National Policy on Education – A Missed Opportunity

Amit Chandra

Just a few months remaining to the five-year tenure of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government. What has this government achieved? While it introduced reforms in several sectors, it largely failed to bring about any major change in the education segment. The government has missed a wonderful opportunity.  The National Policy on Education (NPE) is still in limbo! 

Catch ‘em Young

India’s path to progress depends upon how well it is able to capitalize on its demographic dividend.  More than 50% is youth population below the age of 25 and more than 65% below the age of 35 years. To capitalize on this demographic dividend, the first thing the country needs to do is provide globally competitive education in schools.

Though there is huge opportunity, the state of education is deplorable:

  • In 2009, India ranked 72nd out of 74 countries in PISA (Program for International Student Assessment), a worldwide study to evaluate educational systems conducted by OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development).
  • The ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) Rural, 2016 shows pathetic learning quality with only 25 per cent of children in grade III able to read grade II level text.

The ultimate losers of the flawed education system are the children and their parents. The students do not receive personalized quality education of their choice, and therefore, grow up with a disparity between what they are taught and their aptitude and area of interest.  Also, parents bear the huge cost to educate their child and yet find that they get sub-standard quality of education.

Education Fees – A Parent’s Predicament

It is the fundamental right (enshrined in the Constitution of India) of all children in the age group of 6 to 14 years to receive free and compulsory education.  However, parents still pay for their child’s education – either as taxpayers where a part of the tax paid is used by the government for education or, by way of the 2% education cess on income.  So, in reality, parents pay twice and still find themselves short-changed. 

Moreover, many parents prefer private schools where fees are higher than the government-run schools, and thereby, incur a third payment when they pay higher fees.

It is important to note that the fee in private schools has sharply increased post the formulation of the Right to Education Act of 2009.  This increase is attributed to (a) cost of impractical infrastructure norms that schools are mandated to follow, and (b) the imparting of free education to children of economically weaker sections.  Both these costs get included in the school fee structure and subsequently passed on to the parents who then pay for the fourth time!

The pain of parents doesn’t stop here.  Many teachers are not subject experts and fail to give attention to every child in a classroom. The parents end up sending their children to coaching classes or arrange private tuition, and thus, pay for the fifth time (!) on their child’s education.

A Failed System

The attempts of the various governments to solve the perils of a failing education system have not given desired results.  The policy makers use the same old approach. Can we solve the problems of the 21st century with the ideas of the 20th century?  It requires fresh thinking and a modern approach. The world is changing fast and to keep pace with it, the system needs to be developed in a manner that is self-correcting along with bringing efficiency and ensuring accountability.

We need to re-envision an education system which is designed keeping the students at the centre.  The schools should be given a degree of autonomy to constantly evolve so as to facilitate the child’s growth.  This requires a strong action plan to make it at par with global standards. 

NPE – The Facts

The country got its first NPE in 1968 and the second in 1986, further modified in 1992.

A new NPE was part of the BJP manifesto. It initiated the process to draft the ‘New Education Policy’ under the leadership of Smt. Smriti Irani as Minister for Human Resource Development. The process adopted to formulate the policy looked very ambitious. It had several steps of consultation at the village, district, state, and zone levels and sought inputs under 13 different themes.  Unfortunately, this much needed initiative became a victim of poor planning and politics.

  • Only a few state governments cooperated to organize consultation meetings.
  • Inputs were sought from students, teachers, parents and the community which brought in a lot of criticism, while the significant role of inputs from experts in the field of education was side-lined.
  • Over 60,000 inputs were received from the initial consultation and the task of compiling them into meaningful interventions was questioned.  
  • Critics of the government suspected that the interventions will be based on inputs from RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and, in particular, from Shri Dinanath Batra who had served as the General Secretary of Vidya Bharati, the school network of RSS.

Realizing the impracticality of the process, the MHRD (Ministry of Human Resource Development) set up a five-member committee in 2015 with Shri T.S.R. Subramanian, former Cabinet Secretary, as its chairperson to draft the new education policy.  The committee created its own process to study the state of education, conducted wide range consultations and submitted a draft of the new Education Policy to the MHRD in May 2016. The draft was never formally made public by MHRD. However, it got leaked and was widely available.  

In July 2016, Smt. Smriti Irani was shifted to the Ministry of Textiles and Shri Prakash Javadekar took over as the Union HRD Minister. To save itself from the embarrassment of the leak, MHRD published a 43-page document ‘Some Inputs for Draft National Education Policy 2016’ and again asked for feedback from the public till September 2016.

In June 2017, a new committee was constituted to prepare the final draft of ‘New Education Policy’ under the chairmanship of Dr. K. Kasturirangan, former chief of the Indian Space Research Organization. The committee was supposed to submit the final draft by December 2017. Since then, the time limit for submission of the draft was extended thrice, but till date there is no formal information from the MHRD on the final status of the policy.

Thus, the government which came to power with a majority and riding on high expectations missed a golden opportunity to bring about the much needed change in the education system.  It is imperative that the education policy sees the light of day.

Dr. Amit Chandra is Consultant, The Asia Foundation, Kabul; Policy Fellow, Centre for Civil Society, New Delhi and Advisor, National Independent Schools Alliance, New Delhi.  He is currently based in Kabul.  E-mail: amitchandra2006@gmail.com

POST SCRIPT by FF Digital: At the Convocation ceremony of the Goa University on December 15, 2018, Shri Javadekar informally announced “Our Committee under K. Kasturirangan today only said that the report is ready.  They are ready to hand over the National Education Policy at any day and any time.”  He further added that his ministry will frame a schedule for accepting and implementing the policy.  We wait patiently, Mr. Minister!

Readers of Freedom First will remember a series on “The Right to Education Act” by Brig. Suresh C. Sharma.  The 21 episodes published in the issues between March 2012 and April 2014 is compiled in the publication “On the Right to Education Act – A Commentary”.  It is a must read for those interested to know more about the RTE Act. Copies are available free of cost at the office of Freedom First (Tel: 022-22843416; e-mail: freedomfirst1952@gmail.com)   

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