National Education Assembly Forges Unity Against NEP
Image Courtesy: Needpix.com
The National Education Assembly at Harkishan Singh Surjeet Bhavan, New Delhi, on April 30 was a big success marking a climax of sorts in the year-long campaign against the National Education Policy (NEP) by the All India Peoples Science Network (AIPSN).
The AIPSN, comprising around 40 independent organisations, including the Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti and its various state chapters, was organised mainly by the AIPSN. The Assembly was also supported by 14 major organisations of school and college teachers, students, women, Anganwadi workers and helpers, non-teaching staff and several popular movements and NGOs in education. This was a significant achievement as these organisations had each campaigned against the NEP.
On its part, the AIPSN had been striving at the national and state levels to build a strong, broad and united platform for a struggle against the NEP. The efforts, including several formal and informal meetings in the past few months, finally bore fruit at the Assembly, which was supported by AIFUCTO, FEDCUTA, STFI, DTF, JNUTA, SFI, AIDSO, AISEC, AIDWA, AIFAW&H and AIFRTE and others.
At the conclusion of the Assembly, which forged a common understanding about the harm being done by the NEP and a desire for a united struggle against it, these organisations resolved to unite under a common platform and launch a united struggle at national and state levels.
The Assembly was also successful due to the level of participation and the high quality of discussion by scholars, educators, academics and activists who drew upon their deep understanding of the education sector and their extensive study and critiques of the NEP.
Many activists and educators also shared details of experiences at the grassroots with implementing the NE and popular struggles against the depredations brought about by the policy. The spirit of the AIPSN/BGVS Campaign against NEP and for a pro-people public education system was highlighted by AIPSN. BGVS cultural troupes sang stirring campaign folksongs at every session of the Assembly.
DELEGATES AND PREPARATION
Several months before the Assembly, state-level AIPSN member organisations in many states had been engaged in intensive campaigns against the NEP through conventions and block and village-level meetings, including ‘Dastak’ (literally knocking on the door) campaigns.
States around Delhi, such as Haryana, and Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar and Jharkhand also organised Kala Jatha cultural troupes hosted by local communities at their numerous halts for performances and mass-contact programmes. Three of these jathas, from MP, Haryana and Bihar, also came to Delhi and performed at several locations, like Punjabi Bagh, Uttam Nagar, Mustafabad, Dakshinpuri and JNU on April 28 and 29.
On the day of the Assembly, 602 delegates registered at Surjeet Bhavan and many others attended as the day progressed. Of these, about 450 delegates from 22 states were from the AIPSN/BGVS and 150 from the 14 supporting Organisations.
The Assembly started with a plenary inaugural session followed by two parallel sessions on school education and higher education, respectively, and a concluding plenary session in which a declaration and a charter of demands put together by AIPSN based on inputs received from all the supporting organizations were discussed.
The inaugural and concluding plenary sessions were held in a packed auditorium with extra participants accommodated in two separate halls where the proceedings were streamed live. Simultaneous English-Hindi and vice versa translations were organised through FM Radio voice transmission to delegates’ mobile phones.
Professor Satyajit Rath and AIPSN president and general secretary Asha Mishra welcomed the delegates at the inaugural session. The latter made a brief presentation of the AIPSN campaign followed by a six-minute short film offering glimpses of the campaign from the state to village level.
The Assembly was inaugurated by Kerala’s minister of higher education R Bindu, who made an insightful and wide-ranging critique of the NEP, especially its ideological underpinnings and its weaknesses at the practical level. She also highlighted the measures taken in Kerala to build and strengthen an alternative educational system, with public education as its backbone, to benefit the state’s people, especially marginalised sections.
Former UGC chairman Sukhdeo Thorat, who spoke online from Nagpur, said that the NEP’s main weakness is, unlike all previous education policies, it is not based on any systemic or empirical study of earlier policies or the status of education but rather uncritically borrowed elements and structures from the USA or other advanced countries.
Thorat also pointed out that NEP took its “values from just one religion and that too from upper-caste traditions, deepening inequalities and discrimination”. The NEP’s other “main failure” is that it restricts access to education to a privileged few rather, he added.
National University of Educational Planning and Administration’s retired V-C N Verghese highlighted the “restriction of access to education under NEP, brought about by the policy of merger and closure of schools and colleges in the name of consolidation of infrastructure and resources”. He emphasised that this is “against the educational interests of the majority of the population and violates the constitutional provision for inclusiveness”.
Anita Rampal, former dean, the School of Education, at Delhi University, said that public education is being “outsourced to corporate and private players or other non-state actors through several means. “Online education is being promoted vigorously and tablets are being bought in bulk and provided to students. Contracts for reforming curricula are being awarded to commercial firms like BYJU’s while long-serving educators and experts are ignored.”
The parallel sessions saw lively presentations and discussions, including especially grassroots experiences of the NEP’s implementation. AIPSN/BGVS and the supporting organisations made presentations of their positions, perceptions and field experiences of the NEP’s implementation in school education, early childhood care and education (ECCE) and higher education and research.
MAJOR ISSUES HIGHLIGHTED
Many presentations highlighted problems anticipated in earlier critiques by AIPSN and other organisations which are now becoming starkly evident.
Closure and merger of schools were noted in almost all states, causing enormous problems for parents and children, especially in rural areas. This has resulted in many students, especially girls, dropping out, particularly in tribal and minority areas. Many schools, especially in certain states, are being handed over to private or philanthropic ownership or management with accompanying hikes in fees, which is exacerbating inequality, notably in access.
Many delegates noted the implications of additional examinations and modified syllabi. AIPSN/BGVS delegates emphasised the “sidelining” of literacy and adult education.
NEP provisions, particularly efforts to bring ECCE into the school system as against keeping it within the neighbourhood Anganwadi system, were severely criticised. Delegates underlined that ECCE should emphasise child care, nutrition and maturation—all of which are “best achieved in neighbourhood Anganwadis, which should be upgraded in training, infrastructure and funds, especially for higher wages”.
In higher education too, the trend towards privatisation and commercialisation was noted by many delegates. The scale at which colleges, especially in rural areas, are being closed, with proposals to merge several colleges into a single university, shocked many. The forthcoming wide-ranging scrapping of affiliated universities and upgrading of autonomous self-financing institutions were also noted. Higher fees and short-term courses of unknown usefulness were highlighted.
The new four-year undergraduate courses with multiple annual entry and exit points accompanied by certificates, diplomas and degrees with provisions for multiple courses, came in for much criticism. Delegates pointed out that students’ core competence and knowledge are being undermined in the name of flexibility. The additional fourth year puts additional pressure on less well-off students and their families, particularly girls. Furthermore, the utility of the one- or two-year certificates has raised doubts in an already overcrowded employment situation where even post-graduate degrees have little value.
DECLARATION, DEMANDS AND FOLLOW-UP
The draft declaration and the 37-point charter of demands were discussed by representatives of the supporting organisations at the concluding session. While the Assembly approved the draft declaration and the charter of demands in principle, the organisations were given an additional week to submit specific additions or points of emphasis.
The organisations appreciated how the Assembly was organised, the quality of discussions, the broad-based character of the movement against the NEP that unity forged. Delegates also decided not to view the Assembly as an event or a culmination of earlier campaigns but as a “new starting point for an intensified campaign at different levels under a joint platform displayed at the gathering.
The writer is with the Delhi Science Forum and All India Peoples Science Network. The views are personal.
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