The National Education Policy (NEP), 2019 comes at a time when neoliberal reforms have been institutionalised over three decades via a nexus between a swelling private sector in teacher education and a compromised state school system. Some of the clandestine strategies of educational reform include the lack of state investment in the education and professional support to teachers; divesting teachers of agency; narrowing curriculum to a disconnected set of learning outcomes; and reducing teaching to lower order cognitive thinking and skills (Batra, forthcoming). This is being accelerated in a changing political climate, by moral ideals of ‘cultural nationalism’ that are now aligned with the neoliberal focus on learning outcomes and teacher performance.
The NEP is projected as the Government of India’s resolve to expand and vitalize quality and equitable public education at all levels. It emphasises crucial interventions in early childhood education; foundational literacy and numeracy; downward and upward extension of RtE; rearrangement of curricular and pedagogical structure of school education; reorganisation of teacher education; and a new institutional architecture for higher education. On closer scrutiny it becomes evident that the policy statement does little by way of analysing the most critical problems that plague India’s education system. The proposed recommendations are disconnected from ground reality and the Constitutional commitment to equitable education.
The policy draft builds on the narrative of neoliberal educational reform that impedes the possible convergence between equity, quality and social justice, envisaged in India’s Constitution and, in particular, the ideas of Dr. Ambedkar who helped frame it. The Right to Education (RtE) Act too has become a target of neoliberal reform due to poor state investment, lack of institutional development, weak implementation and the absence of robust monitoring mechanisms.
In its present form, the NEP appears to be a potential threat to the Constitutional educational agenda. This becomes evident when the policy articulation on school and teacher education is examined in the light of the current status in terms of reach and quality of educational provisioning. The recommendations made and strategies suggested do not indicate a path of revitalizing quality and equitable public education for all.
Can the ‘Learning Crisis’ be addressed by privatising the public school system?
Currently, India is one of the four South Asian countries where about one–third of children from 6 to 18 years of age attend private schools (World Bank, 2017). The largest number of private schools are at the elementary and secondary level in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and West Bengal.
The proliferation of private education providers was aided by several Indian corporations via their corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects. As a result, enrolments in state schools started to decline sharply towards the end of the 2000s, despite a Constitutional amendment in 2009, that created a Right to Education (RtE) and a consequent duty of the state to provide free and compulsory elementary education. The total enrolment in government schools fell by 1 crore 11 lakh students, whereas total enrolment in private schools rose by 1 crore 60 lakh students, over a short period between 2011 and 2016. In Uttar Pradesh alone, private school enrolment rose by nearly 70 lakh students in the same period, while government school enrolment fell by 26 lakh students (Kingdon, 2020: 6).
The impact of the proliferating private school sector, including low-fee paying schools (LFPS) led to deeper stratification of the already fragmented Indian school system. Most state schools are now ghettoized spaces for the children of the economically and socially disadvantaged. The proliferation of low-fee paying schools in particular, intensified inequality between regions and schools in terms of learning (Majumdar & Mooij, 2012; Srivastava & Oh, 2010). A segregated school system spawned by privatisation thus exacerbated inequality and legitimised the presence of unequal learning environments for children from different sections of society.
The absence of an adequate policy response in preparing professionally qualified teachers added to the problem of impoverished school learning environments. It is no surprise that levels of learning continue to remain stagnant or have declined further, especially in the state schools of rural India (ASER, 2015; UNESCO, 2015).
Given these facts, the imminent ‘learning crisis’ is a valid policy concern. However, the NEP’s analysis of this crisis appears disingenuous, especially in the light of the solutions it offers. It attributes the learning crisis to the ‘lack of early childhood care and learning’ that ‘afflicts first-generation learners’ and ‘large numbers of children from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds’; ‘poor teacher capacity and deployment’ and the ‘poor health and nutrition’ of young children (GoI, 2019: 56). For the first time since Independence, a national education policy holds individual children and their backgrounds responsible for the learning crisis – rather than structural inadequacies, such as, a large number of unqualified and para teachers, large teacher vacancies, high teacher-pupil ratios and poor infrastructure. Scrapping the no-detention provisionsi in the RtE Act based on the argument that ‘fear of exams’ is necessary for children to perform, reflects a similar attempt to gloss over multiple systemic failures – by putting the onus of learning on young children.
