The draft National Education Policy (NEP) 2019 released by the Union HRD ministry on May 30, strikes so many different notes in the same breath that one doesn’t quite know which ones might eventually form the tune. Many of the notes are jarring while some are sweet and familiar. Of the latter, some are very old notes. One has heard them over and over again from the Central and state bureaucracies and politicians, but they still sound sweet to some academics and policy formulators.
New listeners may get taken in when these familiar notes are struck. For instance, a lot of people will feel pleased to learn that the examination stress of children will be reduced, that all education institutions will have autonomy, that liberal constitutional values will occupy centrestage in the final NEP 2019. If these goodies are about to be distributed, there will be plenty of takers to receive them.
However, this stream of pleasant anticipation is interrupted by a statement on p.180 of the 484-page draft NEP 2019. The second paragraph of s.8.1, titled ‘System architecture and roles in the system of education’ of the policy draft says: “The new regulatory authority for schools called the State School Regulatory Authority (SSRA) will have the regulatory mandate and will set basic and uniform standards for both public and private schools.”
A little later paragraph 8.1.2 says the “Department of Education of the state will be the apex policy-making body and shall also be responsible for policy and the overall coordination and monitoring of the system” (italics mine). The very next paragraph, i.e, p.8.1.3 explains that as a “single independent” regulator, SSRA will handle all aspects of school regulation including oversight of the school system and implementation of “accreditation”. Keep reading and soon you will be told that “SSRA will report to the RjSA (Rajya Shiksha Aayog) in the absence of which it will report to the chief minister of the state”. One can’t be blamed for being confused about the actual apex-level authority.
This confusing architecture recommended by the draft NEP 2019 is fully manifested in higher education, more specifically in Chapter 23 titled Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog (RSA aka, National Education Commission). While RSA is the national apex authority for education, the states will have their own Rajya Shiksha Aayog (RjSA), mentioned above. With so many new layers of authority added at all levels to the old colonial set-up for disciplining foot soldiers of the education system — teachers and institution leaders — the complexities of running a school are likely to be multiplied.
It is nobody’s case that private schools should be left alone or that commercialisation of education shouldn’t be challenged. But regulation and accreditation by newly established bodies — linked with Central and state-level bureaucratic and political authorities — in addition to examination boards whose power is well-entrenched and familiar, is hardly likely to serve the cause of autonomy. Well-intentioned principals and teachers will wonder how NEP 2019 will confer the autonomy promised to enable them to pursue their professional goals. They are likely to find themselves in the basement of a tall multi-floor structure of regulatory power. And where are teachers positioned in the new architecture? With surveillance technology increasingly being used to monitor them, they will have minimal incentive to be creative. One can imagine that orchestrated lessons will be uploaded for teachers to follow to get higher accreditation and inspire others.
The type of regulation and accreditation recommended in the draft policy for schools has been experienced by the higher education system in recent years. Those who manage colleges and universities know what it means to receive and look after inspection teams that will decide the grade an institution deserves. Now this experience will be imposed on school principals as well.
Principals of government schools are used to living without any semblance of academic or professional space to apply their own sense of judgement and professional experience to improve school life. If the draft policy is approved, private school principals will now get a chance to empathise with their counterparts in government schools.
State directorates of education seldom show compunction if a private school hesitates to accommodate smallest requests. We are unlikely to see much improvement in this scenario unless the policy draft is reviewed with the help of a hand-held magnifier. In short, the NEP draft is a prescription for greater control and tighter government grip on education institutions. An already debilitated system with teacher self-confidence in tatters will now be governed by more elaborate rulebooks, with myriad terms and conditions attached in smallest fonts.
Evidently, the policy drafters don’t realise that the new regime(s) they recommend will bring in new forms of control and stress on everyone. They want outcomes rather than inputs to guide future reforms. Their recommendation is a “light but tight” system of regulation. It can be translated as so light-looking that its tightness is accepted, even respected.
(Dr. Krishna Kumar is former director of NCERT and former professor of education at Delhi University)