What is the Indian education system

Reshaping the school system: India reforms education

The Indian education system needs reform. But in the pandemic, the government adopts a policy that could increase inequality.

Classes for primary school children in a slum area on the outskirts of Jammu Photo: Channi Anand / ap

MUMBAItaz | Six-year-old Agastya has had his homework sent to his mother's cell phone for over eight months. Vijaya Yewle, who is in her early thirties, like many other parents and teachers, doesn't know when exactly school starts again. In many parts of the country, such as in the metropolis of Mumbai, the lower grades are still closed due to the corona situation. Instead of five hours of face-to-face tuition, Agastya now has a maximum of one hour online tuition.

For the older generation it should start again in the new year. In the crisis-ridden Jammu and Kashmir area, lessons sometimes take place outside, while in other places dedicated teachers run inside residential buildings to occasionally teach children. Still others try to organize the lessons online.

In many places, the pandemic had a firm grip on everyday life when the Indian cabinet approved a realignment of education policy called the “National Education Policy” (NEP) on July 29th. After 34 years, the school system is to be fundamentally redesigned: Educational sections are restructured, and preschool starts for children from the age of three.

Examination-relevant requirements are to be standardized nationwide and centrally. It is also planned that classes up to the fifth grade will be held in regional and native languages ​​instead of English. "We find that English has not become the international language as was expected in the 1960s," says an excerpt from the NEP in support of the reason.

Almost every second student is already attending a private school

There are also plans to open higher education to foreign universities and to change university degrees. For example, the Master of Philosophy degree, comparable to a Magister, will not be continued. This has shortened the time for doctoral students by two years until they can take the aptitude test for a doctorate. The government has set itself the goal of implementing the reform by 2040.

The debate about the effects of the extensive realignment is still only marginally conducted, and many teachers and parents have so far not given much attention to the reform. But it is already clear that although reforms are necessary, such as in teacher training, which the NEP also includes, not everyone welcomes the changes that are coming. Critics fear that the central government will determine the teaching content in the new system and that social inequality will increase.

"The new policy has no sense of responsibility towards children, the right to equality, integration or quality," worries Anita Rampal, professor and former dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Delhi. The public schools have to struggle with the fact that they often do not enjoy a good reputation and that private schools with low school fees are being aggressively promoted, she told the news site IndiaSpend.

If there is less demand for state schools where children can get free lunches, books, and uniforms, the state can reduce costs. Rampal sees the right to education in danger: The reform will only increase the private education sector, which not everyone can afford.

Private education market is growing rapidly

Almost every second of the 260 million students in India is already attending a private school. Some of them only charge low fees and are more respected than the public ones. But even private school students often have difficulty reading or arithmetic. Many children - of all grades and from a wide variety of family backgrounds - attend tutoring after school to prepare for the annual final exam. The private education market is growing rapidly.

At the same time, cuts in the education system have been made since 2014, when the Hindu nationalist BJP government won the elections. With the reform, the government announced an increase in spending on education for the first time.

Father Frazer Mascarenhas, who was rector of the prestigious Mumbai College of St. Xavier’s for twelve years and currently works at the Jesuit St. Stanislaus College in Mumbai, also fears that the National Education Policy will worsen the educational opportunities of poorer children. He discussed the reform with his colleagues - and came to a clear conclusion: he is “not at all satisfied” with the new education policy.

It is an immense task to implement the planned changes - which will further promote the privatization of the education system. This development can already be seen in other areas such as health, telecommunications or agriculture in India. “That will cause a lot of problems for the poorer people in the country,” fears the Father. "Maybe a small group of the upper middle class will benefit," he says, "but not the majority."

School autonomy restricted

The father also criticizes the fact that the central government is now intervening more strongly in the education policy of the states and the autonomy of schools. The reform is a kind of takeover of all schools and universities, which amounts to a form of nationalization and strong centralization of the education system, he warns.

Up until now, schools for religious and ethnic minorities have been fairly free to organize their lessons as long as the state-prescribed framework curriculum is adhered to and students have done well in the annual exams, explains Frazer Mascarenhas. Now states and schools would be severely restricted in their participation. The entire administration will soon be taken over by the government, he criticizes. This is not appropriate due to the cultural, historical and linguistic diversity of India.

Sunil Bhaskar Patil, director of a local elementary school in Mumbai, understands the prime minister's ambitions: "He has a vision for the Indian education system." Nevertheless, he thinks "that tried and tested things would be better here" and regrets the restriction on the participation in learning. The school principal, on the other hand, welcomes the fact that manual skills or sport are to be strengthened.

In addition to the standardization of the curriculum, the new national education policy provides for lessons to be increasingly held in regional languages. This is also controversial. Critics complain that especially children from disadvantaged backgrounds are left behind when the English lessons are canceled: For them, the chances of a higher education are dwindling. Father Frazer Mascarenhas knows that it is almost impossible to catch up enough to get to college and later pursue one of the coveted professions.

English as a prerequisite for future career opportunities

Because at least formally, all higher education in India takes place in English. Parents who move frequently for work also see disadvantages when elementary schools switch to local languages ​​across the board. Conversely, in the face of strong internal migration, it could become a problem for many smaller schools if pupils had the right to instruction in their mother tongue.

Vijaya Yewle has enrolled her son Agastya in an English language school in Mumbai. Most subjects are taught in English, but sometimes instructions are given in Marathi, one of Mumbai's local languages. At home, the family speaks mostly Marathi, so it is not always easy for Agastya to understand the lessons.

Yewle is nevertheless certain that she made the right choice for her son: "My own training took place in Marathi," she explains. "I feel that I have missed many opportunities in life because I am not fluent in English. and in these competitive times, English is simply an advantage. "

Many educators such as Sunil Bhaskar Patil, however, are of the opinion that primary school lessons should take place in the mother tongue or in the local language, as is the new recommendation in the course of NEP. “The mother tongue helps the students to understand concepts better,” explains the 49-year-old.

Hindu Nationalist Government Course

However, teaching more in the predominant regional languages ​​will de facto mean: expanding teaching in Hindi. Hindi is the most widely spoken of the 22 recognized languages ​​in India. English has so far been used as the lingua franca on the subcontinent, especially between the north and south. Attempts by the government to establish Hindi as the language of instruction as part of its Hindu nationalist course have so far been rejected, especially in the southern states: Around 200 million Indians: in the south prefer English as a second language.

Regardless of this, there are minority schools in all regions of India. Muslim schools teach mainly in Urdu, Christian schools in English, and other languages ​​of instruction are Sindhi, Gujarati or Telugu. Father Frazer Mascarenhas fears that these institutions in particular will lose their autonomy - which could also mean that, for example, the languages ​​of regional minorities are used less in class.

However, criticism of its “vision of the new Indian education system” rebounds against the government. How the exact design of the new curricula and its implementation could look like will be announced in the new year. Then maybe Rector Patil, Frazer Mascarenhas and little Agastya will also know what will change for them.