While the NEP seems progressive on paper, critics say that it does not take into account how education is a vehicle for social upliftment of marginalised communities.

A group of students walking togetherImage for representation
news Education Friday, August 27, 2021 - 15:30

The Karnataka government recently announced that the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 will be implemented in undergraduate colleges from the new academic year in October 2021, making it the first state in India to do so. The NEP aims to revolutionise the Indian education system with major restructuring of higher education in almost every aspect. While the policy seems progressive and much-needed on paper, its critics say that it does not take into account how education is a vehicle for social upliftment of Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasi, and minority students, and invisibilises their struggles and needs.

The Karnataka curriculum of the NEP, which will be adopted in colleges in the state, does not take into account the social context of the state, critics say. Many poor students opt for triple-major systems in states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, as such a course offers the skills and training of three subjects for the cost of one degree. It gives students more options compared to a single major system (which is one of the things that the NEP mentions), and also provides a degree of training for exams to qualify for government jobs. “The triple-major provides excellent preparation for all of this. For many Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasi and other minority students who seek social mobility, the kind of training offered by the triple major far outstrips the model that they (the Karnataka curriculum) are offering of skill enhancement, ability enhancement etc.,” a lecturer at an autonomous college in Bengaluru says.

Another contentious point in the NEP, which is also part of Karnataka’s document, is the multiple entry and exit points. Under the NEP, three-year courses will now be four years long, and students can opt to exit their courses at any time, and if they do leave, they will get either a certificate, diploma or degree depending on the years completed. This, coupled with the ambitious ‘credit sharing’ system across colleges in India that the NEP mentions, seems like a progressive step. But critics say that for marginalised students, the socio-economic reasons to exit the courses will be much higher than to enter, and the document does nothing to account for this. 

“The NEP gives them (underprivileged students) a viable option to not return to college, which is not something we want for them, we want them to return to college,” Vani*, an Assistant Professor of a Bengaluru college, says. She adds that when given the option to obtain a certificate and seek a job without finishing the whole degree, for many underprivileged students, the prospect of earning money and supporting themselves and their families will be more attractive than being stuck in college. “What this produces is a chain of people who won’t be graduates at all,” she says, adding that in order to address this problem, it is important to give students a reason to enter the college system even after they start working, and allow them to complete their degrees.

Read: Karnataka's sudden announcement to implement NEP leaves UG colleges scrambling

“Who is the student they are imagining? Someone who comes from a very secure world. Able to make an entry when they want, and make an exit when they need. To be able to do that, you need to have a certain kind of social capital and security. Instead of saying multiple entries and exits, the NEP should address how they will get underprivileged people to the position where they can comfortably make these decisions,” the autonomous college lecturer says.

Apart from these, the NEP also has a provision for institutions to deliver 30% of the course load online, even once physical classes begin. However, while this comes as a relief for colleges who may not have the infrastructure to accommodate four batches of students at once, it will be a major disadvantage for those in rural areas. Already, the digital divide is evident between urban and rural spaces across the country, and with online classes becoming a permanent feature, it will only add to the difficulties that poor students must face to get a degree.

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai recently announced that the state will begin a ‘digitisation programme’, wherein tablets and internet devices will be distributed to students in rural areas. “But what about the cost of running a tablet (electricity)? What about the constant supply of 4G internet?” the professor questions. “By intent or by accident, in whatever way, the underprivileged are going to bear the brunt of what this poorly planned document will result in,” he adds.

Further, the government also launched admissions for the new academic year under the NEP on August 23, with the Unified University and College Management System (UUCMS), an online government portal wherein students can apply for the colleges they want, and will be assigned a seat based on availability, Board exam marks and so on. This would help in making admissions a more centralised process like the NEP aims, and would also facilitate the credit-sharing system that the document mentions. However, this will adversely affect many first-generation learners who may not be familiar with using the internet. "Those who are going to benefit from the system are those with capital and access, not people who don’t understand how it works,” the lecturer says.

According to the professors, the NEP cannot be seen as a solution to fix the education system for two reasons— one, it is too vague and has created more questions than answers so far, and two, there is no real evidence to prove that the education system so far was failing. “It may not be passing, but there is no evidence to say that it is failing,” Professor Vani says.

“The existing system has many problems. The problems can be set right, and it will actually benefit many more people,” the lecturer from the Bengaluru college added. 

*Name changed

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.