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Sunday, May 22, 2022

The New Educational Policy is Seriously Flawed and Dangerous

The National Education Policy (NEP) 2019 is seriously flawed and downright dangerous for six principal reasons which are:

1.) Fanatical thrust on liberal education in all spheres of knowledge: The NEP devotes a total of 135 pages to higher education. Of these, the section on liberal education contains 32 pages, i.e. 25% of the total content. The NEP strongly argues that liberal education (and associated methodologies) must permeate in every sphere of knowledge.

It defines liberal arts as “16 kalas”. However, that would be mere verbiage as much of its specific prescriptions are anchored in Western notions of liberal arts. For instance, it talks about developing “broad dispositions on … social realities (read caste) of contemporary India”. It argues for creating “mechanisms for social engagement of students at UG level (on) …. justice, equity, and development”. This should be music to Bharat’s liberal Left.

The NEP envisages that “values that will be developed (through liberal education) are commitment to liberty and freedom, … equality, justice, fairness; embracing diversity, plurality, and inclusion; humanness, … rootedness in India”. The last one (rootedness in India) is clearly an afterthought. Towards this, students will be engaged on “issues of justice, equity, and development”, and will be provided “exposure … (on) pressing issues of local community, state, and country. … through … social welfare programs, … civil society institutions, … tutoring, … or other social engagement activities”. Now how is this different than what happens in our current liberal colleges?

And if this were not enough, the NEP wants to raise at least five “world class” liberal arts universities modelled after “some of the best in the West”, and “Ivy League schools in the US”, and Nalanda (but no one knows about the Nalanda’s operating model). Each of these universities would have about “2000 acres” of land, and “30,000” students. As if one JNU was not enough!!

Further, while recruiting faculty, “diversity” and “social perspective” considerations should also be accounted for in the NEP’s scheme of thing. The end goal is to not only deepen the influence of modern liberal perspectives (since NEP argues for using Western models), but also ensuring that “professional education (including technical) … should morph into full-fledged liberal education programs”.  Clearly, this will require a lot of funds. And thus, the NRF (National Research Foundation) is being conceived as the funding agency. The NRF will not only fund research in liberal education, but will also offer prestigious fellowships to PDFs (Post-Doctoral Fellowships) in very large numbers.The dangers of such a thrust become even more acute because most of the current scholarship and textual material has been generated by the Left which is inherently anti-Bharat. It is this group which will undoubtedly navigate the ship of “liberal education” in Bharat.

2.) Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog (RSA): The idea of such a Commission as the final arbiter and policy apparatus for education in Bharat runs counter to traditional Bharatiya model of education. Education in Bharat was always highly decentralized, and autonomous. This is consistent with the nature of Bharat, and that of reality as well. And because education was highly decentralized, our civilization survived 1000+ years of foreign rule. The emergence of RSA will spell a death knell for all that has survived thus far. 

Further, policies should be crafted in ways that they work even in the most adverse circumstances. There is no reason to think that there shall be Modi raj for ever. What will be the composition of RSA in the event NDA is out of power? The Left is far more aggressive in promoting its ideas and ideologies. Access to RSA will enable them to drive changes in our society to levels which they have not achieved thus far. If we really want to Hinduise our education system or at least allow Hindus greater autonomy to educate their own, provisions must be made to slowly devolve decision making powers to spiritual/social organizations which also run educational institutions. That would be consistent with our civilizational ethos.

3.) Right to Education: The RTE Act requires private schools to allocate at least 25% of its seats to SCs, STs, and other weak segments of society. However, minority institutions are exempt from such a requirement. This makes schools run by Hindus financially weak, dependent on chasing government reimbursement. For the period 2010-2015, these provisions of the RTE Act have led to shutdown of about 79,000 schools, thereby impacting the lives of 1.58 crore students. The NEP fails to address this problem. Instead, it wants to expand the scope of RTE to pre-primary levels, as well as high school. This will certainly lead to re-emergence of minority institutions as the leading providers of education in Bharat. It should be remembered that the demand of a section of Lingayats to be classified as “non-Hindu” is because they want their educational institutions to break free of the shackles of RTE.

To make matters worse, the NEP also very strongly argues that privately held higher educational institutions should be required to make 50% of their seats freely available to weaker sections of the society. This will be the death knell of Bharat’s private higher educational sector, and open up lucrative avenues for minority run institutions who will likely get exemption from any such move due to Constitutional provisions. 

4.) Religion Based Policies Focusing on Muslims: The NEP uses a euphemism (Under Represented Groups, i.e. URGs which includes SCs, STs, OBCs, and Minorities) to make a case for special provisions for Muslims (not even all minorities). The Constitution has already made provisions for SC, STs, and OBC. So, the NEP does nothing new when it argues for helping these three groups as URGs. What is indeed new is its advocacy for religion-based provisions for helping Muslims (not other minorities). For this, it calls for setting up SEZs (Special Education Zones), hiring Muslim teachers, special provisions for Urdu education, extra scholarships for Muslims … The NEP even asks for permitting madarsa and maktab students in Board exams.

5.) Undermining of traditional learning methods: Several Hindu scriptures have survived despite destruction of countless schools, universities, libraries because we had memorized our texts. It is not by accident that many of our adhyatmik texts are termed as “smritis”. Further, memory and learning are intrinsically coupled. Modern research, such as the one published in Scientific American, shows that “memorizing ancient mantras increases the size of brain regions associated with cognitive function”.  All this is derided as “rote learning”. Our best students outshine some of the very best from the West, because despite all the flaws of our education system, our culture places a very strong value on rigor, extreme hard work, and memory. It is dangerous to deride these elements. Remember, our traditional gurukul system did not ignore such learning methods.

6.) No focus on quality: Poor quality of education is one of the biggest challenge in current setup. There is no clear roadmap in the NEP as to how we can make our teachers better, more sincere, hard-working, and innovative.  Neither does the NEP focus on ensuring how our institutions will become more responsive, and student centric. To achieve this, NEP relies on new structure assuming that its new creations will work as intended. However, the NEP provides no mechanism, which will by its very nature, ensure superior performance of institutions and individuals. 

Finally, it must be stated that the NEP is not devoid of positives. There are several brave and valuable recommendations which will help Bharat’s education system. These include the breaking up of UGC along functional lines, parity between public and private institutions, heightened autonomy to all educational institutions. However, the negatives I mentioned far outweigh the positives to the extent that they may cause total destruction of Bharat’s ethos, culture, and values in a very short time.

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