We need Education for All, and a Drastic Policy Re-Think

Published on: January 6, 2016

The All India Save Education Committee (AISEC) has presented a comprehensive critique of the New Education Policy (NEP) document released by the Ministry of Human Resources and Development, Government of India.  Established in 1989, AISEC, that has drawn in prominent educationists, jurists and representatives of mass movements across India, has been engaged in upholding the cause of education for the people of India, participated in protests whenever the cause of universal education was jeopardized. As a part of this mobilisation, AISEC had stood against the NPE’86 and even circulated a publication entitled Towards a People’s Policy On Education: An Alternative to NPE’86  as a mark of concrete and constructive protest against both the privatisation and commercialisation of education.

Serious questions have been raised about the professed broad-based consultative process. The entire text of the AISEC document can be found at https://www.sabrangindia.in/reports/proposed-new-education-policy-rings-death-knell-education-land-tradition-knowledge-and
The AISEC has, in this substantive policy intervention expressed concern that a National Policy is being formulated that does not define either the basic or the comprehensive outlook on School Education that it is being based. Theme 12, titled Comprehensive Education - Ethics, Physical Education, Arts & Crafts, Life Skills, professes that Education is concerned with all-round development of the child…. Our students need to have a holistic development which cannot be achieved only through information and instruction. But there is no further reference to ethics or character-building essence of education anywhere in the discussion beyond the title.

AISEC analyses that any serious effort at defining a comprehensive outlook must answer some fundamental questions:
  • What should be the basic outlook of school education: employability or preparing children to grow into a ‘man’? 
  • Are employability and skill generation the sole, even the main objects of education, more so of school education?
  • What are the present problems with school education in the country? 
  • Why instead of increasing, are the number of government–run schools decreasing?
  • Why instead, are private schools mushrooming?
  • How are these private schools helping the quality of school education of the country, or are they doing otherwise?
  • Why are students dropping out at an an alarming rate?
  • Why is quality going down not just in government schools, but even in private ones?
  • Is the teacher-student ratio in most schools, government or private, anywhere near its desirable mark? 
The ground reality locates the major problems in school education, among others, at the sharp decline in quality of both learning and teaching; alarming rise in drop outs which is directly related to poverty and the prohibitive rise in cost of education; the absence of adequate number of schools; absence of minimum requirements (in regard to basic  infrastructure, teacher-student ratio etc.) in government-run schools forcing students and their guardians to seek a berth in private schools  even going beyond their means or  to lie low, content with whatever they get, or finally, simply quit schools.

While preparing the said document for consultation, the writers, too, recognize these to a great or less extent.

The first theme (Ensuring learning outcomes in Elementary Education) for consultation pronounces that, ‘even with all (these) reforms’ ‘the learning outcomes for a majority of children’, remains an ‘area of serious concern’.  Because, ‘children are not learning the basic skills’ (emphasis added); even at grade (class) V children ‘cannot read simple texts and cannot do simple arithmetic calculations’.

If this is a simple and honest narration of facts, the theme sets the task. ‘There is a need to understand the reasons’ and ‘suggest ways and methods of improving the learning outcomes of school children’. And then  coming to the specifics, it is added, that there is need to address ‘on priority basis’ ‘quality issues’, ‘availability of trained teachers, good curriculum and innovative pedagogy’ and need to ‘assess the system of Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation’.  (all quotes from page 3) If anybody makes the effor to go through the earlier policy documents, he or she would find virtually the same words contained even there. In fact, it has been the case with any attempt at so-called ‘reforms’ to reiterate that earlier efforts failed to reach the mark and to prescribe some antidotes.

However, from the accompanying questions (page 4) it is evident that the present policymakers seek answers as to how to ensure that