Published: 16th July 2019
Five reasons why we must pay attention to what actor Suriya said about the NEP
The actor criticised the NEP on its decision to shut down small schools, increase board exams, entrances and the three-language system
In an extremely rare occurrence, actor Suriya gave an impassioned speech about the new education policy and criticised it for being exclusionary to students from rural backgrounds. It was extremely rare because Tamil film actors or actors in the country in general barely raise their voice for any issue. Also unusual because Suriya has always been assumed to be a very private person and hasn't ever discussed such issues before.
As one can expect, being a popular figure means trolling and criticism are inevitable, BJP's H Raja and Tamilisai Soundararajan called him 'anti-national' and have accused him of 'instigating people'. However, the actor did make several points that have been raised in the past by educationists and activists that he also paid credit to in his speech.
Here we make a list of the top five things that Suriya pointed out in the NEP and what he had to say about it.
How can you pay so much attention to entrance exams but ignore grass root problems?
Suriya criticised the NEP's decision to shut down small schools which are sometimes run by a single teacher and only have a handful of students. "Where will these children go? From anganwadis to midday meal centres, there are so many centres in remote parts of the country? Students cross rivers, streams, mountains, walk miles to get to their schools. Instead of bettering the infrastructure and sorting out that issue, we are trying to set up these school complexes," Suriya said.
He says that students in cities will be fine but what would happen to the students in rural areas. "1848 schools are likely to face closure. India's soul is in its villages and 60 percent of children are from government schools. With all due respect to Kasturirangan, it is unfair that these schools with low strength have to be shut down."
What the NEP says — Our strategy of school expansion has delivered access, but has resulted in the development of very small schools, i.e., schools with small number of students. This is now a structural matter of our schooling system and underlies some key issues that are serious challenges to improving the quality of education. Therefore the NEP proposes to start school complexes to 'end' the isolation of small schools.
Students barely manage 12th boards, how will they face exams from Class 3?
He pointed out that 30 percent of students study their subjects without a teacher, "Students even attend their 12th standard exams without having a teacher for some subjects. In this case, how can we burden students more with public exams from such a young age? Many students are unable to pass these exams and then feel ashamed and drop out. Forty percent of students who join in primary, drop out by the time they reach high school." He also pointed out that fact that most developed countries don't have the concept of exams till the student reaches the eight grade.
What the NEP says — To track students’ progress throughout their school experience, and not just at the end in Grade 10 and 12 - for the benefit of students, parents, teachers, principals, and school management committees in planning improvements to schools and teaching-learning processes - all students will take State census examinations in Grades 3, 5, and 8 in addition to the Board Examinations in Grades 10and 12.
I personally know how hard it is to learn a third language. What will happen to first generation learners?
"There is still no clarity on what the medium of instruction will be. In my house, we speak three languages and I know how hard it is to teach my kids a third language. So how first-generation learners manage? It is a huge challenge," Suriya said.
What the NEP says —To leverage the enhanced language-learning abilities of young children, all students from pre-school and Grade 1 onwards will be exposed to three or more languages with the aim of developing speaking proficiency and interaction, and the ability to recognise scripts and read basic text, in all three languages by Grade 3. In terms of writing, students will begin writing primarily in the medium of instruction until Grade 3, after which writing with additional scripts will also be introduced gradually.
Are exams like NEET only helping coaching centres mushroom?
"Attempting the board exam is so overwhelming for students. Throughout their lives, they are faced with one exam after another and then there are the 10 and 12 boards. After all this, they have to struggle with one entrance after another. Don't we all know what happened with NEET? he questioned. He went on to state that nearly 60 percent of the students who had passed NEET this time, had attempted it at least once or twice in the past. "They went for coaching classes and only then were they able to pass the exam. In the year that it started, only a handful of students got through. How is this social justice?" he asked.
The actor also pointed out to the fact that schools had 7am-7pm schedules, "Morning they have coaching for entrances and evening they study their curriculum. How can we put our students through such harrowing routines? Coaching centres have a turnover of 5000 crores. We say government students are our future but the way things are structured, it looks like we're slamming iron gates on their future," Suriya said in his speech.
What the NEP says —The National Testing Agency (NTA) (see P4.9.6) will work to offer high quality common modular entrance examinations multiple times each year in various subjects, from logic, quantitative reasoning, and languages, to more specialised subject examinations in the sciences, arts, and vocational subjects, so that most universities may use these common entrance examinations, rather than having hundreds of universities devising their own examinations. The NTA will establish test centres across the country and have rigorous processes to enable their effective functioning.
If there are no colleges to study, how can we ensure people get educated?
"I've heard that the number of colleges will be reduced from 50,000 to 12,000. This is just another hurdle for students who come from out villages. If they don't have a college to go to, how will they study?" he questioned.
What the NEP says — The main thrust of this policy regarding higher education is the ending of the fragmentation of higher education by moving higher education into large multidisciplinary universities and colleges, each of which will aim to have upwards of 5,000 or more students.
Urging people to stand up against these steps, Suriya reminded the audience that we have only until July 30 to show their protest, "I've had sleepless nights mulling over this policy. We may seem like a small entity in comparison to Delhi where there is a larger mechanism. But we have to raise our voice," he pleaded.
He said that there were some good things in the policy but there was a lot to be scared about, "This is our children, our future we are talking about. Everyone has to raise their voices. So please go respond and give feedback on the NEP before July 30," the actor urged.