The central government has approved the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP2020) based on the draft NEP2019. Though Modi government has toned down brash verbosity of the draft policy, it hasn’t strayed away from the conceptual aspects of it.
One of these concepts is full autonomy, academic, financial, and administrative, to the institutions. Many experts and people, in general, had strongly opposed the idea of full autonomy to the institutions because it will make education very expensive and out of reach of the commoners. But this government seems to be convinced that only private managements with complete freedom about academics, finances and administration can offer equitable and quality education in India.
Both, the draft NEP2019 and approved NEP2020, rile over profiteering, commercialization, and economic exploitation of parents by many for-profit educational institutions. Still, the freedom to decide fees lies with the schools in finally approved NEP2020. The government expects, rather benevolently, that these schools shall be trusted for being public-spirited and can be left to self-regulation.
The policy consciously avoids the use of public-private-partnership, instead offers a new category called public-philanthropic-partnership. Obsession with philanthropic institutions is overwhelming in this whole policy without any empirical evidence that philanthropists really do any public good.
Research in developing countries suggests that philanthropic aid is in fact exploitative. “This is akin to aid that hardly contributes to structural changes, but rather leads to complacency, corruption, dependency, boutique projects, disguised exploitation, and the misuse of corporate political power to achieve corporate bottom lines.”
Let’s have a look at the actual provisions about fee determination and structure of educational institutions that this NEP2020 proposes to build over a period.
Under chapter 3 on ‘Curtailing Dropout Rates and Ensuring Universal Access to Education at All Levels’ policy looks out for all kinds of models to ensure that children are enrolled in and are attending school. For which it proposes that ‘Regulations on inputs will be limited to certain areas as enumerated in Chapter 8. Other models for schools will also be piloted, such as public-philanthropic partnerships.’ And, rightly so!
Under chapter 8 on ‘Standard-setting and Accreditation for School Education’, NEP2020 withdraws the regulatory powers of the Department of Education in all States and UTs because it ‘results in a conflict of interest’.
Para 8.5 (a) states ‘The Department of School Education, which is the apex state-level body in school education, will be responsible for overall monitoring and policymaking for continual improvement of the public education system; it will not be involved with the provision and operation of schools or with the regulation of schools, in order to ensure due focus on the improvement of public schools and to eliminate conflict of interests.’ The State Education departments are out of operation and out of the regulation of the schools!
The policy blames the current regulatory regime for having failed to curb the commercialization of education and exploitation of parents by the for-profit private schools. As far as we understand, the schools and colleges can be run by the charitable trusts only, duly registered so and never by for-profit companies.
Policymakers of NEP2020 do not appear to be aware that laws do not permit for-profit businesses to be in the education sector. If the current regulatory regime failed to curb profiteering by schools, the solution lies not in disbanding the very regime, but to plug the loopholes. Instead, what solution this policy offers to curb profiteering and exploitation? Self-Regulation by the school managements!
It says in para 8.5 (c) ‘An effective quality self-regulation or accreditation system will be instituted for all stages of education including pre-school education – private, public, and philanthropic – to ensure compliance with essential quality standards.’
The policy mandates to set up an independent, State-wide body called the State School Standards Authority (SSSA). The SSSA will establish a minimal set of standards based on basic parameters. The framework for these parameters will be created by the SCERT in consultation with various stakeholders, especially teachers and schools.
Look at who are the stakeholders? In the proposed self-regulatory framework for education, the stakeholders are teachers and schools! What about the students and parents and the State itself?
No doubt, the policy makes a lip service by stating ‘Private philanthropic efforts for quality education will be encouraged – thereby affirming the public-good nature of education – while protecting parents and communities from arbitrary increases in tuition fees.’ in the same chapter. But how and by whom?
In the case of higher education institutions (HEIs), the govt education policy 2020 is outright blatant about the fee structure.
It says at para 18.14 that, ‘Private HEIs having a philanthropic and public-spirited intent will be encouraged through a progressive regime of fees determination. Transparent mechanisms for fixing of fees with an upper limit, for different types of institutions depending on their accreditation, will be developed so that individual institutions are not adversely affected. This will empower private HEIs to set fees for their programmes independently. This fee determining mechanism will ensure reasonable recovery of cost while ensuring that HEIs discharge their social obligations’.
Clearly, education in India will be like any other businesses, as usual instead of national priority investment. Indeed, education shall be the best defence mechanism to protect sovereignty. It should be treated on par with defence for government spending!
The government has finally agreed to spend 6% of GDP on education as has been mandated from the very first comprehensive national policy for education brought out in 1986. The draft NEP2019 had, no doubt, tried to fool the people into believing that earmarking 20% of government expenditure (GE) will result into 6% of GDP, the present 10% of GE being approximately 3% of GDP. Thankfully, that assumption has been discarded after public outcry.
The right of children to free and compulsory education gets just a passing reference in the review of the past policies as “a major development since the last Policy of 1986/92 has been the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 which laid down legal underpinnings for achieving universal elementary education”.
When it comes to implementing these rights, the NEP2020 speaks only about the review of the standard-setting/regulatory framework ‘to ensure that all students, particularly students from underprivileged and disadvantaged sections, shall have universal, free and compulsory access to high-quality and equitable schooling from early childhood care and education (age 3 onwards) through higher secondary education (i.e., until Grade 12)’ Para 8.8.
It doesn’t find any mention in 22 vows mentioned as ‘Principles of this Policy’ at pages 4 & 5. Notwithstanding, the lofty words about the importance of education for the nation, this policy fails to reduce the cost of education for the people.
All this policy speaks about financial support for students is in just one paragraph on page 40. Para 12.10 says ‘Financial assistance to students shall be made available through various measures. Efforts will be made to incentivize the merit of students belonging to SC, ST, OBC, and other SEDGs. The National Scholarship Portal will be expanded to support, foster, and track the progress of students receiving scholarships. Private HEIs will be encouraged to offer larger numbers of free ships and scholarships to their students.’ The mechanism of National Scholarship Portal that is proposed to be expanded here is not described anywhere in the policy. Such is the callous approach when it comes to funding education of the children.
The government expects that the HEIs will offer fee waivers and scholarships to a large number of students. If they do so and still recover their costs, who is going to bear the burden? Obviously, the burden will be passed on to other students. It is the familiar and typical approach of the present central government to dodge any responsibility to the people! In corona lockdown, the government expected landlords to waive rents, employers to pay wages and public to feed migrant labours! Same was the attitude in the disastrous demonetization!
Looking at the ‘light-but-tight’ self-regulatory model for the entire education sector, from preschool to higher education, and full autonomy to schools and HEIs to recover their costs through fees and at the same time offer fee waivers and scholarships, this government is not clear in any mood to spend on free education to children. Goodbye, Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education! Goodbye, affordable quality education for the masses!
[Emphasis added on certain quotes from the NEP2020]