This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Evolving Contours of National Education Policies in India – 19th, 20th and 21st Century

More from IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

On August 4, 2020, the Center for ICT Development (CICITD) at Impact and Policy Research Insititute (IMPRI), New Delhi, organized a special lecture on Evolving Contours of National Education Policies in India – 19th, 20th and 21st Century: Transition, Constructs, Impact and Way Forward by Prof Sachidanand Sinha.

“Even After 200 Years Of Colonial Rule, Our Ideologies On Education Are Similar To Those Of Our Colonial Rulers”

Prof Sachidanand Sinha, Professor, Centre for the Study of Regional Development, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, delivered a special lecture to discuss and highlights the evolution of India’s National Education Policies over the last three centuries. The Union Cabinet approved a new National Education Policy on July 29, 2020.

The National Education Policy, 2020 (hereafter NEP 2020) is meant to provide a robust vision and a comprehensive framework for primary, secondary, and higher education in India.

Prof Sinha traced how the ideas in the NEP 2020 came about, NEP 2020’s similarities and dissimilarities with colonial-era education policies, the national concerns with respect to education during the colonial rule, and the administrative measures introduced by colonial rulers to fulfill their goals on education.

Representational Image. The National Education Policy, 2020 (hereafter NEP 2020) is meant to provide a robust vision and a comprehensive framework for primary, secondary, and higher education in India.

According to Prof Sinha, while India is now a free and independent country after 200 years of colonial rule, our objectives and ideologies on education are very similar to those of our colonial rulers. The evolution of India’s education policies can be traced from the Charter of India Act, 1813, to Wood’s Despatch in 1854, the first Indian Education Commission in 1882, and subsequently the reforms that were introduced through such policies.

While there seems to be some consensus that India did not have a structured formal education system in the 19th century, evidence suggests otherwise. Dharmapala, in his book ‘The Beautiful Tree: Indigenous Indian Education in the Eighteenth Century (1983)’, makes a mention of an indigenous education system.

The Colonial Rulers’ Investment In Education Was For Their Own Selfish Interest

William Adam authored Adam’s Report in the first quarter of the 19the century and noted the presence of vernacular education in Bengal and parts of northern Bihar. Collectors of Bellary, Bombay, and Calcutta wrote reports on India’s native schooling system.

While Ashramas, Pathshaalas, Madrassas existed, they were exclusive and inaccessible, as education was seen as the prerogative of a certain class of people, i.e., Ashramas and Pathshaalas were open only for men from various Brahminical castes, and Madrassas for Muslim men.

It was believed that since a large portion of our population belongs to an agrarian background, formal education is not needed, and any necessary skills could be acquired through apprenticeship.

India’s non-agrarian activities were systematically destroyed by the colonial administration, and our agrarian structures were brought under severe transformation that brought about massive instability. As a result, local rulers who held some influence over education ran out of resources as well.

Prof Sinha says, “Colonial rulers wished to popularise education, not as a favour to their subjects, but they wanted to invest in education, as such an investment would offset the expenditure they were likely to incur for importing manpower and expertise from England.

A Trail Down The History Of Education In India

The 1854 Wood’s Despatch, according to Prof Sinha, was a fairly well-balanced document that stood for expansion of the formal public education system in vernacular languages. It was inclusive, non-discriminatory, and accessible to all. However, not everyone could access education because of various social obligations and restrictions.

Soon, the National leaders acknowledged the significance of education for the Nationalist movement and wanted to encourage the spread of education in India.

The colonial administration, seeing this, wanted no direct involvement of the State in education and assigned this responsibility to local bodies who would also mobilise resources to expand education in different parts of India. The colonial administration was not willing to spare the massive resources required for the expansion of education.

Representational Image. A common school system, according to Prof Sinha, has still not been established in India with the numerous public and private schools in the country and different schools for tribal societies, etc.

The Brahmins, the traditionally educated class in rural India, got jobs in the colonial administration and became urbanised. As a result, rural society suffered from a power vacuum. This created a competition among communities in India. In Kerala, local communities, through philanthropic grants, started local schools. Simultaneously, Christian Missionaries and Arya Samaj Movements were other not-for-profit movements that aimed at expanding education.

While there is much to criticise about the colonial administration’s policies on education, for the first time, the State accepted responsibility for public education.

The princely States never introduced a formal system of education or formally invested in education. Education, by the efforts of the colonial administration, was for the first time in India’s history, made open to all.

Vernacular Languages And English Were Introduced As Mode of Instruction In Schools

At the time of independence in 1947, India had 23 universities, nearly 500 colleges, 2.1 lakh primary schools, nearly 17,000 upper-primary schools, and approximately 9,000 secondary schools. The structural ratio in relation to the nature of the promotion of children from primary to secondary school is crucial to ensure upward mobility of students. If the infrastructure is not available to fulfill educational objectives at each level, the education policy in itself is not of much use.

Education became a responsibility of the local bodies. With no direct involvement of the State, philanthropy was promoted along with grants-in-aid to expand education. Universal education became a crucial agenda. However, the Indian State did not have the resources to fulfil this goal under diarchy. “Three decades of diarchy was wasted because we lacked resources.”

However, according to Prof Sinha, acknowledging education as an instrument of change and education being made open to all sections of society was a remarkable feat achieved by the Indian Government. The medium of instruction remained vernacular language at the primary level, but English at the secondary level. As Rudolf Steiner had said, “the education system in India was an institutional transplant from England.”

There was a need felt to restructure India’s federal government system, settle conflicts in rural areas and reduces the inequalities and disparities that led to lack of resources, and encourage investment in agricultural modernisation, dams, etc.

