S Raj //
The National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) was passed by the Union Cabinet of the BJP Government on 29th July 2020. After the first National Policy on Education that was passed by the Indira Gandhi Government in 1968 and the 2nd policy passed by the Rajiv Gandhi Government in 1986, which in turn paved the way for entry of private capital in education sector and further commodification through the 1992 reform on the lines of the neoliberal agenda, the NEP 2020 is the third national policy on education for the country which replaces the last policy of 1986. Expectedly, the NEP has been much touted about by the mainstream media and the social media cells of the BJP-RSS, while the Prime Minister has termed the policy as one which lays down the foundation for a ‘New India’. Apart from them, even a section of the liberal critics of the Modi Government has offered praise for the NEP 2020. However, in order to concretely analyze the NEP 2020 as a policy document and its repercussions as well as the intentions of the Government behind releasing it, we must go beyond the high-sounding and abstruse wordings and phrases to undertake a closer reading and read between the lines of the NEP 2020.
That the Policy was passed unilaterally by the Union Cabinet bypassing the Parliament portrays only the undemocratic manner in which a nationwide policy on education, which is a Concurrent List subject as per the Constitution of India, was passed undermining the federal structure of the Union of India. Apart from this, the NEP 2020 aims for the commercialization, privatization, informalization, Saffronization and over-centralization of education in India which is utterly on the lines of the incumbent fascist dispensation’s ideology.
Authoritarian Control And Over Centralization
One of the most sweeping reforms proposed by the NEP is the setting up of the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) which will take over the role of UGC, AICTE, NAAC and other related bodies with the exception of medical and legal education. The HECI will have a 12-member body which will be appointed by the Central Government, out of which only 2 would be academicians. This new body would take up the roles of awarding grants (through Higher Education Grants Council), regulation (through National Higher Education Regulatory Council), accreditation (through National Accreditation Council), and framing outcome standards (through General Education Council). Therefore, the HECI under the direct control of the Central Government will become single all-encompassing and all-powerful body for higher education in India. (para 18, NEP 2020)
The NEP also proposes the formation of ‘Board of Governors’ (BoG) for all educational institutions. This is a long-term plan of the Government through which it aims to set up ‘independent’ BoG for each institution by 2035 through a “system of graded accreditation and graded autonomy” which will govern the institutions free from all external interferences. The fact that a board of governor was hitherto a corporate entity which governed companies and corporate firms, throws light on the intent of the government to completely commercialize the education sector through the introduction of these BoG in all educational institutions. Apart from this, such would be the extent of control with the BoG that overarching legislations would be formulated in order to enforce their authority which will supersede existing legislations. Given the track record of the BJP Government in taking over all institutions from within through strategic placement of their pawns in the topmost bodies, the profiles of those selected to be a part of these all-powerful BoG becomes amply clear. (para 19, NEP)
For funding and ‘facilitation’ of research across the country, a National Research Foundation (NRF) has been proposed to be constituted. The NRF would be governed through its Board of Governor which would be nominated by the Central Government. Such a formation would ensure that only those ‘research’ would receive funding and be allowed which would be approved by the overarching NRF. Given the evident hatred and repulsion of fascist forces from intellectual growth and critical thought, what repercussions would such a formation of a controlled research funding body would have on the education and research across the country can well be predicted. (para 17)
Commodification Through A Private Education Model
The NEP proposes a target of 6% of GDP for expenditure on education which has been heavily propagated by the government and even praised by some critics. Although the fact which has not been brought on the surface is that this aim of 6% GDP spending on education was highlighted way back in the Kothari Commission Report of 1966 based on which the first National Policy on Education 1968 was formulated. Since then, this target of 6% has remained only a hollow promise of all governments and a distant dream for the citizens. Those who are hopeful of the Modi Government ought to know its track record on education spending since it came to power in 2014. According to Economic Survey of India Reports, the average spending on education by the Modi Government from 2014-15 to 2018-19 has been 2.88% of the GDP. This is even lower than the abysmal record of the UPA-2 Government which had an average of 3.19%. Given the government’s interest in funding education, the unfortunately ambitious target seems nothing more than a pipe dream.
