The New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 was launched on July 29 in the presence of Union Ministers Prakash Javedkar, Ramesh Pokhriyal, and Higher Education Secretary, Amit Khare.
The policy, expected to come into effect from 2030, calls for allocation of 6% of GDP for the education sector. It further aims to restructure the education system by introducing the 5+3+3+4 system in place of the existing 10+2 structure of schooling and an increased focus on education in regional languages.
The NEP 2020 has also proposed the introduction of four-year degree courses at undergraduate level, scrapping of the MPhil program, common entrance examination for university admission and increased autonomy for colleges.
While it has been lauded by many for its progressive and holistic outlook towards education, various student organisations and members of the civil society have vehemently opposed the policy calling it part of a larger program to privatise government institutions and services.
Kawalpreet Kaur, the Delhi President of All India Students’ Association (AISA), criticised the NEP 2020 for its focus on commercialisation of education saying, “The NEP hasn’t incorporated major feedback given by the student community and academia at large. This is aimed at pushing commercialisation of education, inviting foreign universities, re-introduction of Four Year Undergraduate Program (FYUP) which was opposed earlier, the push for financial autonomy as against the grant system is all meant to promote private player’s interests in education”. She further added, “This policy doesn’t talk about social justice measures in education, will rob little that Mandal Commission achieved in higher education. It is also highly centralised and directly controlled by the central government. We strongly oppose this policy and will push for its roll back.”
Promotion of classical languages, including Sanskrit, coupled with recent changes in syllabi at both school and college level, has been interpreted by many as a move towards ‘Sanskritisation of Education’. Nitheesh Narayanan, Central Secretariat Member of the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) opposed the policy saying, “This policy does not address the many problems facing the education sector in the country. The word secularism is not even pronounced. The same goes for the federal system. Our campuses are becoming centres of institutionalized murders, abuse of power and apoliticism. Reservation, gender and social justice are being subverted. What is the radical content this new educational policy is offering to address them? This is a document of stringent centralisation, commercialisation and communalisation of Indian education.”
Parth Shrimali of the Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association (BAPSA) highlighted the problem of student drop-outs and the NEP 2020’s unwillingness to view the issue as a problem of lack of equality, “Until now, the problem of people dropping out of the educational system — which would mostly be those coming from marginalised background — was being seen as a problem which needed a solution in light of the liberal principle of equality of opportunity. It was acknowledged that drop outs are occurring because of inequality. This meant that one could pressurise the State to create policies which worked towards reducing drop-outs and making education affordable and accessible. A scheme such as a midday meal scheme has also been known to have catered to reducing drop-outs besides helping with nutrition. However, the problem of drop-outs is still rampant where because of the economic and social inequality, most of those coming from marginalised backgrounds already drop out and join the work-force. What has changed now is that rather than seeing this as a problem of equality both from the economic and social perspective, the NEP 2020 is presenting this phenomenon as a virtue where vocational training courses are becoming cosmetic tools that could transform the problem into something good and desirable.”
“This is clearly being guided by a Brahmanical ethos which sees those coming from marginalised backgrounds as fit only for jobs which perpetually keep them socially and economically vulnerable. This policy must be seen as the caste hierarchy being given official state sanction — this time, not through imposition of Manusmriti but rather through subversion of Constitutional principles”, Parth added.
The Students Islamic Organisation (SIO) released a statement soon after the NEP 2020 was launched. Labeed Shafi, President of SIO called the policy “anti-federal, anti-constitutional and a licence to commercialise education in India.” Shafi also reiterated the issue of exclusion of minorities by saying, “It is truly abominable the way the draft policy has flouted and replaced the constitutional values of liberty, equality and pluralism by ignoring the contributions of minority scholars, their knowledge production and culture. Over-emphasis or imposition of any one language is against the constitution and the federal spirit of the Indian union.”
Iniyavan Banumathi, the President of Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) also criticised the policy saying, “ASA strongly opposes the NEP. It lacks any perspective to understand and devise mechanisms to address institutional discriminations and exclusions meted out on Dalit Bahujans by the Brahmanical ruling class. Rather it homogenizes and commercializes education which makes education further inaccessible for the marginalized. It is completely against the spirit of social justice implement to restore the feudal caste order which is constantly challenged by the educated Dalit Bahujans.”
Fraternity Movement’s National Secretary, Muhammed Ali stated that the NEP 2020’s proposal to restrict education in English language till Class 5th was “highly condemnable [and will] badly affect Bahujan students from lower-class background.” He also added, “Indian elites always find a way to get around such restrictions as International Schools and curriculum are fashion among them.”
The Revolutionary Students Federation (RSF) stood by its parent organisation, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi’s (VCK) statement which criticised the NEP, calling it an effort to “reinforce and reintroduce the varnashrama/caste doctrine of education only for some sections of society.”
Ruchi Gupta, In-Charge National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) took to Twitter on July 29 saying, “Some aspects of the New Education Policy sound good but BJP Govt’s past policies and politics indicative of true intent (funding cuts, centralisation, ideological coercion, ideologically committed mediocre VCs, assessments)” she added that “operational details are key” and it was “too early to comment.”
Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), affiliated to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), welcomed the NEP calling it “student-friendly” and lauded it for “recognizing, identifying, and fostering the unique capabilities of each student, by sensitizing teachers as well as parents to promote each student’s holistic development in both academic and non-academic spheres.”
Yameena Z is a student of Sociology at Miranda House, University of Delhi, and a freelance journalist.