The Ministry of Human Resources and Development (MHRD) released the National Education Policy (2020), defining education and what certain opportunities in education can offer in a utilitarian manner. This is reflective of the policy itself, which provides a framework for internalization and a complete revamp of the current education system in India.
Multiple agendas such as equity and inclusion in education, EdTech, conceptual understanding, etc. have been regarded as principles necessary to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” (Agenda for Sustainable Development, 2030). The following is a critical examination of the policy, based on the varied responses it has been receiving.
The evolution of NEP is rooted in the idea of a uniform education system introduced during the British Raj, and the evidential form developed by The Kothari Commission in the mid 1960s. The Indira Gandhi government formulated the first National Education Policy, promoting free and compulsory education, status, emoluments and education of teachers and development of languages. Subsequently, NEP was led by Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao in 1986 to introduce equity and quality in education. NEP 2020 is said to replace the 1986 one, attempting to provide a holistic approach towards learning.
Drawing inspiration from the precolonial system of education, the policy attempts to bring back the fundamental notion of multidisciplinary approach towards learning. It says, “The rich heritage of ancient and eternal Indian knowledge and thought has been a guiding light for this Policy. The pursuit of knowledge (Jnan), wisdom (Pragyaa), and truth (Satya) was always considered in Indian thought and philosophy as the highest human goal. The aim of education in ancient India was not just the acquisition of knowledge as preparation for life in this world, or life beyond schooling, but for the complete realization and liberation of the self” and lists Takshashila, Nalanda universities as ideal examples.
Budget & Finances
The allocated budget for the education sector this year is 5% more than the previous financial year and yet, stands at approximately 3.4% of our GDP.
The policy quotes that the current public (Government – Centre and States) expenditure on education in India has been around 4.43% of GDP (Analysis of Budgeted Expenditure 2017-18) and only around 10% of the total Government spending towards education (Economic Survey 2017-18). However, The Kothari commission in the 1960s envisaged the public expenditure for education to be around 6% of our GDP. The NEP document aims to work on this, in accordance to the Centre and States by financing infrastructure and resources. It also includes that the government is seeking private philanthropy along with external funding of the activities managed in school. This can be deemed as positive, given the widened gap between rural and urban education due to privatization.
However, the will to increase public expenditure for education would be a multiplier effect if the institutions do not further allocate the finances and return it to the consolidated fund as done so previously. (See: https://www.businesstoday.in/union-budget-2019/budget-2019-govt-underspends-budget-allocated-for-education-in-4-out-of-last-5-years/story/361606.html)
The policy also seeks to bring in more transparency in the fees structure by stating that all higher education institutions should disclose the fees charged and any profits should be reinvested in the sector. It treats all educational institutions as a ‘not-for-profit’ entities, with complete guidelines for public disclosure of financial matter, calling this a ‘light but tight’ approach.
Areas of Focus
Keeping flexibility, choice, research and technology as the 21st century focal points, the policy document introduces a new academic structure, replacing 10+2 system with 5+3+3+4 system. Extensively reviewing the present model that has forced students into ‘rote learning’, the new framework values logical and critical thinking, activity-based learning and assessment. This also promotes subjects such as visual and performative arts, humanities and social sciences that have been losing its value against STEM courses. Provision of an experiential learning module with the help of technology has been listed under the curriculum for a multidisciplinary education, including enhancement of research in all levels of education. These policy changes are far sighted and aimed to improve the competency and digital literacy of the population by 2035.
The key area that has received a lot of changes in NEP is the schooling system. And rightly so, as the early developmental stages determine our holistic approach towards learning. A stronger system of accreditation has been formulated with standard checks by State School Standards Authority (SSSA), State and National Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT and NCERT).
With respect to recruitment of teachers, the policy provides a stringent qualification criterion based on educational history, and the ones to be trained have been focussed under the National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education (to be implemented by 2021). This fails to mention how the present faculty would receive training, or conduct classes on the new learning approach designed.
This could act as a pushback in terms of lacking perspective among teachers at the position of convincing parents about the educational reforms. Students’ free will to make choices regarding their career has not been paid attention to, and can serve as a disadvantage.
Although the website of NEP explicitly mentions the consultation framework and the process of discussion from the Gram Panchayat till the National Task Force, recognizing that the country faces a severe learning crisis, the lack of educational surveys and data that address the shortcomings of the present education system is daunting.
For example, the policy has been framed in accordance to public and private schools with respect to curriculum, pedagogy, etc. However, there is no data collected from private schools on its working, admissions, outcome or finances. The National Achievement Survey (NAS) that has been utilized does not include private unaided schools.