Rather than promoting government spending, the NEP promotes exactly the opposite. By using abstruse and fancy words, it basically provides for a model of privately funded education completely driven by market conditions with negligible responsibility on the State. Autonomy has been cited numerous times in the draft as a progressive measure for education in India. Autonomy, in reality, would not be lesser of independence for the institutions and more of independence of the State from its responsibility to maintain a public education system. As per the UGC’s Graded Autonomy Regulations 2018, the dimensions of autonomy indicate towards a model where any autonomy would be guaranteed on the condition of financial autonomy, that is, any freedom of starting a course, awarding degrees, opening campuses, undertaking research etc. would be conditional on freedom being ‘granted’ to the State to distance itself from funding these institutions. Therefore, the imposition of autonomy on institutions would mean more privatization, higher fees, relaxed regulations and norms and the commercialization of education.
Private-Philanthropic funding and efforts as well as the model of ‘Public Philanthropic Partnership’ has been promoted aggressively for both school-level and higher education as well as mentioned numerous times in the NEP. ‘Philanthropic’ is another fancy term used to replace the rather riskier term ‘corporate’, since all major philanthropic institutions are organs of corporates and big capital. This model proposes a forced and strategic alternative from public-funded education to be adopted by the educational institutions in order to move towards corporate funding, thereby putting in a solid structure of privatization of education and destruction of the public education model.
The measures in NEP to establish a private education model are an extension of the measures already undertaken by the previous governments, that have been boosted on unprecedented level and scale. In 2017, the Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA) was formed by this Government whose task was to provide loans to the educational institutions in place of grants, which naturally had to be paid back by the institutions through their own sources. Naturally, in order to pay back such loan amounts, either the fees were raised, or the wages and benefits of employees were cut. The failure of this model was evident by the fact that out of the allocated ₹2750 crores to HEFA, the actual spend was merely ₹250 crore which is less than 10% of the allocated amount.
Already 78% of the colleges are running in the private sector and 2/3rd of the total college enrolment is in private colleges, according to MHRD’s AISHE Report 2018-19. Even though the public universities account for more than 4/5th of total university enrolment, the recent trends are quite worrying. Between 2014-15 and 2018-19, out of the total increase in university enrolment, 55% was in private universities and another 33% was in public OPEN universities. Therefore, in the recent past five years, only 12% of the total enrolment have taken place in regular public universities. Even in schools, enrolment ratio has increased rapidly with 45% of all school admissions are taking place in the private sector, as per MHRD’s 2018 Report. This indicates a rapid shift towards complete replacement of a public education model with a private one.
Not-So-Hidden Agenda Of Saffronization
When the current fascist dispensation has made rapid, and mostly successful, attempts at taking over all institutions and ultimately taking over the democracy from within, the educational institutions can’t remain independent for long. Through the various aforementioned measures of over centralization, the BJP-RSS aims to gain authoritarian control over the educational institutions. However, the idea of control is not only administrative, but also ideological. The NEP has been carefully designed to take this campaign forward steadily.
Secularism has not been mentioned even once. Same is the case with the affirmative actions based on social justice, like Reservations. There has been special attention given to the vaguely defined “Indian Knowledge Systems” and the need of looking back towards ancient Indian knowledge and practices has been highlighted (para 4.27). Sanskrit has been termed as the origin point of almost all major Indian languages, thereby completely ignoring Dravidian, Adivasi and North-Eastern languages. (para 4.16). Special attention has also been given to Sanskrit language with the proposal of promoting the language through the education system. (para 4.17) While Pali, Prakrit, Persian and other classical languages have been mentioned in the NEP along with Sanskrit as those languages having rich culture and literature, there is no mention of Urdu in the NEP at all. (para 4.18)
Even before the arrival of NEP, the BJP-RSS have continuously undertaken such ideological imposition through changes in the syllabi, particularly in history books to present distorted versions of history catering to the anti-scientific and irrational doctrines of the fascist dispensation. The unscientific and outrageous claims made in the various annual sessions of the Indian Science Congress by the RSS-backed ‘intellectuals’ just goes on to prove this point further. Such instances only highlight the already vividly evident intention of the BJP-RSS to impose their world view and the idea of a Hindu Rashtra based on fascist, xenophobic and patriarchal doctrines.
