What is the New Education Policy and who does it serve?

Mouma Dutta

The new New Education Policy 2020 claims to be a “completely new and far-sighted policy” to change the “educational landscape” and prepare the youth to conquer “present and future challenges”; it is said to be uprightly guided by the goals of “access, equity, quality, affordability, and accountability”.

Dr K. Kasturirangan, chairperson of the “Committee for Drafting the National Education Policy’’ said “this Committee was going to be ‘out-of-the-box’ in its thinking”.[1] It is indeed an out-of-box policy which entirely shies away from mentioning the idea of “secularism” and “socialism” which are enshrined in the Indian Constitution. It remains silent about the reservation policy and mentions it only once to ensure that privately funded schools are not compelled to adhere to the rules of reservation. It undermines the federal character of the Constitution and the concurrent status of education. It plans to introduce a highly centralized body of governance and management of education. Merging or closing of the neighborhood schools for the sake of “rationalizing funding” is a denial of fundamental right to education. This is intended to keep out the disadvantaged and marginalized groups (geographically and socio-economically defined). It makes no mention of minority institutions, is marked by absence of constitutional focus on social justice, no regulation or safe guard to limit the powers of regulators/managers/Boards of Governors (BoGs) to interfere in academic research and academic free speech. In short, the Draft NEP completely destroys the Constitutional meaning of autonomy. [2] The undemocratic manner in which it was passed by the union cabinet shows this: it was never brought before Parliament for discussion and inaugurates education in India as a field of private and foreign investment.

The report of India’s first education commission, the Kothari Commission, envisioned a “learning society” constituted by students and teachers with “shared” (but not uniform) “goals” which they must be left to pursue with as much academic freedom as possible, retaining their independence from interference by political and market forces, from pressures of governmental, administrative and financial intervention, and the prejudices of socio-religious ideologies.[3]

Centralization and commercialization of education that was first introduced by the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) Government, could not be passed through Parliament. Following the dictates of the World Bank to reduce expenditure on education, and the pressures put on higher education as a tradeable commodity by WTO/GATS (World Trade Organization/ General Agreement on Trade in Services) regulation.s,[4] NEP 2020 envisages the transformation of the country into a ‘vibrant knowledge society’ that views knowledge ostensibly as a marketable product, and not what scientists or technologists generate in their fields for public use. Knowledge economy is a popular expression for techno-capitalism, which holds a menacing implication of commodity fetishism on users of knowledge. Heavily dependent on science and technology, it commoditises knowledge in every form, emptying out any content that is contrary or useless to the market forces.[5] This policy courting both unregulated privatisation and the foreign players rests on conditions guaranteeing equal treatment of these enterprises by the Government of India (GoI) with the state-funded school and higher education systems. This will effectively lead to withdrawal of the Government of India from its constitutional obligation to establish a national system of education (from pre-nursery to Class 12 and then to post-graduation) that will ensure every child’s fundamental right to equitable education. According to Suarez-Villa, the emergence of corporatocracy, is rooted in the expansive power of corporations over public governance around the world: this is basic to techno-capitalist globalization[6] which NEP upholds.

NEP2020 proposes over centralization of administrative and executive decisions. This is bound to affect the fundamental right given by Article 30 to minorities to establish and administer autonomous educational institutions of their own choice. Repudiation of reservation policy in admissions and continuing participation in higher education through research and fellowships, appointments and promotions, and all forms of employment will be denied a life of dignity for socially and educationally backward castes and other depressed sections, which will violate Articles 15, 16, and 21 of the Indian Constitution, will thereby, be put in place.

NEP2020 divides school education in 5 years (Foundation) +3 years (Lower Primary) +3 years (Upper Primary) +4 years (Secondary) courses. Emphasize on Early Care and Childhood Education (ECCE) can be seen as one of the stronger point of the bill. The pre-primary section catering to children from 4 to 6 years is centered by Anganwadi workers who are literally paid a pittance and not even recognised as government employees can scarcely be entrusted with the burden of a revamped Early Care system of the sort visualised in the bill, without an improvement in their status and reorganization.[7] It should be ensured that difference noted in the bill between learning ability of privileged and underprivileged children are not get widen. In incorporation of Indian rich tradition as NCF’s provisioned religious prejudices and majoritarian biases must be kept out.[8]

The policy talks about a flexible approach in the three-language formula. “How it will be implemented in states it’s their decision. No language is being imposed in the policy” said the chairperson of the NEP committee. As per the policy, the medium of instruction until at least class 5, but preferably till class 8 and beyond, will be the home language, mother tongue, local language, and regional language. If English medium privately funded schools are get exempted from this regulation, it will definitely render stimulus to prevailing discrimination based on language. Mother tongue as a medium of instruction should be backed by other regional and tribal languages of the state in a multilingual context. Imposing language like Sanskrit (total percentage of people speaking Sanskrit is less than 1 per cent as per the 2011 Census), in the name of promoting it as the basis of the country’s ‘cultural Unity” is incorrect, unnecessary and counterproductive.

