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Is the Indian education system on the right track?

With references to the National Education Policy 2020

It has been more than 12 years since the Constitution (Eight Sixth Amendment) Act, 2002 made Article 21-A as a vital part of the constitution guaranteeing compulsory education for children aged between 6 to 14 years. This was one of the first steps towards promoting education as a fundamental right which defined the very fabric of the Indian education system and its students. 

With the National Education Policy 2020 coming into action this pandemic season, deliberations over attaining higher education have integrated to a different level. The NEP 2020 is an improvised version of the NEP 2019, which continues to fail on registering the Right to Education Act (RTE) of 2009 which emphasises on inclusive education. The present path of the education sector is moving towards catering to a certain section of the population which will not be barricaded by hefty tuition fees of institutions where their children might be eligible to study but might not have not have resources to continue their education?

The NEP 2020 has been everything but inclusive. There is hardly any expression on minorities other than language inclusivity in terms of education. The recent NEP might provide those religious minorities to learn their languages but that depends on the state as well, essentially because education falls under the concurrent list and broadly depends on the implementation policies and the broader reach of the State. There is no mention in the policy of the inclusion of education of religious minorities. And neither is there any information on religious/faith-based schooling being bridged to mainstream education. The policy also does not detail much about the functioning of religious minority institutions and how they might weave into the fabric of either Schooling or Higher Education.

One of the minute assumptions one draws out from the policy is that it provides no recognition to the discrimination faced by teachers and students in institutions across the country. In a recent set of reports covered by the wire, Jadavpur University teacher Maroona Murmu was targeted on social media for certain views she had regarding the recent debacle of the JEE-NEET examinations being conducted during the pandemic. She was attacked on social media sites about her Adivasi identity and vehemently demeaned for having an opinion. 

While we see the Centre making more reforms in education, we still remain unclear on how the state and centre would cohesively work in implementing a procedure which will result in real change. In the end, dictating terms and implementing policies should also have limits as education becoming more centralised will snatch away the independence enjoyed by school and universities. The policy talks about increasing the Gross Enrollment ratio of universities and colleges which is best not fiddled with, because such higher education institutions are responsible for maintaining their own ethos without any intervention from the state which in the end grants more independence and recognition in the international community. As far as the state is concerned, the policy offers no record of consultations from 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats, 6600 Blocks, 6000 ULBs and 676 Districts and to what extent states would be interested in incorporating these changes into the system if their recommendations were not taken. 

The NEP has very strategically upheld the rich heritage of the ancient Indian Education system. 

The aim of education in ancient India was not just the acquisition of knowledge as preparation for life in this world, or life beyond schooling, but for the complete realization and liberation of the self,” the policy document says. Among the most prominent references of scholars made in the policy, a common trend is identified that they had the resources and the position to treat education as a privilege and thrive on the very points of developments during the years of inception of the Indian education system. Scholars like Chanakya, Aryabhata, Brahmagupta, Charaka have always had an esteemed position as Brahmins and orthodox shaivites which gave them the full right and resource to practice research and express themselves in writing. It has been centuries since their works have flourished across the world, but are we ready to thrive on a system which still glamorizes Dronacharya favouring Arjuna because he belonged to a higher clan and not Eklavya as he was a tribal nomad who could not afford the resources. 

While these issues remain completely general, university governance of the NEP 2020 has also gained attention and criticism. There is an increased autonomy of the state in the Boards of Studies and Academic Council which discuss academic matters in Colleges. The new architecture seems to dispense faculty participation in the governance of university altogether. The days of the university as a community of self governing scholars are clearly numbered. 

One of the main features of well-intentioned policy is that they are formulated by the elites for the elites. Such reforms fail to address the very obstacles which might be an every-day barrier for some people, but on the other hand might be ignored by the others as a privilege. The modern knowledge-based economy requires every citizen to be educated to the point where they are empowered to build their skills and capabilities in a continuous way, and on their own initiative. 

This policy promises 3.5 crore new seats that will be added to higher education. Is this policy one of the empty promises of the government or will this policy pave the way for future generations and being students looking up to countries like India for their education? This policy will bring countries, students, educators, public donors to  the same table. However, will this policy be affected by the biases of reservations and public donors hindering the opportunity for marginalized sections to be a part of these premium institutions being set up in our country. 

Shrrijiet Roy Chowdhary is a student of Jindal School of International affairs. Ada Nagar is a student of JIndal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities

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