Hindi Imposition And The Language Conundrum
The NEP talks of continuing the controversial Three-Language Formula which was first mentioned in the NPE 1968 and was heavily encouraged even in the NPE 1986/1992. According to the formula, while the study of Hindi and English would be mandatory in all states, the Hindi-speaking states would include the study of a modern Indian language, preferably one of the southern languages, and the non-Hindi states would include the study of the regional language. This clearly enables Hindi to be given an advantage over other non-English languages. Given the RSS-BJP’s outlook of seeing Hindi (and Sanskrit) as a superior language and the principal language for Hindu Rashtra, the NEP through the Three-Language Formula dangerously provides ammunition for the imposition of Hindi throughout the country. (para 4.13)
Additionally, there have been high sounding talks of Multilingualismin the NEP which proposes the medium of instruction to be in the mother tongue/regional language at least till Class 5 but preferably till Class 8 and beyond. However, it is also mentioned that such an arrangement would be done “wherever possible”. So, a closer reading makes it clear that beyond the grandiloquent claims, in reality, the dual-education system would prevail divided on the basis of English and non-English medium education. Since a world capitalist market oriented education system rewards those with exposure and fluency in English, the upper classes and privileged groups who have access to the expensive English-medium quality education would be rewarded and a vast majority comprising the toiling and marginalized masses who have no access or exposure to such education would be doomed to lead a life of toil and penury. (para 4.11)
Towards Informalization And Exclusion
The NEP 2020 in its desperate attempts to decrease the abysmal dropout rates proposes for band-aid solutions which instead of solving the problem, gives birth to new and serious ones. It proposes that the dropout students would be included in alternative and innovative education centresrather than efforts to retain them in the public education system itself. (para 3.2) Additionally, the Open and Distance Learning Programmes (ODL) offered by the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) and State Open Schools would be expanded and strengthened for the disadvantaged students in place of the regular courses and schooling. (para 3.5) ODL is also portrayed as a natural path to increase access to quality higher education. (para 12.5) The NEP encourages alternative models of educationby promoting non-governmental philanthropic organizations to build schools and impart education without much ‘hassle’. For such organizations, which definitely includes those with the likes of RSS, regulations would be relaxed, there would be less emphasis on input and greater emphasis on output for allowing their institutions to be set up as part of ‘alternate models’ and impart their own form of ‘education’. (para 3.6)
A public Common School System for all students irrespective of their socio-economic status, which was at least present as an aim of all previous education policies and commissions, although the implementation of which has been an abysmal failure, has been completely abandoned by the NEP 2020, which in turn implicitly promotes differential education systems for different classes and groups in the society. The NEP also proposes a light but tight regulation of higher education system, which can only mean relaxed regulation as per the needs of the market and private capital. (para 9.3(h))
The NEP proposes grouping of school complexes to form school complexes/clusters.This would be done by closing down numerous government schools in an area in the name of resource efficiency and more effective functioning. In a society, particularly in the rural and isolated communities, where students drop out of schools in large numbers due to long distances between their residences and the schools, when the aim should have been to further deepen the school networks and increase their efficiency and quality, the Government intends to further close down majority of the schools. This is done without even addressing the problem of lack of access to a vast majority of students coming from toiling and marginalized sections who would be forced even more severely than before to drop out, along with the issue of the mass layoffs of government school teachers. (para 7.6)
Vocational Education has been actively encouraged in the NEP so much so that a separate chapter (para 16) has been dedicated to it. While quality vocational education and training is suitable as per need at least after one has acquired complete school education, the NEP has integrated vocational education with secondary schooling starting from Class 6 and has given an exit option after Class 10 to pursue such vocational training. (para 4.2) This not only would severely hamper the basic school education of those students coming from toiling and marginalized sections of the society but would also disguise the rampant drop outs after Class 10 of students from disadvantaged sections done involuntarily to take up informal jobs, as voluntary drop outs to pursue ‘vocational training’. Such vocational education provided from Class 6 would naturally involve low/entry level skills only enough to get involved in extremely low wage jobs in order to barely sustain oneself. This would create an army of informal workers ready to provide cheap labour, without any benefits or rights, to the crisis-ridden capitalist class, while only a handful of privileged and upper-class students would go on to take up the white-collar jobs with hefty salaries.
