The economics of education has leverage over politics in most states of India. However, the grip of the former over latter is perhaps the tightest in Tamil Nadu.
No wonder then, that the state is seeing the sharpest protests against the NEP.
On 31 May this year, the draft National Education Policy (NEP) was submitted to the Centre by its chairman K Kasturirangan. With the government inviting suggestions on the NEP before it can formulate it, a lot of heat and dust is being generated over the policy.
However, nowhere in the country has the NEP drawn so much of discussion, flak and criticism as in Tamil Nadu.
Right from day one, Opposition parties, mainstream media (MSM), vested interests and Tamil cinema artistes have been opposing the policy, starting with the NEP recommendation on teaching students an additional language apart from their mother tongue and English.
In particular, the critics’ anger seems to be against the recommendation to make the students reportedly learn Hindi as a third language. Tamil Nadu is a state that saw anti-Hindi agitations in 1967 and the Dravidian movement gained on this count too, apart from a slew of other reasons.
What these critics try to sweep under the carpet is the fact that the opponents themselves run educational institutions where Hindi is being taught, or in certain cases, their family members are learning or have learnt the language.
An example is a school run by a top Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader where Hindi is taught compulsorily.
When cornered, these critics haven’t come up with any convincing reply, though they argue that ‘individuals should not be targeted’. But there are other factors which are suspected to be behind the vehement opposition to the NEP by Tamil Nadu politicians.
The NEP, initially formulated by a team of experts under former Cabinet Secretary TSR Subramanian in 2016, has been in the works since 2017. The 484-page draft policy has been prepared after wide and detailed consultations with experts, analysis and looking into research reports.
Here are seven recommendations that seem to bother Tamil Nadu’s politicians, and their fallout.
Recommendation On Higher Education Institutions
In chapter 9, the NEP has recommended all faculty positions be filled after rigorous recruitment evaluations; and appointments, tenure and promotions be based on purely on merit. It also calls for merit-based procedures for appointment of board of governors, chancellors and vice-chancellors to universities.
In particular, the policy says these appointments should be made without any external influence, including from the government, and there would be concomitant accountability.
Critics of the draft NEP’s opponents point out that Tamil Nadu politicians are, perhaps, wary of these suggestions that bar external influence by governments and leaders. “Are Tamil Nadu politicians, particularly those belonging to the DMK and the All India Anna DMK (AIADMK), opposing the recommendations because higher posts in universities cannot be auctioned?” the critics wonder.
Recommendation On “Empowered Governance And Effective Leadership For Higher Education Institutions”
The draft policy regrets that governance and leadership in a majority of institutions for higher education across the country have been “severely compromised”. Therefore, it has proposed an independent board that will be competent and committed to govern higher education institutions. The board, which will be independent of any interference, is accountable and will be bound by relevant legislative norms.
All the higher education institutions, including those offering professional courses, will be regulated by the National Higher Education Regulatory Authority (NHERA). It will also oversee the accreditation process for higher education institutions and this will be the lynchpin of the regulatory system.
These recommendations will mean that all private and autonomous educational institutions will be held accountable. These institutions cannot admit students based on their whims and fancies, besides putting a full stop to curricula that lack quality and holding meaningless examinations.
Critics point out how hardly 30 per cent of those graduating from engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu are employable, saying that the recommendations could turn out to be a big boon for students and people of the state. Many Dravidian politicians own private colleges and higher educational institutions that function without following proper norms. Since all these will come under scrutiny, the politicians are now raising a hue and cry over the draft education policy.
Recommendation On Teacher Education
The draft policy, in chapter 15, recommends closure of teacher training institutions that are substandard and dysfunctional. All such institutions will be held accountable for adherence to the basic criteria of approval of their programmes. They will be given a year’s time to rectify their flaws, failing which they will be ordered shut. By 2023, the policy envisages India as having educationally sound teacher preparation programmes that will be developed professionally. A quasi-judicial body will be set up to monitor the cleansing of the teacher education institutions and teacher education is planned to be held in multi-disciplinary colleges and universities.
Also, an integrated four-year graduation course in education (B.Ed) will form the basis for appointing teachers.
Consequences Of The Recommendation
In Tamil Nadu, many teaching institutions have come up with basically no infrastructure. These institutions offer diplomas and many such have mushroomed in the state. Some exist merely on name boards. These institutions have produced substandard teachers, who cannot even spell simple words.
Many politicians have minted money by starting such teacher training institutions, thus leading to inefficient, incompetent teachers being appointed in schools. This has resulted in many schools producing students of inferior quality and as a result, many students are unable to crack competitive exams like the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for medical college seats.
