TSR Subramanian's policy document is structured and methodical, but is it enough?

Policy battles Why the New Education Policy is not going to spark any revolution
Voices Policy Friday, August 05, 2016 - 18:27

There are two documents on national education policy that have been recently put out into the public domain. First, the report of the TSR Subramanian Committee constituted for the purposes of creating a new Education Policy for the country, and second the ‘Inputs for the draft Education Policy’ as prepared by the Ministry of Human Resources Development.

The very existence of two set different documents for the same objective hints at the uneasy relationship between the former MHRD Minister Smriti Irani and TSR Subramanian, former Cabinet Secretary and Chairman of the Committee for the evolution of the New Education Policy.

The appointment of TSR Subramanian (referred to as TSR henceforth) seemed to have been against the liking of the then minister. Little wonder then, that the Ministry took two months to place the TSR committee report in the public domain. It is interesting to note that the MHRD released “Some Inputs for draft National Education Policy, 2016” document (hereinafter called the Input document) a good two months later. It is interesting also that the Input document makes no mention of the TSR report anywhere in its contents.

One wonders why paramount policy declarations such as this National Education Policy, that could affect the future of the nation, should be subject to the whims and vagaries of individual personalities in the arena. Having said this and having studied the two documents mentioned, the TSR document clearly seems far more structured and methodical in its analysis and, offers, in many of its recommendations (if not in all of them), clear suggestions and practical solutions to some of the burning issues of the sector.

On the other hand, the Input Document is vague, verbose and seems no different from a Ministry handout for the benefit of the media. Therefore, quite incidentally, this Input document with its dilatory language and fuzzy recommendations has now become a point of debate in the public mind, even as the TSR committee document has been side-lined.

THE TSR Report Insights

The primary question that arises is the manner of the articulation of the broad objectives and aims of the policy. There were apprehensions on whether the policy would articulate a certain bent of mind which could be interpreted as right wing political dogma, since there is mention of Takshashila and the superior nature of the learning at Nalanda Universty as well as the contributions made by Indian scholars such as Charaka and Pathanjali.

That apart, the historical narrative at the introduction to the Policy, directly cuts to the developments in education in the colonial period and then to the 1968 and 1986 national polices on education. There are great gaps in the story of the evolution of Education in the country. The undue importance given in the draft Input document for the creation of a knowledge based economy and society also seems to ignore the broader objectives of education.

A moot point being raised is that the departmental directives that would be issued in time, in pursuance of the final national policy, important though they are, will make no sense until the broad principles of education’s aims and objectives are not well articulated and reflect the true concerns of the sector. If the main purpose of education is to seek knowledge and to develop a critical and enquiring mind that will hold the student in good stead throughout her life, then that should be clearly articulated in the document.

As it stands, the need for social equity and justice in the spread of education has also not been fully addressed in the document and therefore the mission and vision statements of the policy seem incomplete.

The forgotten TSR report needs to be read since it makes the right recommendations on a wide variety of subjects: among them the real game changers, according to me, and if implemented in the right spirit, include the creation of autonomous Teacher Recruitment Board, constitution of Standing Education Commission, creation of All India Education Service, setting up of central and State Administrative Tribunals for Education related litigations, declaration of ECCE for children of 4-5 years as a right and increasing the budget for education (fixing the expenditure of 6% on GDP, with additional funding for ECE and vocational education).

These recommendations address wide variations in the processes and systems for teacher education in the states of the country and focus on quality of education imparted and measurable and demonstrable improvements from time to time.

The recommendation of setting up central and state level administrative tribunals for all litigation concerning education is important, owing to precious time being spent on tending to the humungous quantum of litigations in the state education departments.

