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Photo: Hindustan Times
Photo: Hindustan Times

A plea to educators at the cusp of a seminal shift in education

We should set aside small differences and look at the policy’s positives to help transform education

The National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) approved by the Union cabinet on 29 July replaces the National Policy on Education, 1986. It is not as though in these intervening 34 years educational policies have not been changed or tweaked. But it is indeed after more than three decades that a comprehensive policy has been developed, addressing nearly all aspects of Indian education.

It is useful to keep in mind what the NEP is not. It is not an implementation plan, which must now be developed, both by the Centre and states. It is also not a law; legislative actions on many counts will be required for its implementation, both by Parliament and state legislatures.

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In its essence, the NEP is a coherent framework designed to fulfil the aims and objectives of India’s education through the relevant mechanisms, institutions, norms and resources. It is a 66-page document and is based on the 484-page draft National Education Policy (dNEP) developed by the Kasturirangan Committee and submitted to the Centre in May 2019. I was a member of its drafting committee.

Only on a few matters does the NEP deviate substantively from the dNEP. The National Education Commission proposed by the dNEP hasn’t found a place in the NEP. But its absence doesn’t dilute the spirit or intent of the dNEP. There are a few other matters that I will not mention here. I don’t want to fall prey to the “narcissism of small differences" that I have written about in Other Sphere earlier, wherein, despite large agreement on something, vehement energy is misspent on the few disagreements.

Education Policy is a profoundly contentious matter. It is invested with the hopes and aspirations of all people. It is a vehicle, process and theatre—for power, politics and ideology, in the deepest sense. It must negotiate with and deliver on all this, while ensuring epistemic soundness as well as educational effectiveness, and do so with limited resources.

So, the widespread positive response to the NEP is remarkable. Even some leaders of political parties in the opposition have felt compelled to commend it. It has been received equally positively by people in education, while a few have opposed it sharply. Since educators can play crucial roles, let me try to persuade everyone in the sector to support the implementation of NEP wholeheartedly, and offer a constructive critique which may improve it. The only ones I would not attempt to persuade are those who are reacting negatively because of their apprehensions of a loss of personal power or setback to commercial interests.

Some may stop their attacks once they accept that this is not an implementation plan, since their peeves are about “how will all this happen". Others have their own specific differences with the NEP, which may have influenced their response. They must decide whether opposing the entire policy over a few disagreements is prudent.

Then there are many who are apprehensive of and disappointed by the language of the NEP and its absence of details. The text seems ambiguous and non-committal on many matters. This should only be expected, since the formal written language of any government is by nature cautious. But this could undeniably lead to problems. Not just now, but over the long term. Both inadvertent and motivated interpretations are possible, which may be antithetical to good education. An energetic use of the “principle of charity" from philosophy may be an effective counter to this. This means drawing the best and the strongest possible interpretation of a text and putting one’s might behind implementing that interpretation quickly, thus setting things on a course that would be hard to tamper with later.

There are also some people who are opposing the policy because they are committed to opposing the political party in power at the Centre. Some believe that the text of the NEP is mostly good, but this government will never implement it. Others draw the worst interpretations from the text of the policy because of their opposition to the government. And then there are those who appear to be attacking the NEP without having read it.

Opposing the NEP is an ineffectual political strategy. A powerful political party cannot be harmed by opposing an education policy. Instead, if they also use the “principle of charity" in their reading of the NEP, they will find many things that they have themselves battled for in education over the decades. For instance, its explicit commitment to strengthen the public education system as the foundation of a vibrant democratic society. And then they too could put their might behind implementing those matters well. In other words, if they don’t trust the words as they are in the policy, they could call its bluff by trying to make those words reality. Many of them have been deeply committed educators. On the NEP, they need to act as educators, not politicians.

We are at a moment in Indian education that could be seminal. It is for us to make it so. Irrespective of our politics, ideology or differences, if we use the good in the NEP and make it happen, we will change education and thus help change India for the better.

Anurag Behar is CEO of Azim Premji Foundation and also leads sustainability initiatives for Wipro Ltd

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