When a guest enters our house and wants to quench his thirst urgently, the immediate choice is a glass of drinking water. Nobody asks for the guest’s vitals to prepare a fruit juice accordingly. Likewise, when the education sector requires urgent solutions to fix basic issues, analysts and academics shouldn’t populate discourse with pompous remarks on jackfruit and water-melon size problems unmindful of the simple drinking water solutions.
Ever since the draft copy of the National Education Policy (NEP) was made public, there has been non-stop commentary on it. The 46th and 82nd amendments to the Constitution placed education in the concurrent list and made it an enforceable right respectively. The previous NEPs, in 1968 and 1986 (with a 1992 edition), put in place a coordinated effort for the country’s education policy with states’ support. Both addressed different issues and had differences since the first was before the Constitutional amendment in 1976 while the second was after. Both dealt with issues like the 10+2+3 pattern, three-language formula, Sarva Shiksha
Abhiyan, IT in education, etc., and set the education ball in motion. The third and long overdue attempt has resulted in the draft NEP prepared under the chairmanship of former cabinet secretary T S R Subramanian. It is a 217-page document with nine chapters, over 90 recommendations after detailed research, consultations and meetings with a cross-section of stakeholders. The abstract of the draft is on the MHRD website seeking suggestions till September 30.
Significant among suggestions made by the committee are value-based education, governance reforms, teacher education revamp, National/State Entrance Tests for professional college admissions, ICT in education, applicability of RTE, student progression in schools, etc. Some of the reforms are worthy of immediate implementation while others need deliberations. Any exercise of such a massive proportion can never be perfect and that there are contentious issues is no reason to create roadblocks and hijack the entire policy.
One of the major objections to the draft NEP is the issue of interference in educational institutions run by minorities. Though the Supreme Court in Unnikrishnan (1993) mixed Article 30 with Article 19(1)(g), the same court in TMA Pai (2003) referred to its order in the St. Xavier’s College case that “the whole object of conferring the right on minorities under Article 30 is to ensure that there will be equality between the majority and the minority”. In essence conveying that Article 30 is an equaliser and not an imbalancer favouring one type of institutions. Unfortunately, hiding behind constitutional imperative and through State (Centre and state governments) policies, universalisation of minority rights has been a distant dream. There cannot be a time more appropriate than this to recall the speech on the philosophy of national integration by scholar and former Chief Justice P B Gajendragadkar in 1972. He said when minority institutions offer generic education with teachers and students predominantly cosmopolitan and have no connection whatever with the protection of the language, culture or script of the minority concerned, then “it may not be legitimate to grant such collegiate institutions the benefit of the absolute right conferred on religious & linguistic minorities by Articles 29 & 30 in general and Art. 30(1) in particular.”
The draft NEP has Band-Aid type solutions for minor injuries in the education and major issues like minority rights requiring surgical intervention need detailed discussions. Let the Band-Aid cure start along with proper X-ray diagnostics for the surgical one also.
Dean, Planning & Development, SASTRA University