National Education Policy 2020 : A multidisciplinary non-hierarchical pedagogy


NEP 2020 is the policy framework that will guide, (re)design and regulate the Indian education system from school to higher education, and beyond in the coming decades. 

At the first look, it can probably seem like a groundbreaking and much needed educational reform, as well as a true vision of the welfare state. But a cautious and detailed analysis can depict a different picture to us.

What does NEP 2020 propose? 

It proposes a complete structural overhaul of today’s education system, in general, and schools, colleges, and universities, in particular. It includes a 5+3+3+4 pattern replacing the 10+2 pattern to do away with rote learning in the favor of continuous engagement and learning by also distancing from examination in all classes. In this sense, for the first time, children from 3 years of age are included in the policy framework. It also aims to achieve 100 percent and 50 percent gross enrollment ratio (GER) in school education by 2030 and by 2035 respectively. The 3 language formula has also been introduced in which it is necessary to teach at least 2 Indian languages in schools. It also insists on teaching in their mother tongue ‘wherever possible’. Multidisciplinary approach and breaking the conventional and long carried strict partition of “arts, science, commerce” at both the school and higher education level along with vocational training provides a fresh breathing space. The 4-year undergraduate course, multiple exits, and credit system scraping of MPhil as well as push to autonomy to HEIs are other important features of this policy.

The ‘non-hierarchical’ case of multidisciplinary pedagogy

Multidisciplinarity is the integral aspect of the 21st-century education system as it doesn’t only broaden the horizons of the learner but also equip them with the capability of a deeper and multidimensional analysis. The fundamental basis of this approach is ‘choice’ which is necessary to the dignity, self-respect, and holistic development of the student. Students are now free to choose their preferred subjects from any steam and pursue them as ‘major’ and ‘minor’ courses. The integration of vocational activities, life skills, physical education, and extra-curricular activities within the pedagogy is a remarkable step to make the students true ‘Global citizens’ as well. In Northeast now, Sampurnaa Bharadwaj writes As a result of multidisciplinarity, For instance, Graduates pursuing an MBA in sales and marketing would benefit from studying Behavioral Psychology to understand how the customer makes buying decisions. Similarly, political scientists could make use of mathematical knowledge to analyze the results of their quantitative research. This is a really important move towards transforming the psyche of common Indian parents and students as it will provide more employability to students pursuing different courses and a fanatic focus on Science and technology as the only employable subject will gradually change. This will further help in the breaking of hierarchies.

But the ambitious NEP 2020 has got mixed responses. A non-hierarchical vision requires the inclusion of the voices of various stakeholders and in this case, professors, teachers, academicians, students, social workers, social scientists, etc but the ignorance of the voices of such collaboration and interaction raises suspicion of its true intention. It also got fueled by the approval of NEP in these extraordinarily terrible times when there is no time for due discussion, debate, and deliberation(the core elements of a healthy democracy). This is evident in the disapproving response of different groups, such as, according to NDTV, Student Federation of India (SFI) said that the policy has a “centralized nature” and encourages “radical privatization” while the Student Islamic Organisation (SIO) has called the policy “anti-federal, anti-constitutional, and a license to commercialize education in India”. DUTA also asked the government to refrain from “bulldozing changes” which will have “grave consequences” for the country. Though it is generally well-received by the education experts in the industry on the various aspects of NEP 2020 such as with India Today: Mayank Kumar, MD and co-founder, upGrad observe “Hopefully, once the NEP extends the RTE to 18 years, it’ll be the first step to democratize higher education as well.” Rohit Manglik, CEO, EduGorilla asserts that the elimination of rigid streams in secondary education will ensure that no career option is restricted to students due to subject specialization. The relook at the grading system was the need of the hour to ensure fair and accurate analysis of students’ potential. Divya Lal, Managing Director, Fliplearn opines “With reduced insularity and greater freedom in students selecting their subjects of choice, the focus will return to holistic learning of all subjects, rather than a bent towards maths and sciences.”

Since the policy traces its foundation in ancient India and proudly bases itself on the ‘Indianness’ of the multidisciplinary attitude, the approach of universalization and homogenization is crystal clear. The irony of the document lies in itself as on the one hand, it sweepingly mentions democratic and constitutional values and inclusion while on the other hand, it forgets that India doesn’t have a monolithic culture and takes a revivalistic pathway. Important questions like Which culture(s) will be included? How the question of caste, region, and religion will be seen? What will be the ‘Indian culture? The ‘Gurukul’ nostalgia and approach help us to question whether the social discrimination system embedded with it will also be in the future or not. This threat is well conceptualized when Nandita Narayan, an associate professor at St. Stephen’s College labels it as a ‘National Exclusion Policy’.

