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Opinion: The New Education Policy Does Not Address Any Real Student Concerns

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I would like to begin by thanking the person who read my article from last year and reduced the NEP policy document to 187 pages and a very good looking summary presentation. Someone in the team has great PowerPoint skills! I am so glad I don’t have to sit through the night counting the hours for a second time.

Somewhere in the past year, the policy committee went through the multiple criticisms of their policy draft and figured out how they could improve. However, through the past year, the country’s youth went through dramatic changes too. Everywhere the conversations on campuses transformed. Students spoke about the discrimination faced on campuses with regards to their sexual orientation, gender and caste. We read incredible reports of abuse and harassment of students from their faculties. We have also seen an alarming rise in self-harm, which has increased the debate around mental health and its effect on a student’s performance.

During the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, we have come across a multitude of issues on the sides of both the student and the teacher. Access to digital equipment is now posing a serious challenge for many young people in India. Online education has transformed over the years globally to become an alternative to institutional education. Students are now opting for online courses instead of enrolling into full-time degrees or diplomas around the world, however, India is a little slow in adapting to these because of infrastructural and awareness issues.

Therefore, to my confusion, the policy does not address any “real concerns” of Indian students or teachers with regards to education. The two main points of assertion are to create equivalence for students returning after studying abroad and making high school students more at-par for giving admission tests abroad. And for an administration which insists on building locally for the locals, it seems the policy is made with an Oxbridge-Ivy, IIT-IIM student in mind. Their credentials are anyway superior in the perceptions of the average Indian, I don’t think they are the ones struggling to get further education or employment.

The restructuring of the governing bodies into a centralised body may seem like a good idea until you ask any government college student who has done their own paperwork for applications and examinations from an existing central university. Most Indian parents don’t get involved with the daily intricacies of higher education after admissions. The rest of the journey is for the student to take, whether it is submitting forms for exams or re-checking etc. And any student from a government college in India can explain to you how centralisation has helped them have access to a wider resource structure but has not helped in reducing the hassles to access these resources. We put up with it anyway because affordable education is an invaluable gift in this country.

A classroom of college students, with serious faces, attending a lecture.
Any student from a government college in India can explain to you how centralisation has helped them have access to a wider resource structure but has not helped in reducing the hassles to access these resources

It has also been suggested that this policy will help to provide an impetus to the current economic downturn by inviting foreign institutes to open branches in India. Here again, I think the administration is not clearly aware of the condition of the average Indian student. We already get openly mocked by the people who graduated from these top colleges for putting up distance learning or part-time online courses from those colleges on our LinkedIn. Are we ready to now get mocked for graduating from say, Yale, Nasik? Where else could they build a big enough campus?

The policymakers have totally overlooked the need for affordable education for Indian students pursuing higher education in India. Creating a “financing” column is just not enough. Generation after generation, we are opting for government colleges for that one reason alone – affordability. Yet the central university system is being made unaffordable and inaccessible, thanks to impossible cut-offs. And with privatisation, the number of options for affordable education has become negligible.

But it seems approvals have already been done and there is not much one can say. The changes in curriculum are not new and it has been in the process of editing for a while. The history of changes in the curriculum is a rather long one under this government and in-fact can be traced back to the current administration’s rule in the state of Gujarat. This insistence on “Knowledge of India” is neither new nor surprising. The textbooks of Gujarati language students were being altered for a long time before anyone became aware of it. Ask a Gujarat Board student about the quality of their chapters. A policy document claiming to achieve “high-quality” education doesn’t mean they disclose their ideas of ‘quality’.

Which brings me to the most contentious aspect of this policy – culture. All Indians are multi-lingual from birth by default. Almost all Indians learn 3 languages, to begin with, this may or may not include Hindi. But the normal living circumstances of our multi-lingual Indian society means that anyone who does have access to education becomes literate in many languages from the start, whether their schooling provides them with that assistance or not.

The same goes for “critical thinking” and developing “soft skills”. These are ancillary aspects of any education system and do not need to be called out for it to be imbibed by a student. These ideas only seem like red herrings in this document to divert from the fact that the only reason this entire policy has been written is to reimagine the idea of India in the way our central government will deem fit. Otherwise, ask yourself, are you currently less cultured, having been raised in a different education system? Culture is not dogmatic. It is a thriving language of people’s real-world interactions with inter-linked communities. And it surely is learnt only through lessons outside of the classroom.

So whether it is the restructuring of schooling to help facilitate entry into global schools or the emphasis on pedagogy and teacher training, I believe this entire policy has been written by someone whose understanding of India’s education system is from the 90s. This is a policy made from internalised beliefs of institutional superiority of the job markets and colleges abroad. If they had done an actual survey of today’s youth in India, they would understand the needs of the youth are dramatically different from whatever this policy hopes to address.

Eventually, I think this policy is the work of a lazy student who is attempting to get a tick mark on this core activity. Using the word “New” may fool some people on the novelty of this policy, there is nothing transformative about it. The teacher education programs and curriculum interventions to facilitate multi-disciplinary learnings have existed in our country for decades. Instead of calling out sex education explicitly, a desperate need in India, there are vague mentions of “health and wellness” and “gender inclusion”.

This policy is therefore just a re-education policy for the creation of an indoctrinated Indian. The view of India’s current modernity is completely lost on our policymakers.

Oddly enough the average Indian student has shown how they are more adaptable than any policy or government-led program can aim to be. They explore their options and learn things on their own because their aspirations are not just world-class but sky-high. Maybe the administration will look good in front of the parents after passing this policy, as they present their glossy report cards. But the kids don’t like to be told what to do, they will go out and do whatever they want. You can take away their TikTok, they’ll replace them with Reels. Ultimately, you can not curb the spirit of the youth in India and whatever they hope to achieve. And to quote Alice Cooper, “School’s out Forever”.

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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.

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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.

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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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