The National Education Policy, 2020 – The Indic Argument
“By only looking to the moon, we fail to see the manholes in the ground.” -Gaurav J Pathania
The National Education Policy, 2020, has been the subject of the fiercely debated ‘language controversy’. The controversy pertains to the ‘choice of language’ opted to be utilized as the medium of instruction in schools, coupled with the shift away from the English language as the medium of instruction which was the case earlier. The present article attempts to dissect that controversy from a policy perspective, while also analyzing the practical considerations that must be contemplated upon while critiquing a policy.
The National Education Policy, 2020 (‘NEP 2020’ or ‘the Policy’) is being hailed by many as a revolutionary education policy that proposes sweeping changes in the Indian education system. The vision for the Policy is ostensibly forward-looking, with the Policy adopting a strengthened domestic-centric approach to education with an emphasis on the encouragement of cultural values and traditions.
The Policy is a comprehensive document that provides for the smooth administration of the country’s education system and develops a conducive environment for an individual’s educational requirements. The brief history of the NEPs can be traced to 1964 with the criticism of Congress MP Siddheshwar Prasad regarding the erstwhile government’s lack of vision with respect to the country’s education system. Since then, the first NEP was passed in 1968 by the Parliament based on the recommendations of the Kothari Commission. The second NEP was passed in 1968 and subsequently revised in 1992. Finally, the NEP 2020, which was cleared by the Union Cabinet on the 30th of July, is the third NEP in India’s history after a 34-year hiatus.
Cursory Glance at the NEP 2020: The NEP 2020 echoes India’s desire to distinguish itself as a self-reliant front-runner within the global community while encouraging cultural values and traditions which is reflected from the ‘Introduction’ part of the Policy. It is the culmination of an inclusive, participatory, and holistic policy formulation approach, where expert opinions, empirical research, established practices, and stakeholder feedback were all taken under consideration during the consultation process. The proposed framework adopted was a bottom-up approach accompanied by a multi-stakeholder task force at the national level for the consultation process. This comprehensive effort is also reflected in the Draft NEP 2019 which was the precursor to the present NEP 2020.
The Debate over the Medium
The NEP 2020 states that “Wherever possible, the medium of instruction until at least Grade 5, but preferably till Grade 8 and beyond, will be the home language/mother tongue/local language/regional language”, in contrast to the NEP 1986 which states that there will be a “special emphasis laid on the study of English”. There is a notable absence of English being considered as the medium of instruction, however, the Policy provides that all efforts will be made to provide bilingual educational resources, where one of the languages will be English.
The Need for ‘English Medium’ in India: The proponents arguing against the usage of any non-English language/Regional language as the medium of instruction bring the focus of the discourse to the plight of the Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDGs), which is an all-encompassing term for all marginalized identities consisting of the underprivileged gender identities, marginalized caste identities, and low economic strata identities. They argue that most students, apart from those who study in elite private schools, suffer from an inability to hold a conversation in English due to diffidence and the lack of opportunities in terms of infrastructure, faculty, and an environment that is required to build up the confidence in a language such as English. The primary pedagogical tool that is utilized in schools is the traditional blackboard teaching accompanied with outdated teaching methods in contrast to the more holistic teaching method that is applied in elite private ‘English Medium’ schools, which leads to the increasing disparity between English speakers and non-English speakers resulting in inequity with respect to academic and employment opportunities.
The Policy does not deviate from the previous policies with respect to the implementation of the three-language policy, however, it is pertinent to note here that the emphasis on English as the medium of instruction has been done away with in NEP 2020. The arguments with respect to the degradation of the ‘learning’ of English if there is an absence of English as the medium of instruction. This argument finds support in the works of Dr. West while analyzing the prevailing teaching methods in India, arrived at the conclusion that India needs a method of knowledge dissemination which utilizes English in a passive manner, with specific emphasis on ‘reading aloud’ and ‘silent reading’ to allow more opportunities to Indian children to speak the language.
The Indic Perspective
The NEP 2020 can be considered to be an overall beneficial and ambitious education policy, at least on paper, it seems to be. The Policy document provides for multilingualism and emphasizes on promoting cultural values and traditions which is reflected in the three-language policy where there is no special focus being given to English, but rather focusing on the regional language/mother-tongue/local language as the medium of instruction in the formative years of a child’s educational development.
Article 4 of the Policy deals with the curriculum and pedagogy in schools. Sections 4.11 to 4.22 specifically deals with the issue of language. The non-specificity of the medium of instruction, or rather the exclusion of English as the medium of instruction, finds a place in section 4.11 where it is mentioned that the medium of instruction until Grade 5, and preferably till Grade 8, will be in the regional language/mother-tongue/ local language. It also mentions the ‘home language’ but that is understood to be either the local language of the community or the mother tongue. Section 4.13 states that “there will be a greater flexibility in the three-language formula, and no language will be imposed on any State. The three languages learned by children will be the choices of the State, regions, and of course the students themselves, so long as at least two of the three languages are native to India”. This section removes the specific emphasis on English which was previously enjoyed in NEP 1986.