The purpose of this multidisciplinary framework is to tap into the possibilities of making students job-ready and industrially capable or in other words, “mass producing” cheap and well-trained labor for the industries. Lakshmi Priya, an assistant professor of English at Mahatma Gandhi College, Thiruvananthapuram while writing in EPW on DNEP in the context of ‘job ready’ students, argues that the capitalist dictum of “hire and fire at will” would soon become a norm in the job market, and the new crop of job seekers have to grapple with this new reality. This is not a piece of great news for a society and economy like ours which is characterized by ill distribution of resources, deep-rooted and rampant inequalities, and the gender wage gap. Whereas, Vinod Tiwari, Regional Mentor of Change (ATL) Niti Aayog claims “Although these policies seem to be exaggerative, it is being established keeping in view the Industrial Revolution 4.0 and new skill-set requirements. However, it is going to benefit the new generation for dominating global education and helping to make the revolution for new India.” Sahil Agarwal, Co-Founder, and CEO, Rishihood University propose “The college affiliation system which prevented curriculum innovations will be phased out. This will allow industry-linked curriculum and faster modifications based on industry’s needs, therefore helping the students in placements.”

The very idea of multidisciplinary HEIs especially the research universities (type 1), teaching universities (Type 2) will require huge investments to have the required land, infrastructure, etc which can result in the increased fees and therefore in the construction of exclusive space for the privileged caste, class, and gender. We will be dealing with the stark consequences of feeding the pre-existing inequalities and gaps which is certainly in contrast with the aspiration of NEP 2020 India becoming a global superpower.

The “tight but light approach” in which the syllabi will be reduced to the ‘core’ of the subject is especially threatening to social sciences. This is evident in the deletion of important content from Political Science and History books recently so the threat of political influence on the curriculum is well-grounded in reality. In addition to this, the RSS’s impact on the 66 pages document by the MHRD(soon to be Ministry of Education) can be felt. Atul Kothari, the national secretary of Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas (SSUN) and a RSS pracharak, also suggests “The NEP created in 1984 had a major lacuna. It wasn’t in sync with Indian values. Most of the key national values were not part of the curriculum and they were imparted as mere extra-curricular elements. That’s going to change. Indian values, arts, languages, and culture are going to become mainstream elements in the NEP 2020.” He goes further to add that minority institutions like schools run by Christian missions and madarsas must accept the new education policy, in a conversation with India Today TV. The making of the curriculum is the next target of RSS. To quickly point out, the prerequisite of  “rootedness and pride in India, and its rich, diverse, ancient and modern culture and knowledge systems and traditions” for teachers also raise suspicion and questions of how the new pedagogy will look like and how critical will be the new classrooms of “critical thinking” Additionally, the present situation of Angan Wadi teachers(recent protests for salary hike), and the situation of contractual and ad hoc lecturers and assistant professors also add to the skepticism of the NEP 2020 claim that the teachers will be at the center of the reform and the re-establishing teachers as the most respected and essential members of the society.

The question of vocational training and language are also major ones. Khushi Aggarwal in Feminism in India points out that the gendered implications of the NEP policies are also significant, in the sense that women will not have an equal opportunity to learn English, given that parents often spend less on a girl’s education and research has shown that parents prefer to send boys to private schools and girls to government schools. Further, there is also an absolute lack of clarity about education in the mother tongue for a large number of students whose parents have transferable jobs. The New Indian Express reports that Prince Gajendrababu, general secretary, State Platform for Common School System argues that while children living in urban elite areas may find a new hobby in these vocational courses, kids from rural areas, many of whose parents follow these professions, will be entrapped in these jobs.“The same way a singer’s child may pick up singing, a farmer’s child may pick up those skills from home. In an aspiration to break the vicious cycle of poverty, they send their children to school to acquire new skills to follow a different profession. It seems the government wants people to continue being on the same level without significant social mobility,”

Though NEP 2020 is a policy with a very strong intention of transforming, modernizing, and revitalizing the education system, it is also a chimera for socio-economic inequality and inclusiveness. Creating educational spaces without hierarchies is a big and nuanced challenge because if it is not tackled cautiously it will greatly affect the most marginalized sections of the society by widening the rift between ’haves’ and  ‘have nots’ in terms of opportunities, knowledge, resources, etc.

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