Teacher woes

We have spent almost 7 decades in the growth of this country virtually in a continuous mode of apology for the role of the teacher. We are forced to take this stance in the light of the considerable clout that the teacher community as a whole, wields in the society they live in. Almost half of the strength of the total government employees in any state are teachers. When I was Principal Secretary Education in Rajasthan, I remember that the total government employees in the state were about six lakhs and the teachers constituted almost 50 % of them. They are irretrievably politicised and unionised. The general absenteeism amongst teachers in any state is about 25%, whereas the normal percentage of absenteeism in any other department is not more than 10 % on any given date.

The very prospect of taking strong action against proven wrong-doing will invite the combined wrath of the union. Officers who wish to do a good job are threatened and made impotent. Soon enough, they seek to leave their postings and take refuge in a sinecure.

Yes, I know that we cannot paint all teachers with the same brush; and indeed there are many teachers who still hold high ideals very dear.  But the numbers of such teachers who do not recognise their profession as being a noble work, who do not think of education as a vocation, is unfortunately, inordinately high. And unfortunately their clout is so high that they can hold the Education Department, especially the Minister and the political representatives at all levels of the political hierarchy, to ransom.

Teacher performance in class, measured by the learning capabilities of the children, is weak and unpardonable. Other reasons are assigned for the poor performance of the children and the teacher is forgiven with an admonition to make better efforts next year.

Accountability of the teacher is an unknown concept in the government educational system: indeed, no one wishes to even talk about it. Let me say that the Input report of MHRD, apart from uttering some platitudes, does not seem to think this is a major problem. That is why I think that the TSR report, in contrast, has made an attempt to tackle this issue with some determination. And that is why I think that all the recommendations made by TSR in the report in the context of “teacher matters” are very important and absolutely necessary to implement, especially when the report suggests mapping of learning outcomes for each class and teachers to be held responsible for failure of students to achieve learning.

TSR report also proposes finalization of norms for teacher accountability and reducing teacher absenteeism.

In Hindsight

Let’s take a pause and consider the future:  the Policy would be discussed threadbare, and when the debates are stilled, will ultimately get converted into a set of directions or orders that will be issued by the MHRD to the states and then from the States, to the district and block level functionaries, the Principals and the Headmasters, and then on to the nameless millions who are supposed to convert them into practical and doable actions.

Of course, then no one is bothered if anything is lost in translation, in the transit from the corridors of the MHRD to the classrooms of India! This is why we have to get out of this airy stratosphere and wonder what all this would mean for the child, for whom we are all concerned, and to whom the policy is dedicated.

If the policy is to be really effective and lead to the enhancement of the child’s cognitive abilities and learning skills, then we have to think about how the policy, in practical terms, would impact on the life of the child, studying probably in some rural government school in Bihar or Jharkhand or in a slum in Mumbai.

We have to brood over how the policy would genuinely make a difference to her life and her future. A perturbed parent may really ask questions about whether the policy is to help his child acquire a critical mind; or whether it is to help him or her get an earning job so the family can be sustained and later, will lead to a permanent employment and the economic stability of the family.

In the bastis where the poor reside, the real emergent need is for jobs, for financial security, for getting three square meals a day. If these everyday dreams tie in well with the overall principles and objectives of the New Education Policy, well and good; but then how is the “Everyman” concerned with all this, including the squabbles between the Ministry and the Committee, or the hullabaloo that the document has generated in the debating halls and intellectual circles of the country?

And that is why, I am again filled with doubts about the fate of the NEP 2016; will it be different from 1968 or 1986 or 1992? Frankly, I do not see the NEP sparking off any great revolution in the education sector of the country now or in the near future. I do not see the bridging of the gap between the best educated children of the country and the worst off. I do not even see the direct impact of the policy on the fortunes of the burgeoning middle class of the country and the achievement of their dreams.

I pray I am wrong.

CK Mathew is Senior Fellow and head of the Public Policy Research Group at Bangalore based think-tank Public Affairs Centre(PAC) and is a retired IAS officer of the 1977 batch, who until recently held the post of Chief Secretary to the Government of Rajasthan.

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