The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has received the Union cabinet’s nod. Now it’s just a matter of time that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindutva fascist government will implement it and, thereby, destroy the last relics of public-funded education in India. Not only higher education, but also school education will suffer immensely due to this NEP 2020. The NEP 2020 will replace the last NEP adopted in 1986 and amended in 1992. This NEP 2020 will not only deprive the students of marginalised classes and communities a right to education, as enshrined in the Indian constitution, it will also make education an exclusive right of the upper-caste elites and urban middle class.
Since the first committee was formed to draft the NEP around five years ago under the close watch of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its parental body Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the regime has ensured that the NEP meets two of its broad goals.
Firstly, the NEP was supposed to tailor India’s education system according to the diktats of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO wants commodification of education. The IMF and the World Bank want the higher education system to focus on creating technocrats and uncritical servile agents only, who can run the locomotive of the neo-liberal economy. The IMF and the World Bank also want an end to public education in a country like India.
Secondly, it was designed to implement some of the important agendas of the RSS and the Modi regime, like the implementation of an official hegemony of Hindi by promoting it in all non-Hindi states. Also, it wants to do away with the existing syllabus and education system that allow the non-Brahminical castes access to education. For the RSS, it’s imperative that it reinstates, officially, the system that will reserve the right to higher education for only upper-caste elites and urban middle-class students.
The NEP 2020 has successfully addressed these two objectives of the RSS. It has ensured that the class hegemony of the rich and upper-middle classes in education is consolidated and the poor are further deprived. The NEP 2020 also opens the gateway to the big foreign capital in the higher education sector and allows unbridled access to profiteering by the commodification of something as essential as education.
If one critically analyses the NEP 2020, then it will be found that rather than making the present education system inclusive for the students, especially those from marginalised sections, rather than lightening the burden of studies and ending the colonial hangovers in the education system, it does exactly the opposite of what it claims.
NEP 2020 to widen education gap between poor and rich
Even after its 73 years of the so-called independence, only 11% of the population, or roughly one in ten persons is a graduate. Only 12% has a high school certificate, while it’s 16% each for secondary and middle school certificates. The average per-capita income in India is around Rs 10,500. However, as many people are rendered unemployed due to the grave economic crisis, which is followed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdown, the per-capita income is bound to fall in the current fiscal year and in the future.
In such a scenario, the Modi regime’s NEP 2020 is proposing to make school education a 15-year-long affair while doing away with the board examinations. As most students from poor and marginalised sections face immense difficulty in completing even the prevalent 12 years of schooling, it will be impossible for many of them to study for an additional three years. This will eventually force more dropouts and only those with a better financial condition can complete the 15-year-long tenure.
Not only school education, but the NEP 2020 is also extending graduation to four years from present three. This will put immense pressure on poor students as they must pay an extra year’s fees to get their honours degree. Many poor students will have to opt-out in the third year itself due to such a long period of completing studies.
Only the rich and the urban middle-class students will be able to complete school and college education due to this extended duration. Let’s not even assume that a student from the poor and marginalised background will reach the doorways of the university for a post-graduate degree or doctoral research.
Even by doing away with the board exams at the tenth and 12th standards, the Modi regime will ensure that the government job grades, especially in Indian Railways, where people who have passed tenth and 12th standards are hired, are also dissolved, which will mean far fewer employment opportunities for the poor and marginalised people. At a time when unemployment is skyrocketing, such a step will bring far more hardship on the youth who aim at finishing the basic schooling to become qualified for such jobs.
With multiple exit points and inter-mixing of vocational and theoretical studies, though the NEP 2020 is trying to project itself as a very progressive system, it’s actually promoting a system, where those who can’t afford 15 years of schooling will be left out to be in the pool of the labouring masses, and those who can, will further get a leeway to earn additional skills and degrees to become specialised technocrats or sophisticated clerks for the neo-liberal economic order.
This anti-poor nature of the NEP 2020 is prevalent as the dominant theme across all its salient features and makes education a dearer commodity for most Indians.
Skill development or cheap apprentice creator system?
The multiple exit points in the 15-year-long school education system are shown as a flexible feature of the NEP 2020. But is it so? The NEP 2020 promotes the idea of mixing vocational training with theoretical studies, but who is to decide which student will study which subject or go for which vocational training? Who is to decide the exit points for the students?
As it’s clear, the exit points are there because it’s inevitable that the poor and downtrodden students can’t afford 15-year-long schooling, a four years’ graduation programme, etc. This means the exit points are there only for the poor students as it’s less likely that an affluent student will exit with a vocational diploma at the age of 14 or 15.
One must be aware that in India, only employment of children below the age of 14 in a trade is considered illegal unless it’s related to child art or family business, and, therefore, if the students from the poor and downtrodden sections are allowed exit from the education system between 14 and 18 years of age, it will provide cheap apprentices to the big corporate houses and their downstream business partners. A large pool of semi-skilled, cheap teenaged labourers will help many enterprises to earn profit at the times of gloom by reducing their labour costs. The same goal is pursued by the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise that the Modi regime is planning to conduct through the National Population Register (NPR) update.
Though the NPR-NRC exercise will create cheap labour pool of those rendered stateless, the NEP 2020 will help to create bespoke skilled labourers for different industries. None of the upper-caste, affluent family’s wards will be a part of this pool because they can afford education, but obviously in both NPR-NRC and the NEP 2020, the poor and the marginalised will suffer the most.
