ICT’s comments on the National Education Policy 2019

ICT’s comments on the National Education Policy 2019

Dr. K. Kasturirangan,
The Committee for Draft National Education Policy,
Ministry of Human Resource Development,
Government of India.

Dear Dr. Kasturirangan,
We write on behalf of the Indic Collective Trust, a Chennai-based trust registered in 2017 under the Indian Trusts Act, 1982 with the object of furthering Indic civilizational interests, rights and duties through constitutional and democratic means. Environment, education and culture are the primary areas of focus of the Trust and it has represented Indic concerns in these areas in several legal proceedings before various High Courts of the country as well the Hon’ble Supreme Court. At the outset, we congratulate the Ministry of Human Resource Development and the Committee for Draft National Education Policy under your stewardship for having invested efforts for over two years in revisiting the extant National Education Policy and for coming out with the 484-page Draft National Education Policy 2019 (hereinafter referred to as “the Draft Policy”).

We understand from the Draft Policy that it seeks to address the challenges of access, equity, quality, affordability, and accountability faced by the current education system. In fact, the Preamble to the Draft NEP expressly defines the vision of India’s new education system as one that “has been crafted to ensure that it touches the life of each and every citizen, consistent with their ability to contribute to many growing developmental imperatives of this country on the one hand, and towards creating a just and equitable society on the other”. To this end, the Draft Policy draws support from a UNESCO report titled, ‘Learning: The Treasure Within’, and also claims to draw from India’s heritage of holistic education. Fittingly, it quotes the leonine Swami Vivekananda who laid emphasis on the character-building role of education.

Since the Draft Policy quotes that legendary patriotic Saint who envisaged a resurgent Bharat which has a lot more in store to contribute to the world, allow us to offer a measured and constructive criticism of the Draft Policy so as to draw your attention to issues which, we believe, ought to have received more attention from the Committee. While the Draft Policy (a) touches upon certain aspects which fortunately revisit the accepted premises of the Indian Education System and (b) tentatively attempts to proffer a path which remoulds the System in a manner which is consistent with Indic civilizational ethos and aspirations, it appears that this is more inadvertent and incomplete than intentional and comprehensive. As a consequence of this diffident approach, the Draft Policy lands a half punch.

For a nation which aspires to be a Vishwaguru, its National Education Policy must reflect the civilizational confidence needed to revamp the education System to be able to achieve that status in the foreseeable future. Even if such a lofty purpose were not placed at the centre of this exercise, at the very least, an ideal NEP is expected to be sensitive to the long existing and emerging challenges which can be traced to the Indian Education System, right from the history curriculum which actively aids the maleficent process of deracination to the science curriculum which reinforces the accepted false notion that science and reason are essentially Western constructs which have been imported to civilize “superstitious natives”.

As you are aware, viewed even from a strictly utilitarian perspective, the Indian Education System has failed to consistently produce minds which are impelled to innovate and has instead churned out vast numbers who are compelled or encouraged to imitate. Any achievement of any product of the Indian Education System is largely despite the System and not due to it. These are well-known problems of the System, which do not need reiteration, but in fact, require urgent, invasive, and lasting solutions, which the Committee under your eminent and able stewardship is best placed to ideate and give effect to. In other words, while access, equity, quality, affordability, and accountability are indeed important challenges which require attention, in our view what requires greater attention is the fundamental problem of the mental constitution of the Indian Education System.

The System, as it exists, carries forward the disdain and contempt of the colonialists for native knowledge structures and whose primary object was to undermine and eviscerate the Indic system of education and Indic knowledge systems. The irony is that while the colonialists had no compunction benefitting from Indic knowledge systems despite perpetuating negative stereotypes about it through the education System to deprive the native of his/her sense of self-worth, Indian Education Policy makers have had no qualms whatsoever in perpetuating the same mindset to the detriment of the present and the future, and certainly at the expense of the past. In other words, Independent India has continued with the very same education system which was designed to produce glorified English-educated clerks, instead of producing rooted, civilizationally aware and confident thought leaders, entrepreneurs and nation builders.

