The TSR Subramaniam Committee’s report on National Policy on Education, 2016 was leaked to the media last week. The 230-page report is a detailed account of the various aspects of education in India and recommendations to make them more effective and beneficial to students. The policy had long been awaited with bated breath by educationalists, the teaching fraternity, policy advocates and others involved in the education sector as a possible instrument of positive change. The last National Policy on Education was released in 1986 and, needless to say, the education sector has come a long way since then. Major advances in technology and a shift in the objectives of education have brought in crucial developments that need to be assimilated into our nation-wide policies. Unfortunately, the National Policy on Education, 2016, has failed to achieve these rather obvious objectives.
In its defence, the Committee did lay immense emphasis on the need to integrate technology into pedagogy as well as data management in the sector. It has even spoken of instituting Open & Distance Learning (ODL) and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to reach adult learners or students who may be engaged in jobs and do not have the time to attend a full-time university course. In addition, capacity building in the form of training teachers in the use of technology and improving the teaching courses available so as to attract better personnel all seem steps in the right direction. The committee has also taken a grave view of the lack of accountability in the current system. An outstanding suggestion is the setting up of a special tribunal to deal with service and administrative matters. This effectively speeds up the process of resolving disputes and ensures that schools and more importantly, students, are not left hanging in limbo. Another welcome recommendation is the shift to learning outcomes as an indicator of development in education. The report has rightly berated the fact that governmental efforts up until this point have been concentrated on establishing more and more schools when there are a multitude of schools running with 20 students or less. It has been recommended that learning outcomes become a factor in recognition of schools, and teacher and principal promotions.
What is important to note here is that all these goals that the committee has set out can only be accomplished some way into the future. The report glaringly lacks solutions to the immediate problems of the education sector. The matter of Section 12(1)(c) of the RTE Act, for example, has been given minimal weightage with the report only making a general recommendation to continue with the law set down in the clause. The widespread problem of low or no reimbursements to private schools for admissions under this section has been passed off as a ‘work in progress’. Directions to state governments to rectify this have not even made it to the recommendations! The model of direct beneficiary transfers, so favoured by the central government in various schemes, has managed to escape the thoughts of the Committee. Furthermore, the report has focused exclusively on the development and improvement of the government schooling system without any reforms touching upon the growing private sector in education. In fact, the government bias against private educational institutions clearly comes across as they are disparagingly referred to as ‘teaching shops’. The committee, instead of limiting the role of the government, has sought to make it even greater by the introduction of the Indian Education Service. Centralization of power has already caused government schools to lag miles behind private institutions. In times when the government is opening up various sectors and markets up to even foreign entities, it is a pity that education is being held so close to its chest as to stifle progress and innovation. Public private partnerships, which some states have already begun considering, barely received a mention by the esteemed Committee.
The Committee has made a brave attempt to call out the successive governments in failing to fix the systemic errors in the education sector such as corruption, a lack of accountability, the undue importance of rote learning, the insignificance of quality of education etc. Despite this, it has wholly ignored the need for a paradigm shift in the field of education from being a government-provided social service to a competitive market fostering innovation. The very fact that the prominence of the burgeoning private school sector has been virtually ignored in the report makes it a deficient approach, based not in reality or research, but the government’s unwillingness to let the people have an education of their choice.