In addition, the Online Education system has also been dedicated another chapter (para 24). Such a system of online education is being aggressively promoted by the Government, not only through the NEP but in its speeches and acts. Let us look at the real situation. According to NSSO Survey Report 2017-18, only 8% households with young people have a computer with an internet connection. The figure is even more dreadful in rural areas. Notwithstanding any of these data, online education in the name of progress and modernization is being imposed upon the students at large. While some Universities have already commenced their new semesters through an online mode, numerous institutions are planning to admit students through nationwide online entrance examinations. Without concretely addressing the situation of the students and providing any effective gradual solution for the same, imposing an online mode of education would only lead to leaving the vast student masses coming from disadvantaged and toiling sections out of the education system as a whole, while promoting the education of a handful of students belonging to privileged sections.
An Exclusion Policy Or More?
While the National Education Policy 2020 is being criticized, and rightly so, from almost all corners of the progressive and democratic sections as a policy based on exclusion and inequality that would lead to the majority that comprises mainly the toiling masses being left out and furthering of the class and socio-economic divide, the NEP goes even beyond this in its intentions and plans.
When and where in history did the fascists need and develop education and knowledge? Clearly, at no time and place. Their intentions have never been towards the dissemination of education or growth of knowledge, but rather, towards their demise, be it in the field of History, Science, Mathematics or any field worth its name. Education and knowledge are enemies of the fascists, whose regimes are based on falsehoods and myths. Growth of research in any field based on objective methodology and scientific process and temper would be a death knell for the fascist regime which is yet to finally consolidate. Consequently, research under such a rule will mean nothing but the cultivation of falsehoods and the murder of knowledge. And therefore, the destruction of education and the severe weakening of the knowledge base of society become their prime aims. The fascists in fact need an education system where lies, slander, violence, conspiracy, murder, fraud etc. are taught. Such a long-term policy as the NEP would only ensure that the old university and college campuses are made bereft of any education and democratic space, and that they are turned into breeding grounds of fascists.
Even now one can see this happen. IITs and other premier science and research institutes have been directed to research on the urine and dung of cows and buffalos. Mythological stories are being presented as historical facts on various science platforms. These are bound to become the new normal in some time. History will be made replete with a heap of lies and distorted facts. Science and scientific temper would simply be destroyed after such institutions are put to the service of the fascists.
While the vast majority of the poor would be excluded from the education system after the implementation of NEP, it would not end there. Even the rich would be deprived of any real education worth its name, particularly higher education, which has already been on their target. Therefore, NEP is not only anti-poor, but also anti-education and anti-knowledge. It is in this sense that one may call it anti-social and anti-humanity. It ought to be kept in mind that a policy which aggressively promotes Saffronization or fascism, apart from exclusion, informalization, privatization and commodification of education by granting its complete authoritarian control in the hands of a fascist regime, would not merely affect the education system with reforms but demolish it altogether.
Fascists are well aware that true education can enlighten anyone, even those belonging to the upper classes, and that elements from these classes too can too rebel against injustice and even against the system based on injustice itself. They can take up the cause of humanity by understanding the underlying factors that are responsible for its gradual destruction under capitalism. The fascist cause of demolishing education and research is also because they know about the existence of this possibility. Any true, objective and scientific knowledge finally leads to critical thinking and the rise of progressive ideology as well as ideas of social progress. It also identifies the historical barriers of social progress. Such developments stand at loggerheads with the agenda of fascisiation of society. Any true research, for this matter, will lead to the recognition of a revolutionary ideology that believes in constant motion of history governed by inner general laws and also in establishment of a new society on the ruins of the old. That’s why, fascists not only disapprove of any real knowledge and research, but actively work to demolish and gag it.
The education system is not just like any other productive sector. In it, what is produced i.e. what type of education is imparted is crucial for the society as well as the fascists. In the field of education, the relentless neo-liberal and fascist attacks will culminate in not just exclusion by promoting profiteering and privatization but mainly result in the destruction of the very kernel of education by replacing it with un-education, which is a prerequisite for the demolition of democracy itself. Today when a fascist government is presenting a long-term nationwide education policy, one must carefully assess its ultimate aim behind this, which must be brought into the campaign to oppose the NEP.
In a nutshell, the NEP 2020 must be opposed and rejected by one and all and from every angle. It aims at the ultimate demise of Universities and Colleges as the centres of knowledge and critical thinking, in order to turn these democratic spaces into intellectual concentration camps. Let us not allow this happen at any cost.
Originally published in The Truth: Platform for Radical Voices of The Working Class (Issue 5/ September ’20)