Recommendations On Teacher Appraisals
The draft policy says selection of teachers will be in a transparent manner and based on firm policies. Promotions will be based on merit and performances will be appraised at regular intervals. Meritorious teachers will be appointed as higher officials in the education department and also as instructors in teacher education institutions.
Fallout Of The Recommendation
This could affect some of the highly politicised teacher associations in Tamil Nadu. This will also prevent the appointment of unqualified persons as teachers in private schools for meagre salaries. The recommendations will ensure that only talented and properly qualified candidates come out successfully from teacher training institutions and be appointed as teachers. This will also ensure that private schools pay the qualified candidates salaries on a par with government recommendations.
The regular appraisal of teachers’ performance will keep the teaching staff on their toes and make them arm themselves with more knowledge. This will indirectly benefit the students. Many politicians and influential persons run schools in Tamil Nadu. They will now find it hard to survive under these strict norms that have been recommended for the overall improvement of education standards.
Recommendations On Curricula
Chapter 4 of the draft NEP recommends restructuring in a new 5+3+3+4 design. This is five years of foundational stage up to grade two, followed by another three years of preparatory or later primary state up to grade five, then three years of middle or upper primary stage till grade eight and higher or secondary stage ending in grade 12 or plus two.
As a result, the curricula will be restructured by 2020, while the content and process of school education will be reoriented. Students will be given the freedom to choose their subjects from among the arts, humanities, science, sports and vocational subjects. Also, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) will have the mandate to develop the curricula and pedagogical framework for early childhood education.
Effect Of The Recommendation
Since NCERT has the mandate to develop the curriculum, driving political agendas through education or misleading students on the history of a few leaders will end. Particularly in Tamil Nadu, this could put an end to children being misled on Dravidian history.
A critic of the protests by the opposition feels that Dravidian parties have been getting away with misleading statements such as ‘E V Ramasamy or Periyar having ended casteism’ in Tamil Nadu. This is a big blow for Dravidian parties, which have always been glorifying the movement in history books.
Recommendation On Rankings Of Schools
A national accreditation and assessment council (NACC) will be set up to assess all higher education institutions, according to the draft NEP. The council could begin its work from 2020 with graded accreditation and by 2030, the NACC will only say “yes” or “no” to accreditation, also known as binary accreditation. This will give the higher education institutions great autonomy and the draft policy recommends its introduction as early as 2022.
As per these suggestions, accreditation institutions, which will get licences by NAAC to monitor the functioning of institutions, will cover every 100 or 200 higher education institutions. Performance of these accreditation institutions will also be reviewed periodically between three and five years.
Consequences Of The Recommendations
This will render ineffective, institutions that are run without any infrastructure. This is considered a blow for those who have commercialised education in Tamil Nadu.
A critic of the Dravidian parties says that it is to hide these stringent recommendations that politicians in Tamil Nadu are raising a hue and cry over the draft policy. This is an effort to divert the attention of the people from the real issues, and to perpetuate corruption and sloth.
For example, the opposition to the recommendation to make students learn Hindi as a third language. Now, when Hindi is taught in a government school, the students have to pay nothing. Whereas, if they join classes run by the Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha, they have to spend money right from finding a teacher to write the exams. Why would Tamil Nadu politicians want students to learn another language, that too one that is spoken widely across the nation, free of cost?
DMK and AIADMK are both opposing NEET on the grounds that Tamil Nadu students are ‘ill-equipped’ to take such competitive exams and thus, it is ‘discriminatory’ against them.
But making education a commercial produce, the Dravidian parties, particularly the DMK, brought in the substandard Samacheer Kalvi (uniform system of school education) as many people opted to admit their children in private schools by paying fees. Again, many of these private schools, teaching Central Board of Secondary Education syllabus, are owned by politicians.
However, the current AIADMK government is reforming the education system with a new syllabus and is equipping students to face competitive exams. It has also begun to train students to write these exams.
Critics of those opposed to the draft NEP say that Tamil Nadu’s politicians should be ashamed to say that students in the state are ‘ill-equipped’ to write competitive exams like NEET. They say that the Dravidian parties have killed the public education system (government schools) only to promote schools run by their own families and relatives.
All these shenanigans will stop when the draft NEP becomes law. That’s why they are opposing it vehemently, using hate for Hindi as a crux. Politicians in Tamil Nadu stand to lose more than anyone else, if the NEP comes into force. The recommendations are indeed forward-looking and will help students in Tamil Nadu improve their currently poor educational stock value.
When they finally do upscale in terms of employability, they will realise how the Dravidian politician has taken them for a massive ride all the while.