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Education policy: Few takers for 'utopian' talk about Sanskrit, traditional knowledge

By Sandeep Pandey, Praveen Srivastava*
The Bhartiya Janata Party government did what it is best at in announcing the New Education Policy (NEP) -- high on publicity, low in content, with the country's Environment Minister taking the centre stage and Human Resources Minister, now rechristened as Education Minister, playing second fiddle.
NEP has set universalisation of primary education as its objective. But how will it do it without a Common School System in unclear. The global experience indicates that existence of private schools will hinder the accomplishment of this objective. How will the children who can be found begging at every major intersection in most metropolitan cities of India or others in child labour category reach the schools?
The education policy makers have resigned to the fact that they will never be able to reach out to all the children. The political will is clearly lacking. Hence lip service to universalisation is considered enough. The governments are not even able to enforce the minimum 25% seats allocation to children from disadvantaged groups and weaker sections in private schools.
Spending 6% of Gross Domestic Product on education has been a recommendation of the 1968 Kothari Commission and which most governments around the world follow but none of the Indian governments came around to doing that.
Now by making three years of pre-school (anganwadi) part of education programme, the budget of Integrated Child Development Service of the Women and Child Welfare Department gets added to the Education Department increasing it from the claimed 4.3% to 6%. This is similar to the sophistry government resorted to when it promised 1.5 times revenue of the cost of investment to farmers.
Much hype is being created about delivering education in mother tongue. But that is an established principle among educationists. Question is how will it translate on ground? Most private schools will continue will use English as medium of instruction giving two hoots to the policy. Moreover, even the Yogi Adityanath government found it expedient to convert 5,000 of its primary schools English medium after he assumed power in Uttar Pradesh.
It is one thing to talk about Sanskrit and traditional knowledge but another to find takers for it. The fact is if anybody wants to appear for civil services examination, enroll in engineering, medicine or management courses or wants to join judicial services, knowledge of English is compulsory. Without changing this reality it is utopia to consider giving importance to Indian languages.
Three language formula has been a policy since long. Tamil Nadu doesn't follow it. But the other states, especially the Hindi belt states are not honest about implementing it. Which child in north India learns an Indian language other than Hindi in school, except for the ones in Navodaya Vidyalayas?
Sanskrit is used as the third language by some schools but with the scanty knowledge learner is not in a position to make any practical use of it. There are no reasons to believe that there will be any change in this scenario.
In a caste society where manual work is looked down upon, neither the teachers nor the students take any work by hand seriously
Introducing vocational training at secondary stage is also not a new idea. In Mahatma Gandhi's conception it was part of Nai Taleem. However, the school which ran on this idea at his Wardha ashram had to be ultimately closed. Socially Useful Productive Work was part of curriculum in NCERT syllabus, but in a caste hierarchical society where manual work is looked down upon, neither the teachers nor the students take any work by hand seriously. It then reduces to merely a fomality to be completed.
NEP repeatedly emphasizes the ancient (not medieval) culture and pride for civilization while scientific temper is referred to only once or twice in the entire document. It shows the imprint of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh agenda that is known for promoting myths as historical facts, is less objective and more fantasy.
Opening up for top foreign universities is not consistent with the much trumpeted atmanirbhar Bharat idea. This will directly impact the quality of domestic institutions as most talented students and faculty will be poached by the private universities.
However, like the much awaited foreign direct investment it is not clear how many of the top universities would like to set up shop here? Instead of doing the hard work of institution building the government wants to rely on competition from foreign universities to improve quality of its domestic institutions.
The process is likely to backfire hurting our institution rather than benefitting them. In the United States there remains just one public university among top ranking institutions -- University of California at Berkeley. Does the government want a similar situation here?
NEP recommends various regulatory bodies. India already has a bitter experience of these regulatory bodies. These are just centers of corruption and tools for punishment in hands of government. These are white elephants studded with political appointments.
It also suggests use of school premises as Samajik Chetna Kendra, providing a window for interference of socially-politically powerful people or government supported organisations to misuse the school buildings. Already government schools and their teachers bear significant amount of non-academic load, this will be a further distraction from teaching-learning activity.
The crux of the matter is teacher motivation. All the idealistic talk about making education enjoyable for children has no meaning if for the teachers teaching activity is not a priority. The government has no idea how to motivate its teachers who have been practicing the culture of 'work from home' since even before the arrival of coronavirus crisis in a state like Uttar Pradesh, which implies they've been drawing their salaries without teaching.
The only option then for students remains to cheat to clear their examinations, an activity in which teachers fully cooperate. Such ground realities are always overlooked by the policy makers.
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*Magsaysay award winning social activist, Sandeep Pandey is with Socialist Party (India); Praveen Srivastava is physics teacher at Queen's College, Lucknow

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