The draft National Education Policy prepared by the TSR Subramanian committee after nationwide consultations identifies the gaps in the education system and offers solutions to better manage a sector that employees one crore teachers and educates nearly 25 crore students. However, the big question is whether the recommendations in the draft policy will be implemented by the central and state governments. The NEP admits that as a result of the earlier policy of 1986 enrollment has gone up by leaps and bounds but quality has suffered. Learning outcomes are deteriorating at the primary and upper primary school levels, while no Indian university figures in the top-200 universities at the global level. The committee, like many other expert bodies in the past, has proposed that public spending on education be hiked to six per cent of the GDP. However, the spending on education has never exceeded 3.5 per cent of the GDP. But to implement the committee’s suggestions for teacher training, recruitment, school management and improved pedagogic techniques, governments have no other option but to spend more.
The committee notes that the poor quality of teachers in the system stems from flawed recruitment, poor training, low wages and bad service conditions. The committee has proposed independent Teacher Recruitment Commissions and the formulation of transparent and merit based norms and guidelines for recruitment of teachers and principals. It has also sought the publicising and quick filling of vacancies at all levels. Regarding teacher training, the NEP proposes a four-year integrated BA/B.Sc and B.Ed courses so that students can opt for it as a professional choice, rather than the present system where teaching becomes the career choice of last resort. The NEP also suggest that the SCERT take special attention to create a cadre of teacher-trainers at the District Institutes of Education and Training and put them on par with college lecturers. However, the committee also recognises that to achieve this task, the vacancies in the SCERT and the DIETs will have to be filled first. This takes us to the crux of the problem. Every tier of the educational system is broken and the central and state governments must decide where to begin fixing the rot.
However, some of the committee’s proposals on higher education are already causing much disquiet in campuses. The proposal to restrict political activities on campuses may have some justification in the context of study hours lost due to strikes. But the central and state governments must also disengage completely from the affairs of universities and colleges. It is surprising that a policy that is bound to guide the educational system for the coming decades loses its way and proposes solutions to some of the recent controversies at Hyderabad Central University, IIT Madras, Jawaharlal Nehru University and FTII, Pune. This diverts attention from some of the more important recommendations like the total revamp of the higher education sector by cutting down the UGC to size and restricting its functions to providing grants and fellowships. If accepted, this could lead to different apex bodies undertaking the function of granting recognition to colleges and ensuring quality. In the past, the UGC has faced charges of corruption in granting recognition to various private institutions and failed in ensuring quality.
A national policy is helpful in charting the roadmap for future activities. Unlike the 1986 NPE which was a broad document and offered few specifics, the present draft has an exhaustive list of to-dos for the government. What India’s educational system needed was robust institutions at the national, state and district level to manage and provide technical inputs for schools and colleges. This committee proposes to create such institutions and reform the existing ones. If this proposal for engendering independent institutions is heeded by state and central governments, it will make a big difference.