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WB Govt Takes U-Turn, Adopts NEP as Stakeholders Raise Serious Concerns

The sudden u-turn of the TMC government on accepting the Centre’s diktat on NEP has startled the stakeholders of the education sector.

Representational use only.image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Kolkata: The West Bengal Government will abide by the New Education Policy (NEP) starting from the next academic session starting in July in the state. 

The sudden U-turn of the state government by accepting the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Centre’s diktat has startled the stakeholders of education in the state, including teachers, students and non-teaching staff of the different institutions.

Earlier, after constituting a committee to look after an alternative education policy, the West Bengal government even formed a ten-member second committee for the same purpose.

However, the report of the ten-member commission is in cold storage, as the Trinamool Congress government has finalised the decision to adopt the NEP in the state and start a four-year degree curriculum starting next academic session. Besides, it has maintained ambiguity over what will become of the two-year Master’s course in the state.

Policies like compulsory Yoga education have also found their place in the scheme of things proposed by the higher education department of the state government.

Education is on the Constitution’s concurrent list, and the central government’s decisions concerning the NEP must get a state government nod for actualisation.

Interestingly, RSS-affiliated organisations reportedly had a major say in the final policy, and making it happen before the next Lok Sabha polls is also on a high priority for the BJP’s ideological parent.

Though Mamata Banerjee has at various times severely criticised opposition BJP leaders, she so far has maintained a stoic silence on the RSS. Notably, under her government’s rule, West Bengal has seen a proliferation of RSS-run schools.

Dr Pabitra Sarkar, noted educationist, linguist, and former Vice-Chancellor of Rabindra Bharati University, said he was completely taken aback at this decision of the state government. Speaking to NewsClick, he said, “We don’t know what the complete package is like. In the proposed New Education Policy, no clear logic has been given by the central government as to why the Honors course will be four years and its benefits. No clear reasoning has also been given about how long the Master’s course will continue, whether it will be one year, like in Bangladesh, or two years, resulting in one additional year for students. This might lead to partial relief for the government as then these students will not be prepared for the job market until they have completed their education. Education policy-wise, this decision is not feasible according to me."

According to Prof Sarkar, a post-graduate student has to handle complex studies, which is why post-graduate studies should be at least two years long. The expert also believes that a three-year honours course is reasonable, and a sudden need to change this system is not apparent.

“Earlier, the state government had opposed this move. We don’t yet know why suddenly this turnaround has happened. The state government should have raised the pertinent questions. The different course admixture that the central government has proposed is impossible in a country like India, where teaching strengths are awfully low and every college does not have facilities for a huge multidisciplinary study. The NEP is based on surreal imaginations,” he added. He also strongly advocated for sports facilities in every institution rather than the teaching of Yoga.

In an interview with NewsClick, Prof Ishita Mukhopadhyay, a leading figure of the Right to Education forum and a professor at Calcutta University, discussed the future impact of the National Education Policy (NEP) in West Bengal. Prior to the NEP’s implementation, the state government had formed a committee on alternative education policy. In December 2022, the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Education Ministry sent a letter to implement the NEP. Despite this, the state education minister and the Trinamool Congress government remained silent, she said. Furthermore, the actions of the committee formed by the West Bengal government are unknown while the new letter has come to start NEP from July onwards. “Are they serious about the education system of the state?” she asked, continuing, “What they did in the state with the school education system and the hordes of scams in the appointments to the teaching and non-teaching posts in the state, will now be replicated in the higher education system.”

Prof Mukhopadhyay said the lack of transparency regarding the actions of the committee formed to evaluate alternative education policies is worrisome.

“They are now instructing the undergraduate colleges to implement the NEP from July. Firstly, did they create the necessary infrastructures -- the classrooms and laboratories for four-year programmes? Secondly, did they recruit enough teachers to maintain the diversity of the courses? And thirdly, did they hold discussions with the stakeholders? The answer to all these questions is a big ‘no’. Then what do they mean by the implementation of the New Education Policy? How would they carry out the process without restructuring courses, or building laboratories, or will they do this within only two months?” she asked. Mukhopadhyay pointed out that many states, like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, are contemplating a new alternative education policy for themselves. “If tomorrow the BJP government asks us to teach Yoga and Astrology, will our courses be replaced,” she asked raising concerns.

“Our concern at the Right to Education forum is that we are vehemently opposed to implementing NEP in a country like India in the post-pandemic period. This is not the proper time. Now the colleges do not have the infrastructure; there are vacant posts lying in the colleges, and the teacher-student ratio is abysmally low. Now the mockery of the college education system of the state is going to start,” she commented.

Keshab Bhattacharya, General Secretary of the All India Federation of University & College Teachers’ Organisations (AIFUCTO) -- the umbrella body of college and university teachers of the country -- said, “This education policy has been designed in a way that the education becomes extremely expensive. It will lead to an elite education system where only rich and affluent students will acquire education. The entry of students from low-income backgrounds will be decreased if the new education policy has its way.”

Bhattacharya told NewsClick that to deter students from low-income and marginal backgrounds from entering the education system, systems like multiple entries, multiple exits, and academic bank of credits have been introduced. “The concept of survival of the fittest has been replaced by survival of the richest,” he said.

Additionally, there is concern about the corporatisation of education sector. Further, Bhattacharya believes the reduced role of state governments in education could result in the central government accumulating more power, contrary to the Indian Constitution. Moreover, there has been no mention of the expense ratio that will be shared by the government to implement the NEP except for a PPP model, which stands for public philanthropic partnership in education. Bhattacharya questioned whether philanthropic institutions would be interested in improving the education system since profit motivation is the binding force for most such private organisations in India.

Bhattacharya raised concerns about the proposed three types of universities, including research universities, teaching universities, and autonomous degree learning colleges. In his view, “If these things materialise, then the total Indian education system will collapse.” He further alleged that a clandestine agreement exists between the Centre and the West Bengal government, which is behind the thrust from the state higher education department to implement the NEP.

Bhattacharya expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of consultation with AIFUCTO, stating that “earlier the central government used to hear from us AIFUCTO, as it is the largest body of higher education teachers in the country. However, now the central government did not take our opinion on the above subject despite us submitting various memorandums to the higher education ministry.” The West Bengal state government did not side with AIFUCTO in their objections to the treatment meted out to them by the central government, he said. Although the state government had formed two committees on the matter, the reports were not published for unknown reasons.

The Left-affiliated Students Federation of India (SFI) has decided to build a strong resistance against the education policy decision of the West Bengal government. SFI West Bengal unit’s President, Pratikur Rehman, said that the system of on-and-off education (with multiple entry and exit points) with credits in academic banks would mean that fewer students from poorer backgrounds will have the scope to complete their education. “The semester system’s introduction has led to many students getting out of degree courses, and now this new education policy will add the last nail to it. We will be building up a movement against this, and on April 2, we have a program regarding this in the state,” he told NewsClick.

SFI General Secretary Mayukh Biswas alleged there is a close association between Mamata Banerjee and PM Narendra Modi despite their political rivalry on the surface. “The West Bengal government’s acceptance of the NEP is a bitter testament to that,” he said, claiming, “Now, the state government will start toying with the future of lakhs of students in higher education, especially those who hail from poorer backgrounds.”

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