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

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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