By Dr Kamal Ghanshala
Thirty-four years after the previous education policy (in 1986), the GOI released a New Education Policy (NEP) on July 29th, 2020. Development of a national education policy for a country as vast and diverse as India is no mean feat. Education in India faces a gamut of issues, to name a few, early childhood education, affordability, access, equity, sustainability, developing life-long learners, digitization, multidisciplinary approach, and most importantly employability in tune with a global marketplace. An extensive consultative process seems to have gone before the publication of the NEP-2020.
From rural hinterlands to urban areas, contributions have been sourced, ensuring a highly collaborative and democratic process in forming the policy. Eminent educationists have commended the NEP 2020 reforms with words like “long overdue”, “ground breaking”, “blending knowledge with skills” etc.
Acknowledging the importance of early childhood in the development of critical mental faculties, a new curricular and pedagogical framework is to be developed by NCERT. Children during the formative years from three to six are to be formally bought under a learning system. A serious attempt to ensure cent percent gross enrollment ratio (GER) by the year 2030 for all children till grade 12 has been proposed. To develop holistic learning and real-life skills, a much welcome focus on experiential learning, enhanced choices of subjects, eliminating boundaries between the humanities, the sciences and vocational streams has been emphasized. Thrust has been placed on early education in mother-tongue or regional languages. Long-standing reforms in reducing curriculum content in schools along with addressing rote-learning have been incorporated. A serious attempt to eliminate the menace of coaching institutes by the means of reforms in board exams for classes 10th and 12th has been proposed. Numerous remedies to address the educational requirements of disadvantaged groups have been incorporated. Ensuring exposure to different vocations by the means of exposure to activities in ITIs, polytechnics, local industries have been proposed for school children to encourage multi-disciplinary learning. A noteworthy innovation has been the involvement of social workers in schooling to address the increasing mental health challenges. Along with students the next most critical educational infrastructure are the teachers. Professional standards for teacher education, career management, performance evaluation, tenure, compensation, professional standards and competencies are noteworthy initiatives for the teaching profession.
One of the most ambitious goals is to almost double the current GER in higher education to 50% by 2035. The urgent need to cultivate a broad mindset and skill-set in higher education has been addressed by providing flexible subject combinations, emphasis on interdisciplinary knowledge and cultivation of critical soft-skills. Autonomy in curriculum design, assessment, and pedagogy adhering to the broad contours of higher education has been permitted. Taking into consideration, multiple sources of knowledge, from in-class to Open and Distance (ODL), graded exits from formal learning and a change from the big bang approach of examinations to a continuous and comprehensive evaluation is praiseworthy. Perhaps the most significant proposal has been the promotion of multi-disciplinary and research-based universities. These universities shall attempt to integrate teaching with research and community engagement. By recognizing the vitality of research culture to conquer the 21st-century problems, a National Research Foundation (NRF) is proposed to be established. Other significant measures are the promotion of Open and Distance Learning to achieve a GER of 50%, financial support to disadvantaged sections of the society, and graded Internationalization of higher education.
By encouraging greater institutional autonomy, academic excellence, innovation, it is proposed to grant graded autonomy over the next 15 years to all institutions of higher learning. A major reform in regulation has been the advocacy of self-disclosure over inspector raj. By eliminating multiple bodies attempting to regulate higher education, NEP 2020 proposes the establishment of a higher education commission to encompass governance, to accreditations, to grant-in-aid. Except for the legal and medical profession, all higher education bodies shall subsume under this new entity.
For institutions of higher learning, a majority of the proposals are much welcome. Major areas of impact are allowing students to customize their degrees, research-oriented approach, encouragement of entrepreneurship, coherence through a single administrative structure, emphasis on digital learning, cross-domain knowledge among others. By talking about raising public investment in education to about 6%, the government seems to have firmly communicated its commitment. The requirement now is for all the stakeholders to come together and realize this grand vision to leap forward in this century.