Till the early 1960s, initiatives taken to invest in education by the Indian Government were inadequate, according to Prof Sinha. The moment the British exited India, a large number of our educational institutions were devoid of trained teachers, especially colleges, medical institutions, engineering institutions.

But, some of the epochal shifts in India’s education system were the establishment of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in 1942, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in 1958, National Physical Laboratories in 1947, Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) in the 1950s, and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) in 1960s.

National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) was set up in 1961 to train teachers in India. At the state level, centers for education training were created, and at the regional level, there were institutions on the lines of NCERT.

‘Education And National Development’ Policy Was Introduced By Independent Indian Government

Until 1975, the involvement of the Central Government in education was limited. But, the vision of the Indian Government had always been to modernise and encourage scientific research. However, there was no distinction made between teaching and research colleges, even during the colonial era.

In 1968, the first policy on education by the independent Indian Government was titled ‘Education and National Development,’ was along the lines of the National Education Commission set up in 1964, popularly known as Kothari Commission, that had examined all aspects of the educational sector in India, and had advised guidelines and policies for the development of education in India.

According to Prof Sinha, the Kothari Commission’s report is a thorough document encapsulating every aspect of national life. The National Policy on Education in 1968 called for a radical reconstruction of education for the economic and cultural development of the country.

Achieving the ideals of a socialistic pattern of society, free and compulsory education, granting academic freedom, improving teaching quality, language development to be given foremost importance, equalisation of educational opportunities between rural and urban areas, common school systems, emphasis on girls’ education, emphasis on science and research education, education for agricultural and industrial development, production of textbooks in regional languages, with the facility of textbook production even at the regional level, were some of the conclusions offered in the ‘Education and National Development’ policy.

Representational Image. NEP 2020 proposes National Assessment Tests for third, fifth, and seventh class students.

A common school system, according to Prof Sinha, has still not been established in India with the numerous public and private schools in the country and different schools for tribal societies, etc. This segregation that exists in our education system is a result of Indian society’s “class and caste orientation”, as Prof Sinha puts it. This has led to an unequal society.

In 1986, the government, led by Rajiv Gandhi, introduced a new National Policy on Education. The turning points of the 1986 policy were that – 1) it expanded the scope and spread of Kendriya Vidyalayas, 2) created a new cadre of schools, particularly in the rural areas in eastern districts, 3) Navodaya Vidyalayas in rural districts started and established by the Central Government.

A Look Into The New Education Policy 2020

From 1986-1991, and post-1991, with the global presence of ideologies such as Thatcherism and Reaganism, there was a shift in the education and health sectors, from sole public ownership to private ownership. India also introduced such shifts.

After the structural reforms in 1991, the Indian Government’s investment in education first declined, then picked up after seven years, but then it again declined. Only in the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-20012) did the education sector receive a considerable contribution, as a proportion of the GDP.

Legislative measures like Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan and the Right to Education Act by the Indian Government in the 21st century have ensured tangible and measurable improvements in the Indian education sector. But what has suffered in this period is the appointment of teachers into the education system.

On the New Education Policy 2020, Prof Sinha advises that 50,000 colleges should come down to 1,500. A large number of small educational institutions should be closed down, and educational institutions with inadequate resources should become part of Special Education Zones.

The new policy focuses on ‘sustained education’, but early childhood care has been a primary goal of the Indian education policy since the 20th century. Prof Sinha criticises the NEP 2020 for referring to the Kothari Commission Report in 1986, as what use is it to refer to a past that “has created this stratified society” we live in today.

The NEP 2020 has not referred to well-researched experiences in education from different parts of the world. Still, it has only two sources – 1) the colonial era policies from 1813-1854, and 2) World Bank’s reports on learning and working in a global context. It draws upon its new liberal framework from these two documents.

NEP 2020 proposes National Assessment Tests for third, fifth, and seventh class students. According to Prof Sinha, such assessments will push out students from the education system and into ‘vocational streams.’ The NEP 2020 will make the educational system more rigid due to mechanisms like the National Skill Training Framework.

In the name of inclusion, it brings in more avenues of exclusion.”

The Discussion Included Experts And Professors From Various Universities

Dr. Arjun KumarDirector, Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, opined that the timing of NEP during the pandemic has both sweet and sour connotation. It ignores the stale state of the education system and state of affairs, and at the same time, gives us hope by promising prospective aspirations and uncaging the sector. Implementation and Impact, however, remains to be seen.

Others who were part of the discussion are Prof Mohd. Hashim Qureshi, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; Dr. Simi Mehta, CEO & Editorial Director, Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi & Fulbright Scholar, Ohio State University, USA; Prof Sohel Firdous, Associate Professor, Department of Geography, Sikkim University, Gangtok; Prof Saswati Paik, Faculty, School of Education, Azim Premji University, Bengaluru.

Other discussants included Prof Sharmistha Mukherjee, Associate Professor, Geography, PD Women’s College, Jalpaiguri; Dr. Reena Kumari, Assistant Professor, Chandradhari Mithila College, L. N. Mithila University, Darbhanga; Dr. Ruchika Singh, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gorakhpur University, Gorakhpur; Anindita Dey, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, Mathabhanga College Coochbehar; Prof M S Jaglan, Department of Geography, Kurukshetra University; Prof Rajeshwari, Department of Geography, Kurukshetra University.

Featured Image Source: Libreshot
Image is for representation purposes only.
You must be to comment.

More from IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

Similar Posts

By Siddharth Mohan Roy

By Kulwinder Kaur

By Himanshu Yadav

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below