By: Anup Srivastava
New Education Policy 2020 talks a lot about inclusion but lacks clear direction to increase enrolment of students from weaker sections of society. India’s New Education Policy-2020, which was recently unveiled by the Central government, rightly states that “education is fundamental for achieving full human potential, developing an equitable and just society, and promoting national development. Providing universal access to quality education is the key to India’s continued ascent, and leadership on the global state in terms of economic growth, social justice and equality, scientific advancement, national integration, and cultural preservation.” In Chapter 6 – ‘Equitable and Inclusive Education: Learning for All’ – again it is reiterated that ‘education is the single greatest tool for achieving social justice and equality. Inclusive and equitable education – while indeed an essential goal in its own right – is also critical to achieving an inclusive and equitable society in which every citizen has the opportunity to dream, thrive, and
contribute to the nation.”
The intent and content of the new policy seems to be apparently inclusive from outside but there is no mention of a fine-tuned road-map to achieve the goal of educational inclusion. The policy has coined a new term – socially- educationally disadvantaged groups (SEDGs) – to refer to socio-cultural identities (such as Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, OBCs and minorities), geographical identities (such as students from villages, small towns, and aspirational districts), disabilities (including learning disabilities), and socio-economic conditions (such as migrant communities, low income households, children in vulnerable situations, victims of or children victims of trafficking, orphans including child beggars in urban
areas, and the urban poor).
The New Education Policy certainly makes extra efforts in giving new colour and nomenclature to our people of different social groups. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had once said that India has only two classes – rich and poor. Our Constitution and subsequent deliberations in Parliament and enactment of laws continue to recognise broad social categories – OBCs, SCs, STs, Minorities and recently created EWS. The EWS refers to economically weaker sections of the society who are considered as upper castes, which is a poignant pointer to our hidden but obnoxious desire to maintain our caste-based superiority complex, while we aspire for an inclusive society. It amounts to nothing but putting the cart before the horse.
The policy further states (6.2.1) that “according to U-DISE 2016-17, about19.6 per cent of students belong to SCs at the primary level, but this fraction
falls to 17.3 per cent at the higher level. These enrollment drop-offs are moresevere for ST students (10.6 per cent to 6.8 per cent), and differently abled children (1.1 per cent to 0.25 per cent), with even greater decline for female students within each of these categories. The decline in higher education is even deeper.” The policy is silent on OBCs and minorities, who account for an overwhelming size of the country’s population, but the policy states that “OBCs which have been identified on the basis of historically being socially and educationally backward also need special focus.”
The government well knows that the share of OBCs, SCs, STs, Minorities and their womenfolk in higher education institutions, both private and public, are not very high. Despite forming the larger size of India’s population, the pace of their elevation to enter into the seats of top learning is quite slow. As a result, they are losers on many fronts. Barring reservation driven opportunities and those who are well off among these SEDGs, the majority of opportunities, facilities, income and privileges go to those among us who are educationally and financially efficient, though they constitute only a minuscule percentage of the country’s total population. Therefore, mere lofty ideas and the mirage of affirmative measures won’t make any difference in the deprivation level of SEDGs among us. We have to ensure their entry into top seats of learning for which they need to be retained in good schools, colleges and universities by supplementing their existing quota share with other affirmative measures.
There is a need to set up more and more hostels for the students of SEDGs in top colleges and universities of all streams. The overall annual intake in these institutions needs to be increased drastically so that there is no artificial competition among our students for admission. The plight of the Delhi
University is a case in point. The general category cut off for admissions in various courses goes beyond 95 per cent and is not less than 80 per cent for
others in most sought-after subjects. Being India’s top university for under- graduate courses in the national capital, the DU attracts students from different quarters in large numbers. There is a need to increase the number of students’ intake in all top seats of learning. The New Education Policy-2020 is silent on the virtual elimination process adopted during admissions, which causes irreparable damage to the students of SEDGs and in the long run to the nation.
In our India of 21st century, private sector education facilities are beyond the reach of our students who belong to OBCs, SCs, STs, Minorities and EWS categories except a handful of those who can afford the cost. Most of thestudents in the top private sector institutions are from the rich families.
However, the lesser mortals flood those private institutions which arecheaper but impart the kind of education which is of no use. They step out
from these colleges and universities with degrees but without any knowledge and skills. As a result, most of them miss the bus for no fault of theirs. We need one education facility for all irrespective of their affluence or categories. We have one policy, but different facilities for different social groups and merit is lost in the chaos of confusion, discrimination and exclusion, which
we have been perpetuating as a nation against our own people for long.
(The writer, a retired Principal Commissioner and former President of All
India IRS (ITx & Cus) Association currently heads Rashtrawadi Vikas Party.
The views expressed are strictly his personal)