Section 4.14 states that “All efforts will be made in preparing high-quality bilingual textbooks and teaching-learning materials for science and mathematics, so that students are enabled to think and speak about the two subjects both in their home language/mother tongue and in English”. This section clearly states that all the reading material will be provided in English apart from the mother tongue/regional language which will constitute the medium of instruction till Grade 5 or Grade 8 as the case may be.
The Policy places an impetus on the need to revitalize the education of the native languages which will lose significance in the continuing context of prioritization of English, and therefore the NEP 2020 removes that special emphasis over English and uplifts the other native languages in the hierarchy to attain uniformity. The argument for having the medium of instruction as one of the vernacular languages finds support in the works of Dr. C.J. Dodson of the University College of Wales. He proposed that a bilingual method must be utilized to strike a balance between the grammar-translation method and the direct method. He argued that “if a major language of the world is being taught as a second language by direct method the vernaculars would disappear within a few generations” and that it would be illogical to sacrifice the first language to teach a second language (English) by the direct method. He said that the mother tongue/vernacular language should be used to teach the target language. He conducted experiments (consisting of providing drills in sentence patterns) to determine the efficacy of using the mother tongue/vernacular language to teach English to the students. The results of this experiment inspired Prof. H.N.L Sastry of CIEFL to conduct similar experiments in a school in Hyderabad, and he arrived at the conclusion that adopting the bilingual method to teach English produces desirable observations.
A Critical Analysis: Seemingly Hollow Provisions in Light of Poor Governance
While criticizing a policy, one should contemplate on the practical considerations as well apart from the text of the policy. While on paper, the NEP 2020 hopes to invigorate the interest of the student in the vernacular languages and cultural knowledge of their own country, however, the effectiveness of the provisions is nullified with the lack of governance and infrastructure to give birth to the positive features of the NEP 2020.
Absence of Financial Commitments towards Education: A signal of this can be foreseen from the decline in budgetary allocation towards education. The public investment is required to be raised to 6% of the GDP to meet the goals under the NEP 2020, a commitment that was first made by the Kothari Commission over 50 years ago. However, the expenditure on education currently stands at 3.1% of the GDP in 2019-20 from 2.8% in 2014-15. Moreover, it is interesting to note that the government has only decreased the expenditure on education as a percentage of the Union budget from 4.14% in 2014-15 to 3.2% in 2020-21 in the Union Budget.
Lack of Infrastructure: The NEP 2020 may prove to be a hollow policy despite its enlightened provisions in lieu of the abject infrastructural ill-preparedness to effectuate its vision. The BJP led government has renamed the UPA-II initiative, which is the laying of the optical fibers through the country under the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) to provide connectivity to effectively enable access to knowledge, as BharatNet. The government is progressing woefully slow on the initiative, in which only 1.41 lakh gram panchayats have been provided connectivity till now as opposed to the 2.5 lakh gram panchayats as originally envisaged. It, therefore, cannot effectuate the provisions pertaining to the emphasis on the integration of technology in the classrooms to facilitate the implementation of online learning that has been introduced in the Policy vide sections 23 and 24.
Exclusion of Socially Marginalised: There is a dis-connectivity between the Policy and the measures of its implementation which is evident from the encouragement of commercialization of school education in the NEP 2020 without evidence that indicates a link between better education outcome/equitable school system and increasing privatization. In fact, there is evidence of the contrary available which suggests that access to education is extremely difficult for those belonging to the marginalized sections of the society and that private schools are more inaccessible for girls rather than boys.
The entire argument, for the removal of English as the medium of instruction, is to allow the native languages to foster properly, is defeated when there is no infrastructure to facilitate studies (which gains greater significance in the context of the pandemic), lack of resources to supplement the student’s learning, and the most alarming factor being the dire situation of the teachers of this country. The teachers are at the frontline, molding the child’s educational development from an early age, and they will be instrumental in the success of the language policy. However, the school teachers are suffering the most dismal conditions in India in comparison to the situation of any other country. The success of the language policy will depend on the quality and dedication of the teachers, however, in the absence of quality training institutions for teachers which is hindered by the fact that education is in the Concurrent List disabling any national efforts unless backed by the support of all the state governments.
It would be largely irrelevant to have a discourse on the merits of the language policy when its implementation is shackled by improper administration, i.e. the lack of infrastructure and governance. This problematic issue of infrastructural and governance failure is further amplified by the fact that it is affecting the marginalised communities in the most adverse manner, who are, ironically, supposed to be the intended target for the ambitious provisions of the Policy. In order to give effect to the Policy, in reality, the infrastructural changes form the most pressing issue upon the government because even a ‘good idea’ will fail without the proper implementation. As things stand as of now, the lofty aspirations of the Policy seem far-fetched as the infrastructural failures have stripped the Policy off its teeth, and there is a need for structural changes from the ground-up to create a more inclusive and equipped education system.
This post is authored by Jaiyesh Bhoosreddy, a 4th Year student from the University School of Law and Legal Studies, GGSIP University, New Delhi.