Nearly 90 percent of Dalit – Bahujan students who enroll in school for grade one are pushed out of education by the 12th standard. These students should not be called ‘dropouts’ because they do not leave the education system of their own choice but are rather pushed out by the structural casteism and prejudice prevalent in Indian classrooms. Rather than beginning to address such appalling inequality in the education system, the New Education Policy (NEP) attempts to legitimize the various caste-based divisions in the education system.
The NEP pays only a lip-service to ‘equitable’ education. It essentially provides freedom for private players to make profits in education. It does not state anything about the regulation of private schools or universities and their profit. It suggests that philanthropic investments in education may provide tax cuts, and further, that private universities run for profit are still eligible for government assistance. When there remains a stark inequality in the education system in the form of private institutions as opposed to public institutions and further in the form of tiered division of schools and colleges, it is pointless and also misleading to talk about equitable or inclusive education.
In fact, an already existing policy document considered as a marker of equitable education the 1966 Kothari Commission doesn’t even find a mention. The Kothari Commission has recommended equal and uniform structures and plans across all schools. Indicators of equal structures education include uniform student-teacher ratio, access to science labs after Grade 6. These are not mentioned because such uniformity would directly fo against the goals of profit-oriented private education.
The division between public and private institutions is often along caste lines, with Savarna students paying for a higher quality of education, while most Bahujan students attend underfunded, understaffed, government schools. An already existing danger of private institutions in higher education is further enabled in the NEP under the guise of ‘transparency’ and ‘less regulation’. It refers to an unregulated system wherein educational institutions will conduct ‘self-regulation’ by submitting online forms without any intervention of any government authority. This is applicable to private universities as well. This creates an atmosphere where private institutions will be able to bypass social justice laws such as reservations or implementation of SC/ST cells. Private Institutions cannot will cannot also be held accountable for their spending or its hiring and admission procedures amongst other concerns. Another aspect of the NEP that is clearly aimed at increasing caste-divisions is the plan to provide vocational education Grade 6 onwards. The groundwork for this was laid by the 2016 Amendment to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, that said when children under the age of 14 work for their parents, it will not be considered child labour which legitimized child labour in caste-based occupations.
In English-medium private schools, parents of upper-caste children will not be enthusiastic about ‘vocational’ education especially if it involves physical labour. Hence, it is likely that with differential implementations, students in government schools specially Bahujan students would be pushed by educational institutions to go into caste-based occupations and prepare themselves for cheap labour. While the NEP claims that there will be no hard separation between academics and vocational education, it is clear that students pushed into labour will slowly be disadvantaged in the education system with drops in attendance, less time for study and so on.
The NEP of any structures to ensure that students who get into vocational education and caste-based occupations are able to complete their education and choose their profession after the 12th standard. The creation of this pool of cheap labour using Bahujan students is important for the larger plan that the NEP stands for, i.e., investment of foreign capital to pursue the goals of capitalistic development which will require a large labour force which does not have the tools to recognize or critique their oppression. Similarly, the ‘flexible’ assessment, with options for students to sit for A-level or B-level exams also formalizes inequality between students and creates inequality of opportunity in higher education and employment.
NEP also states that ‘wherever possible, the medium of instruction until at least Grade 5, but preferably till Grade 8 and beyond, will be the home language/mother tongue/local language/regional language’, and does not mandate that the medium of instruction be changed. This would mean a lack of access to English education in Government schools. This further leads to the migration of students who can afford it to private schools. English is the language that allows Bahujan students to seek opportunities in higher education and employment outside their state and hence often outside of the influence of local upper-caste networks. The NEP encouraging this inequality in the medium of instruction is dangerously aimed at reinforcing caste oppression.
The NEP states that Sanskrit will be offered “at all levels of school and higher education” and as a result, teachers will be appointed and departments will be funded at every level as well. The justification for this is the promotion of classical languages. However, all other classical languages have been ignored in this proposal. NEP states that other classical and historical languages will be documented and stored in the digital medium. The message is clear- the only language that will be funded and taught at all levels is that in which Brahmanism and caste ideology have its roots, while other languages, such as Tamil, Pali, amongst others which have in them anti-caste knowledge and discourses will be ignored. This blatant promotion of brahminical knowledge is clear in the NEP’s thrust on ancient Indian culture, which conveniently erases those philosophical and religious traditions which resisted Brahminism, such as Charavaka and Lokayat philosophical tradition, and Buddhism.
The NEP also mentions that ‘meritorious’ students from ashram shalas in Adivasi areas will receive the relaxation in fees and ‘meritorious’ teachers will receive special training and facilities. Firstly, this relaxation of fees is strange since the policy contradicts itself by saying that the RTE will be extended and education will be free of cost. This means that either there will be costs to the education not made clear in the policy, or that the ‘meritorious’ scholarship is simply an attempt to undermine reservations and replace them with scholarships. Secondly, we must question what it means to be ‘meritorious’. For students, it will be those who get the most marks in online exams based on a highly unequal and homogenized system of education, and for teachers, it will be those who are most likely to abide by the ideology of the Brahmanical and corporate education system. The use of the word ‘meritorious’ in this policy document is hence alarming.
The NEP also pays lip-service to gender sensitization in an attempt to present itself as a liberal policy. However, patriarchy in India is inherently linked to caste, and neither can be tackled without the other. The NEP not only lacks measures aimed at addressing caste but rather attempts in various ways, to reinforce and strengthen caste prejudices. At present, less than 10 percent of Bahujan students who enroll in school are able to access higher education, and even the presence of this minuscule number of Bahujan threatens upper-caste society and makes them come out on the streets against reservations. If the focus was shifted to why the majority of Bahujan students are not able to reach the 12th standard, then the entire concept of ‘merit’ would be challenged. A truly equitable and emancipatory education system needs to tackle the social problems of caste, patriarchy, disability, and so on directly. The NEP not only ignores these problems but rather is geared towards creating slavery and disenfranchisement.
This article is based on a recent webinar by Dr. Anil Sadgopal titled ‘New “Exclusion” Policy 2020: Corporatization, Manuvadikaran, and Over-centralization of Education ‘.