Therefore, the first imperative is to fashion a curriculum which improves a young impressionable mind’s sense of self-worth as the inheritor of a civilization which has contributed significantly and positively to the advancement of human thought, material and spiritual well-being. Importantly, the defeatist mindset that is perpetuated through textbooks has resulted in producing self-loathing Indians who see nothing of value or positive in their culture and roots, which cannot be good for any society or nation which is interested in preserving its civilizational identity and integrity. The lack of any concrete and comprehensive initiative in this regard by any dispensation hitherto has led to well-meaning and angst-ridden but ill-informed, reactionary and pamphleteering voices gaining traction which hurts the very objective they ostensibly seek to achieve, and lends credence to an already apocryphal perception of Indic contributions to the world’s pool of knowledge. The Draft Policy appears to be the first tentative initiative in reversing the damage that has been inflicted in this regard for seven decades, the operative word being ‘tentative’ since it does not walk the whole nine yards in this regard. Therefore, allow us to share a few thoughts and suggestions on issues which the Draft Policy ought to have touched upon, and where it has, it has done so insufficiently, which could be detrimental.

Following are the portions of the Draft Policy to which we direct our attention to make our larger point:

1. Curriculum and Pedagogy in Schools and Colleges – The Draft Policy has discussed introduction of a flexible curriculum and pedagogy which is a significant and positive step towards better education at both School and University levels. However, the syllabus prescribed for various subjects by the Education Boards need serious reviewing and periodic updates. The foremost concern of several Indic-minded intellectuals and citizens has been the syllabus prescribed for History and Social Studies at various levels. In this regard, we are aware and are grateful to the Hon’ble Prime Minister for appointing a Committee of scholars in 2018 to review and re-write the History of India as taught in schools and colleges. However, there is no reference in the Draft Policy to this Committee or its research, if there exists any. In other words, it appears that either the Draft Policy is reinventing the wheel in this regard or there was no concrete work undertaken by the earlier Committee. Either ways, it points to a serious lack of seriousness on the issue of history curricula. But the Draft Policy does not recognise this initiative in place. Therefore, we urge you to firstly make public the work of the previous Committee and incorporate its work to the extent possible.

2. Equitable and Inclusive Education- Chapter 6 of the Draft Policy talks of ‘Equitable and Inclusive Education’ advocating for special treatment of ‘Under-represented Groups’ (URGs). URGs have been categorised into ‘gender identities’, ‘socio-cultural identities’, ‘special needs’ candidates and candidates with ‘socio-economic conditions’. Causes recognised are lack of access to schools, poverty, social mores and biases and exclusionary curriculum and textbooks overall. The Draft Policy suggests the concept of Special Education Zones (SEZs) on the basis of URG population in a given area. Where the policy is misleading and unjust, in fact discriminatory, is the defining its category of ‘socio-cultural identities’ and ‘minority communities’. To support this point, the following excerpts have been extracted from the Draft Policy’s Chapter 6:

“URGs in education can be broadly categorised into those having given gender identities (including women and transgender individuals), given sociocultural 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).” (Page 137, Introduction to Chapter 6)

“The Policy acknowledges the importance of interventions to promote education of children belonging to all minority or religious communities, and particularly those communities that are educationally underrepresented. The greatest educational underrepresentation among religious communities in the school and higher education system has occurred in the Muslim community. Even though there have been significant improvements in the enrolment and retention of Muslim children in school education, the gap between Muslims and other population groups continues to remain high. Muslim students have primary enrolment rates that are lower than the national average, and this gap only increases at the middle, secondary and higher education levels. All the Policy actions of Section 6.1 thus must apply, in particular, also to children from Muslim communities – in particular special actions must be taken to attain higher participation levels and learning outcomes of Muslims in newly dedicated Special Education Zones having high populations from Muslim communities as per P 6.1.2. Analogous Special Education Zones must also be dedicated in areas where there is underrepresentation in higher education among other minority or religious groups. Some of the other initiatives to enhance participation of children belonging to Muslim and other underrepresented minority communities in school education will include the following… ” (P. 6.5., Page 150)

The Draft Policy’s section P 6.5 goes on to prescribe measures specifically for a particular religious community i.e. Muslims. In fact, the Muslim community is the only religious community that finds place in the Draft Policy’s concepts of URGs and minority communities. This is in violation of the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s Judgments starting from T.M.A. Pai v. State of Karnataka in 2002 until the recent order in Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay V. UOI (Feb 2019) wherein it has been held that the term ‘minority’ must be defined state-wise. The fact that the Draft Policy ignores and violates the dicta of the Apex Court itself is an irony which cannot be missed. What is more important is that the Draft Policy does not even touch upon the need to unshackle the country’s approach to education and educational institutions from its religious minority-centric approach. Regrettably and unfortunately, this reduces the Draft Policy and the intent behind it to yet another appeasement initiative aimed at a potential vote bank. We would urge the Committee to re-orient its compass so that the seriousness of its monumental task is not reduced to and held ransom to petty vote-bank politics.

