IOS –CDPP joint webinar on “National Education Policy and India’s Minorities”

An on-line seminar on “National Education Policy and India’s Minorities” was jointly organised by the Institute of Objective Studies, New Delhi, and the Centre for Development Policy and Practice (CDPP), Hyderabad on September 14, 2020. Initiating the discussion, Riaz Shaikh from the CDPP said that a closer look at the new education with special reference to the minorities had become imperative in view of the apprehensions expressed in different circles. The policy was being discussed by both educationists and its practioners, he noted. 

Sanjida Akhtar from the TISS, observed that the first national education policy unveiled in 1986 was modified in 1992. Then came the Right to Education Act (RTE) and now the New Education Policy had been formulated with a claim that this will address most of the issues. Highlighting the key proposals of the NEP, she said that academic structure had been changed from 10+2 to 5+3+3+4 format. Similarly, the undergraduate degree would be of four years with multiple options of exit. The regulatory bodies for higher education, like university Grants Commission, AICTE (All India Council of Technical Education) has been replaced by the Higher Education Commission (HECI). Master’s degree would henceforth be of one year with the discontinuation of Master of Philosophy programme. 

In schools the focus on education has shifted from examination to multilingualism. According to her, promising postulates of the new education policy were multi-disciplinary courses, entry/exit, experimental learning, teacher-student ratio of 30.1/25.1, learning how to learn and breakfast along with the mid-day meal. 

Referring to the reservations on the new education policy, she said that new free education stood replaced by affordability. In the name of community involvement, trained volunteers from both the local community and beyond, social workers and counselors would be appointed as teachers. She concluded that by the new system, undue autonomy would be given to self-governing colleges. Similarly, English has been given preference over Indian languages. She held that the advantages and disadvantages of the new education policy would be known after its implementation. 

Abdul Shaban from the TISS, who spoke on “NEP: A New Beginning”, said that the new education policy should be seen in Muslim perspective as far as its futuristic utility was concerned. It should also be examined whether it would be based on multi-cultural identity or diversity. In the context of pathetic condition of the quality of education the teacher was the main focus. Welcoming vocational education policy he observed that all colleges would have uniformity in standard. But minority institutions had been missing lending credence to the apprehension that the federal structure had been undermined. 

This was corroborated by the fact that madarsas and Urdu found no place in the policy. Though the new education would open floodgates of privatisation, this could also offer an opportunity to Muslims to set up schools and create institutions of global standards. By laying thrust on liberal education, it had done a balancing act. He described the formulation of the new policy as a good beginning for the 21st century, Reshmi Sengupta from Flame University, Pune pointed out that the new education policy spoke of education in a broader perspective. Thus the issue of the education of the minorities should not be seen in isolation. 

The Sachar Committee Report, the Evaluation of Sachar Committee recommendations and the Kurien Committee Report had red-flagged the plight of Indian Muslims. Due to a variety of reasons, Muslim students were generally enrolled in public institutions. Opening of private educational institutions had serious implications for the marginalised communities. She said that it would be a hard task to find qualified teachers to conform to the requirements of the new education policy. This brought one to the question of the teacher-student ratio as well as the low percentage of female teachers in schools. This was particularly so in Jharkhand. 

Another problem to which she drew attention was limited accessibility of girl students to digitalisation. This was due to the non-availability of computers and internet facility in a majority of cases. Besides, there was no separate room for computers in a number of schools and where there was such facility, its over-use by boys left little chance for girls students to work on them. She said that the mode of transport was another pressing problem that prevented girls from going to schools due to gender difference in the walk to schools. She advised Muslims to engage themselves in modern education while admitting that according to the current data, attendance of Muslim students in technical and medical institutions was better than scheduled castes/scheduled tribes. Participation of Muslims teachers was a bare 5.4 percent, she added. 

