On July 29, the Indian government revealed the new National Education Policy (NEP), a piece of legislation that claims to revolutionize education across the country. The policy, which was passed without any discussion or consultation, is the subject of both enthusiastic praise and intense criticism from politicians, educators, and citizens across the country.
The detailed 60-page document outlines several extreme, nationwide changes to education, but is also full of vague and confusing language. There are many points to this document, but there are a few especially relevant issues that carry throughout the policy.
The policy aims to make education in India more multidisciplinary, at secondary and higher levels of education. Secondary schools are expected to allow students greater flexibility when it comes to coursework, as well as offer levels of proficiency for each subject. For college students, a bachelor’s program, similar to America’s undergraduate programs, is to be implemented and preferred. The NEP also notes the inclusion of a college entrance exam, similar to the SAT, that will be offered twice a year.
Another major goal of the NEP is multilingualism. Under this policy, the federal government aims to implement a three-language system, where every student is required to learn three languages. At least two of these languages must be Indian, with one being the student’s “mother tongue”. Other important actions mentioned in the policy include vocational internships for secondary students, a lesser emphasis on board exams, and a push towards technology use and digital integration in education.
On the surface, it’s easy to believe that the new NEP will ultimately benefit Indians. However, since it was announced, the policy has been met with extreme controversy.
The government introduced the New Education Policy yesterday. Allow me to explain how the NEP is a very casteist and classist in this thread:
— Sankul (@s3nkul) July 30, 2020
One of the most controversial points of the NEP is the push for multilingualism. It’s important to note here that India is one of the most linguistically diverse regions in the world, with 22 official languages, and hundreds more that are not as widely spoken. Though the policy does not force any state to teach a certain language, activists worry that the three language policy is a scheme to force Hindi education in classrooms. Despite the incredible linguistic diversity of India, there aren’t many educators who teach less spoken languages, nor are there resources for learning such as textbooks. Consequently, with a decent availability of Hindi teachers, the language will find its way into several classrooms across the country.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has long made their language agenda clear, with politicians such as Amit Shah pushing Hindi as a necessary language in all states. Tamil Nadu, a South Indian state with a two-language system that focuses on Tamil and English, has already rejected the NEP’s language proposal.
The three-language proposal also means that students who may not be able to learn English in the classroom will be at a disadvantage when entering the job force. It will be marginalized groups who cannot afford outside tutoring in English who will suffer from this policy, while privileged students can easily access English language education. For many marginalized students, English is a crucial tool in an increasingly competitive workforce. By losing the opportunity to learn English, they risk serious damage to their futures.
Additionally, the policy carries insidious, nationalist tones that appear to be disguised as a form of cultural education.
Professor G. Arunima of Jawaharlal Nehru University told me that when read closely, the nationalistic agenda of the policy becomes glaringly clear. “One very obvious way is the repeated reference to inculcating “Indian values”, present in the country from its supposedly glorious ancient past, and to be revived via this new form of education,“ she wrote to me.
There is no expansion on what these “Indian values” are, raising concerns that the BJP will once again attempt to impose malicious nationalist ideologies. Instilling a value of Indian culture is not a bad thing, but there is a concern about what constitutes as “Indian values”. Given the BJP’s focus on pushing their Hindu nationalist agenda, this likely includes “values” that discriminate against religious, ethnic, and gender minorities. This is not a far stretch, as the BJP has already made efforts to literally change history to reflect their bigotry.
In 2017, textbooks in the state of Rajasthan glamorized Hindu nationalists and their ideologies. It wouldn’t be surprising if the new NEP follows a similar path, which will only incite even more violence against marginalized groups.
But perhaps the biggest concern is that it appears education in India is now becoming another cog of capitalism. Currently, a great deal of higher education, as well as a part of secondary schooling, is subsidized by the Indian government. However, with the NEP, there’s reason to fear that education will now become a tool of the elite.
Professor G. Arunima told me that the NEP ultimately works to make education inaccessible to marginalized groups in India. “We are going in the direction of education to be paid for by loans, and in India, this will greatly hamper the poor, and all marginal groups who have benefited from subsidized education, and reservations (affirmative action),” she told me. “So clearly the elite, economic and social, will benefit the most, and all marginal groups (lower castes, Muslims, Adivasis) will be hit the hardest.”
Education in India has always been built for upper class, upper-caste men. Lower class and lower caste students are already more likely to drop out of school in India. As education becomes more privatized and exclusive, these students will be even more affected. They will be unable to afford the steep fees of higher education.
Though the NEP faces widespread controversy, there’s no shortage of praise for it either. Especially from politicians of the BJP. Prime Minister Narendra Modi claims that the policy will emphasize creative thinking while eliminating the intense, stressful “rat race” of education today.
As I read more and more praise for the NEP, I start to wonder whether any of it would actually uplift Indian students. When it comes to assessing the nature of the NEP, there’s no doubt that it is ultimately a tool of capitalism and marginalization. The Indian government cannot claim progress while also being enablers of oppression.
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