Key measures elaborated in the NEP to address this ‘learning crisis’ include: instituting a National Tutors Programme (NTP); Remedial Instructions Aides Programme (RIAP); large scale community and volunteer involvement; and rapid adaptive testing. Acknowledging “the depth and severity of the problem”, the policy recommends a “one-on-one peer tutoring by senior students”, and flags it as “one of the key successful hallmarks of the ancient gurukula system”. Referring to these as “prestigious peer-tutoring positions”, it recommends that these be instituted “not just for foundational literacy and numeracy, but across all school subjects, in order to improve learning outcomes for all” (GoI, 2019: 61).
Policy measures recommended to address the ‘learning crisis’ are directed at individual teachers and the community rather than systemic issues, such as filling teacher vacancies, ensuring professional development of teachers and developing the institutional capacity to prepare teachers. In doing this, state policy seeks to realign the goal of education towards developing workers to contribute towards global and national economic growth rather than developing critical citizens of a more equal society, as envisaged in the Indian Constitution.
Undermining the ‘Right to Education’
The policy recommends the extension of the RtE “downwards to include up to three years of early childhood educationii prior to Grade 1, and upwards to include Grades 11 and 12” (GoI, 2019: 192). The first formidable legal challenge to the proposed extension comes from Article 21A of the Indian Constitution that provides for free and compulsory education from age 6 to 14 years only.
More important, this recommendation needs to be examined in the light of a series of amendments that have effectively divested the Act of its potency to ensure the provisioning of equitable quality education for all. The process of weakening the RtE Act started with its first amendmentiii that allowed children to be detained at the primary stage of education. This increases the risk of school failure and large scale drop-out of children from early primary grades. The second amendmentiv gave untrained teachers an extension of time to acquire professional qualification by March, 2019. The NEP makes no mention of whether this target has been achieved or not. This means that India’s school education system still harbours and relies on a large number of professionally unqualified teachers.
The third amendmentv introduced learning outcomes as part of the RtE Act, following the NITI Aayog’s position that the ‘right to learning’ is equivalent to the ‘right to education’ (NITI Aayog, 2017: 132). The NEP reiterates this position with the emphasis that the RtE Act “must focus more on educational outcomes and less on inputs” and in doing this “become more responsive and enabling” (GoI, 2019: 192-193).
The inclusion of learning outcomes in the RtE Act was justified on the ground that the Act needs to focus on ‘outputs’ and not on ‘inputs’ such as minimum school norms and processes of teaching-learning and continuous assessment (critical to quality) (NITI Aayog, 2017); Mehendale, 2014; Mukerji and Walton, 2013)vi. This argument undercuts the reasoned view that quality education when measured as ‘inputs received’ and ‘outputs delivered’, obscures key aspects of quality and the interdependence of inputs and outputs (Naik, 1975; Winch, 2010).
The system’s inability to address the complexities of diverse classrooms and teacher unpreparedness, led policy makers to shift the axis of the quality debate to the space of educational practice – especially those that were easy to measure and scale up, namely learning outcomes (Batra, forthcoming). Outcome-based notions of quality created a rationale for teachers to pay greater attention to learning assessment rather than on creating meaningful learning experiences for children.
The focus on student learning outcomes has induced state schools to create segregated learning environments. For instance, several state schools introduced separate sections with English as the medium of instruction – the entire school population in Delhi government schools has been streamed into ability-basedvii sections. The establishment of unequal learning environments within state schools has effectively decoupled educational practices from the long-term Constitutional commitment to an equitable and socially just education for all (Batra, forthcoming).
Reducing the fundamental ‘right to education’ to a mere ‘right to learning’ runs the risk of dismissing the larger context, purpose, nature and goals of education in India. This conceptual shift has enabled the NEP to seek to bring the Central legislation in line with the minimalist idea of quality propagated by bourgeoning domestic and international neo-liberal advocacy networks. It appears to be the state’s attempt to move away from its duty to honour the Constitutional commitment to create equitable and socially just education for all. It is instead, attempting to place the onus of learning, squarely on children.
The policy does not even acknowledge that the share of India’s state schools has dropped significantly since the Right to Education was made a fundamental right in 2010. DISE data of 2016 indicates an overall drop of 1.2 percent of enrollment in government schools and an increase of over 35 percent in private schools (Kingdon, 2020: 11). Private school enrolment that currently accounts for 40 percent share, is projected to increase by over 20 percent by 2022 (EY & FICCI, 2014). Unresponsive to this reality, the policy goes on to recommend that the RtE Act be made “substantially less restrictive (to) make it easier for both governments as well as non-governmental philanthropic organisations…to allow alternative models of education” and “philanthropic-public partnerships” (GoI, 2019: 71).
