The new National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) marks a leap towards neo-colonisation of Indian education via privatisation and corporatisation. This dimension of the NEP needs to be studied. Under the NEP, foreign universities and foreign direct investment (FDI) have been allowed entry in the realm of higher education. The country is already full of private schools, colleges, institutes and universities.
Owners of private universities seek land in cities or their neighbourhood to establish their ventures. Governments provide farmland to them at cheap prices invoking“public interest”. In some places, this facility is provided to private players in education by creating complexes/clusters. For example, the government of Haryana acquired 2,006 acres of fertile land in nine villages of Sonepat and laid the foundation of the Rajiv Gandhi Education City (RGEC) for private educational institutions in 2012. At that time the market price of the land was above Rs 1 crore per acre. The government decided to give compensation of just Rs 12.6 lakh per acre to the farmers. From the scheme to the construction of RGEC, all the work was done by foreign institutions/companies. The land now is home to many elite, expensive private universities.
Hereafter, the beneficiaries are likely to be foreign universities. There is no dearth of leaders and intellectuals who consider privatisation and foreign universities as a panacea for India’s education system. However, a joint document of the World Bank and UNESCO (The Task Force 2000) has warned that “there are prestigious universities from developed nations offering shabby courses in poor and developing countries using their renowned names, without assuring equivalent quality”. Foreign universities in India are purported to be offshore campuses of universities in North America and Europe. Many of these prestigious universities built their reputation through colonial plunder, and, of course, consistent intellectual engagement for 150-200 years.
Just as the laws of social justice or reservation are not applicable in admissions/scholarships of students and appointments of teachers in private universities, the same will not apply in foreign universities. This desire has been expressed in the NEP — that private colleges, institutes, universities should be kept free from strict governmental regulation. It seems that the government, in favour of light regulation for private players of the country, will abstain from strict regulation of the foreign players as well. The term constitutional reservation is not mentioned even once in the entire NEP document. It has been rightly said in opposition to the NEP that this is a document to destroy the public education system. Now foreign universities will also come here. There will be no constitutional principle of social justice in this big market of education.
But this is not the only case. The NEP includes education curriculum (literacy/skill-centric), class-stepping (5+3+3+4 — students from rich backgrounds will be ahead while those from disadvantaged backgrounds will continue to be backward, with most of them out of the race for higher education). And the method of teaching (digital modes) has been prepared keeping in mind the needs and profits of corporate capitalism.
Due to deep-rooted socio-economic disparities in Indian society, which have only deepened in the last three decades of neo-liberalism, as stated by Anil Sadagopal, this education-policy will create a 10 per cent costlier global work-force for the corporate sector. The excluded students will work as technicians and labourers in a globalised economy. With this, a vast army of unemployed will remain as it is now. The nature of knowledge/epistemology has also been changed, along with the way of imparting knowledge in the NEP: Knowledge is not predetermined in the context of the individual and society or the world, it is a predetermined text designed to serve corporate-capitalism. This lesson is best taught by private schools/universities and foreign universities. Government schools/universities should either teach that lesson, or be prepared to be abandoned.
The NEP is a complete project to enslave the minds of learners to the corporate capitalist system. Terms such as scientific approach, critical thinking, creativity, cognitive power, sensitivity, diversity, and plurality have no meaning for an enslaved mind. An enslaved mind would not recognise the socio-economic inertia and inequality prevailing in the society. Such words written under “Introduction” in the NEP seem hollow. Phrases such as “super-power of global knowledge”, “global standards of education”, “rich heritage of ancient and eternal Indian knowledge and thought”, have been written in to pat the back of policy-makers and the 10 per cent global labourers so that the realisation of slavery does not hurt the latter.
The empty talk of Prime Minister and his colleagues regarding the NEP is not surprising. The organisation to which they belong is fundamentally incompetent for cultivating the spirit of freedom — whether it is the spirit of national freedom or the spirit of freedom associated with mankind. As socialist leader Kishan Patnaik said, slavery has pierced the minds of most big intellectuals in India. Many of them have criticised the NEP for not completely removing governmental regulations over private educational institutions — they do not like the “light but tight” method proposed in the NEP. Some say that such good things in the NEP can become fruitless due to the narrow and communal attitude of the current government. Some say that everything is fine except for the imposition of Hindi and Sanskrit; foreign universities and foreign direct investment are a major achievement of the NEP, so on and so forth.
In fact, as Anil Sadgopal has said, “the language and presentation of the NEP is the most misleading and contradictory of all education policies ever made”. But this “trick” of those who drafted the NEP can be effective only for the general public; not for intellectuals. Actually, the NEP of corporate-India thrives by incorporating intellectuals and their children living in it. Therefore, this cannot be done simply by saying that the NEP has been made by the RSS to create its “Hindu Rashtra”. The Hindu Rashtra of the RSS has no issues with being subordinated to the newly colonised corporate-India in the same way it was not bothered about slavery under a colonial power. The real question would be: What do the advocates of the constitutional Indian nation (Bharatiya Rashtra) really believe/want? Do they want the Indian nation to be subordinated to corporate India? Under the NEP, the political-intellectual leadership, which had approved the neo-colonialist clutches on the country, wants to make the present and future generations natural slaves of neo-colonialist designs.
Adivasis, Dalits, backward, minority communities already pushed to the margins in matters of education will be further marginalised by the NEP. The “digital obsession” of the government and the NEP will not allow them to access higher education. There should have been a natural and fierce opposition from their side. But their organisations/individuals have not yet raised their voice of protest. It has been clear for long that the private sector is being promoted at the cost of public education. In the absence of public education, the provisions of social justice will be compromised.
Ram Manohar Lohia gave the formula to bring forward five groups of Indian population — the tribals, dalits, women, backward, poor Muslims — for the creation of modern India. The leaders of these groups used that formula only to score electoral victories. Whereas Lohia’s belief behind the formula was that the “Bahujan Samaj” of India has simultaneously remained independent from the rest of society because of archaic Brahminical and new colonial orders i.e. values and beliefs. If this independent mind gets to play a leading role in the creation of modern India, it will get rid of the mixture of the Brahminical and colonial order. But the presiding intellectuals left no stone unturned in defying and condemning Lohia during the reign of Nehru and Indira. Lohia was excluded from courses ranging from school to higher education.
The fact is we have squandered away the opportunity to build a modern Indian state. It is for the hard working “Bahujan” population to struggle and preserve the realm of constitutional rights in an increasingly corporate controlled India. This calls for political consciousness; opposition to the NEP can be the basis for building this much needed political consciousness.
(The writer teaches Hindi at Delhi University)
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