National Education Policy (NEP)-2020 : A critical Review
- Part 3 -

Surjit S. Thokchom *

In the NEP 2020, the broad framework outlined in the Document gives us the impression that the three stages viz. preparatory, middle, secondary stages will have similar feature in structure and evaluation. There will be provision for open exit and entry along with transfer of credit from one stream to another stream. Sounds attractive! Of course, it is attractive provided it provides equitable education for all. Before we go further, I would like to invoke Gandhi's talisman as a framework of our analysis which reads as follows:

"I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man /woman whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him /her. Will he /she gain anything by it? Will it restore him /her to a control over his/her own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj /freedom for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and yourself melt away."

Let us refer to section 3 of the NEP 2020. The subsection 3.1 highlights the pathetic situation of school education today with 3.22 crore children in the age group of 6-17 years outside the school system. It further commits to bring them back into the "educational fold". Please mark this term, "educational fold". This may not mean to bring them back to school but something else. In section 3.2- 3.4, there are lines that give us some hope.

It advocates re-establishing of credibility of Government school, Alternative and Innovative Education centres for drop out, suitable facilitating systems (managed by NGOs?) and adequate infra structure. But much against the hope enkindled by section 3.1 to 3.4, section 3.5-3.7 immediately dismantles the hope shown in earlier sections. And section 3.5 recommends the innovative education designed for SEDG (Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Group).

What does we mean by innovation that does not have merit for mainstream education? Since children of ST, SC, OBC, Minorities and children of marginalized section of society may not necessarily be a SEDG child, what will be the fate of their children with no provision of reservation and scholarship except outcome-based merit scholarship? Will ST, SC children be pushed down to the other streams outside the Mainstream?

There can be devil in details later. As we keep reading in between the lines, the NEP 2020 comes out to be a highly coded document, something like a classified document and to unmask it needs a lot of effort. A superficial one-time reading may not reveal a lot. Contradiction in the Document keeps coming in almost all parts of the document. Let me summarize content and intent of the NEP 2020 pertaining to school education as follows:

The future drop out children will remain enlisted in 100% GER (Gross Enrolment Rate) without really joining a formal school provided that they are enrolled in a Non-Mainstream course. The NEP 2020 divides school education into two sets of streams: Mainstream/General and Non-mainstreams or Multiple pathways or Wider choice or Multiple streams. This pattern will continue through 12 class upto higher education.

There will be five types of children: (i) Children in private and public regular formal schools, (ii) Children under online education, (iii) Children under open schooling (iv) Homeschooled severely disabled children, (v) Children with vocational education. While the no. (i) is the Mainstream/General student, the rest of the streams (ii to v) are Non-mainstreams.

The Non-mainstreams education is also called Alternative Innovative Education but surprisingly this so-called alternative innovation is not applicable to the mainstream schools. Why? The position taken by NEP-2020 still is the same as that of the position taken by government earlier that formal schools are not amendable. For whose interest the General/mainstream education children are deprived of so-called alternative innovation if we believe that it will do miracle for the marginalized children.

Will the multiple pathways proposed for SEDG (Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Groups) children viz. open, online, vocational, home schooling (for severely disabled child) be of equitable quality? Can a policy with implicit intent of discrimination be implemented in an equitable manner? Shall we push out further an already pushed-out child? Shall we alienate a walk-out in protest child? Shall we encourage a parent who pulls out his or her child from school? We need our proper attention on this issue!!!

The NEP 2020 refers to NPE 1968 for school complex. The spirit of the school complex as it was envisaged in NPE 1968 and the proposed school complex in NEP 2020 are not compatible. The school complex proposed in NEP 2020 is based on the following premises:

(i) Small schools with small numbers of children cannot provide quality education. It does not utilize the resources in optimum level,
(ii) Standalone schools with proper infrastructure, adequate number of staff and the adequate educational facilities underutilize their resources,
(iii) Utilizing a teacher only for a single school is underutilization,
(iv) Quality education is possible only in multi-streams structure,
(v) Sharing of teachers, sharing of infrastructure and bringing all the ECCE, lower primary schools, upper primary schools, vocational centers, non-formal centers under the umbrella of a school Principle in a school complex will provide maximum outcome and optimum utilization,
(vi) Bypassing state department in the matter of curriculum, governance and accreditation is necessary step for both access and quality,
(vii) The reason for nonperformance by government school is conflict of interest in state education department.

