Nelson Mandela said that education is the most powerful weapon with which you can change the world. As a nation that has become a force to reckon with, India is gearing up to face the challenges of the 21st century by revamping its education system to encourage holistic development, critical thinking, creativity, scientific temper, communication, collaboration, multilingualism, problem-solving, ethics, social responsibility, and digital literacy (NEP Draft, 2019).
The draft of the National Education Policy (NEP), a 484-page exhaustive policy has been crafted by an expert panel ‘Committee for Draft National Education Policy ‘, led by Padma Vibhushan Dr. Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan, a former chief of the ISRO. The committee reported that the process has been interactive, and consultations and opinions from public forums led to the development of a 6-month project into a 4-year long production.
Post-Independence India saw various commissions like the Radhakrishnan Commission, Kothari Commission, etc., and Part IV of the Indian Constitution, with Articles 45 and 39(f), have a provision for the state-funded education with equitable and accessible reaches.
The 42nd Amendment to the Constitution moved Education from the State to the Concurrent List, and this standardised the overall system at a national level. The 86th Amendment made the Right to Education an enforceable Fundamental Right (Article 21A). Subsequently, the Right to Education Act, 2009 provides for universal education.
More than three decades have passed since the last education policy was released, and the new education policies of 1986 and 1992 are serving as a guiding light to the current policy. Since then, a liberalised economy has led to the growth of 65% of an aspirational middle-class. Unfortunately, liberalisation in education has also created a category of ‘unemployed youth’. Hence, changes in the education system of the India is a justified policy priority.
National Education Policy, 2020
As a broad outline, the NEP proposes to achieve 100% Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in schools by 2030 at pre-school to secondary levels, and 50% GER in higher education by 2035. The NEP divides school education from the traditional 10+2 into four stages – Foundational (5 years), Preparatory (3 years), Middle (3 years), and Secondary (4 years). In doing so, it brings the 3 years of kindergarten or ‘pre-schooling’ into the ambit of formal education. This has been designed to ensure a seamless and inclusive transition from the pre-school ages to higher classes.
The much-awaited inclusion of children from 3-18 years instead of 6-14 years into Right to Education is a welcome move. The break-up of the foundation years into 5 years, with a strong emphasis on Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) and bringing children from ages 3-5 years under the ambit of formal education is a strong point of the NEP. A detailed, three-year, comprehensive Early Childcare Education framework for a low-cost cognitive stimulation of young children is an implementable framework, with the end-responsibility given to Anganwadi Centres, which are already present all over the country at local levels.
However, the drawback of this may be that Anganwadi workers are not highly paid, and whether or not they are able to take on the extra burden of a revamped system is debateable. Currently, their roles are essentially that of caretakers of children (they are not recognised government employees) whose parents often treat the mid-day meal as an incentive.
Preparatory and Middle Stages
The next four years of primary education (i.e., until grade 6) give emphasis to reading, writing, and numeric skills; there is a flexible approach to the three-language formula, and states have been given the autonomy to decide on the languages so long as two out of three languages are native to India. This has met with opposition in many non-Hindi speaking states who feel that the imposition of Hindi seems politicised. The medium of instruction till class 5 will be in the regional language or the mother tongue. It is being debated that in a country that places such importance on the use of English as a benchmark for employment, underprivileged children who do not have access to private schooling may be a part of a larger discriminatory pool in the future. There is no clarity on the medium of instruction or choice for children with parents in transferable jobs. At the same time, it is also believed that most underprivileged and marginalised children drop out of school as they cannot cope with English as a medium of instruction, and therefore, this permission to impart education in the language that a child can relate to will ensure fewer drop-outs. Many also cite the fact that the ‘aristocracy vs. meritocracy’ debate in India can be combatted by popularising linguistic multiplicity and reducing the dependency on English as a preferred language.
Grades 9 to 12 have been merged into an 8-semester framework, with a focus on moral and community level problems with regard to health, safety, socio-economic learning, current affairs, and the introduction of vocational courses with internships. Some radical recommendations for school education have been made in order to decrease the idea of rote learning to enable students to focus on developing independent thinking, scientific temper, and a logical mindset. New systems will include application-based assessment patterns, creating new school complexes and special education zones for backward areas. Another key feature is the introduction of Remedial Instructional Aides Programme and the National Tutor Programme (NTP) for academically weaker students and drop-outs. It also speaks of inclusive spaces for transgender children, specific restrooms, and curriculum, thereby accommodating the needs of civil groups. Board exams will be reformed as per the new policy, and the NEP proposes to set up PARAKH , a national assessment system centre as a standard-setting body under MHRD for all the recognised boards in India.
