NEP(2020) sets out high ideals for quality learning indicators for ensuring inclusive and equitable education keeping in view 2030 sustainable development goals. On the basis of robust consultation with different stakeholders it aspires for a great equalizer for economically and socially diverse set of groups. While the document recognizes the underrepresented concerns of Socially and Economically Disadvantaged groups (SEDGs), economists and educationist have argued that interventions or measures suggested are not enough for it is elitist and exclusionary. Practically speaking, it loses touch with the ground realities and challenges faced by SEDGs.

The document sets high standards for quality learning and promises to provide norms to cultivate ideal learners who would become global citizens. But who gets access to these ideals? For most obvious reasons, the one who is in mainstream formal education, not the one who is deprived of mainstream opportunities to access equity measures?


A critical question facing the inclusive equity measures is that educational achievements in the knowledge economy depend on innovative norm–referenced or standard measures. This dependence is by means no new but in reality it affects people in large measure. SEDGs cannot meet the same standards of Norm referencing or such regulations. May be the biggest beneficiaries are elites, corporates, private universities or ‘private non-philanthropic educational institutions’ because law of comparative advantage works. Consequently, deprived sections are left out. Norm referenced or standard accreditation measures work for the  quality concerns , global citizenships  and international linkages . Nevertheless, at bottom, it makes little difference to SED groups and marginalized sections as they cannot reap the benefits of equity and access. These differences are measured in terms of continuing gaps between students from different SED groups or communities within a school. It can be noticed across schools, districts in large measure across different states. Considering the wide gaps and high dropouts certain groups or communities are marginalized and they fail to take advantage of the educational opportunities. Better resourced schools and institutions are associated with higher achievement and educational outcomes than poorly –resourced schools or schools falling in most disadvantaged areas. In mainstream relative terms the continuing gaps between students and   that of SED groups remain at the bottom. NEP is silent on this issue.

 Science of performance

NEP appear perfectly poised for  a  ‘science of performance’(McNaughton) for bringing quality reforms in order to exact the bucket list of achievements valued globally. While it promises all optimism but what remains hidden is the economic realities of the SEDGs or marginalized communities who are hit hard by poverty, low literacy rates, joblessness and unemployment. NEP is silent on the big challenges of discrimination faced by   Dalit, SCs science of performance’, marginalized communities and minorities. For them the issue of survival is more important than justice. SEDGs fall short of all the required standards for taking advantage of the mainstream opportunities. Evidences are many  for literacy of SED target groups falling  below the Minimum Levels of Learning(MLL) . And it is stark. Just to cite one example, Reading comprehension achievement tests conducted by the International Association for Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IAEEA) covering 2000,000 children in 40 countries reports on the correlational evidences of such wide differences based on the basis of indices relates to characteristics of families, parental status, educational level, occupational or employment status and it fact depends on largely on economic, social and political resources (McNaughton 2011). There are enduring and pervasive differences found at national level across different states.

Differential Treatments for SEDGs      

In order to ensure equitable access to quality education to SEDGs NEP states in section 14.2

The dynamics and also many of the reasons for exclusion of SEDGs from the education system are common across school and higher education sectors. Therefore, the approach to equity and inclusion must be common across school and higher education.

For a sustainable reform these dynamics are not same, they are differential and therefore they need differential treatments. The trajectory of   achievement gaps and deficit learning manifests differently from the perspective of formal learning set ups where quality measures are regulated by scaling up norm referenced systems. Unfortunately, this never works for the economically vulnerable sections of our society. Though NEP talks of additional actions in section 14.3  for facets of exclusion in terms of deprivation of  various kinds of opportunities .But  it tilts more towards high quality norm –referenced measures where again we can finds traps for exclusion not inclusion.

For example formal accreditation measures if applied to SEDGs no institution evolved under SEDGs would be eligible for offering courses in vocational education, teacher education and need based ODL programmes or technology-enabled blended learning programs. In fact, concerns of   SEDGs becomes fundamentally incompatible with the given   standards of mainstream norm-referenced parameters. Assessment and  accreditation measures need to built upon contextually appropriate norms that may serve the interest of the target group.

NEP should consider giving thought and space  as much as possible on improving  areas of  low competencies or raising educational achievements especially for socio-economic disadvantaged target groups. It takes far more energy and work to improve from incompetence to attain the minimum levels of learning than  it takes to improve  from first-rate performance to excellence or catering to the best and brightest .Work done by Pratham Foundation in some states such as Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar and Asssam are noteworthy.

Rich getting richer

Given a degree of optimism indicated in the document, the challenges are complex in nature. The danger of ‘rich getting richer’ on the basis of having resources, opportunities and intellectual capital pushes the have-nots of the community on  margins. Lack of affirmative action or systemic interventions make children of the elite  developmentally progressive as against the regressive decline found in  children of the excluded. Will the ‘science of performance’ based on standards norms work for the diverse SEDGs. Given these conditions, cultivating learners as to ‘how to think’ or training them for ‘experiential learning’, ‘critical thinking’, revamped curriculum, autonomy, skill development   looks good on paper particularly  where crucial  issues  are  more related to survival, gaining employment or earning livelihood than concentrating on new or innovative ideas .

Concrete Measures

NEP needs to spell out policies so as how to meet the challenge of systemic educational differences arising out of differential resource allocations, or economic stratification. Affirmative action is required to address wide variations and continuing gaps across the SEDGs and mainstream groups.

How distinctive will be the differential,  instructional and contextually appropriate assessment models  under the  unchanged social and cultural conditions of  poverty and economic stratification is an issue that deserves more attention in NEP. This calls for an affirmative action much different from the scaling up the norm-referenced measures indicated in the document for  impacting the learning outcomes.  A lot of rethinking is needed to    mitigate the wide gaps between mainstream competitive learning environments and the different learning conditions of the SEDGs groups.

A case in point would have been  a policy formulation on mission for FLN to ensure  developmental sustainability directed at early grade levels with specific affirmative actions for SEDgs.  This  is what the document needs to answer. Does it examine the variability based achievement or learning outcomes envisaged in the document that are of special concern to the marginalized communities in the context of  Universalization of Education from pre-school to secondary level and RTE? And we look further ahead Why NEP  doesn’t talk about exclusive National Mission for capacity building or Teacher education or Vocational Education for SEDGs marginalized or minorities coming from  poor economic backgrounds or oppressed castes? It would have been great if NEP would have  suggested affirmative action plan for initiating measures for  culturally, linguistically and economically diverse children so as to meet the goals of Equitable and Inclusive Education as part of promoting  EQUALITY of status and  opportunity enshrined in Indian constitution.

Raising systematically their level of learning needs flexible and sustainable programme of Action coupled with individual pace of learning that would be connecting them to mainstream opportunities. This process of inclusiveness is missing in the document. Funds alone or adoption of new program  would make little difference. Developmental sustainability is needed rather not developmental progression that excludes the other. Without tasking it realistically it is not possible to ensure last mile delivery to almost 20 millions out-of-the school children inclusive of SEDGs. The tough job lies ahead.

Raashid Nehal teaches English at Aligarh Muslim University. He can be contacted at The views expressed are personal



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