It was in 2014 that a smiling Smriti Irani, the then Union Human Resource Development (HRD) minister, had promised a new education policy. The policy touted to be the first of its kind, would utilise a “time-bound grassroots consultative process” and enable the ministry “to reach out to individuals across the country through over 2.75 lakh direct consultations.”
A five-member committee headed by T S Subramanian, former cabinet secretary, was set up in late 2015, a year after the formation of the BJP-led NDA government. The committee was tasked with the responsibility of collecting feedback through consultations with various stakeholders and make suggestions towards drafting a new education policy. Since the last policy was drafted almost three decades ago, a new policy was indeed promising.
However, trouble began when the ministry refused to share the 200-page report on public domain despite repeated requests from the chairperson. The disagreement over going public also led to a tiff between Smriti Irani and T S Subramanian with the former alleging that the ex-cabinet secretary was looking to headline the report and went on to publish excerpts of the report without acknowledging the efforts of the committee that had been working on the suggestions for over a-year-and-a-half.
If the tussle with the chairperson wasn’t enough, the ministry was also caught in a tangle of controversies from the beginning of its tenure. In higher education, the revoking of Non-NET fellowships, Rohith Vemula suicide and the slashing of UGC funds allocated for universities, led to nation-wide student movements. In a bid to control the negative publicity surrounding the ministry, Smriti Irani was replaced with Prakash Javadekar, in a major Cabinet reshuffle.
The appointment of Javadekar was crucial to the drafting of the NEP. To start afresh, Prakash Javadekar assured that the ministry would not tinker with the Constitution and would be resourceful towards providing quality education. A new committee headed by former space scientist Kasturirangan was announced as a part of Javadekar’s tenure. The T S Subramanian report was now renamed as ‘inputs’ while the new committee was entrusted with the responsibility of drafting the final report. A confident Javadekar also promised that the committee would release its report in six months.
In 2019, with the Lok Sabha elections underway, there has been no progress after the constitution of the second committee. Recent statements from the ministry suggest that the policy would be ready to be implemented, after the elections. This is in direct contravention to the 2014 BJP manifesto which promised the NEP as a key agenda of their political tenure.
What is the National Education Policy?
The first policy of education was formulated in 1968 as a set of guiding principles that would promote education in India. The key highlights of the policy included free and compulsory education till the age of 14, capacity building of teachers and promotion of regional languages. The policy also proposed that the “three language formula” be adopted in secondary education and that the overall spending on national education be six per cent of the national income. Two decades later, when the 1986 policy was framed by the Rajiv Gandhi Government, the policy emphasized on providing equal opportunity to women, ST and SC communities to study.
It also included adult education, scholarships for the poor and the marginalised communities as top priorities and advocated a ‘child-centered approach’ in primary education. The goal of the 1968 and the 1986 policies were to invest in an inclusive education that would eventually result in creating a democratic nation state. Social ethos find mention in both policies and efforts were made to produce knowledge that catered to developing critical thinking among learners.
The inputs draft NEP 2016, which is the only available document of reference for the BJP’s vision of transforming education, begins with a nod to the gurukul system but strives to focus on introducing learners to a ‘rapidly changing world of knowledge’. Many of the aims mentioned under educational objectives aren’t new and are a continuation of the conversations that began as early as 1968. However, there is an inordinate amount of importance on cultural heritage with Sanskrit finding special mention. While the 1968 policy also spoke about the importance of learning Sanskrit, in the inputs draft, Sanskrit is an integral component of ‘cultural unity’. Additionally, the draft pitches employability as a key outcome of a learning process while developing critical thinking skills finds passing mention.
BJP’s track record in education
The BJP manifesto of 2014 stated that if they formed the government, public spending on education would be increased by 6% of the GDP. However, the overall budget set aside for education was reduced from Rs. 82,771 cr to Rs. 69,074 cr in the financial year of 2015-16. Funds set aside for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) dropped to 29 per cent in 2017-18 from 31 per cent in 2016-17, which was also reduced compared to the previous year. Against a demand of 550 billion to per-student allocation to SSA, the Centre only released 225 billion in 2016-17.
Funds released for Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) was also reduced to 54 per cent in 2017-18 from 78 per cent in 2015-16. The mid-day meal scheme which was introduced by the government of India in 1995 as part of the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP-NSPE) was also reduced by 16.4 per cent in the same year. The percentage share of the total budget allocated to education out of the national income has dropped from 1.06 percent in 2014-15 to 0.62 per cent in 2017-18. While there has been approximately 10 per cent increase in the budget from the previous financial year in the 2019 interim budget, there have been concerns over under-utilisation of previous budgets across states as well.
On the other hand, a significant amount of money was spent on new campaigns. The much hyped Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign that was launched in 2015 with an initial fund of Rs 100 crores, had more advertisements to its credit than any real achievements. While a total of Rs 648 crores were allocated to the programme, the government spent 56.27 per cent on advertising instead of addressing women empowerment and sex ratio related issues. When the ‘Pariksha Pe Charcha’ was launched by the government, state education departments across the country were issued a circular to make the programme a mandatory watch for government schools. Schools were also told to make alternate arrangements in case of power-cuts and were expected to submit reports on the basis of viewing the programme. Interestingly, there are also contests for students who have to write an incident or situation where ideas from the book ‘Exam Warriors’, authored by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, came in handy.
By and large, most of the ‘successes’ attributed to the Modi government in the sector of education have been sporadic or an initiative that builds on the government’s elaborate PR exercise. In a recent report, Javadekar said that the NEP report is ready but that it would only be implemented from 2020 to 2040. In a similar manner, Budget 2019 proposed by the Centre was largely silent on what the government had achieved in the last five years but was quick to make new promises ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. True to the BJP’s record thus far, the NEP seems to be a promise that would only be delivered if the BJP gets re-elected to power.
(Eeshani Kochhar and Deepti Sreeram work as Research Associates with the CLIL@India Project, Manipal. Views are personal.)