New Education Policy-2020: What’s in the Plate for Marginalised Students?

The NEP is nothing but the full of flowery and fancy acronym has attracted the masses, but failed to recognise the problems of socio-economically marginalised students.

New Education Policy-2020: What’s in the Plate for Marginalised Students?

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The much-awaited and ambitious ‘New Education Policy-2020’ rolled out by the NDA government under the chairmanship of former ISRO Chief K. Kasturirangan. This New Education Policy (NEP) is popularly known as the Kasturirangan committee on Educational reforms. This is the third education policy since 1968 and considered as a modern education policy for new India. Unlike the education commission of 1964, the NEP-2020 also talks about spending 6 percent of India’s GDP on education sector. Whether the government is really going to spend the money on education is the biggest question. The NDA government has already appeased the private stakeholders in education sector and even promoting private educational institutions and universities. In this scenario, how the NEP is going to cater the educational needs of marginalised sections of students especially the SCs, STs, women, and religious minorities?

The Indian constitution in its original enactment defined education as a state subject, where the state has exclusive rights on its legislation before 1976. Under Article 42 of the India constitution, an amendment was added in 1976 and education become a subject of concurrent list that enables the central as well as the state government to have equal rights to legislate in the manner suited to them. However, the NEP exclusively provides rights to the central government. It is found that without discussion with the state governments and not even in the parliament once, the central government suo-moto cognizance rolled out the education bill during the lockdown. This kind of activities by the central government has shuttered idea of the federal structure and cooperative federalism of the Indian states as adopted by the constitution.

The new education policy comes down heavily on higher education institutions. The tendency to centralise control over higher education. The NEP has abolished all the higher education regulatory bodies and clubbed into the single regulatory body for all, known as ‘Education Ministry’, all the autonomy and power vested into a single body to deal with day to day affairs or to control all institution. The question is still contentious about how a single regulatory body would deal with all the technical and general education.

Another aspect of the NEP is to focus more on the smart class room and digital education for the all students. It seems that smart learning or digital education is distant dream for the students from remote rural area, where the lack of well-equipped physical infrastructure as well as the well trained human resources always an obstacle for them. The ramping up digital learning is still a nightmare for students coming from rural and socio-economically marginal sections. The significant shortcomings are the mode and accessibility in online teachings such as enormous digital gaps; inequitable access to the internet, smart TV, smartphones, and laptops; urban-rural gaps, the dearth of trained human resources, and lack of necessary digital infrastructure at the school level. The “Strategy for New India@75″ reports by NITI Aayog highlighted the quality and reliability of the internet as a significant bottleneck in digital education. It went on to point out that 55,000 villages in the country are without mobile network coverage. Another report by the World Bank (2018) on internet penetration in India shows that only 34 percent of Indians have access to internet services. Digital exclusion is higher in rural areas than urban areas; whereas 68.86 internet subscribers per 100 populations in urban areas and only 13.08 internet subscribers per 100 populations in rural areas. It reflects the massive gap of accessibility to the internet and less opportunity to access necessary digital skills. It seems to be the perfect recipe to create a pool of semi-skilled labour, the jackpot of all kinds of skills that can be used according to the needs of the market.

Another drawback of NEP is the medium of instruction in regional language or mother tongue, after the 5th class creates a problem for the students in rural and urban areas. It is found that mostly the central government employee and other service cadres can be transferred from one state to another state. The shift from one medium of instruction to another has pedagogical issues, where the cosmopolitan students feel alienated and could not cope up with the regional language.

The new education policy would be incomplete without the address of the educational needs of marginalised children. The majority of them are unable to access their educational rights. The government made various policies and legal provisions to ensure a dignified and secure life for all children. But still, millions of children have not received any type of institutional education. As per the 2011 census, more than 32 million children aged between 6 to 13 have never been in any type of institutional education. Likewise, the draft policy acknowledged that 62 million school-going children age between 6 to 18 years were out of school in 2015 and the policy highlights that the children should come back to school on top priority. But the policy did not mention any specific provision for them. As per the 2019 Right to education forum mentioned that, 200,000 government schools have been merged as proposed by the different state governments. So that children from marginalised communities are most affected and the dropout rate is high, especially girls when they lose their village school.

Ministry of Human Resources and Development mentioned that the dropout rate is higher among secondary classes compare to the primary and upper primary schools. The increased rate of the dropout also the cause of their socio-economic background including ethnicity, caste, economic condition, gender, and religion. As per the 2011 census, more than 10.1 million children in the age group 5-14 years are engaged in child labour. In 2016, a new amendment made in the child labour act which allows below 14 years’ children would be employed in highly unregulated family enterprises. Therefore, most of the economically weaker section children are employed as child labour in family enterprises and businesses. But the NEP policy did not recognise the phenomenon of children. As per the state Indian children 2017, India has the highest number of child brides in the world. Girls are forced to involve in domestic activities and taking care of sibling in both rural areas and urban areas. The NEP did not acknowledge the SDG-5 (UN Sustainable Development Goal) which talks about bringing gender equality.

The policy has clubbed the issues of education of women, SC/ST, and minorities in a single bracket without paying any heed to the specific problems and educational needs of these social groups. The one size fits all approach tends to ignore the high dropout rates amongst these social groups. Further, the policy fails to address the issues of segregation in the field of schooling and strengthen the idea by making separate provision of schools for SC/ST and other marginalised communities. The vocational education is also emphasised in NEP to make more efficient and self-reliant ‘Atmanirbhar’ students at the early stage of schooling. No doubt it is a positive step towards ‘local for vocal’ but practically, it is a distant dream for the students of socio-economically disadvantaged sections in the rural and urban areas. The new education policy has serious implications for the education of the marginalised sections of society. The push for vocational education from class VI onwards will have different repercussions for boys and girls. While there is a possibility that boys from marginalised communities will be pushed towards child labour and menial jobs and girls will be ended getting married at an early age in lack of support for education.

Finally, The NEP is nothing but the full of flowery and fancy acronym has attracted the masses, but failed to recognised the problems of socio-economically marginalised students. The NEP is criticised that it is a threat to the rote learning, the burden of exam, rigid separation of boundaries between disciplines, burdensome and unimaginative course structure. These are far from the realities, where not a single student can accomplish it in future.

Dr. Kalu Naik has received a Ph.D. from Centre for the Study of Regional Development, JNU, and is currently associated with ICAR-NIAP, New Delhi; Dr. Ajit Kumar Lenka is a research consultant at Change Alliance Private Limited, New Delhi.