The above premises are debatable though the space for debate under the present dispensation is ever narrowing down. It is on the basis of the above premises that NEP 2020 proposed to relocate all the institutions within the radius of 5-10 kms into a single campus and named it school complex. It is said that, the single school complex will have all the necessary facilities such as library, recreational centers, classrooms.

In the process of converting into a school complex, several small schools will be relocated and some of the schools will be abolished. But all the schools will lose their existing credential and identity. And closure of school within the school complex may not have any significant meaning as merger to the school complex is as good as a pre-closer exercise. This relocation of schools may be done without terminating the permanent staffs. But almost all the teaching staffs under SSA and RMSA are on contract and their job can be summarily terminated any time without giving any reason.

Let's come to newly recommended Governance System of school education:

(i) Department of School Education will be responsible for monitoring and policy making. Directorate of Education including DEO and BEO etc. will handle operation and service provision. And it will work independently. Independent from whom is not well defined. But this much is cleared that the Directorate of school Education will not be under Department of Education. Then under whose jurisdiction will directorate fall?

(ii) SSSA (State School Standards Authority) will be formed. SSSA will: (a) Set standard based on a framework created by SCERT in collaboration with NCERT. (b) Upload all the disclosures in SSSA's website. (c) Grievances or complaints will be adjudicated by SSSA. (d) Feedback will be solicited online. It is said that SCERT in consultation and collaboration with NCERT, will develop a framework of assessment called SQAAF (School Quality Assessment and Accreditation Framework).

SCERT will lead in change management process in CRC, BRC and DIET. Here the State Department of Education has been side-lined. The BOA (Board of Assessment), SSSA and SCERT will be directly connected with central agencies. Where is the role of State Education? State Education Department will now become a paper tiger!!!

Under the new Structure of Governance, the state-run-school will not be under the State Education Department and it will be treated at par with the private schools. Under NEP 2020, there are only two sets of schools: (i) State-government-run-schools and Private schools in one category with symmetric treatment in every manner, (ii) School run or supported by Central Government. Further, as per NEP 2020, in the name of twining, Government school resources and infrastructures are to be shared with Private school. The anticipated situation is very pathetic.

A Government school has to face SSSA to answer their questions. But SSSA does not have a mandate to provide the necessary funds for improving the input to the school. The State Education Department does not have the mandate to intervene for school development. Whom a school Principal will approach for the provision of the school development? The policy forces the State to abdicate her own responsibility to provide the necessary fund.

Is it not as good as asking the school authorities to privatize themselves? So, the new structure of the governance narrowed down the role of the Central Government to Accreditation, Regulation, Certification with no clear direction of whom to approach to improve the quality of Government schools? Why are we so happy with this arrangement of orphaning the Government school? Repeatedly, NEP 2020 openly states that the private/philanthropic school sector must be encouraged. It is okay to encourage but why at the cost of Government School?

What is going to happen in reality are :
(i) Large scale dropouts with official data showing none;
(ii) Large scale closures of the schools;
(iii) Less number of Teachers ;
(iv) Less number of students pursuing higher education;
(v) Social divides and large-scale unemployment;
(vi) Large scale growth of Private Coaching centers;
(vii) Tremendous growth of Corporate School;
(viii) Merger of smaller private schools and closers of low fee paying private schools;
(ix) No democratic privilege of protest in the affairs of school as all the authorities now will be connected through virtual platform.

All the spicy and romantic noise of NEP 2020 are noises without looking to the core agenda? Is State Government ready to denounce the Federal Right over the Education of our children?

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 13 2020.

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