The recommendation of making the RtE Act “substantially less restrictive” creates a major policy opening for the provisioning of elementary education via profit-making enterprises; effectively nullifying the Fundamental right to education. This direction that the NEP takes is potentially unconstitutional and illegal in the light of the Supreme Court judgementsviii that have repeatedly upheld education as a non-profit, non-commercial activity. Also, with this proposed change, a large number of unregulated private schools, including those with ideology-driven curriculum and pedagogy could gain legitimacy, according perpetuity to a segregated system of education.
Neglecting teachers and their preparation
While the school system expanded to achieve the goal of universal enrolment, the simultaneous acute need for more teachers was left unaddressed. Teacher shortage and the presence of unqualified teachers posed several challenges to the quality of teaching and learning. The period between 2002 and 2009 saw a phenomenal growth of over 302 percent in the number of para-teachers and 210 percent growth in the number of part-time teachers. Most did not have essential qualifications, apart from not having teacher education certification.
By the time the RtE Act was implemented in 2010, the country had accumulated not only a huge shortfall of professionally qualified teachers, but also a large cadre of untrained teachers, many even lacking essential qualification. The huge demand for teachers to implement RtE compelled several states to seek exemption from adhering to qualification norms, while recruiting teachers. Unqualified candidates were pumped into the teaching profession, adding to the large number of ‘para teachers’ that had overrun the state school system since international donor-supported educational reforms of the 1990s, in some of the most educationally challenged states of India.
The Bordia SSA-RTE Committee had estimated 10.6 lakh teachers who worked without professional training; and needed to acquire it within a maximum period of 5 years as per stipulations in the RtE Act (GoI, 2009b). Two years past the RtE deadline of 2015, by when all untrained teachers in the system were expected to acquire requisite professional qualifications, India accumulated 11 lakh unqualified teachers in the school system as per the HRD minister’s statement in Parliamentix – higher than what it started with in 2009.
Waking up to this reality, the central government passed an amendment to the RtE Act, providing elementary school teachers another small window to acquire requisite professional qualifications under the legislationx. These 11 lakh teachers were to attain the required certification through massive open online courses on the Swayam Portal, launched for the purpose by the Government of India. However, there was enough ground for scepticism, given that distance learning measures via the involvement of IGNOU and National Institute of Open Schooling, suggested in 2010, were found to be poorly delivered, creating no real impact on the ground (NCTE, 2012). Moreover, a distance learning architecture needed to be made operational and monitored for the transaction and evaluation of registered teachers, from September 2017 to March 2019 (Batra, 2017). We do not have data to indicate what has been achieved in this regard. Several states continue to face acute teacher shortage largely due to poor institutional capacity to prepare teachers. Many of these states continue to recruit teachers on contract, compromising on mandated essential qualifications.
The NEP draft indicates that “the country faces over 10 lakh teacher vacancies – a large proportion of them in rural areas – leading to PTRs (pupil-teacher ratios)xi that are even larger than 60:1 in certain areas” (GoI, 2019: 115). As per AISHE (2019) estimatesxii, a total of 5,16,463 candidates graduated in secondary teacher training and a total of 98,343 graduated in elementary teacher training. These are woefully inadequate figures given the challenge of the large number of teacher vacancies. Besides, only 15 percent graduates qualified (for elementary level) to become teachers in 2019 as per TET requirementsxiii.
The NEP does not address the chronic problem of teacher shortage. Instead, it suggests that ‘teachers be shared among the schools’, especially for ‘subjects which by the nature of the curriculum, do not require a teacher for every school’, such as languages, music and arts. To enable this, the policy recommends that teachers be appointed to the ‘school complex’ (GoI, 2019: 162). School complex is envisioned to be the ‘basic unit of governance and administration’ that would enable sharing of resources, including teachers, professional support programmes for them, for ‘effective governance and management of individual schools.’
Proliferation of Private Teacher Education Institutions and Poor State Investment
In June 2011, the Supreme Court constituted a high-powered Commission that made far-reaching intervention to address complaints of widespread malpractice, policy distortions and regulatory conflicts in the sector of teacher education. The Commission noted that “…close to 90 percent of pre-service teacher training institutions are in the private sector. On the other hand, around 80 percent of children enrolled in state schools are the direct responsibility of the state as per the RTE Act.” In the Commission’s view, the NCTE’s (National Council for Teacher Education) inability to control the proliferation of sub-standard TEIs ‘has led to commercialisation … thereby adversely affecting the quality of teacher education’ (GoI, 2012: 21).
