National Education Policy 2020: Misplaced Priority

It feels as if there is a ‘sense of inferiority’ among Indians and this new national education policy is intended to educate them and create a false sense of pride

The new National Education Policy (NEP) was long overdue. The last time the education policy was overhauled was in 1992. The NEP is new, radical in its approach and a revolution for its admirers. This article will deal with primary and secondary education policy as envisioned in NEP 2020. We will talk about higher education in another installment.

NEP is a vision document. It’s always a very important document since it decides the course of a country with regards to its future direction and the proper use of its human resources. The essential essence of a country will be determined by the education it will impart on its citizens and the identity it will foster. Whether it’s a religious country, a communist dictatorship or a democracy, the education policy is essential for infusing identity, educating citizens about civics or teaching them their moral duties. The role of primary and secondary education is primarily character building, basic aggregate knowledge about the nation and the world and creating a sense of identity and self-worth. On the other hand, the role of higher education is to prepare its citizenry for different roles and duties, skills and knowledge creation.

NEP declares at its outset that it wants to see its citizens as torchbearers of its heritage and diversity. The framers of this document are extremely intelligent people and they know what they are doing. The motivation behind NEP document seems to be making students familiar with the vast cultural capital of India and appreciate its diversity. If you read the whole document, you will understand people from diverse groups were assembled to prepare this document and there was an attempt to fuse ancient with modern which appears to its readers as hodgepodge. Some of its pronunciations will read like wishful thinking, emanating from maladaptive ‘daydreaming’. NEP wants to make students familiar with vast amounts of knowledge sources in different classical languages like Sanskrit, Prakrit, Pali, Persian etc.

There are 27 sections in the full document; the entirety of section 22 is devoted to ‘Promotion of Indian Languages, Arts, and Culture’. But apart from this, there are numerous references to Indian languages, their cultivation, their preservation, different cultures and traditions, music, arts, literature and knowledge systems associated with different languages. Students from all sections will be consumers of this knowledge and their sense of national identity and pride will be based on this collective heritage. There will be workshops, field studies and projects to understand different aspects of Indian culture. The emphasis in this phase is not on producing knowledge but only consumption and creating a sense of pride.

It feels as if there is a ‘sense of inferiority’ among Indians and this new policy is intended to educate them and create a false sense of pride. There are of course cultural elements which make one proud like different shades of hindustani music, especially sufi and bhakti music, carnatic vocals, dances like bharatnatyam, magnificent odissi dance of Orissa, Kathak, Theater traditions like Kathakali, Thumri among others, vast literature in so many different languages, diverse and sophisticated philosophies and so on. However, the moment you analyze the underlying social structures, you see exploitation of Sudras, dehumanization of Dalits, the othering of Muslims. You can then take refuge in syncretic folk traditions like Baul, Sahojiya, tribal music and dances and other folk traditions with their vast literature, food practices, customs, festivals and other cultural elements. These are the true sources of diversity which ought to survive and flourish and be part of the idea called India.

Having outlined the basic features of the document, let us now move to some technical details about primary and secondary educational structures under new policy and their implications. Overall, I have mixed reactions to the new policy & I will explain why. In the new policy Secondary (Class 10) and Higher Secondary (10+2) will be replaced by 5+3+3+4 systems.

national education policy NEP 2020 school class students

The 5+3+3+4 system was adopted because it was seen that students from poor socially disadvantaged backgrounds dropped out in those particular years of education. As the above figure [taken from NEP 2020] explains, the first five years are foundational which is further divided into three years of pre-schooling/Anganwadi and two years of primary education. The aim of this phase is to equip students with foundational literacy and numeracy as explained in section 1.2 of the document. Next three years are the preparatory stage which will incorporate some ‘light textbooks’ designed to lay the foundation for different subjects like mathematics, science, reading, writing, speaking, languages, art etc. Next three years will be dedicated to the middle stage in which students will be introduced to abstract concepts across different subjects. Coding will be introduced in this stage as well and gradually different vocational courses, skills, co-curricular activities, extra-curricular activities and sports will be part of the holistic structure of the next and last stage. The last stage is the secondary stage consisting of four years. This stage will introduce multidisciplinary study, flexible choices of subjects. Students will have options to exit after Class 10 & enter vocational courses (possibly in specialised schools of vocational training) in Grades 11-12. During the course of the 5+3+3+4 education, three language formulas will be implemented, a local language, a nationally recognised language and a foreign language. Medium of instruction will initially be encouraged to be in the mother-tongue/local language.

Sanskrit will be one of optional languages in the 3-language formula. To quote section 4.17, “Sanskrit, while also an important modern language mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India, possesses a classical literature that is greater in volume than that of Latin and Greek put together, containing vast treasures of mathematics, philosophy, grammar, music, politics, medicine, architecture, metallurgy, drama, poetry, storytelling, and more (known as ‘Sanskrit Knowledge Systems’)”. To make the integration with arts and culture of ancient and medieval India even more deeper [sec. 4.7], “Art-integration is a cross-curricular pedagogical approach that utilizes various aspects and forms of art and culture as the basis for learning of concepts across subjects. As a part of the thrust on experiential learning, art-integrated education will be embedded in classroom transactions not only for creating joyful classrooms, but also for imbibing the Indian ethos through integration of Indian art and culture in the teaching and learning process at every level. This art-integrated approach will strengthen the linkages between education and culture.”

There is certainly utility in this kind of cultural education but the concern is that it will not achieve the inclusive education we were hoping for. Firstly, textbooks are notorious in ignoring contributions of people from lower castes, Dalits and Muslims, for these students history will be replete with unfamiliar faces and names whom they can’t relate to. Moreover, over-emphasis on vocational courses will drive poor and socially disadvantaged groups away from higher education and into more vocational courses. A new labour class entirely comprising these people will be formed while people from rich and upper-caste families will continue their exploration into bountiful Indian cultures through evening music and dance classes. The gaps between upper caste and lower caste students will widen further. While socially forward groups will explore great avenues of higher education, pupils from backward castes will plunge into the abyss of vocational courses. The section 6 of the document deals entirely with equitable and inclusive education with some measures to curtail dropouts among poor but those poor people will be lured into vocational courses which will create a cycle of discordance. I will be extremely happy if I am wrong. Only time will tell.

Sk Ashif Akram

is a research scholar, IIT Bombay

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