On July 29, the Union cabinet gave nod to the National Education Policy, 2020. The third of its kind, it is expected to revamp the entire education system and bring it at par with international standards.
The first National Education Policy was submitted in 1968 under the then UGC chairperson DS Kothari. The second NEP was submitted in 1986 and revised in 1992 during PV Narasimha Rao. This is the third NEP prepared by a team under ISRO chairperson K Kasturirangan.
A document that runs into more than 60 pages, it gives a comprehensive idea about the outline of the new policy. Starting from pre-school to higher education, the NEP covers almost all aspects. A preliminary reading indicates massive changes and an overhaul of curriculum ensuring a focus on core subjects and a thrust to the practical and experiential aspect of learning.
Let us take an account of the big takeaways from the policy.
Instead of the prevalent 10+2 system, the policy proposes a 5+3+3+4 system which corresponds to age groups 3-8 years, 8-11 years, 11-14 years and 14-18 years. This means the education system will include pre-school children from age 3 to 6 and we can hope that it will not only rope in the anganwadi system but also extend benefits of Right to Education to children below 6 and above 14 years of age. This is important as pre-school years lay the foundation of a child’s learning and a holistic approach to ensure continuity will help.
The policy also suggested that wherever possible, children till grade 5 should be instructed in their respective mother tongue or the teacher should use bi-lingual medium of instruction. This is meant for both public and private schools.
In place of annual exams, the students will face exams at grade 3, 8, 10 and 12. The aim in these examinations will be to assess how much a student has learned conceptually than to assess their capacity to commit and reproduce ready answers.
The policy proposes an interesting idea – a 10-day bagless program sometime within grade 6-8 with the local artisans aimed at learning the skill. This is a shift from just theoretical education and emphasises on skill development.
Coming to higher education, the focus is on first of all improving the Gross Enrolment Ratio from 26% to 50% by 2035. The affiliation system of universities will be slowly phased out and all institutions will become multidisciplinary arenas of learning. The policy also aims at doing away with rigid disciplinary boundaries and students from one stream will be able to choose a discipline from the other.
In higher education, undergraduate degree will be for four years and there will be multiple exit points. Aiming to decentralise and give more leverage to the colleges, they will be given more autonomy to design their courses and manage their finances.
Bodies like UGC and AICTE will be replaced by a central body called Higher Education Commission of India. The policy also responded to a long term demand of increasing investment in the sector and decided to raise it to 6% of GDP. Top 100 universities of the world will be invited to compete in Indian education sector.
The National Education Policy has huge potential to redo the education system. It moves away from the tendency to impose traditional assessment systems and focuses on knowledge creation. Its thrust on Indian learning will be worth observing. However certain sections of the academia have raised some pertinent issues. Dealing with them is of utmost importance to ensure that the policy not only promises but delivers.
To start with, while the policy treats both public and private schools and institutes similarly, there is a possibility that policies like teaching in mother tongue will be implemented in a lopsided manner in public institutions. As it is not compulsory, private institutes are not bound to follow. If this happens, it will further widen the gap between the students and put the students of public institutions in a disadvantageous position. Talk of skill development will be incomplete if students are not equipped linguistically to compete in the global markets, especially in comparison with countries like China.
While internships from grade 6 sounds good, there is a risk that it will further entrap students. A student from an urban area might take up music, fine arts while a student from a rural area might just take up farming which is easily accessible. This will foreclose their scope at social mobility. Only if trained teachers make more options available especially at rural level, this will further re-entrench the vicious circle of poverty.
The four year graduation program was implemented in Delhi University during the first regime of Narendra Modi. Even then, many pointed out that multiple exit points will ensure that students from vulnerable background drop out because they have the option. Especially girl students might leave before completing graduation owing to familial, social pressures to get married.
There is also no clarity as to which foreign universities will be invited to India. Which ranking will be followed and how will they operate. Even during UPA-2 some top ranking universities were invited but the response was lukewarm. Foreign universities usually work with established Indian universities through student exchange programmes and all. Much has to be clarified here. Affiliating universities also depend financially on colleges to meet certain fund requirements. If affiliation is done away with, universities should be supported so that the onus is not transferred to the students. Colleges in the name of autonomy and self financing should not burden students further with higher tuition fees.
The thrust on ‘Indian’ education have also raised many eyebrows. What is Indian is an amalgamation of diversity from Kashmir to Kanya Kumari. In such a situation students should be exposed to this diversity equivocally and not merely provided a uniform picture. Also the increased funding in education needs to be further clarified in terms of source.
The NEP 2020 is full of potential. Bringing public and private institutions under same set of rules and regulations might bar the cropping of private institutions of dubious nature. Education like everything else must be updated from time to time. But this should be done by taking on board all stakeholders and assuaging their concerns. There is a genuine fear that this will further neoliberalise the education sector and turn education into a privilege instead of rights. It is pertinent that this concern is addressed. The huge infrastructural requirements starting from student-teacher ratio should be improved.
Education is a concurrent subject and NEP is a policy unlike RTE which is law. The document gives a broader outline and states will have to come forward in implementing it. While some BJP-ruled states are already committing to implement it at the earliest, the other non-BJP states are critical. The need is to put the nation’s requirement above these and ensure that not a single child, youth is denied and left behind. Only then the NEP 2020 can provide much expected path breaking guidance to the people.