No strong push for public schooling in India, says Amartya Sen on NEP.

Referring to what he saw as a lack of emphasis on strengthening public education in the country, economist Amartya Sen said during a discussion on the New Education Policy (NEP) that this differentiates India from the trajectories of other countries which had looked at further developing themselves in the past.

“India stands out as a country in which the ratio of private schooling is much higher than in most countries… This high ratio is not only bad for equity, it is bad for incentive in a way that is seen as a favour instead of a right to be claimed by all citizens… The issue of efficiency (of education) and that of public and private schooling are closely related. That point was well understood by any country that was ambitious about progressing — Europe in the 18th Century, Japan during the Meiji Restoration, Korea, Taiwan and later on, China… the need for a network of public schools covering the entire population,” he said, underlining that inequality in society not getting reflected in the efficiency of education is a critical issue.

Sen was speaking at a panel discussion on the NEP hosted by Pratichi Institute, of which he is the chairperson.

The gap between private and public schooling in India was elaborated by development economist A K Shiva Kumar who stated that in 2016, half the children in secondary education in India were in private schools, calling the unregulated growth of private schools in the country a worrying development.

“The NEP avoids this particular problem by pretending it doesn’t exist… The children left behind in government schools are the ones who are from disadvantaged backgrounds… Among those in private schools, 50% children are being sent to schools which charge less than Rs 500 per month… It is difficult to imagine the limited facilities and quality of teaching in these schools… There are only ten countries in the world where there is a higher proportion of children studying in private schools… The NEP is silent on this subject,” he said.

Referring to the Covid situation as an “education emergency”, he stated that the learning gaps between children in low and high fee private schools is likely to widen with remote learning.

“With the loss of income, there will be a migration to government schools… the NEP should have explicitly mentioned strengthening the government school system,” said Shiva Kumar.

Both Sen and literary critic Ganesh Devy also criticised the emphasis on the “ancient” in the NEP.

While Devy stated that the emphasis seeks to unwind “a history of progression on ideas, society, and its needs”, Sen said there is “a comprehensive neglect of an entire 1,000 years of history known as the medieval” as well of years of India as a “British dominated society”.

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