Of the total of 5 lakh potential seats (intake) in pre-service teacher education, 64 per cent were for training secondary teachers to cater to 27 per cent of secondary level students and 34 per cent to train elementary level teachers to cater to 73 per cent of primary level studentsxiv. Current estimates reflect similar trends with a percentage intake for Diploma in Elementary Education (D.El.Ed.) at least 15 percent lower than the percentage intake for Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.)xv India’s current system of teacher education is geared to produce a far larger number of secondary teachers than what the school system can absorb. In contrast, the number of primary level teacher graduates are far less than what the system needs. This systemic imbalancexvi remains in the blind spot of the NEP.
The number of private Teacher Education Institutes (TEIs) more than doubled from 7,300 in 2007 to 14,704 in 2011xvii, with a total intake of ~10 lakh students. Currently, there are a total of 16,917 TEIs offering 24,199 coursesxviii with an intake of over 12 lakh potential seats. Figures for 2019 indicate an enhanced share of teachers trained in the private sector with a further increase of 13 percent TEIs since 2011. While the relative deceleration of private TEI expansion post-2011 can be attributed to JVC’s expressed disapproval of sub-standard private ‘teaching shops’; its recommendation to increase state investment in teacher education goes unheeded and finds no mention in NEP 2019.
The gross financial neglect of teacher education, though characteristic of education policy, rarely finds mention in educational debates. The district-based infrastructure for pre and in-service of elementary school teachers (DIETs), established under the centrally sponsored scheme of teacher education in the seventh five-year plan (1985-1990) is a glaring example of such neglect. Established post-1986 policy, DIETs have been funded under the Plan for over 3 decades until the end of the Twelfth Plan (2012-2017). During this long period most DIETs were allowed to languishxix because of inadequate funds; and the meagre and untimely release of allocated funds. DIETs also faced academic marginalisation during the nation-wide reforms under the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP)xx.
With the discontinuation of five-year plansxxi post-2017, the centrally sponsored scheme of teacher education has since been merged with the SSA and RMSA under Samagra Shiksha (GoI, 2018), implying a further decline in resource allocations. It is important to reiterate that DIETs form a miniscule part (a mere 600+) of the total number of ~17,000 existing TEIs.
The financial neglect of teacher education appears especially stark when seen in the light of overall budget allocations for school education. According to one estimate, even though India stepped up its spending on school education by 9.35 percent from 2014-15 to 2018-19; the education share in the total union budget reduced from 2.55 percent to 2.05 percent in this period. Spending on education has fallen from 1 percent of the national income in 2014-15 to 0.62 percent in 2017-18. Its share in the budget has been slashed from 6.1 percent to 3.7 percent (Vivek, 2018).
The gross neglect of teachers and their education is starkly evident from the resources allocated to this sector within the education budget. Budget estimates indicate that the share of funds for the School education budget has consistently declined from 1.3 percent in 2009-10 to 1.1 percent in 2018-19. According to one study, states with large numbers of professionally unqualified teachers including Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and West Bengal, spend less than 1 percent of their school education budgets on teacher training (Kundu, 2018).
Glossing Over Supreme Court Intervention
The Justice Verma Commission (JVC) recommended a substantive increase in government spending on teacher education. To increase state presence in the teacher education sector, the Supreme Court appointed JVC Implementation Committeexxii (IC) via its subcommittees suggested economically viable models e.g. locating programmes of teacher education in undergraduate colleges of liberal arts and sciences. The Commission also saw in this the possibility of shutting down large numbers of sub-standard standalone institutions without exacerbating the problem of inadequate institutional capacity.
Despite JVC recommendations, the central as well as state governments failed to invest enough to create institutional capacity for training teachers. Recent Government of India estimatesxxiii indicate that DIETs, have over 45 percent faculty (teacher educators) vacanciesxxiv. Several private TEIs are also found to have commercial motives but poor facilities and a lean teaching staffxxv. NEP acknowledges that DIETs are often staffed with people who are not appropriate for these roles, leading to ineffective use of budget allocations (GoI, 2019).
