The National Education Policy proposed by the Centre would have done well to emulate the earlier policies spelt out by the Mudaliar and Kothari Commissions even at the cost of being criticised for putting old wine into new bottles. Instead, it has attempted to offer new strategies for education at all levels and ended up with a plethora of garbled suggestions that can neither be implemented effectively nor serve any practical purpose.
For example, its recommendation to promote Indian languages in all disciplines of higher education, with three common languages in addition to one local language — not to mention setting up a national institute to promote obsolete languages — reveals a mindset largely guided by the thinking of the present government.
Many of the other recommendations too lack focus, especially in the area of school education where pre-primary, secondary, vocational and adult education are all lumped together with little understanding of their concepts.
Here, the recommendation to integrate vocational education with higher education in colleges and universities betrays a sad lack of understanding of the very term ‘vocational.’ Introduced by the Government of India in the 1970s to make high school
leavers more employable after 10 years of schooling, vocationalisation was introduced into the higher secondary or pre-university stage to teach students job-oriented skills in technical, para-medical and other areas where high school graduates would qualify for middle level jobs.
Integrating such courses with college and university programmes has no relevance. Universities are places of teaching and research. They are not launching pads for middle-level employment. The proposed National Committee for the Integration of Vocational Education will be another white elephant in the HRD ministry. It will serve no purpose except drain more money from the Exchequer.
Again, the draft policy has made some startling recommendations for school education. Commenting on early childhood learning, it suggests developing a two-part curriculum for infants less than three years old to be implemented through anganwadis which should be “relocated” with primary schools. This shocking proposal not only betrays ignorance of the philosophy underlying anganwadis, but it flouts the very concept of early childhood education.
When UNICEF launched its mind-blowing Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme in 1975, the central government was advised to provide a package of services which consisted of nutrition, immunisation, growth monitoring, maternal health and pre-school education. The last was aimed at teaching infants lifestyle lessons like eating healthy, personal hygiene and social behaviour. It was certainly not aimed at educating them in formal classroom subjects.
As for the anganwadi, it was not a formal school but merely a public space where children could benefit from these services. It could be a temple, an office verandah, or even a house. The care-givers and teachers of the anganwadi were the mothers themselves who would always ensure that their children’s nutrition and health were not compromised.
Tampering with a well-established programme that has ensured children’s well-being over the years for nearly five decades, the NEP has trespassed into areas that do not concern formal education. By linking anganwadis to formal schools, the NEP will only succeed in destroying a viable programme without providing an alternative.
Lastly, by extending the ambit of the RTE (Right to Education) Act to cover children from three to 18 years, the draft policy is unleashing unprecedented problems for schools, parents and the pupils themselves.
As it is, the RTE has caused severe problems with illiterate parents admitting first-generation learners at great cost to English medium private schools affiliated to the ICSE or CBSE streams. When they are unable to help their wards academically, they turn to private tutorials which fleece them further. It’s a sad story as many such parents are daily wage earners and incur huge debts just to give their children an “English education”.
In addition, the ‘No Detention’ policy makes it compulsory for schools to promote these children to higher classes. When incompetent teachers are unable to coach such learners, the school dismisses them with a Transfer Certificate (TC) and the parents repeat the same exercise of finding another English medium school and paying a huge donation again.
The New Education Policy must address this problem and suggest suitable remedies. It is a well-known fact that every parent desires an English medium education for her son/daughter despite the politician’s clamour to teach in the regional language or mother tongue.
Since school education is a state subject, states should enjoy the freedom to make their own rules in this respect. But the recommendation to create an apex body at the Centre to be headed by the prime minister himself does not auger well for education, where autonomy is the key to promoting excellence.