Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

An inclusive education policy

A new education policy is in the works after 30 years, it will have far reaching and long term national implications

The development of the new education policy (NEP) for India is being led by the ministry of human resource development (MHRD). I wrote about this on 14 May. The process that the MHRD is following is clearer now; its core is in the steps laid out for a nationwide consultation. Given the public nature of the issue, it’s useful for all of us to know the broad contours of what lies ahead.

The consultations have started in many states. These are planned at all levels of governance and administration of the country—from the gram panchayat to national level. At every level a range of stakeholders are to be involved, this includes officials, public representatives, education-related bodies, representatives of social groups, etc. Every higher level is expected to have its own inputs and also consolidate the inputs of its constituent units; for example, a state-level consultation has to consolidate the inputs of all the districts of the state, the district in turn is expected to consolidate the inputs of all its blocks. The consultations are on 13 themes in school education and 20 themes in higher education, with a template for the questions for each level spelt out.

In addition to these geographic units, consultations will be held on the themes at the national level, involving relevant institutions and experts. The national education policy task force of the MHRD will play the central role in consolidating all this into a Draft Education Policy, which will then be considered by the Central Advisory Board of Education (which has been recently reconstituted).

This consultation exercise is of gigantic scale, and therefore of enormous complexity. For a sense of the scale let’s look at the number of consultation meetings that are to be held, each of which will result in a set of inputs that need to be considered seriously. There are to be 250,000 meetings at the Gram Panchayat level, 13,200 meetings at the block level, 7,400 meetings for urban local bodies, 1,350 meetings for the districts, three meetings for each state and then the national-level meetings. The entire exercise is to be completed by September, which appears like a very tight deadline, and may impact the quality of output seriously, in many ways.

This massive consultation exercise is driven by a principle stated in the manual for the process, which is that the consultation must be bottom-up and not top-down. It states explicitly that past education commissions have also done wide consultations, but it suggests that those have been driven in a centralized manner. It then states the intent to build the consultation from the grassroots up.

If all this is done well, it can be an exercise in inclusive formulation of policy, else it can result in a list of generally good but educationally ineffective statements, or even simply the expression of the ideas of a small group coordinating the efforts. “Doing it well" will require excellent execution at all levels. It will require the flexibility to change the process, the questions and the framing. It will need real inclusion of all relevant people, methods of resolution of conflict and robust debate. It will also require genuine consideration and integration of social matters, of advancement in educational thought and disciplinary understanding; all this in the context of the constitutional aims of education.

The process manual has attempted to draw a lesson from the exercises conducted for policy formulation in the past; it may be useful to consider other lessons also. Many of these lessons are succinctly spelt out by J.P. Naik in his book The Education Commission and After. Let me list a few of these processes or form-related (not substantive educational) issues, which eventually had significant bearing on the effectiveness of the policy and therefore on Indian education.

The first issue is the length of the report. Naik wrote that despite the wise counsel of the chairperson of the commission D.S. Kothari, the group ended up preparing a huge report. He thinks that the report should have been much shorter. The second issue was the expectation that the entire report was a “package deal"; that is, all recommendations would be taken up together. In the reality of India’s federal polity and complex educational landscape, this just couldn’t happen; recommendations were treated piecemeal. The third issue was a lack of adequate focus on implementation mechanisms and structures, which eventually became the Achilles heel. The fourth issue was an inadequate resolution of some of the contentious issues in the final policy, leading eventually to inaction. While Naik didn’t mention this, but many others hold the view that the earlier policies gave inadequate consideration to knowledge from the field of education, that is, they treated education as a matter of general social policy, while education is actually a deep and complex field of knowledge and practice.

A new education policy is in the works after 30 years. It will have far reaching and long-term national implications; we must use all the lessons of the past in its development.

Anurag Behar is CEO of Azim Premji Foundation and leads sustainability initiatives for Wipro Ltd. He writes every fortnight on issues of ecology and education.

Comments are welcome at othersphere@livemint.com. To read Anurag Behar’s previous columns, go to www.livemint.com/othersphere

Follow Mint Opinion on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Mint_Opinion

Close