The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 seems to favor a model of privatization and exclusivity that would deepen the existing inequalities in India.
On August 24, Delhi University witnessed a vehement protest by the Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) outside the Vice Chancellor’s office. Inside, the Academic Council was meeting to re-establish the Four-Year Undergraduate Program (FYUP) model (which had been discontinued in 2013), in line with the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. This meeting was crucial as it would serve as a precedent for educational institutions across the country to execute the policy.
The FYUP model provides for multiple entry and exit options in a four-year undergraduate degree and imposes an additional year of spending for a program that can otherwise be completed in three years. The mid-term exit of the four-year program is shrouded in the euphemism of one-year “certification”, a two-year degree and so on. The implementation of this model in accordance with NEP 2020 also implies more contractual positions for teachers and a reduction in public expenditure on education.
In its letter to the CV, the DUTA said that such hasty implementation of the policy without consultation with relevant stakeholders would lead to a disastrous result. However, amid protests, the council decided to implement significant parts of NEP 2020 from the 2022-2023 academic year, paving the way for a future of super-exploitative jobs to complement the goals of the India’s capitalist labor market.
Maintaining an exploited workforce through education
NEP 2020 is the result of a series of locally and globally produced documents aimed at making education a commodity. In 2000, the World Trade Organization (WTO) incorporated education into the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), which meant that education could now be bought and sold. In the same year, the Ambani-Birla report on education recommended compulsory vocational training for secondary education, the privatization of higher education and the authorization of foreign direct investment in education in India. In addition, a Google-KPMG Study 2017 The burgeoning online education market in the country, which is estimated to reach US $ 1.96 billion in 2021, was also a crucial contributor to NEP 2020.
In the middle of movements on rising fees in universities and protests reinstate reservations for teachers and students in public education, NEP 2020 seems to aim to end the struggle once and for all by favoring a model of privatization and exclusivity that would deepen existing inequalities in India. By removing the role of the state in education, the policy promises sweeping changes in the education system to equip it for, what it calls, the new labor market demands emerging in India with more economic reforms. . In reality, education policy extends over an older “developmental” logic of overexploitation of jobs, concentrated in sectors led by foreign investment, which support economic growth at the cost of widening inequalities. This has been possible thanks to âinformalisationâ – the deregulation of workplaces combined with the reduction of social safety nets – and results in the social reproduction of the skilled workforce for the informal sector.
The policy introduces vocational training as a component that is not separate from the tough academics. In doing so, it allows pupils to leave secondary school at any time and return to it, pursuing only vocational courses or taking only âqualifiedâ work courses instead of basic subjects. Although explained as holistic learning, it will actually be detrimental to the Indian landscape for two reasons: First, there is no shortage of skilled labor in the country for the so-called “new demands” of the market. According to the State of Working India report, between 2011-2012 and 2017-2018, India’s working-age population increased by 15.5 million, but the labor force only increased by 7.7 million. There is a large workforce that is in distress due to large-scale unemployment and contract labor. The policy appears to equip citizens for an economic paradigm that falls dangerously short of its promise of decent employment.
Second, the vocational training component will further amplify social inequalities as students from socially disadvantaged backgrounds will be more likely to use these courses due to their historical association with this work and / or because external aid such as tuition fees. (which is not feasible) is required for first generation learners to master subjects like science, math and English.
A student at an ultra-private university in Pune that offers skilled labor courses in addition to hard academics said: âThis is an opportunity to do something you wouldn’t do otherwise. She had opted for sculpture in her undergraduate psychology class to try something creative. However, she still obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology and is currently a guidance counselor and volunteer psychologist. The experience of a socially disadvantaged student pursuing a vocational training degree would be very different. In this case, it is not an opportunity to do something that you would not do otherwise, but in fact it is to do something that has always been done, historically, because of the structures of caste and class.
India’s labor regime is not characterized by a lack of skilled labor but by precarious informalization with almost non-existent social benefits. Due to the nature of the goods produced in the country, i.e. goods that are barely differentiable, capitalist development is extremely dependent on informal and highly exploitative labor, the costs of which can be reduced to the strict minimum to earn profits, as Rahul De rightly argues in his work report for the Azim Premji Foundation.
Shambhavi Sharma, an activist for the student-youth organization Collective, who pledged to vehemently oppose NEP 2020, said: Public education for all. With four license exit options, this document legitimizes dropouts through the rhetoric of âchoiceâ. Combined with the emphasis on vocational training and the introduction of apprenticeship and trainee positions in the workplace, this policy paves the way for a cheap labor market in India. “
In this context, how then to situate a change in the landscape where there is a demand for ânew types of jobsâ? Even as the nature of work changes, the structures of an exploited workforce remain the same, as they have done over the decades – for example, the emergence of the odd-job economy producing workers like those of Swiggy, Uber and Urban Clap.
Online learning detrimental to the education landscape
NEP 2020 suggests a model that attempts to minimize physical learning and promotes distance learning and online degrees. Another Collective activist says, âOnline education is a password for privatization. Viewing online education as a commodity is not fair. In line with NEP 2020, the UGC demanded that 40-70% of classes be moved online even after the pandemic, forcing more Indians out of public education. “
India’s education system has not been aligned with online education or distance learning. Although these have always existed as an alternative to mainstream education, making them a standard would be detrimental to the country’s educational landscape. the 75e National sample survey (NSS) reported that only 11% of Indian households own any computer and only 24% of households have Internet access. In addition, the online education mode used during the pandemic has led to alarming situations. NEP 2020 mentions that “5 crore did not achieve the basics of literacy and numeracy, i.e. the ability to read and understand basic text and the ability to perform addition and subtraction of base â. Despite this, he finds solutions to these problems in online education, privatization and vocational training, which only exacerbates the problems.
The Azim Premji Foundation report on “Loss of learning during the pandemic” observed that due to the mode of online education, children were unable to form ideas in their minds, lost their language skills, and could not identify basic numbers. He emphasizes: âThese fundamental abilities are such that their absence will impact not only on the learning of more complex abilities, but also on the conceptual understanding between subjects. “
The importance of public infrastructure in education has never been greater. The closure of higher education institutions unable to function autonomously due to lack of funding and the privatization of existing public universities will ensure “high quality education” to only a privileged few, thus ensuring social discrimination where decent employment. is reserved only for the upper class. Additionally, by encouraging online learning, the policy will undo years of struggle in the form of bookings, grants, etc. which aimed to diversify and include marginalized students in higher education in the country.
The physical space of the university is crucial to ensure an equal learning space, and the provision of facilities such as libraries and hostels ensures quality education for all, regardless of social background. Dr Rukmini Sen, professor at Ambedkar University in Delhi, characterizes the university space as part of pedagogy. She says, âIt’s not just a space to come to class. It’s a space for ideation, it’s a space for building relationships, friendships, solidarities, political exchanges of ideas – but it’s also a space that gives you a certain type of infrastructure, which is not so readily available to the type of students one finds in public universities. These spaces are absolutely important. These spaces reduce inequalities within students, we cannot give them up.
Education, which was once envisioned as emancipatory and meaningful for liberation from one’s social position by Ambedkar, Savitribai and Jyotirao Phule, has now become an instrument of capitalist development to provide a large and precarious informal surplus labor. A strong public education system is imperative to uplift citizens. Preparing for a workforce conditioned to work in the same operating economic sphere without changing the trajectory of capitalist development in the country will only create more precariousness and inequality. It is for this reason that we must oppose NEP 2020.
Yogita Suresh is a PhD candidate at Shiv Nadar University, Delhi NCR, and Smitu Kothari Fellow.
The opinions expressed are those of the author.