One of the main features for higher grades will be the merging of streams and freedom to choose subjects. This system will also require the end of the Junior College System, which offers two years of studies corresponding to those in the first two years of a four-year college and often offers technical, vocational, and liberal studies to the adults of a community. While this sounds idyllic, there is a lot of fine tuning required. States like Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, etc. may have to close down their Junior Colleges. Since the entrance examinations to colleges have not been specified in terms of subject criteria, freedom of choice and no segmentation of streams may not have practical implications. This emulation of the largely American format is more useful for children wanting to pursue higher education abroad. Until there is clarity on the change in the entrance criteria to professional colleges – on the ground – this segregation will be meaningless for students. NEP aims to reduce the coaching class culture; however, in a country where marks are the only criteria for admission, holistic development is a valiant objective but also seems far-fetched. Another point of focus in the NEP is the use of technology in teaching; however, there is a lack of clarity about how the digitisation of classrooms will take place in practice.
The proposal to remove expectations that all schools should meet the common minimum infrastructure and facilities comes with the inherent problem of lowering standards if stringent checks are not in place. Moreover, the introduction of cluster school vis-a-vis neighbourhood schools will affect the geographically marginalised, especially girls. Indeed, 23 million girls drop out of school between the ages of 10-13 years due to a lack of geographical proximity to schools. Hence, the focus should be on increasing funding for a greater number of neighbourhood schools. It is imperative to have a dialogue with the majority of teachers in order to avoid failures like the CCE assessment or the four-year Undergraduation (UG) programme in Delhi University (DU). The centralisation of curricula could also counter the principles of federalism and undermine the concurrent nature of education.
Implications for Reservation Status
The NEP is also silent on the 25% quota for economically weaker sections in private schools, which receive infrastructure support from the government. Privately funded schools are not bound to adhere to the rules of reservation, and this is in violation of Articles 15, 16, and 21 of the Constitution, respectively. There is no mention of the functioning of minority institutes, and this may affect Article 30, which gives them the right to administer their own rules and regulations. Much of this policy rests on the premise that 6% expenditure of the GDP will be utilised for education; however, consecutive governments have failed to do this in practice.
Higher Educational Institutions
In the NEP, higher educational institutions (HEIs) have been envisaged as multi-disciplinary institutions which would develop either into autonomous degree granting colleges or as part of a university. The undergraduate degree will be of a three- or four-year duration, with multiple choices to exit with appropriate certifications. An academic bank of credit will be established to digitally store academic credits so that these can be taken into account while awarding degrees. Flexibility of choice for a Master’s degree will be available. M.Phil. has been discontinued and establishing high quality HEIs will be a priority. A four-year integrated B.Ed. will become the minimum qualification for teachers and a National Research Foundation will be created to foster research culture in HEIs.
The NEP also proposes setting up an independent Board of Governors (BOG) to oversee the functioning of respective universities. One third of the members will be internal faculty, and there does not seem to be any elected representation in decision making. This is feared to be a measure for higher state control. Education ought to be independent of state control to continue the spirit of free inquiry.
Furthermore, Nandita Narain, Associate Professor at St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi, has called the NEP the “National Exclusion Policy” and a “blueprint for privatisation of education”. Other teacher unions have also been vocal against the commercialisation of education, in light of opening up HEIs to private investment.
The introduction of the NEP has been a much-needed reform in the context of India’s stagnating education landscape. Its introduction, if taken in an idyllic framework, represents the aspirations of India to become a global knowledge powerhouse of the world – capable of both adopting global best practices as well as setting its own global standards.
However, the key to its success will be to ensure that there is a comprehensive road map to implement the salient features. Education, by its very nature, should be accessible, affordable, and of high quality. Indeed, imparting quality education is one of the fundamental features of a ‘welfare state’ such as ours. While the NEP has several ingredients of a promising education framework, certain elements are open to unnecessary governmental interference and bureaucracy. Co-operative federalism needs to rise above politics and there needs to be active synergy between the various stakeholders in education policymaking and implementation.
Vikalp-NEP 2020, Mauma Dutta