Ball now in government's court
It is difficult to understand why the government was so reticent about making the TSR Subramanian committee report on a new national policy on education public, given the progressive recommendations made in it. It backs the setting up of a standing Education Commission to continually assess the changing circumstances of the education sector and advise the HRD ministry on the need to upgrade or change policy.
At the school level, the panel recommends that the no-detention policy, currently in place till Class VIII, should be applicable only up to Class V since learning gaps will only widen between a slow-learner and her peers beyond this. It also stresses on mandatory learning outcome norms under the RTE Act—just like existing norms on infrastructure—and subjecting minority institutions to the 25% seat reservation rule for students from the economically weaker sections (EWS). The panel also makes the case for increasing the efficiency of public education spending by consolidating clusters of small schools that form the bulk of public education infrastructure in a given geographical area to create bigger schools. By proposing an autonomous body for government teachers’ selection, the panel also shows a way out of the corruption and politicisation associated with the process.
At the higher education level, the panel proposes workable solutions to the vexing problems of politicisation of campuses and capitation fees in private colleges. Against the backdrop of the recent student agitations in universities such as Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and University of Hyderabad—where the agitations were shaped as much on mainstream political party lines as on deeply divisive ideological lines—the panel calls for a strict implementation of the JM Lyngdoh committee recommendation of derecognising student outfits explicitly based on religious or caste or mainstream party lines, even as it has clarified that it doesn’t endorse curbing free speech or association; in other words, political parties can no longer be an integral part of campus politics. Its suggestion of capping the period for which a student can stay on campus could end the use of institutes’ resources to nurse political ambitions. On the issue of capitation fees, while avoiding the endorsement full autonomy for institutions, the panel calls for a “flexible and nuanced” regulatory regime—“much greater freedom” for high-quality institutions on fixing fees and salaries and greater controls for institutes of a poor grade. Here, the panel suggests, accreditation of quality needs to shift from being largely input-based (institute’s spending on infrastructure, etc.) to being more outcome-based (R&D output, industry perception).