Is Education in India Heading Towards Regression?

In recent years, India has witnessed significant changes in its education landscape, with the government introducing several reforms aimed at revamping the sector. However, recent alterations to the education budget and the implementation of the National Education Policy (NEP), coupled with the modifications in the syllabus, have raised concerns about the direction in which India's education system is headed.

While the NEP has been hailed as a progressive step towards transforming the education system, there are apprehensions about its implementation and its impact on the accessibility and quality of education. One of the key aspects of the NEP is its emphasis on promoting multidisciplinary learning and reducing the emphasis on rote learning. It advocates for a focus on holistic development, with reduced course content in favour of experiential learning, critical thinking, and vocational courses. A combination of these policies, in light of the recent alterations in the school syllabus, highlights a visible undermining of the humanities, social sciences and liberal arts.

In 2022, the NCERT revised the syllabi of classes 6 to 12, aiming to “reduce the content load” on students due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The revisions, reflected in new textbooks published that year, included the removal of chapters on Mughal courts, the 2002 Gujarat riots, the Cold War, references to Mughal emperors, and Emergency. Critics of the NEP argue that these changes introduced by the government are contradictory to the objectives of promoting critical thinking and analytical skills, which seem to be simply a guise for promoting a particular ideology.

Furthermore, there are concerns about the impact of the NEP on the accessibility of education, particularly for marginalised communities. While the NEP aims to promote inclusive education and bridge the gap between different sections of society, there are apprehensions about its implementation. The COVID-19 pandemic has helped bring into perspective, and perhaps worsen, the existing socioeconomic gap in education. In the wake, a standardised education system aimed at privatisation and commercialisation exacerbates inequality against students who cannot afford tuition and coaching.

The NEP seeks to extend school education to 15 years and graduation to four years from the current three, which will inevitably make it harder for students from poor and marginalised backgrounds - for whom completing even the current 12 years of schooling can be difficult - to sustain their education. The prolonged duration of study, adding financial pressure on economically backward students, will likely result in many students dropping out midway and settling for lower apprenticeship jobs.

Ultimately, the extended duration of school and college education will disproportionately benefit urban upper and middle-class students, while students from poor and marginalised backgrounds will struggle to complete their education. The removal of board exams at the tenth and 12th standards will also reduce employment opportunities, especially in government jobs like those in the Indian Railways.

Despite its attempt to project itself as a progressive system, the NEP promotes a system where those who cannot afford 15 years of schooling will be left behind, while those who can afford it will have the opportunity to acquire additional skills and degrees. This anti-poor nature of the NEP makes itself evident across all its key features, even through the garb of standardisation and increased flexibility, which aim to make education a more expensive commodity for the majority of Indians.

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The government, following the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) directives, has consistently pursued the commodification of education, starting with cutting grants to research scholars and the standardisation of higher education entrance examinations in the CUET and NET. This move led to students from reputed universities all over the country protesting against the neoliberal imposition on public education, to which the government has reciprocated with equally intensified assault.

While the NEP opens up higher education to private and foreign investment, allowing foreign universities to establish themselves in India, public-funded universities will see funding cuts under the guise of autonomy. With reduced grants, universities may resort to charging exorbitant fees, making higher education further unattainable for the poor.

The government's decision to reduce the education budget has been met with criticism from various quarters for being impracticable and incongruous with the current state of education in the country. The lack of resources could hinder the infrastructural development of educational institutions and the effective training of teachers, both of which are crucial for improving the quality of education. It seems self-contradictory at best to slash the education budget at a time when universities need additional funds to achieve NEP objectives and raises questions as to the real purpose of the policy.

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Anuska Saha

Anuska Saha is an aspiring academician and musician pursuing her Master's in English. A passionate book enthusiast and a singer-musician, she navigates the realms of academia and creativity with equal enthusiasm.

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