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ET Analysis: BJP has chosen pragmatism over ideology for NEP 2020

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ET Analysis: BJP has chosen pragmatism over ideology for NEP 2020 2

NEW DELHI: The first discussions on the New Education Policy were initiated on January 26, 2015, six months after the NDA came to power. The idea was clear –– to replace the Congress-era policy of 1986 and bring in a 21st century vision for education with a clear stamp of ‘BJP’ on it.

Five and a half years later and after two expert committees and three Human Resources Development (HRD) ministers, the 66-page National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 document promises big, bold moves and a new order. However, it is worded with caution and run through with pragmatism, instead of being dipped in ‘saffronisation’, as many expected.

A number of ideas in NEP 2020 –– from ‘easier’ boards to a single higher education regulator, entry of foreign universities and even a four-year undergraduate programme –– all have the stamp of the UPA era. Alook at the 2019 draft, the original report submitted by the K Kasturirangan panel, and the 2020 version, shows that extra effort has been made to ensure it steers clear of all controversies –– political and academic.

LANGUAGE POLICY POLITICS

The first big recalibration was on language. Within days of NDA-2 taking charge, the Kasturirangan Committee report on the NEP was released on May 31sparking an upro ar over its suggestion for mandatory teaching of Hindi in non-Hindi speaking states. “The study of languages by students in non-Hindi-speaking states would include the regional language, Hindi and English,” read the original draft NEP 2019. Within two days, amid vociferous opposition, led by Tamil Nadu, the Centre replaced the contentious clause, doing away with all mention of Hindi vis-a-vis the three-language formula.

NEP 2020 now talks of ‘greater flexibility’ in the formula clarifying that “no language will be imposed on any state”. Despite this, NEP 2020 ran into a language controversy, this time over the mother tongue as the medium of education.

The focus has shifted from Hindi to English. The original NEP draft had slammed the “power structure” around English speakers.

STATE IS SUBJECT

The NEP also ran into conflict with state governments. The proposed Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog, aimed to be the overarching educational body chaired by the prime minister himself, was sacrificed when the Left parties and several states opposed such a ‘centralised’ and PM-led forum. The draft policy proposed state-level school regulatory agencies to ensure quality standards. These were dropped and replaced with the State School Standards Authority (SSSA) set up by the states themselves.

The most prolonged re-working was on the single higher education regulator. While the first draft proposed a four-tier regulatory structure, the HRD ministry was working on a single regulator plan which was opposed by several parties earlier. After several rounds of deliberations, a compromise formula was found.

The umbrella regulator –– the Higher Education Commission of India –– will now work with three independent bodies on accreditation, academic standards and grants. The NEP also makes way for foreign universities under a ‘special dispensation’ despite the RSS’ reservations.

This tightrope walk has been closely monitored from the top. Word has it that the PM himself spent hours poring over the final draft before approving it. So, while the word ‘liberal’ is mostly edited out of NEP 2020, the spirit is not. The other editing is in the mention of Mandarin, just to stay current.

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