The key problems that have plagued teacher education as noted by the JVC are: the standalone nature of institutes of teacher education (TEIs); the proliferation of commercial private sub-standard institutions; an unchanged (for over 65 years) frame of duration, curriculum and pedagogy within which teachers are prepared; the acute paucity of institutional capacity to prepare teachers and teacher educators and the generalist and limiting nature of the existing Masters (MEd) programmes to prepare professional teachers and teacher educators.
Committees set up by the NCTE and the GoI at the behest of the IC provided a road map, outlining several concrete strategies for implementation. These include: structural changes in institutional arrangements; attracting fresh talent to the field of school and teacher education; redesign of curriculum of teacher education programmes to enhance diversity; developing knowledge and learning contextualised to Indian society and appropriate regulatory mechanisms to enable significant shifts on the ground.
As an example, the JVC asserts that “apart from augmenting the required capacity to prepare teachers, pre-service programmes require a radical shift in curriculum and institutional design.” As a result of their ‘standalone’ nature, TEIs ‘remain severed from activities of knowledge generation and a culture of research and interdisciplinary studies…it is therefore desirable that new teacher education institutions are located in multi and inter-disciplinary academic environment.’
The NEP takes cognisance of some of the critical gaps in the preparedness of school teachers, including ‘the lack of professionalism in teacher training institutes, mismatch between training and practice, teacher involvement in non-teaching activities, problems of untrained teachers, teacher shortage, teacher absenteeism, and teacher accountability.’ However, its silence on the critical recommendations made around each of these major gaps in the teacher education sector, by JVC is inexplicable.
It merely acknowledges the need to move teacher education “into multi-disciplinary colleges and universities”, as proposed by JVC; but remains silent on the distortion of this recommendation as contained in NCTE normsxxvi for TEIs. Contradicting its position on long duration pre-service programmes, the policy recommends the provisioning of “special short-term local teacher education programmes…at BITEs, DIETs and school complexes”. It suggests this as a measure to prepare teachers for children of ‘underrepresented groups’; strategies that are designed to exacerbate inequities in access to quality teachers and teaching.
Undermining Teachers’ Epistemic Identity
Neoliberal reforms succeeded in constructing utilitarian notions of teachers and their education. Teachers are trained to implement minimalist agendas and ‘practical knowledge’ is positioned as key to ensure student learning. The de-emphasis of theoretical knowledge in favour of ‘practical knowledge’ is an outcome of policy borrowing from international contexts where reforms delinked theoretical markers from processes of teacher preparation.
In the absence of robust epistemological underpinnings of teacher knowledge, and the orchestrated absence of teachers in problematising conceptions of school knowledge, it has been easy to essentialise teacher knowledge within the frame of neoliberal agendas. Attempts to undermine teacher’s epistemic identity derived strength from the lack of a decisive policy position on teachers in the NCF (2005) and RtE (2009). The system continued to certify teachers largely ill-equipped to handle diverse classrooms due to poor theoretical grounding. Teachers were gradually made complicit in fulfilling the minimalist agenda of neoliberal reform.
Processes initiated after the intervention of the Supreme Court of India led to an increase in the duration of pre-service teacher education via a revision of norms (NCTE, 2014). However, efforts to redesign curriculum and pedagogy of pre-service programmes based on the National Curriculum Framework of Teacher Education (NCFTE) xxvii as recommended by JVC, were brought to an abrupt halt in the same year by the new government at the Centre.
As teacher education was allowed to expand in the private space, despite judicial intervention, the University-based teacher educator community shrunk and was pushed to the margins of school education policy. This was easy to effect as the NCTE Actxxviii itself undermines the role of universities in sustaining the quality of teacher preparation (Batra, forthcoming). The NEP attempts to uniformize the education of teachers via a single curriculum and design model, diminishing the role of the university further.
NEP declares that “by 2030, the minimum degree qualification for teaching will be a four-year liberal integrated B.Ed. degree that teaches a range of knowledge content and pedagogy, and includes strong practicum training in the form of student-teaching at local schools” (GoI, 2019: 120). While this may sound positivexxix, universities are being coerced into offering a pre-determined four-year integrated programme without having any say in its curriculum and pedagogic designxxx. The four-year integrated B.Ed. is designed to be a single model for different tracks – Foundational, Preparatory, Middle, and Secondary – to be offered as a dual-degree undergraduate programme of study (GoI, 2019: 134). In promoting the idea of teacher preparation as a homogenous standardised activity, policy undermines the needs and challenges of diverse Indian classrooms; discounts needs specific to different levels of education; and undercuts the role of academia in developing teacher education curricula and design.
