Reviving the ‘Missing Debate’ in the NEP 2020: Managerialism & its Implications for the Practice of Teaching

This article aims to bring to light the missing debate around NEP, highlighting the malaise of managerialism and its impact on teachers and the practice of teaching.

SCHOOL EDUCATION
A government School in rural India.

The New Education Policy 2020 focuses on the importance of the role of teachers in Nation building, compares the present teacher with the teacher of ancient India, and then talks about the reasons for dropped status of the teacher & teaching profession. It recognises this gap and looks at different factors like Quality of training, recruitment, deployment, service conditions, etc. for the same, seeing it as a systemic issue. It then emphasises on the need to revive the high respect and status of the teaching profession and frames key qualities necessary for it. The policy picks up several primary issues like overburdening of teacher, questioning recruitment process (TET’s), privatisation of teaching education institutes (their quality), larger pupil-teacher ratio (specifically rural areas), teacher transfer, lack of resourcing, lack of professional development opportunities and questioning the structures of salary planning, promotion, career management, leadership positions. The objective of the NEP may be focusing on ‘teaching and learning’, acknowledging the gaps and needs but when it translates and the kind of alternatives/solutions it offers, the focus automatically shifts onto the things which could be assessed concretely i.e. performance-data, learning outcomes, hence limiting the policy with a skewed vision and aim.

It proposes strategies to ensure high-quality teachers and teaching across the country. These solutions set their base in managerialism, which is an ideology (which beliefs in constant creation of new tools and controlling all aspects of organizational life) advocating the reform/change process. A key tenet of managerialism is that the agency of other stakeholders can and should be channeled within limits tightly specified by central policy-makers. The practitioners, and other actors are allegedly empowered to express agency, but only within the bounds of the predetermined policy. All the actors should strive to achieve the vision articulated by the policy-makers, therefore centralizing power. As Hoyle & Wallace (2005) write in the case of UK govt policy document on restructuring the teaching profession, the phrase- ‘There’s freedom to manage, without losing accountability’ which was coined to justify the surveillance of headteachers. The similar thought we can observe in the NEP 2020, where ‘freedom and autonomy’ have limited meaning and is in compliance with govt requirements. It stresses on control & creates new control points (indirect control) and also acknowledges the involvement of local. It presents a very blurred image of how a change process should begin and proceed. It emphasizes upon the terms like accountability, efficiency, quality, and calls for strong surveillance and tight discipline but by smartly adding a term ‘self’ to it, making it as self-tracking and self-discipline to give a sense of an individual effort & duty (in a way providing autonomy in limited terms) thus, creating control mechanisms for ensuring predetermined outcomes. An observation worth noticing is that the whole part on teachers doesn’t include the word ‘trust’, it speaks for a safe environment, autonomy but doesn’t consider trust-building, trusting teachers as an essential factor for uplifting the status of the teaching profession and improving school education.

The policy is presented as ‘transformational’, and is expected to change the landscape of teaching and learning, which as per Hoyle and Wallace (2005) is a myth! In a school context when teachers, leaders, and other actors (system) are expected to become transformational, catch-on to the new drifts of educational discourses, and witness a radical change, but under conditions that actually constrain their opportunities for achieving change. This then is nothing more than finding an efficient way of implementing govt. policy. An observation is that most teachers and headteachers would not wholly reject nor offer overt resistance but will mediate govt. policies to render them congruent with the needs of students/teachers in individual schools in a particular context. It is not an easy and seamless transfer of policy ideas into practice, there are interferences, interpretations which leads in shaping outcomes (positive/negative), which are not necessarily what the govt. intends. The irony is that teachers and headteachers will not challenge the policy explicitly but will follow a pragmatic and constructivist approach to learning and teaching.

It is important to know that in education, the efficiency drive of such kind might have negative consequences for effectiveness and can lead to the production of unintended outcomes like in the case of programme KSQAC (2005-06) which was studied by Rahul Mukhopadhyay and Arathi Sriprakash (2011), the study followed a ‘translational approach’ and found that many unintended outcomes like creating an atmosphere of fear (teachers & students), linking learning to measurable parameters (tests and results) and increase in private tutoring were the results of a programme set to improve the quality of education in schools.

