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New education policy 'promoting' Sanskrit as enriching option at the cost of Urdu

By Sudarshan Iyengar*

The New Education Policy (NEP) announced after 34 years claims to make way for large-scale transformational reforms in education on foundation pillars of access, equity, quality, affordability and accountability. The announcement needs to be welcomed, the process of decision making notwithstanding.
Most outstanding features of the NEP, include, first of all, recognition of conducting education for children from class 1 to 5 and preferably up to grade 8 in home language, mother tongue and regional languages. Secondly, there is recognition and introduction of vocational education from 6th grade. And thirdly it seeks to elimination of science, commerce and arts streams in the old system of ten plus two years; it is being replaced by 5+3+3+4.
This third aspect will ensure freedom to higher secondary students to pursue higher education of their choice, desire and aptitude once they are out of school. Students with good scores and grades may prefer to go for humanities, social and pure science instead of being pushed to professional ‘career promising’ courses by their parents.
The National Conference on Education held in the Marwari School in Wardha in 1937 under Gandhiji’s leadership had strongly recommended mother tongue as the medium for learning in school and education through vocations as integral part of learning and skill building. It was christened as Buniyadi or Nai Talim.
The country took 83 years to realise that children learn better in mother tongue when young and that the development of brain is positively associated with learning to work with hands.
Vocational education also improves the scope of self employment and employability. The pedagogy for vocational education is left to be developed by the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT). It has competence and understanding of Nai Talim, and we should hope that Gandhiji and John Dewy’s principle of learning by doing will find space in the pedagogy of the new curricula.
Here lies the promise for reaping demographic dividend the scope for which exists for next two decades. But it will have to be delivered. A related point is about the pedagogy for teaching about learning language and computational skill in early childhood up to the age of 10.
Let us hope that NCERT will ensure that in five years down the line Pratham’s Annual Survey of Education Report (ASER) studies will give encouraging reports about reading, writing and computing abilities of primary school children. NCERT should be open and learn from dozens of ongoing scientific and innovative experiments in the country. 
Prof Iyengar
However, the policy document is silent on the structure and finance of school education in the country under the NEP. Universal primary education is no new announcement. Access to all is promised but the structures suggested are unclear.
In almost all countries that have good record in school education, the state is fully responsible to finance and the structure promises school admission to any child in state or local government run school in the neighbourhood. The system of private fee charging schools has to be restricted severely to those who have ample resources to invest on their children education. 
Any child in the country must have right to get admitted in a school which is nearest to her. The school education should thus be compulsory and free and accessible in the immediate neighbourhood. The NEP is silent about this vitally important policy issue in school education. The tacit silence may encourage commercialised profit greedy institutions.
Ram Manohar Lohia needs to be remembered in this context. “Rani ho ya mehatrani sabke liye ek samaan shiksha”. Whether queen or lady sweeper everyone should have same education. Unless the country follows Lohia’s adage in letter and spirit, education-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) would remain a dream. Gender Inclusion Fund and Special Education for Marginalised may turn out to be a chimera. Equity can’t be ensured by such attempts.
Unless we follow Lohia's adage, whether queen or lady sweeper all should have same education,  education-related SDGs would remain a dream  
Gandhiji would have been in pain to read the provision of promoting Sanskrit alone as “enriching option for students, including as an option in the three-language formula” at all levels, from school to higher education. Not that he would have any quarrel with Sanskrit, on the contrary.
In this country where an overwhelming majority understand and speaks Hindi-Hindustani for centuries, ignoring Urdu language is an unpardonable omission. Gujarat Vidyapith, a national university founded by Mahatma Gandhi in 1920 had in its school and higher education curricula the Urdu language. Both Sanskrit and Urdu were taught to all children in the secondary school and undergraduate college. Unfortunately, it has been discontinued in Vidyapith, too.
Should we be reminded that Urdu is the language developed in Hindustan and not Persian or Farsi? Ignoring Urdu would almost kill the language. Enlightened Muslims in the country are strongly recommending that the madarsas should join the mainstream education system. Offering Sanskrit alone as an optional subject would have a negative impact on madarsas being persuaded to join the mainstream. Recognition and introduction of Urdu would give a nudge. Such reform is always possible.
Indian Institute of Translation and Interpretation is a welcome idea indeed. We have lost the opportunity till date to learn from each other in this country with diverse languages and knowledge. Free exchange was hardly possible. There have not been any formal structures to encourage and promote learning from one Indian language and take it to another. The initiative should not be starved for funds and the linguists and scholars should keep away from politicising. We should not plan for an infant death.
As for higher education, there is no clarity with respect to its governance structure. Increasing gross enrolment ratio to 50 per cent by 2035 will have meaning only if school education settles well and every school graduate has the capability and skill set to enter into decent livelihood. Higher education should be pursued by those who have aptitude desire and competence.
The government will have to be vigilant that higher education should not become an institution by the rich and elite, of the rich and elite and for the rich and elite. Some poor and deserving may sneak in to showcase inclusion. 
---
Gandhian thinker and educationist; former vice chancellor, Gujarat Vidyapeeth, Ahmedabad

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