The concept of ‘merit’ that is gaining more and more prominence in educational policy and in educational institutions presumes an equal starting point. It is as if students from communities which have been deprived of access to education and equitable opportunities for centuries, and those who have access to resources and cultural capital can suddenly be brought to compete on equal footing.

The delusion that ‘merit’ is what will provide ‘quality’ at the entry point in educational institutions is an excuse for perpetuating caste and gender inequality and discrimination and for continuing to use education as a tool of oppression, exclusion and further marginalization, in the same manner which has led to the loss of so many lives through institutional murder.

National Alliance of People’s Movements opposes categorically the malafide narrative of merit on which the NEP, and centralized entrance tests such as NEET and others are based.

In the present political scenario, there is a clear attempt to suppress the voices of the youth. We have seen it most recently in the persecution of students protesting against CAA-NRC-NPR, expressing solidarity with the historic farmers’ movement.

Students, and the youth in general have a long history of participation in shaping the history of the country. As changes are made in policy and implementation, affecting primarily the youth, their voices are discounted, when they do not face outright repression. And it is the voices of the youth that point out how these policy changes support the elites in accessing the best of education, and reinforce discrimination. The education that is available for the masses, especially now with ‘skilling’ becoming a priority, is meant to turn them into cheap, skilled labour, denying the radical and transformative potential that education can have.

We stand in solidarity with all the students who raise their voices against the privatization of education and the implications of the NEP, and who are part of larger struggles for social justice.

The NEP makes it obvious that the state wants to wash its hands of education. There is no meaning left to the input that is expected into education, in the form of financial support for teacher appointments, infrastructure etc. The only focus is on ‘outcome’, and what the institutions are able to bring in.

This is connected with the death of the UGC, which no longer provides funds, but also now loses its regulatory powers in all decisions regarding course content and pedagogy.

We continue to fight against the effects such privatization will have on students from marginalized communities, whose access to quality education is curtailed through multiple attacks on the education system.

The NEP 2020 makes education subservient to the ‘imperatives’ of the 4th Industrial Revolution, and questions are being raised through students’ and teachers’ movements about aspects like the normalization of precarity in jobs.

Precarity in teaching jobs, which the NEP is set to exacerbate, has been an issue for a while and has been raised strongly by teachers’ movements in Delhi, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and so on. The Primary Teachers’ Movement in West Bengal was strong enough to draw a response from the Government. The para teachers’ movement in Uttar Pradesh was powerful enough to push Narendra Modi to promise that all its demands would be met if he was voted to power, as the PM aspirant looked for blocks of votes in the run up to 2014.

Student movements in Hyderabad, Delhi, as well as Kolkata have strongly protested increasing inequities in education through high fees, and the non fulfilment of historic and constitutional mandates of social justice through reservations and the grant of substantive access to historically marginalized peoples – Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims et al.

The ‘partial democratization’ of education that has enabled our public universities to become important centers of political churning, and to raise these issues sharply enough to draw a response from the state. JNU, DU, Jamia Millia Islamia, HCU, Jadavpur have all witnessed state repression in recent times because of their challenges to the ruling Hindutva / corporate state.

National Alliance of People’s Movements supports the students’ and teachers’ movements to demand accountability of the state and ensure that quality public education is available to respond to the constitutional mandates of social justice.

Right to Education achieved with a lot of struggle to ensure free and compulsory education for all children. In spite of the Act attempting to make sure that migrant children also access schools in their neighbouring area, there is a worrying number of children who are still not in school.

This is especially difficult for the children of migrant labourers, who are predominantly Dalit, Adivasi, and the impact is seen even more in the case of girls.

Migrant children need support to be able to access and benefit from education, especially since the language in which the teaching takes place may be unfamiliar, and their shift within the term of education puts them at a disadvantage. Not only is this support not forthcoming from the state, but the changes to educational policy will make their access to education even more difficult.

NAPM condemns the all pervasive discrimination in education, against students from Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasi, Vimukta communities, from religious minorities and other marginalized groups. Over the years, there has been a worrying number of institutional murders that neither educational institutions–whether schools or universities–have been held accountable for, nor the entire education system.

There have been vocal protests against examinations like NEET, which put students from oppressed communities at a disadvantage. Activists, teachers, students, clearly emphasized the increasing gap in education triggered by the pandemic and the lockdown which has led to the middle classes conveniently adopting digital learning, while students from marginalized backgrounds are left with significant gaps in their education.

Students and teachers from oppressed communities face discrimination in appointment and enrolment, and through curriculum, syllabus, pedagogy and the learning environment, in all their interactions with communities of learning which are hellbent on excluding them.

It is only through equal access, representation and participation at all levels within education, from policy-making, to research, teaching and learning, that education can move towards social justice and avoid further violence.

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NAPM India