the wake of the murders of rationalists like Narendra Dabholkar by Hindutva groups that are also influencing the Modi Government’s education policy.

The document proposes to end the goal of mother-tongue education. It says States will decide whether ‘regional’ language, English, or ‘multi-lingual’ (only for tribal children) schooling will be provided up to class V, after which the option for mother-tongue or regional language will be finished.

Producing Obedient Workers, Not Critical, Outspoken Citizens

The document takes a 'knowledge society' for its goal, aiming to “produce” “responsible citizens” who use “freedom responsibly”. An educationist Rohit Dhankar has commented that the NEP 2016 "is a policy to gear education to producing pliable citizens who work as the government says, believe it, obey it, produce but do not think and do not question. It is a policy to craft an education system that is to dumb down the citizenry. It is time for India again to remember that a just and functioning democracy squarely depends on citizens who can think clearly and critically, and who can act on their convictions in the face of risks. Democracies are not sustained by obedient productive units in so-called knowledge-based economies." ('Dumbing down a pliable workforce', The Hindu, 10 Aug 2016).

What 21st century India needs is an education policy rooted in democratic, secular, rational and egalitarian principles that respect and uphold religious, linguistic and cultural plurality and diversity. What it needs is structures of schooling and higher education committed to the goal of promoting Constitutional morality, scientific temper, egalitarianism and the spirit of enquiry and critical thinking. What India needs is that the Government take full responsibility for funding education and providing education of equitable standards to every Indian.

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