As Union Minister, HRD, Kapil Sibal initiated legislative reforms on Higher Education relating to accreditation, prevention of malpractices, educational tribunals, permitting foreign universities and establishing a National Commission on Higher Education and Research (NCHER). None materialised.
The nation looked forward with great interest to the formulation of a new national education policy. What has happened is the appearance of two documents whose status is unknown. One is titled ‘Inputs for Draft National Education Policy-2016’. It is forty-three pages, the document undated with no indication of authorship!
‘Inputs,’ not ‘policy’ document
It has diagnosed a few problems in education. Like: low participation in pre-school; poor learning outcome; inadequate support to vocational training; a disconnect between school and higher education; inappropriate teacher training and rampant commercialisation of education. Some of the suggestions were: expand early childhood education for all five-year-olds; achieve universal secondary education; eliminate social, regional and gender gaps in education; expand opportunities for skill development and provide opportunities to the uneducated to attain competence and employability.
Other recommendations are: no-detention policy should be limited to class V; schools with low enrolment and poor infrastructure should be scrapped; conduct academic aptitude tests; reform curricula; restructure NCERT; evolve a standard national curriculum for Science, Mathematics and English; introduce digital literacy from Class V; improve science labs and experiments; reform class X and XII syllabus ... It proposed setting up a National Teachers University. The fact that this document is described as ‘inputs’ takes away its value as a policy document.
The TSR Committee...
Subsequently, a committee was appointed by MHRD under T S R Subramanian, a former cabinet secretary. The voluminous ‘inputs’ generated by the earlier consultation process were handed over to this committee with a suggestion that further discussion may be held if felt necessary. The committee was asked to formulate a Draft National Education Policy with Framework for Action.
The committee submitted a 230-page report as National Policy on Education – 2016 on 30 April 2016. Surprisingly this report was not included in the MHRD website. The committee then decided to upload it in the NUEPA website containing extensive details of consultations.
Good intentions, but little action...
The TSR Committee diagnosed the nature of serious problems in education. It included teacher vacancies and absenteeism, high drop out rate, corruption in the appointment of teachers, in the conduct of exams, recognition and approval of institutions, a proliferation of high-cost coaching classes and degree shops, low priority for education by governments... The focus of TSR Committee was on improving the quality of education, restoring credibility, promote transparency in management; to provide information, knowledge, skills and values and to restrain politics on campuses. However, the final set of recommendations did not spell out as to how to go about achieving these goals.
The committee further recommended the initiation of steps to establish a standing committee to advise MHRD; to creat All India Education Service; to create education tribunals; to provide special support to children from weaker sections and to achieve public expenditure of six per cent of GDP on education.
On higher education the committee drew attention to the issues relating to quality; teacher availability; appointments of vice chancellors; accreditation and the performance of state, Central and private universities. It suggested major reforms to revamp regulatory bodies. These are issues that have been discussed over the years with little to show.
It proposed the establishment of 100 Research and Innovation universities at Rs.1000 crore each in years along with a Council of Excellence in Higher Education. It suggested a National Higher Education and Promotion Act as well as a National Education Fund to support tuition, learning material and living expenses of 10 lakh students every year. It advised rationalisation of entrance examinations for professional courses.
Administrators and not educationists...
The pubic, especially the academic community, was appalled at the choice of members of the TSR committee. Notwithstanding the fact that there is one member with reasonable academic credentials, the other four are retired Indian Administrative Service officers. Perhaps they may have had substantial opportunities to deal with educational administration but that does not make them educationists.
Earlier commissions had educationists...
In this context it is worth recalling the nature of membership of earlier commissions on education policies. The Radhakrishnan Commission consisted of 10 eminent educationists from India and abroad. The Kothari Commission consisted of 11 members from India; 2 from UNESCO; one each from UK, USA, USSR and Japan. It also had a panel of 20 consultants from UK, USA, UNESCO, Sweden and Japan. The Report was received by M C Chagla, then Central Minister for Education and an Act was enacted in 1968.
The NPE-86 was formulated when Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister and approved by Parliament in May 1986. Later Acharya Ramamuthi Committee was appointed in 7 May 1990 by Prime Minister V P Singh to review NPE-86. There were seventeen members in this committee who were distinguished educationists and scientists. Its report was submitted in January 1992, considered by the high powered Central Advisory on Education (CABE) on 5-6 May 1992 and tabled in Parliament 7 May 1992 and approved.
How not to take policy initiatives...
An appraisal of the two reports leads to the following conclusions: these reports are an example of how not to take policy initiatives. It is a compendium of incoherent ideas with perfunctory suggestions. Some major concerns that are not addressed are disciplinary distortion, regional imbalances, institutional corruption, the credibility of distance learning, the autonomy of higher education institutions, foreign universities in India, affordability of education, dealing with an acute shortage of teachers at all levels and predictability of flow of funds and so on.
Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) is the only Centre-State Link after the Planning Commission disappeared. Some aspects of the NEP-2016 were placed before the meeting of the CABE held on 25 October 2016. The agenda on NEP consisted of piece meal and randomly chosen topics that ranged from Improvement of learning outcomes to Anganwadi to be co-located with primary schools.
The agenda also included “Discussion on & Presentations of the Sub-Committees of CABE like the status of “No Detention Provision” under RTE Act,2009 to extension of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 to Pre-School Education and Secondary Education.
Implications of No Detention Policy
No Detention Policy beyond class V requires amending RTE Act. If amended, stagnation of weaker students will start at class VI. With the new Child Labour Regulation Law allowing for child labour in “family based enterprises,” the dropouts at class VI will end up in “family based enterprises.”
A new committee! Again!
There is no scope for acceptance of the stillborn documents by stakeholders. Human Resources Minister. Javadekar has indicated that there is no accepted Education Policy Document and a new committee will be formed! A possible way forward at this stage is to unify the two drafts and distill the relevant recommendations. After that, MHRD should get cabinet nod and place the proposals before Parliament. Then task forces should be formed to draft programmes of action for implementing the recommendation. It is important that specific action plans are included in each ensuing national budgets. Some effort should be devoted to persuade/enable state governments/UTs to do their part.
Author is former Chairman, IIT-Kanpur and a former
Vice Chancellor, Anna University