The draft National Education Policy released in May 2019 took a step forward by recommending an extension of the scope of the right to education act by including pre-primary and secondary education within its purview. In this post, Seema Rajput argues that despite the draft Policy highlighting the priority of bringing out-of-school children back into education, no tangible strategy has been proposed keeping in view the practical challenges these children face.
The new and much-awaited draft National Education Policy (NEP) was released into the public domain by the new Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister, Shri Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, soon after he took charge on 31 May 2019. The release of the draft Policy was geared towards seeking suggestions and feedback from relevant stakeholders.
The document breaks away from its predecessors in many ways. It commits to the principles of access, equity, quality, affordability, and accountability as the five major guiding pillars, which set the foundation of the Policy. It aims to be realistic and looks towards the future in order to address the emerging needs of the fast-changing world. Its stated intent is to make sure India’s children and youth achieve their full potential and contribute to national development.
The draft Policy takes a step forward by recommending an extension of the scope of Right to Free and Compulsory Education for Children Act (RTE), 2009 to include pre-primary and secondary education within its purview. This will extend the right to free, quality, and equitable education to all children between 3-18 years of age. This is a historic step – however, a constitutional amendment will be required to achieve this goal; currently the 2009 Act provides for free and compulsory education of 6-14 year old children, only.
The Policy’s agenda would be incomplete without addressing the educational needs of India’s most marginalised children. Many of them are still unable to exercise their right to education despite the availability of multiple policies and legal provisions that commit to ensuring a dignified life and safe and secure childhood for all children.
The draft Policy does acknowledge that around 62 million children of school-going age (between 6 and 18 years) were out-of-school in 2015, and highlights that it should be the top priority of the country to bring out-of-school children back to schools. However, it does not include any specific and clear policy provision for them.
The Policy is silent on the continued existence of never enrolled children within the elementary stage. The 2011 Census data shows that 32 million children, aged 6-13, have never attended any institutional education. While acknowledging that progress would have been made over the last decade, this remains a critical omission.
In the last several years, there have been mass closure of government schools in the name of consolidation of low enrolment schools. As per the latest report card released by the Right to Education Forum in 2019, more than 200,000 government schools have been merged as proposed by different state governments. Children from marginalised communities living in low-density population areas, particularly girls, are most affected and drop out when they lose their village school. The draft Policy, while pointing out that this measure would not lead to significant cost savings, falls short of recommending an end of this practice. Furthermore, the current draft talks about loosening the RTE quality norms, which risks lowering the quality of education and may further result in more children dropping out of the system.
Despite the draft Policy highlighting that the top priority of the country is to bring out-of-school children back into education, there is no tangible strategy proposed keeping in view the practical challenges these children face. Firstly, there is a need for bringing synergy in all the policies and acts related to children and suggesting practical measures to ensure that all children get their rights and enjoy their childhood. Until children are freed from labour, they cannot be in schools. Census 2011 data reports 10.1 million children – 3.9% of total child population in the age-group 5-14 years – are engaged in child labour. The draft Policy fails to recognise phenomenon of child labour, hence, no specific provision is suggested. Many children, especially above 14 years are engaged in child labour and hazardous occupations. The new amendment made in the Child Labour Act, in 2016, allows children below 14 years to be employed in family enterprises and businesses, which are highly unregulated. Considering that child labour mostly takes place in the economically weaker sections of the society, the draft remains silent on mechanism of bringing back these children into the schools. The Policy must suggest progressive and reformist approaches which revisit the amendments made in 2016 to keep a check on the practice of child labour. The proper implementation of these amendments should do justice to the New Education Policy.
Despite several focused policy measures, girls still continue to be out of education system. Recent studies reveal that due to early and forced marriage, many girls discontinue their education. According to the UNICEF’s (United Nations Children’s Fund) State of the World’s Children 2017 report, India reports having the highest number of child brides in the world at 15,509,000. As per the SDG target 5.3, India has committed to eliminating child, early, and forced marriage by 2030. The draft policy document does not take the cognisance of SDG 5 which talks about bringing gender equality. The final policy document must highlight this issue – suggesting strong implementation of child marriage act and sensitising of Gram Panchayat to check this practice. Policy also needs to suggest strong mechanism to address girls’ involvement in childcare responsibilities by putting in place crèche facilities/reactivating Balwadis1 to free them from sibling care. A large number of girls stay back at home for sibling care, making this a critical measure for ensuring gender parity in education.
Around 37 million children have their education disrupted each year because of environmental threats. It results in poor leaning outcomes and eventually, dropping-out from school. The NEP must suggest practical provisions for continued education of children in a safe and protected environment. It also needs to have a vision around the educational provisions for children in need of care and protection.
The potential role of technology needs to be envisioned for tracking out-of-school children and a strong monitoring mechanism is required to ensure that they are brought into the fold of formal education. The NEP should also suggest a robust mechanism for the government to take stock of the number of out-of-school children, every year.
All this is not possible without having a strong mechanism for convergence with other concerned line departments for developing a holistic plan to address the differential needs of out-of-school children. The policy must suggest a vision for how convergence will look at the state and sub-state levels, with a special focus on the million plus cities.
The final policy document must suggest strengthening of the RTE provisions for out-of-school children, up to age 14, through proper implementation of special training programmes by providing professionally trained teachers, and specially designed curriculum addressing cognitive and psycho-social needs of children. Focus also needs to be given for community mobilisation approaches with a well-designed monitoring system for tracking of learning and mainstreaming of children.
The role of residential schools like Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidhyalayas, Ashramshalas, Navodaya Vidhyalayas, and tribal welfare schools have a critical role to play in addressing the needs of most marginalised children. These schools were institutionalised for improving educational access, bridging learning gaps, addressing transition and ensuring an enabling environment for the most marginalised children, especially girls. There is a need to strengthen vision, provision and standards to ensure that these institutions act as an important arm to address the needs of out-of-school children.
In order to bring back out-of-school and never enrolled children belonging to the age group of 14-18 years back to the education system, the NEP must recommend high-quality specialised programmes . The school complex/block resource centre can be used as an adolescent learning centre with appropriate teaching-learning materials and provided with subject-specific teachers who help these children to bridge the learning gaps. Focus needs to be on inclusion, gender sensitivity, and working with adolescents, accelerated learning pedagogy, condensed curriculum and assessment methodologies, and subject-based concepts and skills. Additional technical support can be leveraged from the resource persons at block and district level to strengthen and institutionalise the programme to attract adolescents and encourage them to complete their secondary education. They also need to be imparted vocational/skill-based education, and provisions for the same should be made accordingly. For this, linkages with Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana2 need to be explored.
All this is possible when the NEP adopts a ‘mission approach’, with dedicated resources allotted for the tracking and integration of out-of-school children.
Balwadi is an Indian pre-school run for economically weaker sections of the society, either by government or NGOs.Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) is the flagship scheme of the Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship (MSDE) implemented by National Skill Development Corporation. The objective of this skill certification scheme is to enable a large number of Indian youth to take up industry-relevant skill training that will help them in securing a better livelihood.e up industry-relevant skill training that will help them in securing a better livelihood.