National Education Policy (NEP)-2020 : A critical Review
- Part 1 -

Surjit S. Thokchom *

As I write this, I know that some of you have already praised NEP-2020 as a revolutionary document. And some of you have already rejected it as a regressive and anti-people document. And still some are reluctant to make a position. Some still opine that it cannot be entirely correct or entirely wrong and argue that there must be good elements and bad elements. But there is an emerging amnesia of saying against anything proposed by the present dispensation.

Majority of people particularly the middle class prefer to remain within the comfort zone of being silent or a blind supporter. My analysis of NEP 2020 is based on my dispassionate reading of the latest version of NEP 2020(66 pages) which was uploaded in the MHRD's website on 30th July 2020. I assumed that this was the document approved by the Cabinet.

As I study it, in the back of my mind, I still doubt that there may be alteration in the Cabinet approved document as this document is not a signed document. The present document is the 6th version of NEP-2020 during 2015-2020.

The sixty pages NEP-2020(draft) document which was the 5th version, uploaded in January 2020 was the most studied document and present NEP-2020-final under review by me is the latest version, uploaded on 30th July 2020 with some key changes both addition and deletion.

Let us first be acquainted with the NEP-2020 before we go into a detailed study of the document. The wide consultation as it is claimed by the MHRD was inter-departmental consultations prior to the formation of the committee to draft Evolution of NEP in 2015 during January 2015 to October 2015, and no details is available nor any public notice seeking people's input during the stated period of consultation.

The first committee under the chairmanship of late Dr TSR Subramanian was formed by October end of 2015 and whatever the consultations claimed was done before the first committee was formed. Initially the committee was mandated to draft NEP as per notification on 31st Oct 2020 but by 24th November 2015, the mandate was reduced to a "Committee for Evolution of New Education Policy (NEP)" by an official notification.

After this change, the committee was no more mandated to draft NEP. The Committee submitted 230 pages Report titled, "National Policy on Education 2016- Report of the Committee for Evolution of the New Education Policy, dated 30th April 2016". But for some reason best known to the Ministry, it was never uploaded for public viewing. Later, it was leaked through social media unofficially.

MHRD claimed that there were inter-departmental and inter-ministerial wide consultations during 2016-2017 on NEP (with no official committee for NEP drafting!!!). During June to August 2016, the MHRD brought out a paper titled, "Some Inputs for Draft National Education Policy 2016" and the same was tabled in Rajya Sabha for a short discussion under rule 176. It was also claimed that there were dialogues on Education with Honorable MPs though no details of the discussion are available in public domain as of today.

There was a long gap and then another committee was formed under chairmanship of Dr. Kasturirangan. This newly formed Committee came out with 484 pages draft NEP 2019 by the end of 2018 and it was uploaded in MHRD's website in June 2019. This report clearly said that the draft submitted by the early committee and the input collected during 2015 was inadequate. And the consultations amongst the new committee members compelled him to restructure and reformulate the draft policy.

Post draft NEP 2019, suggestions to the same draft (484 pages) were invited upto mid-august 2019. This was later summarized and came out as 55-pages summary as final and titled, "NEP-Final 2019", uploaded in MHRD website in October 2019. The Ministry's website and the content in the NEP-Final 2019 did not reveal whether suggestions and inputs given by the people were incorporated or not.

This was followed by another draft version of 60 pages, uploaded in Jan 2020. It was assumed by all of us that NEP 2020 version uploaded in January 2020 was approved by the Cabinet on 29th July 2020. But the government surprised us by uploading another latest version on 30th July 2020 with several key changes.

Many of the comments and feedbacks on Cabinet Approval of NEP 2020 from 29th July evening till 30th July evening till the latest document was uploaded were partially discredited. Overall observation is that the Govt's disclosure through Ministry's website reveals the non-transparency.

The present NEP 2020 as approved by the Cabinet is incomplete. It misses several necessary definitions without which one cannot give an informed opinion. It does not define the structure of the new institutions created by the new policy. It also removes the description of the structure and some names of the structure as it was mentioned in the previous draft version.

One of them was the replacement of RSA (Rastriya Shiksha Aayog) as it was mentioned in earlier draft by "remodeled and rejuvenated CABE" in the latest 66-page NEP 2020. 2nd significant addition is the Online Education as the central agenda of NEP 2020 in the latest version.

