The NEP 2020 is all for reduction in school curriculum and weight of school bags primarily. They have specifically mentioned that textbooks should be available in regional languages, but also must be downloadable and printable. This is, according to the policy makers, for conservation and reduction in logistical burden.
This policy assumes that most schools are in urban areas with students having access to phones and tabs, forgetting that only 28% of the adults in the country have smartphones.
This document also does not mention the Right to Education Act. The RTE Act may not be scrapped, but DU professor and Department of Elementary Education faculty Anita Rampal said that the current government feels that there are too many restrictions in the Act, which come in its way of opening a school. “In this document they have not mentioned RTE at all. The RTE Act specifies a certain basic infrastructure as anything cannot be called a school. There are certain requirements to become a teacher; then there is a specified pupil to teacher ratio – all of that is likely to be amended. They will allow private players to exploit the system,” added Rampal. This is a major concern.
“The policy says that access to high-quality and equitable education will be given especially to children aged 3 onwards to higher secondary education. It states that there will be a particular focus on historically marginalised, disadvantaged, and under-represented groups. The NEP 2020 does not mention it as a right. If it were a fundamental right, they would not mention it as particularly for this child or another child. In the government’s presentation, they had mentioned that the universalisation would be done by 2030. This is not the RTE model. If it were a fundamental right, a government cannot take its own time to implement it,” emphasised Rampal.
The formative years’ education is being called foundational learning in the NEP and its main issue is that of exclusion. The current 10+2 model will be restructured to 5+3+3+4 covering ages 3-18. While the current system includes only from age 6, the NEP includes children from age 3 onwards and it is being claimed that it is aimed at promoting better overall learning, development, and well-being.
“There is no reason to club early childhood care in education with the first two years of primary education. This will only create confusion as they are saying that early childhood care would be done through anganwadis, standalone nurseries or pre-primary schools as it happens in private schools. How can this be an equitable educational system as anganwadi worker is not a professionally trained teacher? They work for nutrition, but the education there is minimal unless a few NGOs are doing it differently,” explained Rampal.
Anganwadis are not geared for formative years’ education, said Rampal, and this is not professionalism. “The government states that anganwadi workers would be given six-months online training, but that is not enough for early child-care. I believe they have done it to bring in more community teachers, volunteers and student tutors. It will bring in a lot of problematic alternative way of education. Here they are abandoning their own commitment to provide a good environment for learning and teaching. To bring in everyone in the name of community volunteers means that they do not want to give much emphasis on the formative education. Earlier they were called ‘instructional aides’, but now they are not talking about it,” said Rampal.
The NEP stresses on foundational literacy and numeracy – the ability to read and comprehend basic text and the ability to carry out basic addition and subtraction with Indian numerals. “This is a dilution of what children can do, and it is not education,” added Rampal.
The NEP 2020 focuses too much on centralisation of education. There will be a National Assessment Centre and it will completely redesign school-based assessment. Using buzz words to state that the current assessment system is harmful, the NEP 2020 glosses over ‘holistic development’, with no specific mention of what it means. Education is a concurrent subject like health, which means that the Centre’s proposals can be implemented only with the help of the states.
“The way exams are going to be held is problematic as all the guidelines are going to come from a National Assessment Centre and then they will tell the states how to do it. Centralising of assessment does not make sense. Even though they are saying that they are going to make Board exams ‘easier’, that is a questionable word as that is not the reform we are looking for. Clearly their understanding is not deep enough to even understand what kind of assessment needs to be done,” highlighted Rampal.
The NEP advocates for the early implementation of the three-language formula to promote ‘multilingualism’. However, this policy aims for ‘Ek Bharat, Shrestha Bharat’ and mainstreaming of the culturally dead Sanskrit.
When the Constitution was made, its makers deliberately and consciously decided to have 14 schedules languages. Now there are 22 in the Eighth Schedule. Some of them belong to Indo-European family, some to Dravidian and some other to the Austroasiatic.
“The policy appears nice because the three-language formula is evoked, but there are riders. When we think of a child in a Hindi speaking region, the child will opt for Hindi as the first language; for the second language, it will be Hindi again, which will be higher in complexity or maybe Sanskrit and third will be English. In Kerala, Telangana or Tamil Nadu, it will a language of their own, Hindi and English. The cognitive load is higher for these kids,” said Ganesh Devy, the man behind the People’s Linguistic Survey of India.
Going further, Devy asks, what if the mother tongue of one of the kids is a scheduled tribal language or maybe even Tulu in Karnataka or Kuchchi in Gujarat or Irani in Maharashtra? “They will have to learn their mother tongue up to Class V, then the state’s language, then Hindi and then English. The further we go away from the Centre, the higher is the learning load. And further away from the Centre are the most marginalised societies in the country. It is precisely these children who have remained as school dropouts because their mother-tongues have been different. They will suffer even more if this policy is not implemented with sufficient imagination,” explained Devy.
The census of 2011 shows the number of English speakers as relatively small because when people record English as the second language, it is not counted. “But, if you look at the data for Sanskrit, the number of speakers of Sanskrit will be larger than the 2001 census because where Sanskrit is mentioned as the second language, it is counted. What will happen in the process is that Sanskrit will become the second language learnt because it fetches very good scores. Sanskrit is no longer a living language so Sanskrit taught in schools is taught with the help of grammar and not spoken language,” observed Devy.
This means children can score higher in Sanskrit based on what is taught than what is taught in Hindi or Bengali or Odiya. “This will prepare the ground for claiming that there are millions of Sanskrit speakers and go towards creating a Sanskrit-based reconstructed past as the mainstream culture of India.
This will also form the basis of funding for other formative languages. The policy looks good, but it is spacious enough for bringing in a cultural bias or what we call the RSS agenda during its implementation. That is what is objectionable,” remarked Devy.
When the languages were marked as scheduled languages, the demographic of the country was of one kind; today it has changed. There has been unceasing migration from one state to another state. In the process, it has made many of our cities multilingual. “In a given neigbourhood, we will find children belonging to 15-20 different languages. For them this three-language formula, which was extremely good at one time, is not adequate. The NEP 2020 should have spoken of multi-lingual schools, not tri-lingual schools. Multilingualism should have been the over-arching principle,” said Devy.
If we were to consider Delhi, a school in Chandni Chowk will have multiplicity of Indo-Iranian languages, but in Karol Bagh, there would be a multiplicity of Dravidian languages.
“If this policy were to be read in Russia or Australia, it looks like a fabulous document, but its implementation is going to privilege Sanskrit over tribal languages, Urdu and other Dravidic languages. That is to my mind not fair for a federal country like India, which is multi-lingual and multicultural,” underscored Devy.
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