The proposal to do away with para teachers and to enable horizontal teacher mobility within different stages of school education reflect a positive intent of the NEP. However, the institution of a National Tutors Programme and the Remedial Instructional Aides Programme “on an unpaid basis, as a service to their communities and to the country”, belies this intent (GoI, 2019: 61). The policy shows complete lack of state commitment towards critical teacher provisioning to meet the challenge of equitable quality education. Several of the more ‘positive’ ideas mentioned in NEP are contrarian to the specific policy trajectory and measures it offers.
Institutionalising School and Teacher Segregation?
The lack of vision and strategy in providing well-equipped teachers to address diversity of language, culture, faith and community via ‘secular’ education is evident in NEP’s perspective of the marginalised. The term ‘underrepresented groups’ (URGs) is used in the NEP for children who have been ‘witness’ to systemic bias and discrimination. “URGs in education” it states, are “those having given gender identities (including women and transgender individuals), given socio-cultural identities (such as SC, ST, OBCs, Muslims, migrant communities), given special needs (such as learning disabilities), and given socio-economic conditions (such as the urban poor)” (GoI, 2019: 137).
URGs thus defined constitute over three-fourths of India’s population. Equitable and inclusive education for URGs is sought to be achieved via the creation of ‘special educational zones’ (SEZ). The NEP claims that children from SEZs will be taught by ‘high-quality teachers’ recruited from URGs; who ‘will help to make education as inclusive as possible’, and will serve as ‘excellent role models’ for students from URGs’. To enable this, “alternate pathways” of training will be created, including a “recruitment followed by training” model (instead of the typical “training followed by recruitment” model) for teachers from URG (GoI, 2019: 142).
This policy frame sits uneasily alongside the rhetoric of instituting “practices of inclusive, caring, and collaborative culture”; “establishing mechanisms to address discrimination, harassment and intimidation” and “eliminating exclusionary practices”, raising several doubts about the NEP’s understanding of ground conditions, and its real intent.
While the bulk of pre-service teacher education continues to happen in private ‘teaching shops’, seven years after the JVC, most in-service training of teachers in many states is now being outsourced to private ‘edupreneurs’. The Central Square Foundation (CSF) for instance, is working closely with central and state governments to create ecosystems to enable and accelerate the digitization of existing non-digital teacher development. In 2017, MHRD and NCTE with support from IT led organisations launched a teacher education platform called Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing (DIKSHA). This platform is being projected as a unique initiative which leverages existing highly scalable and flexible digital infrastructures, with teachers at the centre. The policy intent and strategy to digitalise education has gathered unprecedented momentum during the current pandemic that led to the abrupt closure of educational institutions in March 2020.
The policy of school mergers aligns with the suggestion of removing ‘restrictions’ in the RtE Act to legitimise and further enable private school provisioning. The closing down of nearly 24,000 government schools in Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh for instance, has been justified on the ground that “out-migration from govt. schools has rendered a high proportion of them economically unviable, with very high ‘per pupil expenditures’, yielding low value-for-money from public education expenditure (Kingdon, 2020: 32).
None of the measures suggested in NEP address the structural problems of teacher shortage or of weak professional capacity development of teachers, that renders most state schools dysfunctional. The NEP may therefore, have laid the foundation for a future segregated system of school education in India – of sub-standard (and low-fee paying) private and government schools for the poor and most vulnerable, largely taught by teachers from sub-standard private Teacher Education Institutes, that the Supreme Court had issued unequivocal ordersxxxi to regulate.
‘Governance’ as a means to enhance Educational Inequality?
The proliferation of private schools have been a concern since the passing of the RtE in 2009. Making the RtE “substantially less restrictive” and following the policy of merging and closing state schools could effectively replace the state system with a private system of school education.
India’s pre-service and in-service education of school teachers is almost entirely in the hands of private players. The NEP offers little to change this reality. Instead, it reconfigures the role of the state in line with the logic of the market – as a ‘regulator’ rather than ‘service provider’. This is evident in several of NEP’s overriding measures to ‘govern’ education, through a process of centralization.
The NEP recommends the institution of an overarching National Education Commission – the Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog (RSA) that “will be responsible for developing, articulating, implementing, evaluating, and revising the vision of education in the country on a continuous and sustained basis…create and oversee the institutional frameworks that will help achieve this vision” (GoI, 2019: 393). This is in spite of education being largely a State subject in the Concurrent List (III) of the Constitution of India, with the primary role of the Central Government being that of “coordination and determination of standards” under List I of the Constitution.
