NEP 2020: Will this serve as our window to the brave new world?
The apparent delay over the implementation of the National Education Policy of India 2020 (NEP 2020), which had the imprimatur of the Union Cabinet of India on 29 July 2020, seems to have been predicted at the time the policy was drafted and eased into the public domain. Since education in India is in the ”Concurrent List” of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India, the territory which allows both the union and state government to co-opt NEP 2020’s implementation, it does not seem to have helped much. Even some impugn the idea of transferring education to ‘’Concurrent List’’ under 42nd Amendment Act of 1976. Such a decision probably was made to keep the residual powers remain with the Union Government. The domain such as Education, including technical edu-cation, medical education and universities, thus subject to the provisions of Entries 63, 64, 65 and 66 of List I; vocational and technical training of labour.
Over the years, the multiple Indian states have been critical in relation to various aspects of legislative relations, with some States demanding functional and/or structural changes in the list system as contained in the Seventh Schedule. They allege that there is an undue centralisation in the practical working of the arrangement (e.g. through the Centre misusing inter-linked entries and occupying needlessly excessive fields in ‘’Concurrent List’’ entries), apart from a structural imbalance in favour of the Centre. Notwithstanding, the Sarkaria Commission took the view that the Centre should remain strong and transferring subjects like education to the States would disturb the basic scheme of the Constitution.
The apparent fear is over undesirable centralization. Many people dread that this will pave the way for
central educational regulators like UGC, NCERT, NCTE, CABE etc. to impose tyrannical control over the states. Such things will occur because these institutions enjoy more power over the educational administrations in the states, which may interrupt the policy decisions of the states. It is
understandable that uniform decisions at all India levels will not be equally conducive for all the states due to the diverse nature and sociocultural disparities among the states.Some laws enacted by Indian parliament in the ‘’Concurrent List’’ might require state governments to allocate funds for their implementation. But due to federal supremacy while the states are mandated to comply with these laws they might not have enough financial resources at their disposal for such undertakings.
There may be the chance of delay, as amply evident in NEP 2020, in the implementation of the central policies at the same time when they are adopted for all the states. Some states may lag behind the others in implementing the Central policies. Therefore, it can be cited as a disadvantage for education as a subject in the Concurrent List of the Indian Constitution. Some Bills may directly infringe upon the rights of states, i.e., relate to central laws on subjects that are in the domain of state legislatures. These can be issues with relation to the GST application to education, where states’ power is taken away in a cloaked manner.
Over the years committees starting from Rajamannar, Sarkaria and Punchi have recommended strengthening the Interstate Council where the concurrent list subjects such as education can be debated and discussed, balancing Centre-State powers. There is far less institutional space to settle inter-state frictions, therefore, a constitutional institution like ISC can be a way forward. In addition, the centre should form model laws with enough space for states to operate in accordance with its best interest. Furthermore, the Centre should give enough budgetary support to states so as to avoid financial burden. There should be least interference in the state subjects.
Anyway, there are also advantages of education being in the ”Concurrent List”. By putting both
education and planning into one category, considering that planning is a Constitutional body, the progress of education can be ensured. In addition, education is a dynamic process and thus it necessitates rigorous wellplanned research experiments and practices. Such practices can be wellorganised and financed by the Centre. Further, with the help of educational provisions in the Indian Constitution, the uniformity of educational objectives, strategy and standards can be ensured across the states of India.
In the current month of March, the UGC issued draft guidelines recommending all Higher education institutions (HEIs) in India to transform themselves into multidisciplinary institutions.The draft curriculum framework suggests a four-year undergraduate programme (FYUGP) that will be implemented in all higher education institutions from the academic session 2022-23. The programme is divided into eight semesters and students will require 160-176 credits for a four-year degree with honours/research. As per the UGC draft document, FYUGP students will study a set of “common” and “introductory” courses in natural sciences, humanities and social sciences during the first three semesters. All these curricula are kept in line with the enunciation of Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan, chairperson of the NEP drafting panel: “No language is being imposed. Multi-lingual flexibility is still the basis for the new NEP 2020″.
At the end of the third semester, students will have to declare a “major”. In addition, a student will
also choose two minors relating to a disciplinary or interdisciplinary area of study. What really concerns academia is the idea of spending three semesters on modules which will be common. ”Why not they chose to specialise from the entry point of the programme?”, this idea certainly should have taken precedence.
