Kerala’s Higher Education Minister R Bindu, in an interview to TNM, said that the state cannot totally reject NEP, but there are suggestions in the draft that are subtle and have to be strongly opposed.
Kerala and neighbouring state Tamil Nadu, have raised strong objections against the National Education Policy (NEP). Both the states fear that the NEP will make education accessible only to the elite class. This is apart from a slew of other objections. R Bindu, Kerala’s Minister for Higher Education, says that the NEP will lead to communalisation of education, excess commercialisation and privatisation. She spoke on why the state opposes the NEP and at the same time, how it cannot be completely rejected.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: What are the elements Kerala opposes in the NEP?
The draft of the NEP is silent on many factors. It has nothing on secularism which is constitutional. The biggest asset of India is diversity, but the draft has not mentioned co-existence, which is of utmost importance. NEP is also silent on the reservation system, which is the society’s way of paying back for the tens of thousands years of discrimination, inequality and exploitation (towards certain communities).
We have seen several times that the current (union) BJP government has not taken a positive stand about reservation. Hence, reservations not mentioned in the draft of an education policy should be viewed with seriousness. No draft of an educational policy is complete without the suggestion on how to bring the marginalised to mainstream society. Not only this, the draft does not have anything on women, religious minorities or on region-wise differences. Such a draft is not complete. Also, the draft says that excess privatisation will overcome the crisis in the education sector. Excess privatisation will push off the financially and socially backward sections from the education system faster.
Another drawback is the excess centralisation that totally rejects federal principles and turns a blind eye towards federal rights of the state. NEP puts forward huge commercialisation of education and promotes elitism. As per the draft, education from anganwadis to the research level will be helmed by a committee called Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog (RSA), headed by the Prime Minister. The very foundation of the ruling BJP government is communalism. Hence it’s very clear how this government will take forward the NEP which makes no reference to secularism and religious minorities. These elements are worrisome.
Q: Tamil Nadu has made it very clear that the NEP won’t be implemented and has formed a committee to evolve a state education policy. Will Kerala reject the NEP in its totality?
Kerala has never taken a stand that it totally dissents with the NEP. But the state has exposed the contradictions, the gaps and the deplorable silence on certain things and highlighted its stand, which is for social justice. Discussions on NEP have happened in the state legislative assembly and a study has been conducted by a committee with Prabhat Patnaik as Chairman. There is no going back from the stand.
Q: TN has opposed it citing the three-language formula proposed by NEP. What is Kerala’s stand on it?
That is one of the important things (to be opposed) in NEP. But there are more important suggestions in the draft that are subtle and that have to be exposed and opposed.
Q: TN also said that the NEP will make education accessible to the elite class only?
NEP will commercialise education and there is no doubt about that. The Union government has transformed the University Grants Commission to an education commission only. The message of the government withdrawing from providing grants means one has to spend from their own pocket only for education. The NEP draft suggests that all educational institutions should become autonomous by 2030. It also says that the affiliating system should be stopped by 2030. This will create huge problems for students in interior villages and high range regions. The affiliated colleges are the only means for those students to take their higher education dreams forward. More affiliated colleges should be set up in those regions that would help Scheduled Tribe students too. Stopping affiliated colleges will have huge repercussions.
Q: You have said that the students of Kerala would suffer if our universities alone decide against introducing four-year UG degrees and that such a stance could lead to an exodus of students to other states and our graduates might also find job opportunities scarce at a later stage. Is it practical to partially implement NEP?
We are mulling implementing the four-year course. But we oppose things like excess centralisation and privatisation. As per NEP, a National Research Foundation is being formed and even the research topics will be selected by them. This would tamper the very essence of research. It’s scary how a committee (RSA) by such a government will take things forward. Unified syllabus and curriculum are also centralised. Each university has its own organic features now and each one is diverse from the other. Curriculum should have region-wise history to be taught, not solely the nation’s history.
Q: So you think that NEP will destroy the democratic spirit of universities?
By forcing a unified and that means a centralised curriculum, will lead to that. If the curriculum is unified on a state basis, that is acceptable in a country with such diversity. Also Indianness is repeated in the draft. We have to interpret the draft in this context. The draft does not mention or examine anything about the educational policies that have been implemented in the country so far. A NEP should have reference on what was the impact on previous policies. The draft was not also discussed in the parliament. This will limit education to the elite class.
Q: Do you think that political parties should come together on women issues? Because not too many women politicians reacted to the Samastha leaders snubbing a girl student?
Of course, political parties should come together on issues related to women. Kerala had taken a liberal stand to bring women from limited domestic space to a bigger social space. In a state like this, the Samasthas’ stand that even in the 21st century, women should not come on stage is highly retrograde. It’s also true that it was not duly discussed.
Q: How far should the state move in the case of sex education? Does the state plan anything on it?
We have mooted discussions on a curriculum framework so that by next year universities can change the curriculum according to that. Now that the society in general is aware on the need for sex education for students, this will be incorporated in curriculum revision.
Q: What do you think about the saffronisation of textbooks in Karnataka?
That was a planned move and a part of the saffronisation agenda. It is the distorted consequence of forming the curriculum based on a highly narrow ideology.
Watch TNM’s interview with R Bindu
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