The government has released the draft National Education Policy for discussion. The policy document is 484 pages long and it took 4 years for bringing out the draft. The previous policy was adopted 33 years back in 1986 when the Indian ruling establishment had started making preparations for setting out on the path of privatization and globalization. The intervening period since then has witnessed a massive drive towards privatization of school and college education, with quality education becoming a privilege instead of a universal right.
The new Policy has been drafted at a time when there is extreme dissatisfaction about the failure of the State to enable the Right to Education and provide quality education to all for a certain minimum number of years. It has come at a time when school and higher education are being rapidly privatised for the benefit of a few investors, when there is a massive increase in the number of educated unemployed, when students and faculty are being targeted in universities for expressing their right to dissent, and when there is growing inequity in education.
The draft admits that there is a severe learning crisis and that if this crisis continues then the country could lose 10 crore students, the size of a large country, from the learning system! But the draft does not truthfully admit the reasons for this crisis and why the earlier policy failed in these more than three decades of implementation.
One of the major reasons for this crisis is the failure of the Indian state to provide free and compulsory quality education for all children upto high school and equitable and relevant higher education beyond schooling.
Public education has not been a priority for the Indian state. Public schools have not been provided with adequate funds for buildings with adequate number of classrooms, functioning toilets, drinking water supply, and nutrition for children who come to study. The education system do not ensure safety for girl children, decent salaries and continuous training for teachers, and provision of quality text books and learning material that would make learning fun-filled for children. Instead, various governments have encouraged the flourishing of a private sector in school education, while mouthing that education is the best social investment possible.
Teachers, who are the most important stakeholders in the education system, have been given a raw deal. They are not treated on par with other government staff in terms of salaries and benefits. A large section of teachers are actually temporary or guest teachers with low salaries and no job guarantee. Public school and college teachers have been forced to handle more than the standard norm of students per class. Their workload has increased over the years.
An analysis of education data by experts shows that between 2010-11 and 2017-18, enrolment in public elementary schools fell by 2.4 crore students, while rising in the recognised private unaided schools by 2.1 crore students. This reduction in public school enrolment took place in spite of the fact that population rose by 4.3% over part of this period.
The private sector in school and college education is among the most lucrative sectors today for making maximum profits. Individual capitalists and capitalist family enterprises have been allowed to charge exorbitant fees while providing no guarantees for employment or relevant education.
The new policy endorses continued concessions and state support for autonomous and private educational institutions. Such colleges are granted the freedom to decide the fees, and course and curriculum. Under the pretext of achieving international quality, privatization and globalization in the education sector have been given top priority. This will further take good quality school education and higher education out of reach of the vast majority of people.
There are around 700 universities in the country. Instead of strengthening facilities and teaching staff in these universities, the Policy announces that select universities, from among the top 200 universities in the world, will be permitted to operate in India. It is proposed to set up an Inter-University Centre for International Education along with an International Education Centre (IEC) within selected Indian universities to support “internationalization” of higher education in universities. This essentially means pushing Indian universities towards privatization and globalization, with an eye on the huge profits that can be made from both Indian and foreign students. This step will further enrich the coffers of private profiteers who run these universities. This is bound to make access to higher education even more difficult or even impossible for a vast section of Indian students.
The new draft policy admits that public expenditure in education was grossly inadequate till now. Public expenditure on education in India was 2.7% of GDP in 2017-18. Public spending on education has never attained the 6% of GDP envisaged in the 1968 Policy, reiterated in the Policy of 1986, and which was again promised in the 1992 Programme of Action.
Countries across the world make substantially higher public investment in education than India does. While the Indian ruling establishment dreams about achieving a $5 trillion economy within a few years, the annual public investment in education in India over the last 5 years has been hovering around 3% of GDP. Comparatively countries such as China, Brazil, South Africa spend more on education.
But having admitted to all this, the draft policy again resorts to the same lie that somehow this will be corrected in the future. It says that since India will become the 3rd largest economy by 2030, it should be possible for the state to spend more on education. It does not answer the question that how India, which is the sixth largest economy today, spends lesser proportion of national income than many other countries which are much smaller and have less income in comparison.
The draft policy does not admit the truth that the present orientation of the economy is to satisfy the greed of Indian and foreign business enterprises and monopolies and not to fulfill the basic necessities of people.
The draft Policy proposes a Rashtriya Shiksha Ayog or National Education Commission to be constituted as the supreme body to govern education. The creation of an overarching body in charge of all aspects of education makes it only easier for the ruling establishment to serve the rich moneybags who control the education system and its institutions.
Most importantly, those sections of the people whom the policy should serve and who are central to its implementation – the teachers, parents and students – remain completely marginalized in the education system. They do not have any mechanisms to ensure that educational institutions enable the right to education and provide quality education to all. Bodies such as the School Management Committees and the Parent-Teacher Associations have no power to demand that central and state governments deliver on their promises. They are non-statutory bodies which have no authority or the capacity to play a constructive role in school management, quality of education and accountability to the people. Private sector schools are controlled by the capitalist funding the school and parents and teachers have negligible say in running these schools. In higher educational institutions, teachers and students have been on the war path against privatization of education, hike in fees, reduction in scholarships, non-payment of teacher salaries, and the brutal attack on the right of students and teachers to voice their opinions and fight for their rights.
The draft Policy recalls the times of Nalanda and Takshashila or even earlier, “when the history of higher education in India recognised the holistic aspect of all human knowledge and enquiry as fundamentally connected”. It recommends that there is a need to establish mulit-disciplinary research universities today like the universities of Nalanada and Takshashila which attracted thousands of students from all over the world.
Such multi-disciplinary universities of world repute are definitely needed in India. But what is the use if they follow the same pattern as IITs and IIMs which are accessible only to a small section of elite students? There are already a number of global educational institutions in India which are not centres of education but money making machines. The draft Policy, while talking about the eminent position of Indian educational institutions in the past, conveniently hides the fact that these institutions were not profit driven. Invoking the name of ancient institutions is merely paying lip service to Indian thought.
The New Education Policy is a concerted attempt by the Indian ruling class and its government to further privatise and globalize school and higher education, to fill the coffers of private owners, taking them out of reach of the vast majority of Indian students. It is an attempt to transform schools and universities into factories producing trained human resources to serve the needs of big business enterprises and monopoly houses to make super profits. It is one more instrument to enable the state to abrogate its duty to provide free, compulsory and quality school education to all and to provide quality higher education at affordable cost to those who wish to pursue it. It cannot end the growing inequity in education. It reinforces the extreme marginalization of teachers, parents and students in deciding priorities and enabling the right to education as a universal and inalienable right.