Accepting NEP 2020 as an ambitious document, laying down a road map till 2040, the policy is regarded as a comprehensive framework for elementary education to higher education as well as vocational training in both rural and urban India. As NEP 2020 replaced the 34-year-old National Policy on Education adopted in 1986, the new policy mandated accreditation of all state-run schools from grade 1 to 12. Thus, NEP has asked each state to form an independent and autonomous body, a State School Standards Authority (SSSA),by 2023. These SSSA bodies will be responsible for regulating public and private schools and monitoring that they maintain the minimum common standards. Without many binding factors that will glue together the several facets of the policy document we appalled at the claims that the NEP fabric stays taut without adhesive. What is promoted as the most dominant narrative that the draft NEP consists of 484 pages, and the ministry embarked upon a rigorous consultation process in formulating the draft policy: “Over two lakh suggestions from 2.5 lakh gram panchayats, 6,600 blocks, 6,000 Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), 676 districts were taken into account.”
In reality, the policy could have deliberated more on the marginalised, disciplinary spaces, autonomy, and constitutional values, among other things. The mention of marginalised social groups such as Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) under the umbrella term SEDGs (Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Groups) does not provide us a clear sense of direction that how these groups will be brought around to a level-playing field to achieve the socio-economic parity.
Many considered the release of the policy amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in India was a red herring. It did not allow a larger participation of public debate such as the subjects on the studies of Gender Studies and Dalit have not been mentioned for development. We do not know why the educational institutions in tribal areas are designated as ashramshalas and if such appropriation will be able to fulfill the goals outlined under the Early Childhood Children Education programme.
As a progressive policy was expected to keep the issues of diversity, difference and identity as its guiding principles – it would be malapropos and infelicitous to say NEP outrightly undermine these considerations — the ambivalence over the disciplines such as gender studies or dalit studies do not make us decisively engage with NEP’s proposed ideas over multi-disciplinarity/inter-disciplinarity
studies. The concerns over the gender studies not to be confused with Gender Inclusion Fund (GIF),
which has been provisioned under the NEP 2020 to ensure infrastructural facilities provided to female students and four Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDGs) or addressing the issue of gender inequity in recruitment of teachers in rural areas or training anganwadi workers to counsel the families of girl students.
The Student’s Federation of India stated that it threatened the federal character of the educational structure, commercialized education and undermined independent research activity. Madhu Prasad of Frontline pointed out how the draft’s “merit-based” college admissions criteria did not take
into account reservations and the caste-based discrimination and oppression faced by many in the country. Durga Prasad Sharma, the wellknown disability rights activist, appreciated the current initiative of end to end transformation of the Indian education system but expressed his concerns about the implementation with care and honesty and connected the self-reliant India mission with education transformation.
Kumkum Roy writes in Indian Express: ”Worrisome is what happens with the Constitution — while an assortment of values are identified as constitutional, including “knowledge and practice of human and constitutional values (such as patriotism, sacrifice, non-violence, truth, honesty, peace, righteous conduct, forgiveness, tolerance, mercy, sympathy, helpfulness, cleanliness, courtesy, integrity,
pluralism, responsibility, justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity)” (NEP 4.23), and there is an occasional mention of fundamental duties, one searches in vain for any allusion to fundamental rights. Are these to be erased from the memories of future generations?”
By the way, there is some progress on the ground. Telangana Governor Tamilisai Soundarajan, also
Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry, recently appealed to States to adopt the NEP 2020. Andhra Pradesh Governor and Chancellor Biswabhsan Harichandan appreciated all the universities in the state for taking steps to implement this new education policy. Andhra Pradesh State Council of Higher Education Chairman, Hemachandra Reddy, said the state is ahead of other Indian states in implementing the NEP 2020. ”The focus is on recalibrating the conventional courses to be more outcome-based with skills learning at the centre of the education, be it through internships, community-based service projects, etc.” The council is in the process of establishing a quality assessment cell, incubation and start-Up centres, board of community development, a state research board in universities and colleges.
Finally, as the penny drops, now we have realised why NEP 2020 implementation is so inordinately
delayed. Because, it has not passed through a rigorous public debate and there are many wrinkles which need to be ironed out. Yet, to be fair to the constituent members of NEP 2020, it is a progressive document but there are grey areas and unresolved issues.
BY SARAT C. DAS