Education in India is Still Exclusive
The changes in India’s education shows promises but faces numerous accounts of difficulties in making education inclusive and accessible for everyone. The changes that are scheduled to be made through the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 have come after 34 years on the same rigid education system.
These changes will have a tremendous effect on the children of the nation and we must make it deliverable and the process of implementation must be specially sorted out in order to make these changes impactful.
India as a state has postulated many structural changes in the public development from 1991. The year 1991 must be specifically marked in order to check the arrangements made for privatization and its impact on public services. The economic changes had a deep impact on education which has led to the disparity between state-managed and privately managed education services. But it wouldn’t be fair to focus privatization of education as the root cause of exclusive and inaccessible education in India.
History of education must trace back from the period of the pre-colonial nature of our society. India’s right over education has always been caste-based and class-based. The exclusive rights of education were the sole property of the upper Hindu caste and male-dominated. Colonial India saw the increase of the missionary education system which has prominently shaped Northeastern India’s education system. These schools started out as a sanctuary for theology and spread of Christianity, but the present-day missionary schools cater to a middle-class section of the society obsessed with the idea of the superiority of English language. India, during the colonial period, saw visible changes in education services through Governor-General Macaulay. During this period, India saw the rise of bilinguals and contextualizing education which would help British officials in India.
English speaking civil servants were produced from Presidencies who would help in creating a bridge between the vernaculars and their rulers. This sense of elitism is associated with civil services examinations even now and its root lies in the education services provided by the colonial rulers.
Post-independence India’s education focused on creating a range of skilled, technical, and service-based labour force in order to feed infrastructural development in India. The recommendations of the Kothari Commission have quite a lot of similarities in NEP 2020 such as the 6% of GDP and three language formula for teaching. The new education policy has deep structural changes that would make India a par with education systems in Scandinavian nations and Germany. These countries focus on education as public service and they have worked in order to make their education policies especially higher education accessible and well-funded.
India has also taken steps in order to cater to education as a public service with schemes such as Mid-day meal, Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, and 86th Amendment act making primary and secondary education as a fundamental right under Article 21A. These schemes and amendments have been welcomed and benefited a massive number of marginalized and backward communities but its reach could have been extended to much larger demography if its implementation was done right.
Trends have been seen where primary education for Indian parents enroll children much earlier than recommended and hence the cognitive mismatch derails the child’s development. The drop in enrollment to the high and middle school of girl child is an issue rooted deep in our patriarchal values and improper facilities in order to promote enrollment of girl children in rural areas. The NEP 2020 has taken a specific goal of increasing the GER to 25% by 2035 which would be appreciated.
Dropout rates would be affected by the pandemic too according to the reports of the UN where 24 million children would drop out due to economic impacts on their families. Hence, the NEP goal to ensure enrollment must foresee solutions for the impacts of a pandemic on education. The segregation of classes on the basis of 5+3+3+4 is well thought out plan and inclusion of breakfast in the mid-day meal scheme will help in incentivizing parents to send their children to school. The vocational zing of education in terms of market demands too will help in creating a labour force that would be skilled and employed. These draft plans under the Kasturirangan Committee will help in increasing enrollment and employment levels of Indian children. Yet we see there are numerous issues in the Indian education system such as lack of resources in higher education services, low pupil-teacher ratio, and degrading quality of education.
NEP 2020 does focus on increasing the overall funds on education with 6% of GDP but this was too recommended by earlier commissions and yet weren’t implemented. The exclusive nature of Indian education can be ultimately seen in the imaginary fight between government schools and colleges and private institutions. The source of one’s development hence is thought to be circled down to who has the more “mullah”. Scholarships and fellowships are present in the paper but the economic help for marginalized students never arrives.
Indian education is having two dimensions - one which is for the elites and upper class which can access any form of education with a guarantee of employment and the other where a skilled labour force is created that usually does not enroll in higher education and opt-out doing petty and informal services. The NEP 2020 does address these issues and tries to reduce the disparity through breaking the importance of English as the preferred language of educated, promote vocational courses and infuse economic resources in education.
The policy has been appreciated by private institutions and several organizations. There are few apprehensions that the Government must look out for. The policy hasn’t mentioned any promotion of affirmative action for marginalized and backward classes. The shift in the system would be easier for private institutions but not as much for government schools.
The centralization by the government through a single body of higher education commission of India might impede the evolution of education in India. The exclusivity of Indian education will prevail until regulations are placed on private institutions and promotion of accessibility and fund driven policy for state-owned institutions aren’t pushed.
Teachers from the local level are needed to be trained and they need to be held accountable. The NEP 2020 will definitely change education in India but the question of inclusive and open education, especially for the ones who need it the most, remains.
(The author has recently completed MSW (Livelihood and Social Entrepreneurship) from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati. The views expressed in the article are his own.)