3. Legal Education – The Draft Policy is inexplicably terse in its comments and suggestions for improvement of legal education, when it perhaps requires the most attention given that it shapes the evolution of law and produces future practitioners, jurists and members of the Judiciary. The fundamental Anglican outlook of the Indian Legal System remains unchanged as a consequence of absence of any serious initiative to introduce and mainstream Indic legal jurisprudence, logic and reasoning as part of legal curriculum and as part of law-making in the country. This reflects a deep-seated ignorance, apathy and perhaps even a self-loathing approach to the native legal systems, which held this civilization together even when it was not a single political unit. More importantly, Indic legal concepts have been relegated in their application merely to personal laws and laws relating to religious institutions, forgetting that they had a wider sphere of influence which encompassed all aspects of life given that custom and experience coupled with the concept of Dharma effectively were the sources of our jurisprudence. This approach positively impacted the society’s approach not just to issues of administration, marriage and succession, but also the duty-based approach to environment, which is a raging concern today. While profound Indian Darshanas such as Nyaya, Vaiseshika, Mimamsa and other Indian philosophies which form the basis of Indic Legal jurisprudence and are tied to Dharmashastras, are widely taught and learnt outside India, India law schools do not even remotely deal with them. As a consequence, an impression is created in the young and formative minds of law students that the concept of rule of law or all legal principles are necessarily and solely the contribution of Western Thought. No wonder even the highest Court of the land looks to the West for inspiration, as opposed to drawing inspiration from the vast ocean of Indic jurisprudence which is much more in sync with the native pulse of this land and is bound to find greater resonance with the public. For instance, Shri P.V. Kane’s seminal work on the Dharmashastras must be made mandatory teaching in all law schools so that students become aware of the native genius of this country. Indic jurisprudence also holds the key to a more restrained approach to use of natural resources, since at the heart of it lies the concept of Dharma, which exhorts balance, restraint and respect for all nature. Therefore, the Draft Policy must expand on legal education instead of paying lip service to it by merely including a paragraph on it.

4. Education Policy in the era of Artificial Intelligence – Artificial Intelligence, robotics and related inventions have already rendering humans obsolete and the pace of obsolescence is only bound to increase. McKinsey Global Institute’s Report (2017) estimates that by 2030, automation may replace between 400 million and 800 million individuals and these individuals will need to switch job categories and learn new skills. The Report gives case studies for how and efficiently AI will take-over jobs in the most labour-intensive sectors like railways, transportation, logistics, healthcare, retail & manufacturing, and even education services, which currently are among the largest employers. The future can take perhaps only either of these paths – first, nations making better decisions and planning to accommodate AI, not letting it substitute human labour, and second, where nations which have failed to evolve, ending up redundant in the new industry and world. An education policy is the very source of that evolution. What role a nation aims to assign to AI in its society and industry must be captured in its education policy. In this regard, the Draft Policy is surprisingly silent, despite touching upon the need to contribute to the AI revolution through research and innovation. Economies like China and Japan are already including coding and programming in their school curricula, making it a compulsory subject for students. The idea behind this new trend is that the new generation is ready to live in a world where machines are either their partners or adversaries, but indispensable and all-pervasive nevertheless. Clearly, a complete revamp of the current curriculum and academic structure is inevitable bearing this in mind. Further, AI will not only have an impact on the industry and tech sectors, but will impact the society in ways known and unknown. This calls for a significant investment in research on the social impact of AI.
We sincerely hope that our well-meaning suggestions are received in the right spirit despite their tone since the tone reflects our commitment to your cause, which is everyone’s cause.

Ms. Shaktiki Sharma,
For the Indic Collective Trust

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