Draft NEP is a wish list backed by simplistic reasoning

Eminent academician Anita Rampal, a professor in Delhi University's Department of Education, says many of the recommendations of the draft NEP 2019 lack seriousness and are worrying. Importantly, she tells DH’s Prakash Kumar, “the establishment of a National Education Commission is against the federal structure of the country. It will allow centralised control over education.”

What are your impressions of the draft NEP-2019?

A new education policy after a gap of 33 years can certainly be looked at. But this will be meaningful only when it is formulated with serious engagement with the issues and assessment of needs and measures to be taken. I don't find that in the draft policy. It only provides a wish list, with a very simplistic kind of reasoning behind them. There are some suggestions that may be well-intentioned but do not talk about the modalities. There are others that are extremely worrying, especially those made for school education. We need to question, try and see if the government will reconsider them.

What are the most worrying recommendations?

One is the establishment of a National Education Commission as a permanent body. We have never had that till now. We always had time-bound education commissions. It’s worrying because it will completely be a centralised government body with top-down approach to exercise control over the country's education. Education has to be more decentralised in a country with a federal structure.

Another worrying recommendation is the establishment of a National Education Technology Forum and creation of a central database of teachers and students. This raises concerns over privacy and possibility of surveillance by the government because they will have every information about teachers and students -- from their contact numbers to caste and community. The mobile app proposed to be used for this can be used by the government for surveillance.

What is your view on changing school education from the current 10+2 system to 5+3+3+4?

The Right to Education Act, 2009, has made it clear that all states should have eight years of elementary schooling as a compact package, otherwise it will fragment the system. Many states are yet to come up with a uniform pattern of elementary schooling from classes 1 to 8. I don't understand why this further division has been recommended. The vision behind the 10+2 system of school education is to ensure that every child gets 10 years of similar education and then in classes 11th and 12th we can have diversification. We have this 10+2 system to ensure equity; to ensure that every student gets the chance for a good and similar education. I don't see how equity is going to be ensured under the proposed 5+3+3+4 system. It has not been spelt out in the draft policy.

What do you think of the recommendations for vocational education?

Vocational education is important, but it should not be just limited to imparting job-oriented skills to young students. The draft policy recommends introducing vocational education at an early stage of schooling, calling for survey courses on vocational skills and crafts in grades 6, 7, or 8. I welcome that. But then again, I don't see the roadmap clearly. The vocational courses that we have today in our schools are designed by the industry, based on their requirements. There is no foundational component of education in these courses. It's a matter of concern if it is pushed the way it is because the policy recommends that at least 50% children should go into vocational training both in schools and the colleges. This will lead to inequities as students going for vocational courses would completely be deprived of the foundational education component.

And the proposed National Tutors Program (NTP) and the Remedial Instructional Aides Program (RIAP)?

It's like the system is giving up on the most crucial aspect. While there is a need to provide much more support to poorly resourced schools, many of which do not have adequate teachers, the draft policy recommends engaging the best performing students in each school as tutors for fellow students, generally younger ones, for up to five hours a week, under the NTP. This is totally unacceptable. Going further, the draft policy recommends engaging unqualified people, especially women from the community, to formally provide remedial teaching to students lagging in studies. They will be trained for providing foundational literacy. It's an extremely worrying idea.

How do you see the proposal to allow multiple models of schools by removing restrictive provisions from the RTE Act?

It will open the gates for low cost, sub-standard schools. There is a huge industry of low-cost private schooling, which is operating without adequate infrastructure and resources. Even the RSS-backed schools in tribal areas which have single teachers can also join in. So, calling it an alternative model is a very broad, generic term but it leaves many doors open for many things. With this recommendation, a hope for improvement in quality and standards of our school education that one sees in the proposal for extension of the RTE Act from pre-primary up to class 12 gets washed away.

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