The Draft National Education Policy, 2019 (DNEP) released by the government on May 31, 2019 has been described as a much needed attempt to overhaul the prevailing education system in India. Despite the initial uproar about the alleged imposition of Hindi in the curriculum, the policy appears to have found a good balance between retaining the old and ushering in new changes. In this post, we only respond to two crucial issues.
Expansion of the right to pre-school education:
The DNEP proposes changes to the existing scheme of providing access to education under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act). One prominent proposal is the extension of the right to free and compulsory education to early childhood care and education and higher secondary education. The prevailing fundamental right to education under Article 21A extends to children between 6 to 14 years, i.e., students between Classes I to VIII. The DNEP proposes to extend this to children between 3 to 18 years of age to include pre-school education and high school education until Class X would be crucial to meaningfully secure equal access to quality education for all learners.
Chapter 3 of the DNEP recognises the need for integrating and universalising pre-school education with regular schooling to ensure that children entering Class I are better prepared to attend school. The prevailing system of pre-school education in India is regulated in a haphazard manner and is inaccessible to children from marginalised groups. Children can avail early childhood care from Anganwadis. The DNEP recognizes that these institutions pay little attention to their educational needs and proposes extending the scope of the right to education.
Rights of Transgender Students:
Unfortunately, the DNEP does not take the rights of transgender children forward in a concrete way. While it is impressive that it mentions transgender children, and that school environments should not violate their constitutional rights, the way forward would not be to create a national database on transgender children. The DNEP should categorically lay down that schools should protect transgender students, that they shall have the rights to use restrooms and spaces that correspond to their self-identified gender identity and that schools should take steps to ensure that there is no harassment, bullying, segregation, victimisation, verbal or physical assault by peers and humiliation by educators refusing to use the correct pronouns. School reform the world over is taking a whole-of-school approach to address LGBTQI students that includes structural, relational, and instructional reform, to make schools truly equal and LGBTQI inclusive. The DNEP would do well to take these approaches into account.