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What NEP 2020 Promises And What It Could Have Promised

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“I want to go back to school.”

“Bro, everything depends on implementation.”

“Wow, so cool stuff.”

If you are done with these twitter reviews of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, let’s move ahead.

Geeta teaches/nurtures/takes care of 70 Class 2 students of a Hindi medium Municipal School in Pandesara (Surat, Gujarat), where many migrant labourers from the States of UP, MP and Bihar reside. The school has around 1,200 girls and, till last year, it had less than 10 teachers to teach.

Did I forget to mention that Geeta studies in the same school in Class 8? Now imagine if Geeta’s mother was from Orissa. What language should she choose to study in — home language, mother tongue or local language? How will the school arrange language subjects for such students? How will they get more teachers for these languages when they cannot afford enough teachers right now?

Regarding the lack of teachers and a high chance of dropping out after Class 8 , let us be optimist that her parents had somehow saved some money or taken a loan to move her to a low-income private school since the beginning of her schooling, despite the fact that such a school is not allowed to run on its efficiency, as government does not want to let entrepreneurs enter the education sector for profits. But more on that later.

Let’s get back to Geeta. There is a high probability that Geeta belongs to a SC/ST/OBC category, which means she will not get a chance to be a first generation speaker of the global language, English. While she studies in her local language, her upper caste, slightly-privileged classmates get to taste English, thanks to private tutors, access to e-learning, and parents’ awareness.

school children playing in a classroom
The aim of NEP is Universalisation of Education right from the pre-school to secondary level. But there has been no mention of linking it with the Right to Education Act, a milestone in Indian Education system.

In Class 5, she was learning Sanskrit (a language that is not spoken, but is good for scientific research claims), and in Class 6, she had the option of taking up coding or vocational courses such as carpentry or plumbing. Unless she magically owns a computer and learns to code in Sanskrit, we don’t need to guess what electives she would choose, compared to her Savarna classmates.

But wait, she gets vocational training at the age of 11 and gets to intern in a country that is definitely known for women safety and records four Dalit rape cases every day. Geeta’s parents get to know that she has a skill that can help her get money for the family, and voila! She drops out to start earning. Wasn’t this why we moved her to a private school in the first place? This means she will be discriminated throughout her life just on the basis of her birth. Sounds familiar?

Welcome to the New Education Policy. Now I know I just took it apart like the pessimist I am, but I could not just overlook the applicability of the policy for the majority of this country. Undoubtedly, there are many positives as well, and I shall mention some of the salient ones. The change of the policy was long overdue and there could not have been a better timing to announce these changes, when the entire education system seems to be in shackles.

What Will Change Under NEP 2020?

The NEP talks about aiming for universal education till the age of 18, but nowhere mentions if it will be free. The Right to Education Act, a milestone in the Indian Education system, hasn’t been referred to in the document. What happens to that Act? What happens to RTE Section 12 (1) (c) that reserves 25% seats for people from SC/ST/OBC in private schools? Will the government make changes to the Act, considering it mentions ease of norms to open up a school? Well, the questions remain to be answered.

The policy will bring two crore children into the mainstream. Three years ago, there was a dearth of one million teachers in India. Who will teach these kids who come to the mainstream? The question is not on the ability to produce more teachers, but rather, on addressing what the current issues are in the first place — in any case, a welcome objective to have.

As more and more children enter the mainstream, another issue that would need to be addressed is the Pupil Teacher Ratio, especially in states such as Uttarakhand, where thousands of schools depend on a single teacher for their survival.

One major change in the NEP is in the bucket of division, as we shall move from 10 + 2 to 5 + 3 + 3 + 4, which shall include Early Childhood Education (ECE) or Aanganwadi system in it. This, in my humble opinion, is a positive global move. One of the main issues with RTE, I feel, was a lack of focus on ECE. This will finally be taken more seriously and scientifically (Please do not think of the word ‘implementation’ yet).

The moment the policy said “No rigid separation between academic streams, extracurricular, vocational streams in schools,” there was a smile on my face, which I had reserved for special occasions — it was like my work of the past eight years, of screaming that extra-curricular activities are not extra, coming to a beautiful turn in its journey.