“The organisational set- up and the coordination structures for the RSA”, the NEP states, “will draw their authority from the highest political levels of the country” (GoI, 2019: 32). This overarching centralised framework of governance concentrates power in the political executive for both policy direction and implementation, potentially closing the circle between the neoliberal and the ‘cultural nationalist’ education problematique and completing the betrayal of the Constitutional vision of education for equity and social justice.
Sustaining the Constitution-led vision of education for equity and social justice has remained a challenge since India’s first (1968) education policy. The New Education Policy (2019) claims to expand and revitalize quality and equitable public education, by rearranging the institutional, curricular and pedagogical structure of school and higher education.
In doing this, it was expected to function within the framework of the Constitution which creates a duty for all levels of government to provide for a Fundamental Right to Education (2009). The NEP also needs to sit within the ambit of Supreme Court-made law via the JVC (2012), that defines a regulatory framework for teacher education. In doing so, the Court sought to halt the commercialisation and privatisation of education, and close a critical gap in making equitable and socially just education possible.
The measures suggested in the NEP however, indicate a lack of critical understanding and analysis of the current state of Indian education. It lacks a coherent perspective on enabling quality and equity in public education. For instance, in “allowing multiple models for schools, and loosening the input restrictions of the RTE Act” (GoI, 2019: 71) the NEP could make RtE ineffective in meeting its aim of ensuring equitable quality education for all.
Many of the policy measures that the NEP suggests, violate the obligation of the state to draw on core Constitutional values to develop democratic, secular citizens and an equitable society. In effect, it attempts to subvert the Constitutional educational agenda of ensuring equitable quality education for all. It does this by imposing a ‘neoliberal-cultural nationalist’ education problematique via proposals that if implemented, could systematically disassemble India’s public education system.
Given these challenges, the NEP should be revised to privilege Indian Constitutional values and Supreme Court rulings that uphold the provisions of the RtE Act and mandate the implementation of JVC recommendations. The JVC Implementation Committee(s) provides a road map for instituting structural changes to address distortions in the teacher education sector. It suggests enhancing institutional capacity in public institutions and universities to prepare teachers; arresting the proliferation of commercial private sub-standard institutions; and undertaking the organisational restructuring of the NCTE. The NEP will need to be altered to strengthen the governance of school and teacher education, with an emphasis on centre-state cooperation.
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i The RtE clause on no-detention has been amended to include the following: 16 (1) – “There shall be a regular examination in the fifth class and in the eighth class at the end of every academic year.” GoI (2019). Department of School Education and Literacy, MHRD: New Delhi, Gazette Notification dated 10th January, 2019.
ii The NEP states: “Given the necessity and importance of developmentally-appropriate learning during a child’s most critical phase of brain development, the availability of free and compulsory quality pre-primary education for all 3-6 year olds will be included as an integral part of the RTE Act (see P8.4.1) Page 53.
iii See Endnote 9.
iv In the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, in section 23, in sub-section (2), after the proviso, the following proviso shall be inserted, namely: “Provided further that every teacher appointed or in position as on the 31st March, 2015, who does not possess minimum qualifications as laid down under sub-section (1), shall acquire such minimum qualifications within a period of four years from the date of commencement of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (Amendment) Act, 2017.” GoI [CITATION GoI \n \t \l 1033 ] Department of School Education and Literacy, MHRD: New Delhi, Gazette of India Notification dated 20th February, 2017.
v In the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Rules, 2010 in Part VII relating to Curriculum and Completion of Elementary Education, in rule 23, in sub-rule (2) for clause (c), the following clauses shall be substituted, namely, “(c) prepare class-wise, subject-wise learning outcomes for all elementary classes; and (d) prepare guidelines for putting into practice continuous and comprehensive evaluation, to achieve the defined learning outcomes.” GoI[CITATION GoI173 \n \t \l 1033 ]. Department of School Education and Literacy, MHRD: New Delhi, Gazette Notification dated 20th February, 2017.
vi Critiquing the RtE, Mukerji & Walton, (2013: 23) assert that “at its core the RTE relies on inputs and age-grade organisation of children as the main organising principle of school education in India. Equally problematic is the automatic advancement irrespective of learning level”.