The big school project will prevent many students from availing education
If the spirit of the NEP 2020 is followed to the letters, then many students will lose the scope of getting educated in India’s hinterland. The NEP 2020 proposes creation of big schools, with shared resources, including libraries, laboratories and technical education sections for students from a cluster than having multiple schools in different locations.
As of now, the students of small villages, hamlets and towns cover a great distance to reach their nearest schools. By building multiple public-funded primary schools at each neighbourhood, the accessibility to schools could’ve been sorted in a pragmatic way. But the NEP 2020 makes it difficult for poor students from such localities to attend a school closer to their homes. For the NEP proposes bigger schools, which will make it hard for the poor students to reach, due to the distance, and thereby deprive them of school education.
Privatisation of education and meeting WTO’s demand
The Modi regime has followed the WTO’s diktat on commodifying education very religiously and started with cutting grants to research scholars, which triggered massive movements like the “Occupy UGC” movement by student organisations in its first tenure. By 2016-17, the Modi regime and all wings of the RSS have started an all-out war against the students who have been protesting the neo-liberal aggression on public education. The NEP 2020 goes beyond higher education and allows big capital’s dominance even in the much-contested school education sector.
Allowing the formation of large-scale schools and doing away with smaller schools is a step towards wooing foreign capital in the school education sector. The air-conditioned schools for the rich people’s wards will remain intact, but the primary schools, the small schools where the poor students get a mid-day meal, will be done away with. This will stop many poor students from attending schools and the dropouts will increase considerably.
Moreover, though the provisions are made for the big public-funded schools to share their resources with privately-owned schools, the vice versa isn’t allowed. So, while the private entities will profiteer by using the resources of the public-funded schools, the public schools can’t access the resources of the private schools, which will remain exclusively reserved for rich children. No fees cap is imposed on school education, allowing the notorious school owners to impose hefty charges on the parents, making education an exclusive property of the rich and the upper-middle classes.
Apart from school education, the entire higher education sector is given up to private and foreign capital for profiteering with sheer impunity. While the BJP opposed the erstwhile Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance government’s proposal of inviting foreign universities to invest in India, now it’s a kosher deal for it. The foreign universities will be allowed to open shop in India and lure the rich and upper-middle class students, while the Indian public-funded universities will be slowly killed by cutting down their funds under the guise of providing them autonomy.
As universities will be left with no grants or funds, they will have to source their own expenses and that can come from charging students hefty amount for courses. This will make higher education dearer for the poor and marginalised students. Also, as the NEP 2020 will free the colleges of university affiliation, which means the less renowned colleges, where a majority of poor and marginalised students study, will fetch fewer scopes for the students vis-à-vis the reputed ones. The uniformity of university degree will go, and disparity will prevail in a humongous way.
Though the public higher education institutions are asked to conduct entrance tests, the privately-owned institutions won’t do that, which means a majority of poor, downtrodden students won’t get admission in them. Forget scholarship or research grants. The PhD itself will be fixed on topics that the state will fix, thereby nailing the last in the coffin of free-thinking.
The imposition of Hindi and the language question
The NEP 2020 is stuck with the suggestions in the controversial draft of 2019, which proposed a three-language model for all students and tried to impose Hindi upon non-Hindi students. Though the NEP 2020 tries to impose Hindi very subtly this time, the frantic efforts to mainstream the Hindi language by promoting Sanskrit, a language neither used in modern business communication nor scientific researches, is evidence of its agenda.
Tamil Nadu has already refused to implement the three-language formula, opening a new rift with the Hindi-imposition brigade. It’s expected that other states like Kerala, Telangana and West Bengal will follow the suit as well. The imposition of Hindi on non-Hindi students will try to mainstream the propaganda that Hindi is the national language of India when it’s not so.
Apart from imposing Hindi, the NEP 2020 is taking away English until standard fifth, which will again create a disparity among students as most students from the poor and marginalised background will remain behind the rich and upper-middle class students as the latter will get English coaching separately and remain ahead of others when the language is introduced as a medium of instruction.
In India, English, a European language made global by the US-led imperialist bloc, is taught according to a colonial model to keep the legacy of the former masters intact. In case of learning any European language like German or French, or any Asian language like Chinese or Korean, an Indian student neither must learn it since childhood nor learn all other subjects, from science to social science, in that language.
Rather, everyone would do a special language course for a year or two to master the language and they even use that skill to travel to those countries and work or study there. But when it comes to English, the language is learned from childhood and it’s often the language of instruction for the schools where the wards of the rich and the middle-class study, as the language remains an aspiring one because it promises success.
It’s imperative to correct this language teaching process and ensure that all subjects are taught to children in their mother tongue, so that they can grasp them easily and understand the essence, rather than putting effort into reciting the words. This would have made language learning interesting, as well as, it’d have turned all subjects interesting for the students. Rather than addressing such concerns, the NEP 2020 keeps widening the language gap between the poor and the rich by manifold.
What’s to be done regarding NEP 2020?
Accepting the NEP 2020 without resisting its implementation will not only betray millions of poor, unprivileged and marginalised students, it will also promote fascism among the children. Hindutva fascism has very cunningly developed this education system to provide skilled workers, including teenaged workers, and uncritical clerks to big corporate houses. By 2023, the Modi regime wants this NEP 2020 to be the norm.
Thus, the onus is on the student community and the teacher community to stop this anti-student NEP 2020. They must form united fronts with each other and collectively chalk out a strategy of resistance and must fight the obnoxious agenda of the Modi regime, which aims at selling India to the US and its allies, one piece at a time. The NEP 2020 is the enemy of the future, thus, it’s the students and teachers who will resist and defeat its juggernaut.