Wed, 26 Jun, 2019

Hits & misses of draft new education policy

While DNEP has many hits, the policy missed to provide solutions to close the gap of access to quality education between India’s rich and poor children

Story: Dr | Manasvi | 13th June 2019, 02:25 Hrs

Dr Manasvi M. Kamat

The Draft of New Education Policy (DNEP) has been released after sittings of 115,000 meetings and efforts of two separate committees. The new policy will cater to one-fourth of India’s population and service the education market of the value $101 bln, as in the year 2019.  

The DNEP has many hits. It contemplates all Indians between 3-18years to be in school by 2030 and the Right to Education Act will be extended from pre-school to class XII. Teachers are also put at the center of the system with a renewed focus on outcomes. The main feature of this policy is to replace the 10+2+3 system with 5+3+3+4 structure by implementing subject-wise ‘modular’ assessments anytime between classes 9-12, ‘census’ examinations for classes 3, 5 and 8 to track progress throughout the school experience.

However, it is now realized that DNEP failed to provide solutions to close the gap of access to quality education between India’s rich and poor kids. The draft paves a rigorous way for privatisation rather than talking about the existing system of public-funded education. It introduces a plethora of reforms, but is not clear on funding and fails to bring all schools on a set minimum infra & basic facility standards. 

Language is the key focus of the policy recommending the mother tongue as MoI at least until class five, and preferably till class eight. The initial proposal that Hindi will be mandatory in non-Hindi speaking states faced severe backlash following which the policy was altered to say students are free to choose any language they wish to learn. 

While DNEP talks about need to bring unrepresented groups under the ambit of education, it misses a critical opportunity of addressing inequalities within the system. Government schools, municipality-run autonomous, private & aided schools, private & self-funded, and international schools for the various classes of rich are the array of models through which they operate. There is a sizeable difference to which the schools in each category cater to; with respect to kind of fees they charge, the quality they deliver and quality of input they cater to. Unfortunately, DNEP has failed to understand the diversity of the models through which school education is imparted in India.

Given the above, there was ardent need to define minimum standard of requirement without which a school cannot operate. If this is not done, there will be no pressure to raise minimum standards of infra & reduce gap between ‘well-equipped’ schools & deficient ones.

It is a common experience that mushrooming private schools make efforts to gross-up by literally ‘poaching’ students from areas outside their stipulated geographical territories. As a result,  some schools are flooded with students, while in some classrooms run empty. Most times even the school sanctioning governmental authorities ignore the rules that schools be within a stipulated distance from children’s homes and that no 2 schools be located within a stipulated distance. Effective remedies & norms to combat these could have curbed both evil practices.

The new policy talks that market competition will determine school quality. 

The proposal for removal of the role of government for recognition of schools and to replace it through self-accreditation, peer review and audit by school committees seems to be coming too early for India to accommodate. There seems to be no responsible agency that will have a formal & direct role in verifying validity of claims of above institution or ensuring minimum compliance. 

DNEP plans to make parents the ‘de-facto regulators’ of private schools, which can’t actually happen in practice. 

Parents, particularly poor and first generation learners cannot and will dare not interfere, suggest or initiate to be stakeholders with private management caring little about transparency, accountability & public responsibility. 

Nor have private schools become ‘broad-minded’ & ‘so-accommodative’ to allow parents suggest, let alone dictate the way schools operate. 

DNEP places considerable emphasis on strengthening of ‘school complexes’ and decentralized cluster-based mechanisms for supporting teachers. Given this the everyday management of school complexes could have been allotted to a Special Officer with separate provision for funding, and not to any teacher with a regular teaching duty since this is a full time activity and needs to be staffed and resourced accordingly.

DNEP’s implementation is predicated on the assumption that the education budget would be almost doubled in the next 10 years. Our experience in last five years reveals that the center itself has cut education budgets drastically. The same has been the case with many States as well. Since education is a State subject it is not understood as to how the centre will ensure that States will do the needful allotment to this sector. 

The DNEP unfortunately makes no case for a strengthened public education system. On the contrary it specifically promotes private schools at the cost of public schools on an assumption that they deliver better quality. However the issue of equitable education, affordability and ensuring minimum compliance by private players are not spelled clearly. This policy could have enumerated on the incentives for the private sector to invest, grow and stand on quality parameters in the education sphere. 

India had to wait for over three decades for the comprehensive DNEP after the last release in 1986. Though our experience in India is that education policies merely exists on paper, new policy envisages that India moves towards a national system of education that shapes India’s next generation and enforce standards of quality across the country. It would have been better had the draft policy some operational details and insights into how its various initiatives will be funded. It is hoped that a comprehensive initiative like DNEP must not intimated by resistance and operational deficiencies. The DNEP will undergo at least two stages of review before it is gazetted. The draft policy (subject to revisions) is capable of, and will certainly pave a way for a transformed new India. 

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