John Kurien, an education activist, held that the NEP-2020 had nothing to specially offer Muslims. Compared to Hindus, Muslims had the lowest enrolment in schools and institutions of higher education. He said that Muslims had been deliberately omitted from the policy document, though the SC/ST found a mention. Quality of school education was not up to the mark and the situation of drop outs was bad. He called for making available free education and text books. The situation of Muslims was bad because they were facing an existential crisis. He also emphasised the need for looking at the life trajectory of the groups and focusing on social, mental and moral development of students of each school. 

He favoured working closely with government and creating a rich cultural and natural environment. The system of PTM (Parent-Teacher Meet) should be strengthened to promote secular outlook. Parent-teacher association should work at the community level. He concluded by stressing that Muslim boys under six years of age should be socially, mentally and ethically developed. 

Prof. Pankaj Jain from Gyan Shala focused on school education and described as incorrect the figure of 3 percent of the GDP being spent on education. Instead, 6.5 percent of the GDP was being spent on it. He said that one teacher for 45 students was the norm. As far as enrolment in elementary education was concerned, it stood close to the universal norm. NEP goals should be consistent with the salary of teachers. The implementation of NEP also depended on financial and functional viability. A politically, technically, financially and administratively viable solution was needed. He also called for protecting NEP and RTE extension from unviable design errors. He opined that merging or closing of low enrolment schools was politically infeasible. Even if it was IT-enabled, the new education programme did not generate enthusiasm. A small country like Bangladesh had gone ahead of India in terms of education, he added. 

Sanjeev Gupta from the E&H Foundation, shared his experience at the ground level and pointed out that 72 per cent poor children from the first generation failed to make it to the school. The rate of drop outs stood at 50 percent. Main challenges before the extension of education were poverty and the quality of education being imparted to children with poor economic background. He also red-flagged the security issue of girls above 7 or 8 years of age. He affirmed that Hindu-Muslim binary did not matter; what mattered was poverty. 

Osama Manzar from Digital Empowerment Foundation observed that we had failed at large, though we had a vibrant democracy, the Constitution and the NEP. There was nothing positive as we did nothing worthwhile during the past 70 years. He questioned if education was accessible to children, particularly those belonging to SC/ST, who could not sit in the same room in which upper caste students sat. Referring to the ground reality with regard to our work on digital facilities, he said that it was almost non-extent in rural areas. Digital accessibility was a must for achieving the goals of modern education and the NEP was poised to provide such facility, he added. 

Sanjiv Phansalkar from Vikas Anvesh Foundation summed up the research done in the field of higher education. He said that the presence of institutions of higher education belonging to Muslims was 10 percent. Kerala had the maximum number of minority institutions controlled by Muslims and Christians. Who controlled the institution was not as important as the quality of education. He regretted that the number of Muslim teachers was very small and it needed to be raised with a view to creating the best thinking and a secular outlook in them. Compared to Kerala, West Bengal lacked the facilities of education. Though in Kerala, Muslims were backward, yet they took a lead in setting up colleges due to the dominance of trading class, he concluded. 

The chairman of the IOS, Dr. M. Manzoor Alam, pointed out that structural bias of the bureaucracy against Muslims came in the way of opening new educational institutions. He cited the case of Bihar during Lalu Prasad Yadav’s regime. Despite clear orders of the chief minister, a proposal to set up an educational institution was shot down by officers, though all the requirements were fulfilled. On the other hand, all such proposals made by non-Muslims were okayed. Similarly, he said that in West Bengal, schools in Muslim-dominated areas were subjected to neglect. In such circumstances, Muslims were in a fix and undecided about where to go, from whom to seek help and what to do. Communal biasness were discernible at both state and national level, he remarked. 

In his concluding remarks, the secretary general, IOS, Prof. Z M Khan, said that the NEP was not very conducive to the system. NEP did not take into account the vast structure of education. Quality of teachers was another area of concern that had not been addressed. He observed that hegemonisation and homogenisation was the new policy of the powers that  be, which was far away from fair. He held that the new education policy was all about future situation. It was anybody’s guess if the present situation of the disadvantaged would improve, he concluded. 


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