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New Education Policy Will Only Add To The Burden Of A Crumbling System

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Yes, I did it! I managed to read the entire 500 pages of the “New Education Policy 2019“. This might not sound like a big deal to many, but trust me when I say this, it was an experience which lasted several hours, over a period of two days. Therefore, I am confident when I say that even the policy makers did not read this document after they drafted it.

Imagine an undergraduate writing up a report on the education system of India. Now imagine if that report was a policy document by a special committee, written mostly by upper caste educators. And my heart goes out to Shri Shakeel Quereshi who was responsible for “keeping the committee continuously abreast of several inputs received from various sources at the Ministry and coordinated logistical assistance for the Chairman during his visits to Delhi for meetings.” I’ve been an operations intern in the past and I know for a fact, it really is hopeless.

The difficulty is explaining to the larger public that the policy can not be in five bullet points that you see in a press release. If a policy can be summarised into “Hindi is not a mandatory language”, “students will get direct transfers for scholarships”, “Rashtriya Shiksha Yojana to be established directly under PM as the highest governing body”—it is not a policy, it becomes an agenda.

Understanding this document has been an emotional labour, but I felt I needed to do it. I took several notes while reading the documents, highlighting paragraphs and then consolidated my thoughts once before finally writing this. I really put in the work because education is very important to me, personally. My mother has been a teacher for almost 25 years. Many people in my family are academicians and educators. I have been listening to them complain about issues for as long as I have been alive, so I was eager to find some remedies for their challenges, and decided to take a look at this policy. This policy had recently taken over the entire public discourse with its mention of Hindi as a mandatory language, which had to be revised following public outrage, but what else did it say? I sat down to read it in anticipation.

To say that I was disappointed would be an understatement. The policy has done nothing to improve any real concerns the people of this country have with education. To address the pressure of examinations, more centralised assessments at grade level 3, 5 and 8—ominously called “census examinations”, have been introduced. To deal with the teachers’ burden of managing multiple documentation processes, they’ve brought in a huge number of new bodies, which would now need to be managed by the school administration.

There is a compulsory insertion of NCERT material in all curriculum. It heavily emphasizes the “cultural education” aspect to conserve Indian heritage. Honestly, I love this idea. I love the emphasis on language, local arts, involving local people to teach community skills which are getting lost. It is important that kids know about what makes India an absolute stand-out country in the world. But this constant harping on curriculum in the document, and all the several bodies which will be responsible for executing it, does not bode well. It reads more like a nationalist agenda than a cultural education program.

I came to the part about improving student-teacher ratio in primary and secondary school, hoping that this at least would be interesting. It was the most ridiculous solution to the problem I could have imagined. The policy document constantly mentions “encouraging” public figures, volunteers and philanthropists to improve primary and secondary education! I don’t understand how the responsibility of increasing educators can be shifted to the goodwill of the larger public in a government policy document! There has been several reports on how meal plans have not helped improve drop out rates, but the emphasis on meals continues. Most of these recommendations are sections borrowed from policy drafts from back in the 1960s and ’90s (clearly mentioned). Can’t we see the world has progressed so much so that borrowing from 50 year old ideas, literally spells regression?

Mention of sex education, in this document, is far and few between. Majority of the teachers are women, there’s nothing in pages upon pages of description on improving the male-female teacher ratio. There is way too much emphasis on teacher education and training (AND education of the faculty who would train these teachers!) which frankly most teachers do not really want. It takes away from their time with their family and mandates learning something they already know. In case you weren’t aware, the mandate of a B.Ed. qualification, even if you have a masters degree, is something that has existed for a decade now.

In my experience, this is a terrible idea, although it has been greatly re-emphasised in this document. My mother, who is a PhD in Zoology from a Central University, had to go through 2 years of B.Ed. to teach biology to primary school kids. She had to go through a couple of years of education administration programs to even be considered for a high school or principal position. After more than 10 years (during which she drew quite a meagre salary, raising two kids at the same time) she was finally able to achieve what she started out to do. This is the burden we have put on people who choose to become educators, and this policy has done nothing but build on that burden.

On several pages, the policy talks about shifting responsibility into the hands of schools, to create ‘autonomy’. But this only leads to a massive increase in governance and bureaucracy. The creation of “School Management Complex” for sharing of resources is well meaning but quite impractical, as I see it. Piled on top of it are multiple bodies whose acronyms just gave me a headache. Oh, and I haven’t even gotten to the higher education section yet!

Such massive regulation and governance of primary and secondary schooling increases barriers to education. But on the other hand, higher education is being de-regulated? Change in names of accreditation bodies has no impact on anything except that it creates a lot of public confusion and opportunities for scammers. Then to top it up, all changes in curriculum are governed by bodies directly under the PM. There is a constant harping on liberal arts education to emphasise ‘traditional knowledge’ including Yoga and ‘constitutional values’. There is a stress on public funding, philanthropy in this section as well. There are serious recommendations to launch “Mission Nalanda” and “Mission Takshashila” to improve regional distribution of colleges and improvement of quality—overseen by “Mission Directorate”. All of this sounds like a movie plot to me!

There is no clarity on internships and placements, which I am assuming is not important since all the vocational training and distance learning will automatically enable people to find jobs (!). The jobs are out there, go look for them! The section on National Scholarship Fund is a relief but is immediately followed by National Research Fund, which is not detailed well enough. The NRF will received ₹20,000cr over the course of 10 years and will be overseen by a governing body which controls research grants. This governing body and the RSA above it, in consultation with ‘Divisional councils’, in turn will consult with the Chairperson of Subject Committee, who will decide… Sorry, I am already giving up!

The most important aspect of technological education has been relegated to “Additional Focus Areas”! Financing is an “Addendum”! Delay in disbursement of funds is considered because of staffing and not pilferage. Why is the non-public source of funds even a concern? The new budgeting has been done, based on past expenses of the 2017. If I presented this policy document at my job, I’d be fired for being absolutely useless.

So here’s a quick take away for you. The New Education Policy 2019, is nothing but a move towards massive centralization of education under the current government. It bizarrely includes creating data repository of all students and educators with no particular purpose. It seems very irksome to me that there are sections dedicated to “marketing campaigns” and “branding” for education initiatives. It seems like even the educators aren’t aware of the extent to which capitalism has seeped into their ideologies. There is no mention of the culture of paid seats in higher education. No action against private institutes charging astronomical fees for even primary education, has been mentioned. I was relatively excited to find a section dedicated to trans kids, but it says nothing concrete that doesn’t already apply.

This is not a 2019 policy by any means. If implemented, it will add to the burden of a crumbling system. But yes, we now have new terms for all these. Let all the pain get lost in translation.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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