The draft National Education Policy (NEP), 2019, embodies a reformative spirit with equity and accessibility at the core of its founding goals but simultaneously belies a misreading of gender relations and socialisation practices. The Draft NEP lists out a number of policy measures to ensure and promote increased participation of girl children, from primary to higher levels of education through financial aid, and other social welfare schemes. While focusing on making education accessible, the draft hardly works on fostering a change in the social interactions or the environment, where the learning takes place in order to make education more inclusive.
Before the article lists out some fundamental problems of the Draft NEP 2019, it is important to understand gender as a social concept. Much to the dislike of ‘modern pundits’ on the internet, gender still operates more in terms of what we are expected to do socially and culturally than what we have beneath our clothes. One’s gender role/identity is always understood in relation to another, i.e., “I am more manly than him/her/them,” “I am the man, I am not supposed to cook for the family,” and so on. This is how stereotypic tropes get embedded as a defining part of our identities in our growing years and furthermore, our education system does nothing to address it at any level.
This leads us to the miscarriages in the Draft National Education Policy 2019.
Social obstacles that get in the way of the education of girl children can’t be dealt with in terms of stop-gap measures like, immediate financial incentive or infrastructural accessibility alone. It requires an overhaul in terms of change of mindset. The draft policy, like its predecessors, reiterates increasing access to education for girls, ensuring essential infrastructure and safety, but completely misses out on systemically and systematically creating gender-sensitive and gender-equal mindsets in boys, who need to be an equal stakeholder in the idea of gender equality.
The fact that boys too grow up with a gendered identity, rooted in notions of masculinity and superiority over other genders, seems to have been ignored, if not negated, in the draft NEP 2019. Boys and men have been excluded from the narrative on gender equality and inclusive education by the draft. The question that arises here is, how do we expect the problem of gender inequality to be solved by solely looking at girls?
The draft mandates schools and colleges to conduct gender-sensitisation sessions, but hardly addresses the root cause of gender stereotypes. The document has no mention of undoing the constant socialisation, which young boys and girls acquire to become masculine or feminine respectively. It has also been noted how here, “The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) that has been put in place for sexual offenses against children, not limited to any particular gender, has been interpreted as legal protection for girls and women.”
Even in the section which deals with sex education, the learning limits itself to basic anatomical wellbeing and hygiene practices, without including any training on the concepts of ‘consent’, ‘good touch/bad touch,’ and so on, at any level.
The draft deals with gender differences merely at an anatomical or physical level. It vaguely speaks of including transgender children in school without elaborating on the necessary steps to be taken to ensure the retention of transgender students. This would include the sensitisation to be provided to educators to deal with their special needs, to ensure their safety from a range of hate crimes to discrimination. “The creation of a gender-inclusion fund is expected to build the capacity to provide quality and equitable education to all girls.” This makes it inconsistent with its own label by excluding boys and transgender students, who experience different types of depravities.
The draft NEP entails a range of logical mishaps, like lack of gender-neutrality in the language of the document, inconspicuously remaining silent on the implementation and timeline of a range of programs, and equating gender issues as mainly women’s issues. It is important to adopt reformatory provisions in the education policy to make it a driving tool for social change and development.
The draft National Education Policy 2019 is going to decide how our education system will look for the next two decades. It is, therefore, very important for everyone to read the draft and send their inputs to the government for consideration.
You can access the draft here.