Karnataka has taken the lead in implementing the National Education Policy (NEP) amid rising criticism from teachers, professors and academicians.
Even as the government claims that the policy will create a multidisciplinary system and increase the employability of students, teachers and students remain at loggerheads with the state over the 'hasty implementation' of the policy.
What's New About the NEP?
Unveiled in June 2020, the NEP replaced the National Policy on Education of 1986. The new policy aims to introduce a slew of reforms to the school and college education system.
The reforms include students being given the choice to either pursue three or four-year undergraduate degrees, and higher education institutions being allowed to offer Master's courses of different designs.
The policy says that all efforts will be made to ensure that any gaps that exist between the language spoken by the child and the medium of teaching are bridged.
According to NEP, students pursuing a degree need to choose two subjects as a discipline core. At the beginning of the third year, students can opt for one subject as a major and another as a minor, or both as major subjects.
In addition to this, they need to choose Kannada and one more language as language subjects.
Mixed Reactions in Karnataka
Karnataka became the first state in the country to implement NEP. Government institutions in the state were asked to adopt the policy during the ongoing academic year i.e., 2021-22.
This has evoked mixed reactions in the state with the primary stakeholders – teachers, students, educationists – alleging that the government is in a hurry to implement the policy without any consultation or discussion.
Several colleges in the state have completed their admission process and allege that the implementation of such a detailed policy midway will create confusion for teachers and students.
Speaking to The Quint, Professor PS Jayaramu, former Dean, Faculty of Arts, Bangalore University, said, "Implementing the policy in public institutions is difficult as they need time to prepare physical infrastructure and human resources. Several institutions lack technical support to conduct online classes."
Hullabaloo Over Kannada
The NEP makes it mandatory for all undergraduate students to learn Kannada. Students of history also have to study four papers on Karnataka history in the first two semesters.
Several academicians have raised concern over this decision, stating that many college students hail from different parts of the country and studying Karnataka history will not be of much use to them.
"What about students who want to learn some other language and not Kannada? If someone wants to learn Tamil, it will be difficult for them," Prof Jayaramu said.
With learning Kannada made compulsory in UG programmes, teachers who teach other languages, such as Sanskrit, are afraid of losing their jobs.
"Maintaining quality education has become a challenge"Professor Jayaramu
"It is extremely difficult to look for skilled, qualified teachers who are fluent in Kannada," a professor from a private university in Bengaluru told The Quint, on the condition of anonymity.
Another major concern has been the lack of availability of good certificate courses in government institutions or universities.
"Students in government institutions can pursue certain courses in private universities in Karnataka and get credit transfer for the same. The government must ensure that they also allow these courses in government-run universities," Prof Jayaramu added.
The policy is being implemented at a time when the school and higher education system are already reeling under a lack of resources and funds, said a teacher at a private school, on the condition of anonymity.
No Additional Funds for NEP?
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced ₹93,224.31 crore towards education in the Budget for FY22. This was nearly ₹6,087 crore less than the Budget estimate for 2020-21.
Moreover, no additional funds have been allocated in the government’s 2021-2022 Budget for the implementation of NEP.
"Budgetary support for implementation for NEP has not been enough. In fact, it has decreased in some ways and this has been a major challenge," Prof Jayaramu said.
"The government is deliberately avoiding questions, finding ways to bypass constitutional, democratically elected forums."Niranjanaradhya V P
Speaking to The Quint, Niranjanaradhya VP, a development educationist based in Bengaluru, raised several concerns over the 'authoritarian approach' of the government in implementing NEP in the state.
"In a federal structure, wherein education is in the concurrent list, the policy formulated by the Centre cannot be implemented in a hasty manner. All policies in the past were placed in Parliament, which is the highest forum for policy implementation and discussion. However, no such discussion took place during the implementation of NEP," he said.
The educationist said that structural changes proposed in the policy had serious implications on teachers' basic qualifications, recruitment, and promotions.
"All the concerns need to be respected and could've been addressed by holding seminars at the district level. A policy, as part of its implementation, needs to evolve a detailed programme of implementation, and that needs to be presented before primary stakeholders," he said.
"Why is the government not talking to students or trying to understand what they want?"Niranjanaradhya V P
Shortage of Teachers Is a Big Hurdle
Highlighting the alarming shortage of teachers in Karnataka, Niranjanaradhya said that a policy like NEP demands qualified, competent, confident, full-time teachers.
However, due to the shortage of skilled teachers or those fluent in Kannada, schools and colleges are forced to depend on part-time or contractual teachers, who are not well-paid and lack the motivation to teach.
Speaking about teacher unemployment in the state, Prof Jayaramu said that recruitment should have taken place before implementing the policy.
"Giving training in the form of refresher courses to handle new-age courses as part of NEP should have been the priority."Prof Jayaramu
There are at least 22,581 sanctioned but vacant posts for teachers in Karnataka, Niranjanaradhya pointed out.
"Inadequate teacher-to-student ratio and the lack of classrooms to accommodate different subjects in the stipulated school time are some of the crucial concerns that remain unanswered in this policy," said Cebush Jose, a professor from the Biology Department of the Indian Institute of Science, adding that NEP demands qualified teachers to handle the subject to a certain mastery.
"In a generic classroom, setting a 1:20 ratio would be ideal if not perfect, which is currently 1:45 in most of the schools," he said.
'NEP Is a Landmark Document, But Needs Preparatory Work'
A 2020 report by Indiaspend states, "Early schooling in a child's mother tongue, as recommended in the new National Education Policy, can improve learning, increase student participation and reduce the number of dropouts."
However, such a policy change demands new books, fresh and revised training of teachers, and increased funding, experts said.
To make this possible, teachers who are fluent in the mother tongue and also a second language are recruited, a 2014 circular from the government stated.
Teachers who fail to fulfil the criteria are hired on a contract basis on the condition that they will learn those language skills.
In a situation where no teacher qualifies this criterion, the government hires non-local teachers who are fluent in the local language and familiar with the culture.
Even as the state and central government make lofty claims about NEP, the policy and its implementation have left teachers and students disappointed and worried in Karnataka.