Given India’s entrenched ideas of social discrimination, linguistic multiplicity and varied geographical conditions, a common school available in every neighborhood is a vital necessity. Introduction of “School complex” and merger/closer of neighborhood Schools to “rationatising funding” will be a denial of fundamental right to education to those poor children who have to trudge miles to attain school, particularly to the girls. The focus should be on fully funding and expanding government schools to realise the goal of a functioning school in every neighborhood, which was recommended by almost every commission starting from the Kothari Commission.

The extension of free and compulsory education from 14 years to 18 years sounds just; yet one wonders how the costs of doing this will be met. Non-withdrawal of CLPR 2016,[9] which allows children under 14 to work, is dreadful. No references were made to children in conflict with law, children who have been victims of trafficking and child labour, refugee and migrant children, and children born and raised in prisons along with their mothers. They should be integrated into mainstream formal schooling, and not pushed into skill-based training and vocational jobs. In the views of experts, introducing specialized and vocational education before class 11(policy says from class 9) may lead to a situation where disadvantaged sections are pressurised to take vocational courses, while children from well-off sections pursue courses that enable social mobility and retaining their existing privileges. Open Distance Learning (ODL), NIOS (National Institute of Open Schooling) should not be seen as a substitute for formal education. It will be a clear violation of the Fundamental Right to Education as seen in several international human rights documents and the Constitution of India.[10]

NEP2020’s over centralization of curricula and overhaul of textbooks under new NCF[11] are against sufficient flexibility for knowledge-formation and local experience. They counter the principles of federalism and democracy that are fundamental to the structure of the Constitution. This could also encourage an intolerant and narrow-minded regimentation of thought.[12] National tutor program (NTP) suggests improving teacher student ratio substantially with the aid of “volunteers”. Experts think, this indicates a strategy to ‘save’ governmental expenditure on employment of requisite number of teachers. Moreover, this will clear the way for the entry of religio-political ‘volunteers’, partisan and sundry NGOs, who may then become entrenched through the PPP and/or CSR (corporate social responsibility) format. Policy allows the non-aided private school to collect and enhance their fees. It also keeps silent on the issue of RTE’s provision of 25 per cent quota for the weaker sections in unaided private schools which receive physical infrastructure and systematic support from the government-run education system. As a populist measure, the NEP proposes that breakfast be added to mid-day meal programme in government schools. Schemes such as the mid-day meal, if implemented properly, can help to tackle with child malnourishment. In reality, government cuts on child health and provisions for free meals show that there is little sincerity behind such promises.

The idea of taking census exam in grades 3,5,8, besides the board exam (10th,12th), will be counterproductive to the concept of inclusion and increase the number of drop outs. Replacing “no detention” with “census exam” is the worst thing to happen to children at early and formative stages of their learning process, particularly those from the poor and socially marginalized sections of society, and first generation learners. A national assessment center “PARAKH”[13] will set up for  suggesting guidelines for student assessment and evaluation for all recognized school boards, including State school boards, over which the centre has thus far exercised no control. NTA[14] will offer “high-quality aptitude test” twice a year to prepare the students for university entrance exam. This paid “high quality” educational service hints at the marketization and debasement of the goal of universal access to education and to free and compulsory school education.

While the notion of ‘scientific temper’ is only used to denote awareness of technological advances and digital literacy, the concept of ‘basic education’ should not be reduced to numeric learning, literacy, reading, and writing through basic knowledge of some languages in order to inflate gross enrollment ratio.

Governance of higher education gets highly compressed by an over centralized body being proposed like Higher Education Commission of India(HECI). This proposed body has four independent verticals for all fundings (National research foundation), grants (The Higher Education Grants Council), standards (The General Education Council) and accreditation (The National Accreditation and Assessment Council). Single disciplinary universities, along with Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities (MERUs) will apparently be set up to provide four years interdisciplinary with multiple exit points through flexible curriculum. Many in the know fear this will devalue degrees and reduce education to a certificate producing facility, which assures entry into a cheap labour market.

