There were varying views on Thursday from political parties on the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 with the Congress and Left parties accusing the Centre of "bypassing" Parliament by not discussing it before announcing it, while the TDP welcoming it and asserting that emphasis on mother tongue as the medium of instruction will help children develop critical thinking and literacy skills.
Tamil Nadu School Education Minister KA Sengottaiyan said the state government will respond to the NEP after a detailed discussion with Chief Minister K Palaniswami on August 3. However, the PMK, an NDA ally, sought revision of the policy, claiming that there were some "dangerous" aspects in it.
The Central government on Wednesday announced sweeping reforms under its new education policy that included teaching in mother tongue or regional language up to class 5, lowering the stakes of board exams, allowing foreign universities to set up campuses in India, a single regulator for higher education institutions except for law and medical colleges and common entrance tests for universities.
Former HRD minister and senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor welcomed it, but feared it may make education unaffordable for the poor as it showcases a tendency towards "centralisation, high aspiration and low feasibility" with an assumption that the challenge will be met by the private sector.
The Left parties criticised the new policy, saying that it strayed away from the concept of universalisation of education and focused on creating "education markets".
In a series of tweets, Tharoor said, "There is much to welcome in what we have seen of the NEP 2020 announced by Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank. A number of suggestions made by some of us seem to have been taken into account. However, the question remains why this was not brought before Parliament first for discussion. I like the fact that vocational training will be introduced for all kids in school from 6th Grade."
Tharoor said,"I look forward to a constructive discussion in Parliament, in which these concerns can be addressed & clarifications given. I commend Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank and his team for their efforts. A better-educated India is vital for all."
"Overall, my worry is the NEP showcases a strong tendency towards centralisation, high aspiration w/low feasibility, and an unspoken assumption that much of the challenge will be met by the private sector, which will drive up costs & make many opportunities unaffordable for the poor," he tweeted. Tharoor said the NEP also glosses over the desperate need for qualified and trained teachers in schools, of whom there is a critical shortage.
Placing the burden of pre-primary education on over-stretched, under-funded and under-equipped anganwadis is "disastrous", he said and added that instead of strengthening woeful school infrastructure, NEP suggests school complexes as a solution to this problem, sharing resources spread over a large geographical area.
"Total investment on research and innovation in India declined from 0.84% of GDP in 2008 to 0.6% in 2018. There are currently only 15 researchers in India per 100,000 of population, compared with 111 in China," he tweeted.
"For instance, the goal of 6 percent of GDP to be spent on education was first articulated in 1948! Every government articulates this target and then comes up against its own Finance Ministry. In the last 6 years, Modi Government expenditure in education has declined in real terms. How will it reach 6 per cent," he asked.
TDP leader and former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh N Chandrababu Naidu said, "I welcome the approval of NEP 2020 by the Union Cabinet chaired by Narendra Modi Ji. I am sure that this reform will boost the education sector and pave the way for our youth to compete with the best from across the world."
He said the policy emphasises mother tongue/local language/regional language as the medium of instruction until Grade 5 which is certainly a welcome move. "This is crucial for children to develop critical thinking and literacy skills leading to better academic performance,"he said.
However, the CPI alleged that the NEP has strayed away from the concept of universalisation of education and focused on creating "education markets". In a statement, the CPI said,"The RSS-led NDA government has approved the NEP."
The policy brings with it a fundamental change in the system towards creating education markets and away from ensuring universalisation of education through government schools and rejecting quality education to poor and socially disadvantaged sections of the society, the statement said.
It also alleged that the government bypassed Parliament and undermined federalism in formulating the policy and accused the central government of taking "unilateral decisions to aggressively push through its neo-liberal agenda including in the system of education".
"CPI urges upon the government to have proper discussion on the policy in Parliament and also with the state governments which have the highest stake since education is on the Concurrent List," the statement added. Opposing the NEP, the CPI (M) alleged that it is a "unilateral drive to destroy Indian education".
The party alleged that Parliament has been completely bypassed in the process of forming the policy. "The Polit Bureau of the CPI(M) strongly denounces the Union Cabinet decision to unilaterally impose a NEP and rename the Ministry of Human Resource Development," the CPI(M) said in a statement.
"Education is in the Concurrent List in our Constitution. It is a gross violation by the Central government to impose the NEP unilaterally bypassing all the objections and opposition recorded by various state governments," it said. It also said that any new policy of such nature needs to be discussed in Parliament.
According to Sengottaiyan, the Tamil Nadu goverment will respond to the NEP after a detailed discussion. The PMK contended there were many positive aspects in the NEP, and numerous negative aspects as well. PMK youth wing leader Anbumani Ramadoss said the proposal of students in classes 3, 5 and 8 taking school examinations to be conducted by the appropriate authority was unwarranted.
"Conducting exams for students in Class 3, will cause mental stress and specifically affect students coming from rural areas and lead to drop-outs. There should not be any board exams till class 8," the Rajya Sabha member said.
He also pointed out that the proposal on adopting a three-language policy was unacceptable and said though it was stated that the third language would be based on the student's choice, it appeared that only Sanskrit was given priority and it would lead to imposition of the language.
Meanwhile, actor and Makkal Needhi Maiam founder Kamal Haasan tweeted, "Glad that Education is getting 6 per cent share of GDP in the new education policy." "The immediate focus and reforms needed are in the healthcare sector now, which gets only 1 per cent of GDP on an average. This share has to be increased to 7-8 per cent if we want to grow as a healthy nation too," he said.
MDMK founder and Rajya Sabha member Vaiko called for review of the policy, alleging that it was "against pluralism and federal principles".