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Education Reform

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The declaration of the New Education Policy on Wednesday underlines the fact, once again, that the Modi Government’s commitment to large scale reform remains unabated despite the present trying circumstances. During its formulation, the NEP was much discussed and the opinions of a wide-ranging section of society invited. There was criticism and some foreboding among the experts, which was voiced in the media but, now, it has finally seen the light of day. Initially, it has been generally welcomed, but more detailed commentary can be expected in the days to come. There will be, eventually, a political divide in this context, but that is only to be expected.

Since it is a composite work, every person will see it from largely an individual perspective. Some will want a greater emphasis on particular aspects, while others may even question the overall philosophy, but the larger question will be whether it is implementable at the grassroots, where it counts the most. People are already pointing out that the policy has kept the states out of the loop, as they too have powers on formulating education policy under the concurrent list of the Constitution. One can expect that a Chief Minister like Mamata Banerjee will do her very best to keep it out of West Bengal as she has done with a number of central schemes.

The emphasis, of course, is on providing a level playing field to students across the country, as also the economic and social strata. The effort is to develop productive human resources and enhance employability. The decision to teach every child a trade at an early stage is an excellent one, not just from the point of view of future employment, but also that of imparting respect for practical skills. It is true that this will require considerable infrastructural and other changes from the primary school upwards, which is why experts are hoping that spending on education will be increased as a percentage of GDP. It will probably take a decade or more to improve the quality of teachers and impart the level of commitment necessary. At the same time, all of these reforms will remain pointless if Indians do not put a curb on the expanding population. Free schooling, free meals, etc., should not provide an incentive to have more children! Quite obviously, no one policy can make a change unless it is complemented by others to fill in the gaps. Hopefully, India’s so called demographic dividend, which has not entirely delivered thus far, will get its much desired competitive edge from these changes.