On May 16, Minister for Human Resource Development Smriti Irani said in an interview to the state-run All India Radio that the government expected to receive a draft New Education Policy in 15 to 20 days. At the time of this writing, the ministry has said that it does not have a draft education policy.

Those who have been waiting for the long-promised New Education Policy have reason to be confused. For on May 27, the Committee for the Evolution of a New Education Policy, tasked with writing a draft policy document, submitted a 250-page document to the ministry. Unverified contents of this draft policy document have been reported on widely [for example: here, here and here].

But, in a press release, the ministry said that the Committee: “submitted the report containing its recommendations…” The ministry maintains that the Committee’s submission is only a set of recommendations and not a draft policy document.

A spokesperson said that the ministry will draft a new education policy and this draft will be made available for public comment. The spokesperson stressed that the ministry has no plans to make the Committee’s draft/report public. At this point the ministry is unable to say how long the process of producing its draft policy document will take.

A curious turn

This is a curious turn of events. For, whenever she was asked about the new educational policy in the last six months, Irani, affirmed that the Committee, which at the time of its appointment was called the “Drafting Committee for a New Education Policy” was responsible for producing a draft policy. The government order dated October 31, 2015 appointing the Committee said:

“The Drafting Committee will … formulate a draft National Education Policy as well as a framework for action (FFA)”.

An official press release announcing the formation of the Committee in October 2015 repeated this:

“Ministry of Human Resource Development has decided to constitute a Drafting Committee for framing the New Education Policy. …The Committee is expected to submit the Draft National Education Policy as soon as possible but not later than 31st December 2015. Along with the draft education policy, the Committee will also submit a Framework for Action.”

The current situation evolved something like this: the Ministry held what it claimed were extensive and wide public consultations for a New Education Policy. It then appointed a Committee to Draft a National Education Policy, based on the outcome documents, recommendations and suggestions it had received as part of its consultations. The Committee, headed by a retired Cabinet Secretary (translation: a very experienced civil servant) found that what it had been given was not adequate to draft a policy document. So, it asked for more time, widened the scope of its consultations and was rechristened the Committee for Evolution of the New Education Policy. Over a total of six months, two extensions, myriad consultations and field visits later, it submitted the draft policy titled: National Policy For Education 2016: Report of the Committee for the Evolution of NEP.

Public interest

The Chair of the Committee, former cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian holds that the document submitted to the minister is a draft policy, in fulfilment of the terms on which the Committee was appointed. It has not submitted a Framework for Action, as that can only be done once the government finalises the policy. The Committee has included in its submissions detailed discussion and analyses of the existing environment for education, of its approach and has included explanations or reasons for what has gone into the draft policy and what has not. But, he says, it is the ministry’s prerogative to treat the Committee’s work in any manner it wants. He, however, hopes that the ministry will put the Committee’s draft policy document on its website for public discussion, before it finalises the New Education Policy. All such documents belong to public and government is merely a custodian of the public interest, he said.

Despite Irani’s repeated statements that all would be revealed once the Committee’s report was in, her ministry has taken the opposite view and the Committee’s draft policy/report is not going to be made public. The question is: Why?

If newspaper reports are to be believed, the draft policy reflects the government’s thinking on a lot of issues. Drawing school leavers to the teaching profession, using technology to monitor and track students and teachers, scrapping the no-detention policy, and making Indian children love India the way American children love America, are just a few examples. Other parts of the document – for example the Committee’s discussion and analyses of the situation on the ground – are said to make for uncomfortable reading.

According to those in the know, the Committee paints a bleak picture of how education is being delivered and received. It shows that government data and assessments, on the basis of which government programmes are run, are fudged. Some give this as an explanation for the ministry’s refusal to make the Committee’s draft proposal/report public. Governments in India have traditionally shied away from addressing these systemic problems that hamper service delivery to the poorest people.

Whatever its reason(s) for not making the Committee’s report public, the message that the government ‘s decision sends out is that the HRD minister is clueless – or not as good as her word and that the government has something to hide. It also leaves wide open the question of when the country can expect to see a new education policy.