Education is the key to achieve the objectives enshrined in our constitution. It is critical to national power, equitable growth and achieving true human potential development. For India to stand out in the comity of nations in the knowledge era, exploiting the demographic dividend via education is the magic wand to stand out. The policy has uniquely identified the gaps in the current education landscape and proposed feasible solutions to address the gaps. By recognizing that the upcoming decades are going to be driven by machine intelligence and big data, the policy has smartly encouraged interdisciplinary skills and basic sciences. With sustainable development becoming inevitable, natural resources becoming premium and scarce, conservation and innovation through education in biology and chemistry have been suggested.
Going through the policy document, it is amply clear that the framers have identified the skills required for success in the digital age. By de-emphasizing rote-learning, encouraging critical thinking skills, vocational skills, innovation, due attention has been paid to pedagogy. The attempt to make education more holistic, experiential, flexible, learner-centred and discovery-oriented is laudable. A noteworthy aspect is a focus on well-rounded education through a curriculum eliminating boundaries between curricular and co-curricular activities. Education is of no use if it fails to address the needs of the deprived sections of society. The policy has taken special measures to address the education of deprived sections, women and those traditionally socially disadvantaged.
Conventional education has followed the book, failing to recognize the development of real-world skills for successful career outcomes. The NEP has addressed the importance of developing soft-skills. Drawing from a rich cultural heritage of arts, science, medicine and engineering curriculum has been duly tuned to incorporate our legacy to the learning ecosystem. Overcoming the drawbacks of earlier attempts to reform the educational sector, the policy has rightly identified that teachers are at the core of a successful educational outcome. Incentives and policy are in place to see that the best of our citizens are motivated to join the teaching profession. The NEP encourages the development of high-quality education along with access and equity.
NEP 2020 stands out with regards to the following features.
•Flexibility for learners by allowing for customization of course based on aptitude and interest. This is further reinforced by eliminating boundaries between arts and sciences, valuing co-curricular activities on par with traditional classroom learning.
•Taking a view rightly that the world requires a multi-disciplinary knowledge and holistic education.
•Addressing the elephant in the room and the bane of the Indian educational system, i.e., rote learning. This has been achieved by de-emphasizing board exams and centring on conceptual learning, critical-thinking skills and problem-solving skills.
•Explicitly targeting the development of life-skills for real-world success.
•One major lacunae in the education system has been the proliferation of the coaching culture. By shifting to formative assessment from summative assessment currently prevailing shall hopefully lead to more equitable educational outcomes.
•Long overdue recognition of learning in mother-tongue until the longest feasible time as the key to developing conceptual learning.
•Addressing all aspects of teachers from training to recruitment to career management. By putting teachers on a higher pedestal, a sincere attempt to attract top talent is being made.
•A much-needed end to the inspector license raj in education is being proposed. By ensuring priority to self-disclosure over inspections, the right message is being conveyed.
•Higher education institutions often complained of lack of autonomy. That has been adequately addressed by providing academic, pedagogical, governance and policy-making freedom.
•By the establishment of the National Research Foundation (NRF) the thrust on research and innovation culture as the key to national development has been underlined.
•Our education system based on the British legacy has subconsciously introduced bias against our heritage. This has been taken care of by rooting education in the rich cultural heritage and history of India.
NEP 2020 aspires to develop a globally competitive policy rooted in the Indian ethos for transforming India into a global superpower. NEP 2020 is a comprehensive master plan to overcome our inherent drawbacks in education across all levels from primary to tertiary. As the policy itself acknowledges, implementation holds the key to success. Education being on the concurrent list, it is hoped all the stakeholders in the public and private domain come together and aid in this national mission to transform India into a world power.
It’s all worth to mention that this new policy is a reflection of the mission and will of our political leadership. Under the able guidance and visionary leadership of our dynamic Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi , this policy has been drafted to reincarnate the future of the country. Very sincere commendations to Dr Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank , Cabinet Minister, Human Resource Development on whom this huge responsibility was entrusted with great faith and he and his team have done all justice to frame this futuristic policy for modern, forward looking and stronger India.
Dr Kamal Ghanshala is founder president of Graphic Era University, ranked among top 100 universities of India.