A rotting system

Published in Deccan Herald on 11th July 2016

Rohit Dhankar

The report of the Committee for Evolution of the New Education Policy (NEP) headed by T S R Subramanian is finally in the public domain in spite of hesitation of the then Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani, thanks to the former cabinet secretary himself. One should perhaps take it only as a report that will be an important input in the final policy formulation.

The report, however, claims to be the policy itself at many places. For example, after listing eight challenges to Indian education, it declares “The New Education Policy has addressed all these challenges”, which implies this document itself is the policy. There are many such assertions. In spite of it, though, we should consider it only as a report.

There is much in this report that should be discussed, and immediately, before the policy is finalised. This article, however, is only to note a bold admission of problems at the national level institutions directly under the HRD Ministry. In Chapter VIII, the report comments on six of them: All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT), University Grants Commission (UGC), Indira Gandhi National Open University (Ignou), National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) and National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA).

The report does not include National Council of Teacher Education (NCTE) in this chapter, perhaps because its status is different as a constitutional body. However, it does have comments on functioning of NCTE elsewhere. Overall, the report gives very useful information which can be turned into insight into understanding these institutions.

If one believes the assessment of the report, then all these apex institutions have failed in fulfilling their mandate, though some may claim partial success. The AICTE, as per the report, “has largely failed to act as a regulator” which is its mandate. It has allowed proliferation of substandard and high capitation fee charging institutions; as a result, only “20% of our engineering graduates are employable”.

While the UGC is credited for issuing “a series of regulations for achieving better quality and efficient management,” the report has noted that the commission has not been able “to ensure effective enforcement of those regulations.” It recommends that “When the new National Higher Education Act is enacted, the UGC Act should be allowed to lapse”, meaning scrapping the body, perhaps justifiably.

The Ignou while has done some good work, has also failed in regulating long distance teacher education programmes. As “in teacher-education field,” there is a “proliferation of long distance teaching shops, offering degrees or diplomas basically in exchange of money, with minimal assurance of quality or teaching-learning standards”.

The report envisages an important role for open learning at school level as it recommends creation of “two new national level examination systems to certify Class X and Class XII equivalent achievement”. However, it is quite clear that NIOS could not be proposed to be a nodal agency for that job “in view of its doubtful record of performance, and inability to establish itself as a credible agency”.

The NUEPA is normally considered an efficient institution, but the committee thinks otherwise. The committee expected NUEPA to provide some research done on important educational issues, but “Put simply, the Committee found very little serious examination of fundamental issues facing school/higher education in India undertaken by the University.” Actually the report says that private organisations have done a better and more relevant job.

The report notes some successes of NCERT in teacher education like four year integrated BA/B Ed etc, but also thinks that “the institution has been unable to cope with the massive volume of changes around it”. The NCTE as per the report is, guilty of proliferation of substandard teacher education institutions. And thinks that “State governments and the NCTE were partners in approving such institutions, most of which were nothing better than degree shops.” The six apex institutions of the country which are supposed to guide and support education, then, are nothing but largely failed white elephants. Of course, the country knew this, but corroboration by an MHRD appointed committee is important. This should make the government wake up and look into its own functioning.

Lack of capable staff

The report notes lack of capable staff in adequate numbers in these institutions. Working of many of them has never been assessed by any independent agency. They lack autonomy and seriousness to work. And some, like NCTE, have serious irregularities. When we want to improve quality of education, which according to the report is the main thrust of the NEP, lack of adequate expertise in various segments of education in these bodies indicates a national level intellectual deficiency. The report says nothing regarding how this deficiency can be removed, or how to prepare good quality experts.

The situation of the apex institutions by this account seems to be no better than the schools. And before one blames the schools, may be one can say that the rot spread from the top. However, when the report talks of low quality and indifferent functioning of elementary education, there is frequent reference to teacher capabilities, attitudes, commitment, accountability and political interference. This is instructive to note that in regard to apex institutions though capabilities and shortage of staff is mentioned, attitude, commitment and accountability are not seen as problems. In fact, the report sees lack of autonomy as a problem there, but not lack of commitment!

It is common knowledge that the heads of most of the institutions mentioned above are political appointees and that should have an impact on their functioning as well as the capabilities of the people. But the report prefers to be silent on that. It also seems to assume that the right attitude to implement the mandate of the institution and accountability in these institutions is no problem, it is a problem only in the case of teachers. One wonders whether a rotting head can diagnose its own ailment!


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