There is no doubt that the new National Education Policy, or NEP 2020, is historic on many counts. The reforms suggested by the Narendra Modi government are those that many people used to only dream about. Whether it’s the recommendation to use the mother tongue until Class 5 or on the restructuring of regulatory bodies, all are groundbreaking reforms. But the question is whether these recommendations will be implemented.
The NEP is merely a document; the key lies in its implementation, both in word and in spirit. The earlier two policies — in 1968 and 1986 — were also excellent and visionary, but they could not be implemented due to political and bureaucratic resistance. To this day, we discuss implementing many of the Kothari Commission recommendations.
It’s also a political document
Education in India is a lucrative field for politicians because it gives them political and ideological mileage for years. Various students/teachers’ outfits affiliated to political organisations support or reject educational issues based not on merit but on the diktat of their political bosses. And so, like all educational documents, the NEP 2020, too, is both an educational as well as a political document. It can be gauged from the comments of political and ideological organisations, which started pouring on social media platforms immediately after the approval of NEP 2020, and is a reminder that the journey ahead is not going to be smooth.
The first committee tasked with devising the NEP 2020 faced a political hurdle when many organisations raised the a hue and cry over amendments in the Right to Education (RTE) Act. After the protest, the Modi government was forced to form the second committee under the chairmanship of Dr Kasturi Rangan.
The Modi government is very much dependent on its bureaucrats for the implementation of its policies. Education, too, is a field where bureaucratic interests are involved, both at the Centre and state level, and accommodates them even after their retirement. So, it is not easy to curtail bureaucratic interest.
However, the NEP 2020 tries to de-bureaucratise the education system by giving governance powers to academicians. The policy recommends including more academicians in decision-making bodies. It recommends preparing a category of educational administrators among the teachers — the idea behind this move is to minimise the dependence on the administrative services and reduce hierarchy.
Controlling bureaucratic control
The NEP 2020 talks about giving autonomy to higher education institutions by handing over their administration to the Board of Governance, comprising mostly educationists and academicians. It would help de-politicise the education system and will make it tough for politicians to interfere in the functioning of the educational institution based on their whims and fancies.
The appointment of the head of an educational institution is always a bone of contention regardless of the party in power. Many educationalists have long been demanding that the appointments in educational institutions be kept out of political reach. The Modi government had already introduced the Board of Governance structure in 2017 in the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) with an Act. Now it wants to extend it to other institutions. It will be interesting to see how far it sustains.
Currently, many educational institutions and bodies, both at the central and state level, are headed by bureaucrats. The former and current heads of many regulatory bodies, the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE), are bureaucrats. In many states, bureaucrats are heading state universities, and so it will be challenging to implement NEP 2020 wherever bureaucratic and political interventions in the educational institutions are strong and frequent. While the political interference can still be reduced since its representatives mostly hold power for five years at a stretch, the real concern is to keep out the interference from the bureaucrats who remain a part of the system.
It took six years for the Modi government to bring the NEP. It still has to bring out the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) and students are still reading textbooks that were revised 15 years ago. Education is the sector that provides human resources to all industries. The sector receives a lot of attention and is widely discussed by policymakers and experts, but unfortunately, very little has been achieved on the implementation part. It is essential to update NCERT textbooks regularly.
As we celebrate the arrival of the new education policy after more than three decades, we must also keep an eye out for the political determination of the Modi government. It will be interesting to see how much effort and political will the central government applies in implementing the NEP 2020. The government will not only have to address the concerns and issues of opposition parties around the country but also the ideological forces that will be opposing this policy.
Ramanand is with the Center of Policy Research and Governance. Views are personal.