The NEP proposes setting up BOG (Boards of Governors) to oversee the functioning of respected universities. One third of the members of the BOG will be “internal”. It will appoint the Vice-Chancellors/Chief Executives and through them appoint other persons of official importance. All faculty and other employees within an institution will be accountable to their respective BoGs. On the contrary, NEP does not provide mechanisms of accountability for BoGs. It has foregrounded that inclusion of managers rather than academics in the governance of universities; this will hamper the functioning of higher education institutes and entail greater state control over education.  The proposed system rules out elected representation in decision-making processes and rejects the significance of the seniority principle. In addition to that it delinks itself from any corresponding responsibility to ensure adequate public funding, which strengthens the scope for pushing them towards greater dependence on private sources of funds including higher fees. NRF will not support universities to develop their research capacity. A department of a university would get support only through a centrally identified researcher. In the absence of institutional autonomy, there is no space for democratic self-governance. The scrapping of MPhil deprives all those researchers who cannot afford to enter a long research programme due to socio-economic issues. Only a few affirmative actions are prescribed for private higher education institutions.

NEP grants graded autonomy to colleges; it will phase out affiliation of colleges to universities in the next 15 years. This will mean thousands of colleges set up with painstaking zeal will be wiped out or taken over by private players in the education market. Those without money will not be able to study. Article 246 is violated when the NEP proposes a central authority to regulate all higher educational institutions. Entry 44 under List 1 in Schedule VII states that the Union does not have the power to regulate a university. Graded autonomy is not the same as the Constitutional notion of autonomy. Supreme Court of India emphasizes: education should be independent of State control in the interest of intellectual freedom and the spirit of free inquiry.

NEP does not go into the issues of substantive equality and safety of women and queer faculty, students, employees in HEIs. The policy evades from mentioning sexuality or alternative sexual orientations and long term structural mechanism of gender sensitization. In the matter of inclusion of a specially abled child, it does pay attention to make existing HEIs accessible to persons with disabilities and does not contemplate how technology and the imposition of teaching aids can be discriminatory.

NEP venerates India’s ancient education system with great esteem. This hubris prevents it from mentioning the historically contingent discrimination of caste and gender. Sudras who were the producer of all wealth in a society, were excluded and denied education, as well as upper caste women in ancient times. One should not be blinded by  uncritical “glorification” of the past.[15]

Finally, this policy is a pure advocacy of World Bank’s portrayal of India as a country of macroeconomic stability with a dynamic private sector, free market economy, well developed financial sector, world’s largest domestic market, well-structured IT sector prospering as a global provider of software services, commendable size of English-speaking knowledge workers in technology, and a large diaspora capable of networking knowledge linkages.[16] Education should be committed to an egalitarian and plural approach to society. If it fails to represent the conflicting needs, interests and concerns of widely differentiated classes in the country, it can only fail as a system. The NEP is committed to ensuring this failure. It must be rejected in its entirety as an attack on public education, educators, students and society.

Mouma Dutta, a former student of Visva Bharati, Santiniketan is an independent researcher now living in Kolkata


AIFRTE. “Critical responce to the draft National Education Policy,2019.” Social Scientist (November-october 2019): 3.

Gurukkal, Rajan. “NEP DRAFT 2019:A Thecnocapitalist policty development.” Social Scientist (September-October 2019): 51-60.

JNUTA. “A Critical Assessment of Draft National Education Policy 2019.” Social Scientist vol-47 (september -october 2019): 32.

Patnaik, Prabhat. “On the Draft National Policy on Education.” Social Scientist (september-october): 61-67.

Suarez-Villa, Luis. Globalization and Technocapitalism: The Political Economy of Corporate Power and Technological Domination. Routledge; 1 edition (28 February 2012): 220-223

India and the Knowledge Economy, World Bank Report, Washington DC, 2001.



[1] https://frontline.thehindu.com/cover-story/article28259123.ece

[2] JNUTA. “A Critical Assessment of Draft National Education Policy 2019.” Social Scientist vol-47 (september -october 2019): 27-49

[3] https://frontline.thehindu.com/cover-story/article28259123.ece

[4]AIFRTE. “Critical responce to the draft National Education Policy,2019.” Social Scientist (November-october 2019): 3-26

[5] Gurukkal, Rajan. “NEP DRAFT 2019:A Thecnocapitalist policty development.” Social Scientist (September-October 2019): 51-60.

[6] Suarez-Villa, Luis. Globalization and Technocapitalism: The Political Economy of Corporate Power and Technological Domination. Routledge; 1 edition (28 February 2012): 220-223

[7] Patnaik, Prabhat. “On the Draft National Policy on Education.” Social Scientist (september-october): 61-67.

[8] (AIFRTE)

[9] https://labour.gov.in/sites/default/files/Updated%20Status%20on%20Child%20Labour.pdf

[10] (AIFRTE)

[11] The NCF is a rule book for preparing textbooks in India. The NCF has been revised four times so far — in 1975, 1988, 2000 and 2005.

[12] (AIFRTE)

[13] Performance assessment, review, and analysis of knowledge for holistic development.

[14] National testing agency

[15] (AIFRTE)

[16] India and the Knowledge Economy, World Bank Report, Washington DC, 2001.