Instead of reforms, nat’l edu policy may trigger power tussle in bureaucracy

NEP, The Federal, English news website
The creation of the Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog among other institutions recommended in the National Education Policy, will lead to the creation of multiple administrative empires and more clashes among the bureaucracy. Photo for representational purpose only. Photo: iStock

What is most frustrating about the draft National Education Policy (NEP) is that its recommendations are scattered throughout the text and it is quite a task to identify them. There is no summary of recommendations anywhere in the text. An addendum titled ‘The Way Forward’ enjoins both the central and state governments to implement some of its recommendations and lists them, but the list doesn’t seem to be a complete one. There is no summary of recommendations anywhere in the document. It is also clear that different persons have written different chapters and there has been no attempt to edit them in order to achieve cohesion. The result is that there are many unwanted repetitions.

Unnecessary evocation of ‘ancient splendour’

The glory of our ancient universities and the miracles they had supposed to have been wrought have been mentioned multiple times in the draft, but the medal goes to this passage: “Numerous ancient books in India going back over 2000 years (including Banabhatta’s Kadambari, written 1400 years ago and one of the world’s first- ever novels) described the 64 kalas or arts, wherein a truly educated person was described as one who mastered all the 64 kalas. These 64 kalas included music, dance, painting, sculpture, languages, and literature, in addition to subjects such as engineering and mathematics as well as vocational subjects such as carpentry – this is very close to what the ‘liberal arts’ refers to today!” … Indian universities such as Takshashila and Nalanda were the oldest universities in the world, and of the very highest quality.”

Such hyperbolic rant seems out of place in a serious document such as the draft NEP. No ancient university, including Nalanda and Takshashila, offered education to all, especially the under-privileged, unlike what the modern system of education seeks to achieve. There is absolutely no point in evoking “ancient splendour” when discussing 21st century issues concerning millions of youngsters in search of quality education.

Also read: Flawed NEP: A child has to hear the language in practical life to learn it

More institutions, more administrative empires

The entire approach of the committee to resolve every problem seems to be by creating several institutions. The Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog (RSA) / National Education Foundation (NEF), National Higher Education Regulatory Authority (NHERA), Indian Institutes of Liberal Arts (IILAs) or Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities (MERUs), National Research Foundation, National Educational Technology Forum (NETF) and National Repository of Educational Data are a few recommended for revamping by the committee.

We know that all these institutions are likely to cost big money. The report clearly says, “The RSA will be supported by a strong secretariat, consisting of several layers of bureaucrats and technocrats, who will work on efficiently and effectively progressing the various decisions of the RSA. The secretariat of the RSA will be adequately staffed and resourced, and housed…”

These recommendations, I am sure, will be lapped up by the ‘babudom’ in no time, as it involves creation of multiple administrative empires. But the bureaucratic nightmare that is likely to be created by such a multiplicity of organisations by can be illustrated by taking just one example.

Let us consider the RSA which is supposed to be headed by the Prime Minister. The Union minister of education (the MHRD will be re-designated as the ministry of education) will be the vice chairman. It will have around 30 members. All appointments to senior posts in the RSA will be made by a committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the leader of the opposition in Parliament and the Union minister of education. There will be an executive council, which will have about 15 members, and an executive director to head it. There will be a standing committee on co-ordination, advisory council, joint review and monitoring board, and, of course, a huge secretariat. In addition, the states have also been commanded to set up apex state level bodies called the Rajya Shiksha Aayog.

And what is the task of the RSA? It will be responsible for developing, articulating, implementing, evaluating, and revising the education of the country. Anyone with some idea of how the Indian bureaucracy functions will know immediately that this will be a death-knell to quality education in India. The secretariat of the RSA will do little else except arranging periodic fights between the ministry of education, the state government ministries, the RSA and the state ‘aayogs’ and trying to settle them. It will be a behemoth in no time, demanding and consuming our precious resources and spending time to justify its existence.

Take for example the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). Its president (equivalent to chairperson) is the Prime Minister and the vice president is the S&T minister. It is supposed to foster scientific and industrial research in the country. It has been in existence for more than 75 years. It has several laboratories all over the country. But excepting a few, they are all a huge drain on the exchequer, with absolutely no accountability.  Have they fostered scientific and industrial research? An honest answer will be no. This foundation will fare far worse.

CSIR, when it came about, had no rivals. The proposed foundation, on the other hand, will have clear rivals in the ministry of education and other institutions dealing with education at the centre. They will not countenance another organization lording over them or trying to carve out a territory for itself from their domains. Also, while it is nobody’s case that the centre should not give suggestions to the state government in the area of higher education, creating a gargantuan overseeing organization at the centre will not be viewed favourably by the states. It is one way of telling them that they will always need a chaperon who will double up as a master when the occasion demands.

I don’t think there is any need to create new institutions at the centre to take care of education. The existing institutions could be modified and strengthened.

Also read: Draft education policy: Ambitious on targets but silent on funding 

 Vocational education and the neglect of polytechnics

The chapter on vocational education correctly identifies the problem when it says the following:

“The 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-2017) estimated that less than 5 % of the Indian workforce in the age group of 19-24 received formal vocational education; in comparison, the USA has 52%, Germany has 75%, and South Korea has 96%. These numbers underline the need to hasten the spread of vocational education in India. The committee therefore asserts: The National Policy on Skills Development and Entrepreneurship (NPSDE) announced in 2015 specified that 25% of educational institutions would target offering vocational education. We make a major departure from this policy to specify that not just 25%, but all educational institutions – schools, colleges and universities – must integrate vocational education programmes in a phased manner.”

This is a ‘revolutionary’ recommendation, but it is unlikely to be implemented anytime soon. Rajaji tried a similar system of education in the then State of Madras on an experimental basis in the 1950s and he is being pilloried even today for the effort. Indians do not want to sully their hands in a hurry.  The NPSDE was eminently practical when it targeted 25 per cent of educational institutions. Even this should first be tried in schools and only when it proves to be successful, it should gradually be introduced in colleges. Hundred per cent integration is not only impractical but also not necessary at all.

In any case, which are the institutions in India that are totally devoted vocational education? It is the ITIs at the entry level and the polytechnics at the higher level. We have already seen that the ITIs are totally neglected in the report. The same fate has befallen the polytechnics too. The report specifically says that institutions, such as polytechnics, are not included within the term Higher Education Institution so long as they offer only diplomas and they are dealt with separately under the title of vocational education. But, surprisingly, the chapter on vocational education is silent on them.  There are thousands of polytechnic colleges in India with lakhs of students. There are thousands of teachers working in these institutions. What will happen to them and the polytechnics (and ITIs) when the integration of vocational education is carried out? Will their very existence not be threatened? The report doesn’t offer any solution.

(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not reflect the views of The Federal)

The article is the third in a series of analyses on draft National Education Policy. Read the first two articles here: 

States reduced to ball boys in draft education policy 

Din over Hindi takes focus away from key issues