The present policy not only centralized the existing decentralized structures but it centralized the standalone central bodies also. It is an advanced form of centralization. The obvious and immediate consequence of this advanced centralization is defederalization of Indian polity and absence of meaningful autonomy and flexibility. Words like 'flexibility', 'autonomy', 'decentralization', 'accountability', 'rationalization', 'creativity' are bound to have very limited meaning and will defy both the common and academic understanding of these terms.

One of the main agenda is to promote Privatization as an enabling condition for commercialization. The agenda of the public institution now is no more to serve the interest of the masses but to make the government resources available to the private institutions with no compulsion of the latter to reciprocate the same. In a situation like this, the private institution is in a position of advantage over the government institution.

In the meantime, an attempt has been made to create an impression that NEP 2020 is committed to regulate the private institutions against commercialization of education. Two key terms- 'not-for-profit', 'public spirited private philanthropist' are used as a means to fight against the commercialization. In other words, it is the Ministries of Finance, Corporate Affairs, Labour & Employment that will define what non-commercialization does mean.

The enabling condition for commercialization is privatization which the Education Ministry (as it is now named) is committed to do it under NEP-2020. The emerging theme called Social Entrepreneurship is basically to generate profit and use the profit for a public cause. Both commercial activities and not-for-profit activities as of today, are looked as same. The only difference is who pockets the profit.

Within this perspective, commodification of knowledge for a not-for-profit activity become necessary. There is hardly any distinguishable difference between commercial and non-commercial (not-for-profit) activities as of today under the above-mentioned Ministries. In NEP 2020, quality is to be maintained through a system of quality control mechanism wherein education is treated as a product. Will quality be measured in terms of its potential for social transformation or in terms of returns as a remuneration to the worker and profit to the corporate?

The present document is a-historical. If we refer to several previous policies along with several High Court and Supreme Court rulings including Allahabad High Court order of 2015 asking to ensure that public servants and bureaucrats to send their children and wards to state-run-schools, along with well documented people's movements till date, including several educational experiments in both pre and post independent period, the present NEP 2020 disconnects itself from all previous experiences. There is no continuity in the spirit of the policy though it mentions NPE 68 and NPE 86, RTE Act 2009, Disable Act 2016 etc.

The document does not mention Reservation at all. It does not mention ST/SC/OBC/minorities in context of the provision to be provided additionally. In place of ST/SC/OBC and minorities, socially economical disadvantageous groups (SEDG) is used in NEP 2020. Terms like merit-based scholarship, merit-based promotion, merit-based career progression, merit-based appointment etc. are frequently mentioned. The existing scholarship based on ethnicity or minorities do not have a place in NEP-2020. NEP-2020 talks about special education zone but it doesn't refer to the existing criteria like SC/ST/OBC, minorities etc.

There are 3 areas of rationalization proposed in NEP 2020 in the name of school complex, multi-disciplinary universities and efficient governance. Rationalization (school complex) in the school level means closure of large number of schools. Rationalization (Multi-disciplinary University) in the higher education means closure of large number of small colleges. Rationalization for efficient governance means merger or abolitions of existing state and the central autonomous bodies and disabled the state Education department for any educational endeavor.

NEP 2020 creates a dichotomy between Constitution & Emerging Developmental Imperative as per SDG4(Sustainable Development Goal 4) agenda. While it says to promote Ethical and Constitutional values, it also keeps a wedge between the Constitution and ethical values. Developmental imperative is no more inspired by the Constitution but it is guided by emerging Developmental (SDG4) agenda.

The emerging developmental agenda in tune with SDG4 and of becoming a super power, knowledge society, knowledge economy and one out of the three largest economy in the world: Are these not agenda at the cost of the pending unfulfilled Constitutional agenda of equity, equality and social justice? Is development without fulfilling the Constitutional mandate a development at all?

Are we setting our priorities in the right perspectives? Do we repeat the past? Do we fail to transcend the colonial paradigm of development? Anyway, whose India is what NEP 2020 are dreaming for?

to be continued ....

* Surjit S Thokchom is based in Shillong at present. He is a Secretariat Member of All India Forum for Right to Education (AIFRTE) and Editorial Board Member of a monthly publication of AIFRTE titled, "Reconstructing Education". He has been associating with an education project in rural khasi hills titled, "Demonstrating an Alternative Vision of Education". He was a member of Institute Advisory Board of North East Regional Institute of Education (NERIE), Shillong, a Constituent of NCERT and he was a member of Position Paper of Work and Education, NCERT. He was also official translator of National Curricular Framework, 2005(NCF 2005) into Manipuri.

* Surjit S. Thokchom wrote this article for Imphal Times
The writer can be reached through ssthochom(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on September 05 2020.

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