NEP sets a whole framework for teachers from the start, it first focuses on the hiring aspect which would require a four-year B.ed degree, TET, followed by classroom demonstration and interviews. All these are taken into consideration with an assumption of having only bright-minds to enter the profession and enhancing its status (therefore, relating high scores with the ability to teach). A tenure track system for hiring teachers across all levels of education will be established. Under this, teachers will be on a three-year probatory/tenure track period followed by a performance-based confirmation. This leads to insecurities among teachers and a fear that they could be replaced anytime (Eliminate inefficiency and increasing insecurities). It also makes one wonder about job security after studying a lot. It then stresses on the development of a robust merit-based promotion and salary structure, and would again connect to the performance-based approach(also Rating teachers), which will incorporate parameters for proper assessment of performance and would collect evidences from multiple sources- peer reviews, student reviews, attendance, hours of CPD, use of TLM, commitment and service towards community and school. All appraisals will be based on this, and this process will also be the basis for determining teacher accountability. This mechanism will look at several factors that make up accountability while ensuring autonomy and empowerment for all teachers. The SCERTs will develop the frameworks and norms of this autonomy and empowerment in the teacher’s role. Again, limiting the definition of autonomy & empowerment as per the authority.Another is incentivisation and awarding-awarding outstanding teachers in ceremonies at different levels to recognise and incentivise innovative and transformative work of dedicated, passionate, excellent and committed teachers across the country (which is assumed to motivate teachers). With this, the policy has also come up with the need for adequate and safe infrastructure, which is creating a service environment and culture for teachers to maximise their abilities to do their jobs effectively (limiting the meaning of safe space as per the intended aims). For this, the creation of the smallest viable unit of governance “school complex” will be done to build vibrant communities for teachers, a collective & collaborative approach. This, in my understanding, is giving space to the local community in the school settings but does that also ensure giving voice/power to the local to raise their concerns and initiate a change/reform process in real sense? The making of such school complexes is also a cost-effective way in many ways, one is when the policy speaks for the shift from achieving a desired student: teacher ratio to a more careful assignment system based on the educational needs of children. Thus, completely neglecting the importance of Pupil-Teacher ratio in the process of real learning. The other is the “sharing of teachers” in complexes, again cost-cutting (Maximises savings on school premises and operating costs). Then comes the- Continuous professional development – setting a Flexible and modular approach to CPD, a well-integrated CPD curriculum, involving career advancement opportunity (assigning new roles, new duties). A compulsory 50 hours of CPD training per year and using technology-based for enabling choice-based CPD to track the professional trajectory of each teacher. Burdening teachers and keeping an eye on them at every stage (detailed surveillance). 

The Draft NEP (the base of final NEP) mentions that Every headteacher and school principal will be responsible for building a strong in-school teacher development process and a supportive school culture that enhances the capabilities of all teachers in school, therefore generating management hierarchy at the school level to deploy system changing as the main policy instrument.  

It has been observed that conceiving school leaders and managers as a conduit for educational reforms and teachers as the ‘deliverers’ of reformed practices has meant extra work, requires time and is not an easy process. When through policies, govt. tries to remove ambiguity (messiness which is a part and parcel of organisations) it makes the process more difficult for the front liner practitioners. This makes teachers and leaders to live with the pressures and they are expected to actually demonstrate and follow guidelines and produce positive outcomes. The negotiations and struggles are taken away. This excessively controlled leadership and management & the surveillance translates into the dysfunctions of managerialism. Teaching becomes a non-human engagement enterprise and is turned into a clerical profession. This grows job dissatisfaction, teacher retention and other problems like in programme KSQAC, the programme idea/structure indirectly affected pedagogy, because teachers couldn’t afford to ignore the tests (positive results). A similar could be observed from the implementation of NEP 2020.

The discourse now centres on words such as ‘quality’, ‘performance’, ‘delivery’ and ‘personalization’ which connote the client-orientation of a more professionalized leadership and management. The govt. creates cost-effective mechanisms as it is assumed that efficiency can be increased if structures and mechanisms of tight surveillance are in action. But the question is – Are these the only strategies left to bring in the real change in Indian context? If yes, so what kind of change are we visualising? 

Aishwarya Sharma is a Doctoral Researcher at NIEPA, New Delhi 

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