But then, they ruined it by mentioning vocational training from Class 6 with internships. Nevertheless, doing away with streams is a welcome move that gives flexibility and freedom to students to choose the subjects they want to study. This also brings critical thinking and interdisciplinary learning.

The NEP’s assessment has received a fair share of good news, with mention of fancy terms such as 360-degree holistic progress card, and if I recall correctly, at one point, they said Artificial Intelligence (AI) too. Well, that’s the future and AI and Machine Learning is already changing the way we look at assessments.

The move from summative to formative assessment is also a global standard that has been duly included. What would be interesting is to see which skills or parameters will be considered for testing this 360 degree progress assessment. The only thing to review in between was peer assessment which, in India, can become an official tool for bullying and harassment, which has already been observed by many marginalised communities.

National Technological Forum would be created to promote tech and equity. NEP 2020 emphasises on setting up a Gender Inclusion Fund and Special Education Zones for disadvantaged regions and groups, a much-needed and appreciated initiative.

The policy suggests many great initiatives, like more Bal Bhavans, sign language institutes, open learning for Classes 3, 5 and 8, flexibility and ease of board exams, National Curricular and Pedagogical Framework for Early Childhood Care and Education (NCPFECCE), and accreditation of schools.

The most controversial part still remains the obsession with local languages, especially since our language (and culture) changes every 50 odd kms in India. Considering the best age for learning a language is 10 years, why not give more time and start earlier so that first generational learners do not get discriminated against and maybe promote a language used globally for trade — unless we want to be China (I know the policy carefully uses the words “wherever possible”, but we know what that means). Additional challenges would be for children who change States and would have to bear the brunt of learning/comprehending a new language.

Apart from these, there are many initiatives, namely increase in Bal Bhavans (boarding schools), sign language institutes, open learning for Classes 3, 5 and 8 through NIOS, flexibility and ease of board exams — twice a year (still wrapping my head around how) — National Curricular and Pedagogical Framework for Early Childhood Care and Education (NCPFECCE), and accreditation of schools (could be game changer).

For a huge part of the document that talked about gender sensitisation and inclusion, not much change can be seen in teaching gender sensitisation in the Early childhood Education or special Training Programmes for teachers in the same domain.

Conclusion

These were just some of the features of the school education policy. Changes in teaching guidelines and higher education will take separate long articles. Don’t worry, I could hardly find loopholes there. Yet, my pessimism might help me write about them as well.

Also, I kept the best part for the last. The policy aims to increase the investment in education to 6% of GDP. This is huge. Currently, we rank 62nd in this. In the last eight years, we have contributed less than 3% to education in most cases, and reduced it to 2.4% in 2015-16. A good thing is that the NEP has not specified 6% of GDP of which year, so let us wait and watch. Most of the vision embarks 2030 as the year for policy implementation timeline, in line with Sustainable Development Goals.

My concerns lie more with the scientific aptitude we aim compared to the scientific aptitude displayed by current leadership. I can mention close to 100 examples here of the past six years ranging from how peacocks mate to how corona can be removed from bhabhiji papads. But most of us already know them. What will happen with a change of curriculum? Will we come up with new science? New history? New media? Depends on our votes.

Two things that could have had a major impact if included are: allowing schools to be for-profit and going with Direct Benefit Transfer to bring real change. Hear me out. As per a report by the Central Square Foundation, close to 50% students are going to private schools, with a majority in low-income private schools paying less than Rs 1,000 monthly fee.

As we are already inviting public-private partnerships in higher education, why not give incentives to entrepreneurs to bring in investment for this model? Fun fact, all schools are already making profits illegally, so why not get them under the law? Secondly, the cost at which the government is providing education is way higher than what low-income private schools are providing. Then why not use DBT to make good education accessible to more students and at lesser government expenditure? Could have, should have.

The last educational policy came out in 1986, it has been a long wait since then. The NEP 2020 has been built on the foundational pillars of Access, Equity, Quality, Affordability and Accountability. At least, it claims so. The effectiveness of the policy will depend on its implementation (there, I said it again), and to take it to the masses, we need professors who have given their life to research on the masses (read SC /ST /OBC). But wait, are those professors not behind bars as political prisoners currently? Okay, bye.

A huge thanks to Tanisha Venkani for inputs.

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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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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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