Shifting the focus from enrollment to quality of education and reducing the gap in learning levels between the rich and the poor are key aspects of the long-awaited Ministry of Human Resource Development-commissioned report for a new education policy, a copy of which Scroll.inhas seen.

The ministry has not yet made public the report by the Committee for Evolution of the New Education Policy, which was submitted to it on May 27.

A new education policy was one of the manifesto promises of the Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of the 2014 general elections. The party had said that the current education policy was outdated and there was a need for a new education road map for the 21st century.

The committee’s report, however, puts to rest the suggestion that the existing National Policy on Education, 1986 is obsolete. Instead, it upholds the values and goals of this policy and tries to take them forward.

Quality over quantity

The committee emphasises that in the last 30 years, the focus of education in India has been on enrollment – getting children into schools – and not on the quality of education. Enrollment has been achieved to a reasonable degree, but there has been a steep decline in the quality of education.

The problems with the Indian education system are in the acts of omission and commission by those responsible for the delivery of education – from teachers to school administrators to education department bureaucrats and politicians – corruption and political interference being key among them.

The committee’s focus has been on “improving the quality of education and restoring the credibility of the education system”.

To this end, it offers a list of recommendations to fix the governance of education. These include changes in management and monitoring of education departments, schools and universities and in the process of recruitment, training and posting of academic staff. It also recommends the use of modern technology to improve education and its management.

These recommendations reveal the enormity of the task of bringing about change. Such a transformation can only come about if everyone – from an aspiring school teacher to the government and the makers of the education policy – wants this. This is a very tall order.

The committee’s recommendations, in a way, only initiate a dialogue (that the Ministry of Human Resource Development does not seem to want to have) on the magnitude of the problem before the nation.

A cadre of educationists

The report says one of the reasons quality of education has declined is because it has been put on a low position in the nation’s administrative hierarchy. However, none of its recommendations will substantially change this. Nor will they change the fact that teachers have a much lower status than those in administrative jobs. As a result, administrative posts in education departments are much more coveted than teaching jobs. Under the current structure of incentives in almost all states, career advancement for teachers means moving out of teaching and into administrative jobs.

This confusion on how the hierarchies of education work are reflected in the report’s calls for setting up an All India Education Service (as the National Education Policy did in 1986). The report seems to envisage a catch-all central service that will be in charge of education management and also work as teaching cadre, policymakers and education researchers. “Persons from the cadre would progressively man the higher-level policy posts at the state and the Centre; they will be, like other AIS officers, deployed in teaching or managerial positions…” the report says.

The report, however, does not say whether this will be a cadre of trained teachers acting as managers and policymakers, or a cadre of generalists, like in the other all-India service, who will also be teachers.

Elsewhere in the report, there are recommendations for creating a state-level cadre of principals, to fill vacancies in positions of headmasters and principals. These cadre, the report says, should be drawn from teachers with five years’ experience or more. The report also calls for a separate cadre of teacher-trainers for the District Institute of Education and Training.It is anyone’s guess whether these different services and cadre will exist in parallel, or will be interlinked, or how they will work together.