Accessibility, the Rural-Urban Divide, Privatization, and the New Education Policy 2020

Accessibility, the Rural-Urban Divide, Privatization, and the New Education Policy 2020
Photo by Yogendra Singh on Unsplash

Education lays down the foundation for the growth and prosperity of any country. Ensuring quality education is essential not only for developing an equitable and just society, but also for promoting national development.

Even the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aims at ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education to all. Moreover, the ongoing changes in the world place a need for a more skilled workforce.

Increasing climate changes, depleting natural resources, growing medical emergencies, pandemic and the need for developing vaccines demand collaborative research and thus, call for multidisciplinary learning.

In order to adapt to the changing global ecosystem, the education system requires to be more holistic, integrated, discussion- based and discovery- oriented.

Therefore, to abridge the gap between the current education system and the required education system, the government of India came up with the very first education policy of the 21st century known as the New Education Policy 2020.

The New Education policy revamps the current education structure to make it in alignment with the current needs of the global ecosystem. The New Policy aims at developing cognitive capacities (like critical thinking, problem solving) along with social, ethical and emotional capacities while preserving and enhancing the tradition and value system of the country.

The Rural-Urban divide

Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed that the policy focuses on making the education system accessible, equitable, affordable and accountable. However, the claim of making education accessible to all through this policy is highly questionable.

The policy incorporates some fundamental principles which increases the possibility of widening the divide between the rural and the urban area. These principles include ‘extensive use of technology in the process of teaching and learning’, and ‘encouraging private and community participation’.

The ongoing pandemic and the shift of education from offline system to online system has already impacted the education of thousands of children. Lack of smartphones, computers and internet connectivity has deprived many students from pursuing their online classes.

Therefore, emphasizing on the use of technology in teaching and learning in these times has created an apprehension that the government wishes to promote online education as a dominant method of teaching. Furthermore, the NEP declares online education as the core of the education policy stating that it would not only improve the quality of education, but also match it to the global standards.

It promotes the schools and the higher education institutions to offer online programmes without realizing the digital divide as it exists in the country. While people living in urban areas are still technologically developed and have the facilities of computers and internet, people living in rural areas hardly have electronic devices and stable internet facilities.

“As per a report by NSO (National Statistics Office), only 14.9% of rural households own computers with internet connectivity whereas the same is 42% in urban areas. Further, the report suggests that only 19.6% of the rural population knows how to operate a computer whereas around 64.4% of the urban population is capable of operating a computer.

Furthermore, the percentage of people capable of using the internet is 25.6% in rural areas, and 73.6% in urban areas.” Therefore, with this wide digital gap already existing between the rural- urban population, shifting the education system on digital platforms will not only hinder the education of thousands of students, but will also widen the rural-urban divide.

Privatization

Another major concern in the policy is the privatization of the education system. In the past thirty years, the education system has undergone drastic privatization. Almost 70% of the higher education institutions of the country are already private. While 45.2% of the college enrolments are in private unaided colleges, only 21.2% of enrolments are in private aided colleges.

Further, the New Education Policy is in consonance with the World Bank policies which promote the withdrawal of public funding from education and encourage private participation. However, the privatization of the education system would rob the poor and marginalized community of their Right to Education as envisaged under the Constitution of India and would make education a privilege accessible only by the rich and urban middle class students.

The policy states that the present education system has ‘excessive centralized concentration of power’ which has led to inefficiency in imparting education. Therefore, the policy has encouraged the private/ philanthropic private sector to play a significant role in the education system. Moreover, promoting privatization of education without imposing any cap on the fee would allow the private owners to charge a hefty sum of money which would deprive a large section of the society from accessing quality education.

Languages & the Medium of Instruction

The question of conducting primary education in the mother language is not newly debated, rather it has been a topic of discussion since the times of Mahatma Jyotirao Phule. Further, Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore also held the opinion of conducting primary education in mother language as the most potent way of acquiring knowledge and forming a base for excelling in any other language. However, the idea was never implemented in the country.

The New Education Policy recommends the conduct of primary education in the mother tongue which is not only ambiguous, but also burdensome. The term ‘mother language’ has not been defined in the policy which becomes a problem especially for people who migrate from one state to another, thus having a different mother language.

Further, the policy provides for a three-language formula wherein the children would primarily learn three languages out of which at least two languages have to be native languages of India. The policy has made learning Sanskrit compulsory at primary as well as higher level of education which overburdens the students with language curriculum. Apart from that, the policy is silent about English and makes it the choice of the students as to whether they want to study it or not.

While the government wishes to improve the education system and match it to the global standards, making English optional can prove to be troublesome for the reason that English is a global language. Moreover, because of the global status that English has and the opportunities attached to it, eminent schools especially in urban areas would not sacrifice with English.

However, it is the students studying in governmental schools and rural private schools who will face the real brunt of it. This would, further, widen the education gap between rural and urban areas.

Conclusion

While the New Education Policy has been passed with the vision of building a more equitable and inclusive society, certain provisions of the policy overlook the plight of the poor and disadvantaged communities and widen the divide between the rural- urban population. The policy focuses on imparting quality education to all, however, its inclination towards distance online learning deprives rural populations of their Right to Education.

While the policy does recommend the use of television, radio and podcasts for imparting education for those who do not have smartphones or stable internet connectivity, whether it would be equitable to online classes and e-learning platforms or not is highly debatable.

Further, as per the claims of the government while promotion of private sectors in the education system will bring positive reforms in the quality of education, the same would become highly inaccessible to a large section of the society. With more than 25% of the rural population and almost 14% of the urban population living below the poverty line, not everybody is capable of affording private education in India.

However, the New Education Policy overlooks the plight of the general public and advocates the idea of privatizing education in India in the name of quality education. Instead of privatizing, the government should have focused on revamping the policies of government schools and colleges to ensure that the public sector itself impart quality education that of the private standards within the affordable capacity of the general public.

Furthermore, while the policy aims at achieving national integrity by providing equitable education to all, the language policy creates a linguistic division among the people. The policy is not only confusing and ambiguous about its language provision, but it also creates linguistic superiority by mandating the study of classical language, Sanskrit at primary as well as secondary level of education and overlooking the other classical languages.

To conclude, while the policy has been passed for revamping the education system of the country and for overcoming the major flaws that exist in the present day system, the new policy is also not free of loopholes. There are various provisions in the policy which need immediate attention of the government so that the same can be reviewed and worked upon before the policy is put into action.

Further, there are certain provisions which are not only ambiguous but also confusing. Such provisions require immediate clarity by the government so that the people can be aware of the policies that are applicable to them.

(The author is a second-year law student at the National Law University, Odisha)

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