If education is identical with information, the libraries are the greatest sages in the world, and encyclopaedias are the Rishis. The ideal, therefore, is that we must have the whole education of our country, spiritual and secular, in our own hands, and it must be on national lines, through national methods as far as practical
– Swami Vivekananda The Future of India, Lectures from Colombo to Almora, The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 3
The long-awaited draft of the National Education Policy has finally been released for the public suggestions and inputs. Though the eleven-member committee headed by eminent scientist Dr K Kasturirangan already had wide consultations with the stakeholders for almost two years, it is imperative to have as many inputs as possible on such a policy initiative having long term implications for the nation. Surprisingly, almost after a week of the making of the draft public, barring fake uproar over ‘Hindi Imposition’, no serious public debate is happening. Thankfully there is no expected rhetoric over saffronisation or curbing of the institutions. There is no negative reaction most probably means the draft craftily addressed the issues of nationalising the education system and the reforms suggested are showing the right direction. Still, we need to deliberate on this draft comprehensively as the draft rightly mentions, ‘education is perhaps the best investment for the society’.
The draft policy is highly reformist and to some extent, ambitious in many ways. It seeks to create a National Education Commission through the parliamentary act to implement the policy in an integrated fashion. The policy document seeks to liberate the educational institutions from the clutches of access control, and repetitively underscores the need for ‘light but tight’ regulatory mechanism. The recommendations such as national textbooks with local content and flavour, Lok Vidya - knowledge developed in India - to be an integral part of vocational education, setting up of the Special Education Zones in disadvantaged regions across the country and creation of the National Research Foundation etc. are not just pathbreaking but in tune with the national needs. The best part is without missing the global context, millennium development goals and the changing technology; the policy does not neglect the rich and ancient heritage we inherit as a nation.
Though both R Radhakrishnan Commission of 1948 and Kothari Commission of 1964, highlighted the need to decolonise our education system, no policy initiative was taken in this regard. In fact, since the outsourcing of the ideological baton to the Communists in 1967, denigrating whatever that is Bharatiya became the crux of the education. Post-liberalisation, imitating whatever content or structures that are outdated or emerging, became a fashion. The result is the gap between our national needs and educational output. This disconnect was precisely the reason that there were high expectations since the Modi Government came to power. The draft policy document is the first step in addressing those expectations.
Looking at the strong reformist agenda, executing all these recommendations will not be easy. Financial allocation or in today’s parlance ‘investment in education’ will be the big challenge. Education being the subject in the Concurrent List, ensuring the reforms simultaneously both at the Union and the State levels is another humongous task. The previous experience has been that excess regulation is the mindset, whether it comes to revamping of the old institutions or creating the new ones, and it is very difficult to get rid of. Fewer regulations and still ensuring standards is possible only through right pressure from below, students and parents, rather than above. Restoring the credibility of teaching and research is not an easy task; all the stakeholders, including the Government and the Society, will have to bear the responsibility in this process. The draft rightly identifies the weakness at the leadership and governance level while managing the educational institutions, but the corrective course looks more difficult than imagined.
Most of our policy documents are idealist in nature, compare to them the draft National Education Policy is realistically ideal, and the Kasturirangan Committee must be congratulated for the same. For realising the transformative vision stated by the document, we need not just a strong political will by the Government but also a national movement with the societal partnership to bring ‘Suraj’ through ‘Swaraj’ in education.