By Ayushi Rawat
TSR Subramanian Committee’s Recommendations on the New Education Policy leaves us looking for the disappearing component of ‘Education’.
Since the TSR Subramanian Committee has given its recommendations on the New Education Policy, there have been many apprehensions articulated by activists and forums engaged with the issues of rights and education. While the recommendations have much to be critical of, one of the most endangering aspects is that if the Committee’s recommendations on vocationalization of education and skill development are accommodated in the new policy, it would refract even the limited scope for social justice and empowerment envisioned in the sphere of education. It is synchronized with the government’s agenda of cementing the marketization and corporatization of education under
the banner of the ‘National Skill Development Mission’.
The first time that the term ‘vocational education’ was used in our policies, was in the National Policy of Education of 1968. The post-independence period reflected Nehru’s model of development – where the focus was particularly on higher education institutions – and this was the first outlining of education policy. It reflected the influence of Gandhi’s ideas on relating education with work. Professing the importance of ‘self-reliance’, Gandhi spoke about integrating work with education to inculcate dignity of manual work. These ideas were critically challenged by the Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar who dwelt on the occupational perpetuation as a pre-requisite of the caste system.
This was a time in India when the liberal discourse on ‘education for all’ and ‘education for empowerment’, was a catch-word and the political acceptance of ‘education for all’ happened. How much was translated into social action has been highly debated. However, the idea of a direct relationship between education and work or employment was setting in and public conscience was dominated by the notion that a `better education’ meant a `better future’.
Interestingly, this was also the time when the origination and diffusion of the human capital theory was taking place in the West and its resonance could be felt in the labour market characterised by Post-Fordism.
One of the major facets of this global development was the formation of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an organisation of developed countries to formulate policies for world trade and development.The parameters of investment in education and the rate of return of investment in education were being academically discussed and politically implemented. Agencies like the World Bank and the IMF were encouraging research in the economics of education and laying the grounds for the human capital theory to dominate educational thought.
Following the adoption of neoliberal reforms by India, there have been many attempts by successive governments to institutionalize privatization in education even though this would lead to cementing of already existing inequalities. The present recommendations for the NPE 2016 and the recent inputs submitted in the MHRD Draft visualize education in accordance with the market logic of supply and demand. The documents are constantly stressing on ‘training’ to the point that it seems to have replaced ‘education’. There is an undue emphasis on ‘skilling’ with the project to be carried out under a ‘mission mode’. The mission is to cater to the demands of the market and measuring and grading ‘skills’ according to market value.
The primary role of education is seen as being input-based. The teacher provided inputs and the learner tries to process those inputs to build knowledge. The goal of the new policy is also focussed on education that is ‘outcome’ oriented. This means that only the courses, ‘skills’ and ‘training’ which end in profitable `market’ outcomes will be encouraged – this is the first step to the hidden agenda of exclusion and corporatization. The policy aims to create out of individuals a ‘skilled workforce’ by the ‘incorporation of skilling in the school curriculum’, and proudly claiming multiple entry and exit points would be provided in the education system itself. To put it simply, this means that those who cannot afford or
manage to go through school can very well opt for vocational training and walk out of formal schooling.
The question is, who are these individuals who would not be able to afford or manage to put themselves through school and higher education? It is the those who are at the margins of our society. By covering it up with the meek charade of ‘choice’ the policy further marginalizes these people without an ounce of accountability. The policy plans to do this by introducing a `credit based transfer system’ within the vocational training system and the formal education system. This is the second step of exclusion and corporatization.
By focussing on the ‘weaker and disadvantaged’ sections of the society, the skill development component plans their targeted exclusion from the process or even the opportunity of a holistic and dignified education. They are seen invariably as a ‘workforce’. The document’s focus on particular districts and ‘priority areas’ for inducting skill training will make it very easy for the government to deny its accountability for providing equal opportunity for quality education, as they would have already pushed areas and sections of the people towards vocationalization leading to further marginalization. This is the third and major step of exclusion and corporatization.
The policy document lists a major concern of the formal education system to be that it does not prepare students for employment. However, it does not imply that the students are not prepared for employment solely because formal education is useless. There are many factors for the discordance between education and employment – in fact one of the major factors of unemployment is the current developmental paradigm and the State’s neglect of the education sector.
Finally, the document introduces two very risky ideas: the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) and the National Skills Qualification Framework (NSQF). The RPL component would measure the skills of a person already involved in an occupation, and have the prerogative to certify the person for a particular skill/occupation in which they usually have been traditionally involved. This would mean zero occupational mobility and cementing of the caste system.
The NSQF brings down the system of education to ‘quality control’ arrangements. The NSQF would judge and certify a person’s skills on a scale of ten at a particular level. If the levels are not complete, persons would require further training for certification and better opportunities. This means that if NSQF does not recognise an individual’s skill or is incapable of measuring it, then the person would be rendered `unskilled’ and hence jobless. All training institutions would have to be compulsorily NSQF compliant, or their training certificates will have no value. The recruitment rules of government jobs and public sector enterprises would also have to comply with the NSQF.
If this draft policy with its present propositions, gets implemented, it will not be long before private institutions will flourish for the rich and the rest of the population would have to send their children to ITI’s which would have replaced schools! The British colonial government’s education policies wished to train an English-speaking class of clerical servants for the Empire. Similarly, the NEP 2016 draft policy intends to create workers to be auctioned in global markets.
Now, more than ever, we need to call upon the emancipatory potential of Jyotiba and Savitribai Phule’s ideas of education, an alternative vision of education which grew out of a prominent social movement. That vision of education evolved so many years ago is extremely relevant today because of the contemporary market-driven model of development prevalent in society. The agenda of Enslavement and Exclusion must be resisted.
[ The article was originally published in Reconstructing Education (July-Dec 2016) a quarterly publication of All India Forum for Right to Education (AIF-RTE) ]