vii Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi issued a circular dated 29/6/2016 about re-grouping of children according to achievement levels. Retrieved from:
viii See Endnote 4
ix Source: HRD Minister’s statement on Prakash Javadekar “Over The last Chance to Unqualified Teachers In Schools” URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MByBftdM6po
x The Rajya Sabha unanimously passed the RtE (Amendment) Bill, 2017, which aims to provide a two-year window to around 11 lakh private and government teachers to get prescribed minimum qualifications for appointment, August 2, 2017. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/rajya-sabha-passes-rte-amendments/article19403014.ece
xi The mandated pupil-student ratio is 30:1 at the primary level and 35: 1 at the upper primary level as per RtE norms.
xii This includes BEd, BSc/BA-BEd for secondary teacher education and DEd or DElEd for elementary teacher education. AISHE data does not make mention of the BElEd degree of elementary education that could account for a few thousands of graduates every year.
xiii Out of a total of 23.77 lakh who appeared for the CTET exam in July 2019, 14.80 percent qualified. This an improvement over the past years when percentage of those qualifying STET and CTET have been as low as 5-7 percent. Retrieved from: https://www.businesstoday.in/latest/trends/cbse-ctet-2019-results-out-in-record-23-days-35-lakh-candidates-qualify-here-is-how-to-check-scores/story/369103.html
xiv Data generated using the Census 2001 and 2006 figures and adjusted with the initial results of the NCERT 7th Educational Survey of 2002, indicates a strong skew in the supply of teachers at both the elementary and secondary stage of education. (See Batra, 2017).
xv The D.El.Ed prepares teachers for the elementary stage (primary and upper primary) and BEd prepares teachers for the secondary (upper primary and secondary) stage of education.
xvi Estimates of intake in TEIs for 2019 juxtaposed with the number of secondary and elementary level school populations will strengthen this argument.
xvii This analysis is based on NCTE data accessed in 2007 (See Batra 2017).
xix GoI (2013). Report of the Joint Review Mission on Teacher Education, Jharkhand, February 17-23, 2013; GoI (2013). Report of the Joint Review Mission on Teacher Education, Bihar, February 17-23, 2013.
xx See Batra, P. (2019).
xxi The NDA government disbanded the Planning Commission and with it the practice of developing Five-year Plans, post-2014. The Planning Commission of India was replaced by NITI Aayog.
xxii The Implementation Committee (IC) was constituted by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India in compliance with the Order dated 14/16.5.2013. The IC prepared a comprehensive Action Plan for giving effect to the recommendations made by Verma Commission.
xxiii GoI (2018). Draft Framework for the Implementation of Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan – An Integrated Scheme for School Education, MHRD. http://samagra.mhrd.gov.in/docs/Framework_IISE%20_F.pdf Accessed on 4 February, 2020.
xxiv These vacancies are of faculty of DIETs that are teacher educators who are meant to train teachers. Concept Paper on Strengthening District Institutes of Education and Training, MHRD, 2017, cited in NEP, 2019.
xxv GoI (2013). Report of the Joint Review Mission on Teacher Education, Jharkhand, 17-23 March, 2013. New Delhi, MHRD.
xxvi The revised Regulations distorted the definition of ‘composite institutions’ that was given by JVC. “Composite Institutions” means a duly recognised higher education institution offering undergraduate or post-graduate programmes of study in the field of liberal arts or humanities or social sciences….or an institution offering multiple teacher education programmes.” (distortion in italics). NCTE Gazette of India Notification, 28th November, 2014. P. 92.
xxvii The JVC recommended that teacher education curriculum be revised in line with the NCFTE. However, NCFTE finds no mention in the Draft Education Policy, 2009.
xxviii The National Council for Teacher Education Act, 1993. Act No. 73 of 1993. The JVC recommended the constitution of a Task force to examine the NCTE Act. The Task Force submitted its report to MHRD in 2014.
https://ncte.gov.in/ITEP/Recognition/NCTEAct1993.pdf Accessed on 2 March, 2020.
xxix The JVC recommended that while integrated programmes can be offered post-secondary school, it is important to institute a two-year teacher education programme after an undergraduate degree.
xxx Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar University in Agra has permitted 29 colleges in seven districts of Agra region to offer integrated teacher education programme (ITEP) for a duration of four years.
A Gazette notification was issued by NCTE on 29th March, 2019 notifying the Norms for the ITEP Programme. https://ncte.gov.in/Website/PDF/regulation/ITEP_2019.pdf
xxxi For SC order see Endnote 4.