April 11, 2021 9:38:35 pm
Written by Jyoti Dalal
Under the larger garb of quality, the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 is paving the way for further bureaucratisation as is clear from the document that finds regulation to be an important component for capturing the elusiveness of quality. For this, the modus operandi revolves around “a light but tight” regulation, an oft-repeated phrase in NEP 2020, which in itself is devoid of any meaning and becomes clear with the usage of terms like accountability, efficiency and transparency, used liberally in the whole document. When an educational institution is governed by this triad, its rigour cannot be defined by knowledge generation or capacity building or by the critique that it is able to generate, and is instead assessed on externally-defined parameters that bear no relation with teaching or research.
Being part of higher education today means constantly generating, collecting and collating the documentary evidence for the never-ending committees, examination-evaluation work, and the research projects one is involved with. The time and energy that should have been spent in engaging with new reading or caring for a new idea goes away in following those norms and rules that are external, handed down from the top and are decontextualised. The bureaucratisation refers to the culture of “doing as told”, as one is supposed to abide by the set protocols and guidelines. Instead of devising the norms that emerge from one’s own teaching and research work or by the requirements of students, this refers to doing work as per the orders being given. For activities like teaching and research that means the closest connection with knowledges as one attends to them, this shift in priorities set by NEP 2020 further solidifies the instrumentality and utilitarianism that has already seeped in our institutions distancing them from what education stands for. Education, in Kantian terms, can be understood as aufklärung, i.e. having the courage to think for oneself, and to be free of self-incurred tutelage. He explained tutelage to be man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. This “doing as told” culture furthers the dependency on following the established rules, norms and orders over one’s own ideas and thoughts.
NEP 2020 signals that shift in higher education which has already happened in school education in the last three decades. After the economic reforms of the 1990s, the same obsession with quality compromised on the constitutional goal of equality as it decoupled the inherent link present between them. The buzzwords of accountability, efficiency and transparency then acquired dominance in school education, changing the engagement of school teachers with their work. No longer seen as beings who can think, create and care for knowledge, their role shrunk to employees of the State, who became responsible for carrying out orders and meeting the targets set by the State. Since then, as an extended arm of the State, their work priority has shifted from teaching to completing different tasks that range from handling the administrative and accounts work to other tasks like census duty, election duty or the recent addition of Covid-related duty. The downfall and the decay of higher education that is underway has its parallels with what paralysed our public-funded school education. While these reforms cannot be completely held culpable in changing the contours of school education, as this regression has been underway from the earlier decades, its role in acting as a catalyst that can speed up this process needs to be noted. In the same vein, NEP 2020 plays an important role in giving impetus to the regulatory discourse that stands antithetical to education.
The work of political philosopher Hannah Arendt becomes crucial to understand the influence of this bureaucratisation on human condition. After witnessing the widely publicised trial of Adolf Eichmann in Israel, who played a prominent role in the Holocaust, she pointed out that bureaucratisation seeped in to the extent that one of the world’s horrors was carried out by people who were only doing their duties. By simply carrying out the orders that were passed to them without even thinking about them, figures like Eichmann demonstrate an incapacity to think for oneself that is at the root of violence and evil, which Arendt calls the “banality of evil”. The present direction in which education is moving with an increased speed goes against this thinking capacity. By attuning teachers to following orders, by chastising them for thinking freely and by reprimanding them for instilling critical thinking in their students, they are made to adapt to this bureaucratisation where they feel safest not in their thoughts and ideas but in following orders. This mutates the culture of education. Its irreversible consequences on the human condition will unfold with time as what makes us human, i.e. the capacity to create and care, is in peril. As an internal critique, this is also a price that universities will have to pay for not standing up for their colleagues in schools when their existence as teachers was being compromised.
The author teaches at the Institute of Home Economics, University of Delhi
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