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New Education Policy: Scoring A Hit?

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The policy aims at large-scale changes in the sector and an increased allocation of 6 percent of the GDP. Will this be enough to reduce the disparity among various groups and lead students into the 21st century?

By Shivanand Pandit

The Indian education sector got a makeover with the new National Education Policy (NEP). The cabinet has also favoured renaming the ministry of human resource development as the ministry of education. While the policy stipulates many changes, these have kindled much debate.

The NEP is a comprehensive scaffold to steer the progress of education in the country. It refers to guidelines and ideologies and deals with pedagogical methodologies, resource mobilisation, curriculum content and the possible impact on different groups.

The Indian education system is famous for its academic rigour and gained more recognition ever since 100 percent FDI was permitted in 2002. However, there is a wide gap between policy proposals and enactment due to social and political compressions and administrative lapses.

Since 1947, the government introduced various measures to quicken the growth of education in rural and urban India. After India adopted the Constitution, both state and central governments were accountable for education. The first NEP was announced in 1968 on the recommendations of the Kothari Commission. The policy upheld the need for radical restructuring of the education sector for superior cultural and economic progress. In 1986, the government of Rajiv Gandhi introduced a new NEP which tried to eliminate inequalities in the education segment. In 1992, the government of PV Narasimha Rao modified this policy and in 2005, the government of Manmohan Singh adopted a new policy centred on the “Common Minimum Programme” of the UPA.

In 2020, the NEP attained a new form with the Modi government’s policy stipulating many reforms. Two committees—TSR Subramanian Committee and K Kasturirangan Committee—took five years to make this NEP. Its important recommendations are:

  • Education will be mandatory for children of 3-18 years. Keeping the intellectual development of the child in mind, this structure has been divided into early childhood, school years and secondary stage. Early childhood education will comprise of three years of pre-school or anganwadi education and two years of primary education, i.e., Classes 1 and 2. Education from Class 3 to 5 will be included in preparatory or foundational stage with an emphasis on experimental learning. Class 6 to 8 will be the middle stage of school with an emphasis on analytical learning. Vocational education will begin from Class 6 and internships will be added. Class 9 to 12 will be included in the secondary stage with emphasis on analytical learning and elasticity in selecting subjects. This stage will have two divisions—Class 9 to 10 and Class 11 to 12. Although it is not compulsory, the policy endorses the mother tongue as the mode of teaching.
  • According to the new policy, the undergraduate degree will either be of three or four years. Many exit options will be provided. Certificates will be given by colleges after successful conclusion of one year in any stream (including vocational and professional courses), a diploma after two years of study and a bachelor’s degree after three years. The government will also set up an Academic Bank of Credit with the intention of digitally storing academic credits earned from higher educational institutions. This will help students resume their education from where they left off. To strengthen research and invention, a Na­tional Research Foundation will also be established.
  • The new education policy aims to augment the Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education from 26.3 percent to 50 percent within 15 years. To support this objective, there is a proposal of adding around 35 million new seats in higher education.
  • Colleges will be treated as “deemed to be university” and graded independence will be given to them to confer degrees. This will erase the affiliation or association with universities. The new policy has suggested a limit on fees charged by private higher educational entities. College entrance exams will be conducted twice every year by the National Testing Agency. MPhil would be stopped, easing the way into a PhD after a master’s degree.
  • The policy also aims to open up the sector to foreign educational institutions. Well-liked global universities will be assisted in entering India and popular Indian ones will be helped to go universal. Phasing out of all organisations proffering solo streams is also on the anvil and the policy suggests that all educational institutions must aim to become vibrant, multi-disciplinary ones within 20 years.
  • The policy intensely focuses on Indian languages, knowledge systems, culture and values. Also, with the purpose of digitalising schools, the National Education Tech­no­logy Forum will be formed.
  • Board examinations will test competencies and embolden complete development. Students will be permitted to take these exams up to two times during any given academic year—one main exam and one for improvement, if preferred.

An examination of the policy reveals that it only offers a direction and is not compulsory. It is only a policy, not a law. Education is a concurrent subject and the various reforms propositioned can only be executed conjointly by the centre and states. The large disarray between them does not allow smooth implementation of the policy.

Also, for any policy to be a national vision, it should be discussed and adopted by Parliament. Otherwise, it runs the risk of being upended by the next government.

By promoting regional and local languages, the policy keeps English on the backseat. This is not a welcome move because English gives us a global advantage as it is the language the world speaks.

While the policy is welcoming towards the best foreign educational institutions, it is silent on how it will define or select them. Moreover, are global universities interested in entering India? That is the main question. In 2013, approximately 20 foreign universities including Yale, Cambridge, Bristol and Stanford had shown no interest in entering the Indian market.

Even though the government has fixed a deadline of 2040 to execute the complete policy, funds are urgently required. Sizeable investments will be required in infrastructure, technology and teachers’ training to fulfil the policy suggestions. The ministry of education feels that an increase in government funding to the tune of 6 percent of the GDP will be sufficient for this policy to be implemented. However, no government has managed to spend so much on education. It has rarely exceeded 3.1 percent of the GDP in the last six years and was the lowest in 2015-16 at 2.4 percent.

Any policy is as good as the ink it is written with. Nevertheless, the NEP lays down a radical dream for education and its real impact will be assessed in the execution. Hopefully, this will be a treat and not another trick of fake promises.

—The writer is a tax specialist and  financial adviser

Lead image: Union HRD minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank (left) presenting a copy of the NEP to President Ram Nath Kovind. Credit: PIB

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