The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) explicitly opens the cracks in the present education model; low pupil to teacher ratio, only half the percentage of class five students being able read class two level material. Thus, the proposed model of curriculum can be assumed to be too far sighted as it fails to bring in a systemic solution and rather, pushes for an international model for which the students may not be ready to adapt to.
Even though NEP mentions that philanthropic works and commercialization of institutions are promoted and welcome, it does not explain the process with regards to the depths of the education sector, in terms of resources remote institutions, monitoring of teachers, activity based learning and even sex education.
The policy has also not been framed in accordance with other social policy frameworks for children such as Integrated Child Development Services, developed by the Ministry of Women & Child Development. This, if done so, could have been an integrated system addressal. However, it does account for educational frameworks such as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, Mid-day Meal program, etc. and improvises along the lines of nutritious meals, making education compulsory till 12th standard, improving Anganwadi centres and annual health check-ups for school children. The 5+3+3+4 pedagogical structure also addresses the high dropout rate present in the primary and secondary education by providing multiple entry and exit certifications into academics. In addition, the policy aims to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education, including vocational education from 26.3% (2018) to 50% by 2035, through the improvement of higher education institutions. Even though this can be positively appreciated, it should also be noted that the main reasons for dropping out or students not enrolling into institutions is not entirely based on the functioning of the institution.
The bigger picture of this policy has been deconstructed since its release along the lines of a push towards Hindu nationalism. But on a closer look, it is quite a conundrum. The removal of the English language till 5th grade, making it optional for higher education is understood as an impetus to promote regional culture, language and reimagining a self-sufficient country from its independence from the English, truly. The decolonization argument does survive, but fails to account for the struggles that students might have to face in the future with respect to attaining jobs where proficient English is a prerequisite. Furthermore, the diversity in languages among states itself questions what ‘mother tongue/local language’ mean in the medium of instruction addressed for primary education. Projecting this farther, there are high chances of an increase in the inequality gap between rural, semi urban and urban students wherein there are higher chances of the former two choosing their local language over English, limiting their educational and job opportunities, having an impact on economic migration and employment. This does not mean to curb regional promotion. However, the implementation of regional languages at the cost of avoiding a widely spoken language should be reviewed.
Widely known that the quality of education in the demographics differs, the shift from exam-based assessment to activity and peer-based assessment would not be a feasible method, given that the curriculum is now designed for critical thinking and learning. As several students and schools have never been exposed to such a system, it is difficult to expect how they would fair. The policy would not only affect students on the basis of demography, but also on class and caste. The basic tenet of uniform education system is to provide equality of opportunity, which is truly achieved when the outcome is the same, regardless of social factors, showing that such an achievement is a tad bit utopian. Assuring equity is pertinent, which the policy aims to ensure by providing “special mechanisms for tribal, SC/ST/OBC to receive quality education and focus on their learning outcome”. This itself does not account for the prolonged notion of how education has been perceived by these social groups such as “affording an English education” and “asserting an identity beyond their social status”. Again, this would add to the gap between the elite and the backward communities, where liberal education is perceived to be elitist.
The idea of internationalization of our education system through a multidisciplinary approach hints at the propagation of the idea of our country being self-sufficient. Now that international universities are allowed to set up campuses in the country, the policy seeks for an inward development while the historical economic perspective has been otherwise. As a developing nation that has a strong production network and outflow of human resource, which has enabled it to emerge as a prominent power in the global south, the revamping of the education system is a bold move to reshape its long-term position among the major powers among the sovereign nations.
Until Further Notice
The working of The NEP 2020 is not determined by the policies stated as much as it lies in its execution. Public investment, recruitment, training and expenditure are required tools to review this longstanding system that we are a part of. The outcome, though, can be observed through just two stakeholders: the performance of students, and of educational institutions. Thus, it now lies in the emphasis laid upon the implementation and monetization of this policy by the government and private institutions.
Given that education is a part of the concurrent list based on the 42nd amendment in the Constitution of India, the policy intends to carefully plan, monitor and implement collaboratively between the Centre and the states, implying that NEP should be seen as a collective goal to achieve, irrespective of the board of education in the states and aided or unaided institutions. The actions taken should cater to the demographic dividend that exists across the spectrum of class, caste and gender. The draft released in 2019 was not approved by many states where the opposition party was in power. Therefore, it now depends more on politics than policy to see a powerful outcome.
The approval of NEP without debate or discussion in the union cabinet amidst arrival of the first fleet Rafale Fighter Planes and the Bhumi Pujan in Ram Temple, Ayodhya, reflects the seriousness of the implementation even though the centre explains that the MHRD would work with state governments, Central Advisory Board of Education. However, the document does not explain how this would be phased out, especially since it is a complete restructure and is scheduled to be adapted in 2021. Since the ruling party has been more vested in gesture politics, this action and the policy itself could also be viewed in the same lens.