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NEP 2020: Imperatives And Impact

The National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) goes a long way in addressing several gaps in the existing education system.

In ten days, India will celebrate its 74th Independence Day. In the last 73 years, the country did a major revamp of its national education policy twice – in 1968 and 1986. The recent revamp came an awful 34 years ago. Several things have changed since then. Technological advancements, along with the rapid expansion of the Internet, mobile, and communications, have deconstructed traditional value-chains and disrupted several industries. This has increased the knowledge-intensity of the economy. On the other hand, the increasingly multi-polar nature of the world, the sensitive geopolitical situation, and the prospect of globalization roll-back have raised the long-term risks. This is prompting the country to move towards self-reliance and amp-up its global competitiveness.    

In this backdrop of accelerated change, our success as a country largely depends on the capabilities of our people, especially of the working-age population (15-59). This is about ~66% of the 1.35 billion people. India will reap the demographic dividend provided our youth are equipped with education and skills relevant to the knowledge economy. There is no denying that we need to follow this up with creating enough employment opportunities.   

The National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) goes a long way in addressing several gaps in the existing education system. In this article, I will call out the top three areas of the higher education system where the NEP 2020 will have a significant impact.

Holistic, Multidisciplinary Curriculum: Every industry was experiencing digital disruption and digital transformation before COVID-19, which is accelerated now on account of COVID-19. Several initiatives in NEP 2020, if executed well, will facilitate the imparting of highly relevant and industry-specific education and skills to the youth.   

Let me enumerate this with an example. The automobile of the future, aka autonomous vehicle, is not the pure-play of mechanical engineering. It involves several other disciplines, including electrical and electronics engineering, sensor technologies, robotics, artificial intelligence, network infrastructure, and, most importantly behavioural science, to understand driver behaviour and social expectations. All these disciplines must integrate seamlessly to help produce a fail-proof autonomous vehicle that is safe and has smooth operations. From this standpoint, the emphasis of NEP 2020 on holistic, multidisciplinary courses, design thinking, mathematical thinking, and integration of humanities and arts with STEM education is a necessary step in the right direction. This apart, the flexibility in curriculum, entry and exit options, credit transfer options, and integration of vocational education into higher education will help create a rich set of skilled professionals useful across the value-chain of several industries.      

Teaching Quality & Pedagogy: The education outcomes of the majority of graduating students in Indian universities are sub-par. Several reports and surveys account for the poor employability of Indian graduates. This reflects poorly on the faculty – shortage, quality, and pedagogy. Also, faculty motivation in terms of teaching, research, and service remain far lower than the desired level. The NEP 2020 gives greater freedom to faculty in designing their own curricular and pedagogical approaches within the given framework. I am certain this will prompt and motivate the faculty to be more engaged in improving the teaching quality. The move to further incentivize excellence and penalize non-performance will certainly go a long way in improving the teaching standards and accountability. The Policy emphasizes technological interventions to improve teaching-learning, evaluation, teacher preparation, and professional development, enhancing educational access, etc. This will improve pedagogy, flexibility, and student-centricity. And will help produce readily employable graduate students from our universities.   

Expanding Research Capabilities: While the number of research publications from India has steadily increased over the years, the quality, relevance, and outcomes of research happening in the country are questionable and do not conform to international standards. Poor faculty quality, poor physical infrastructure, inadequate funding, and rigid disciplinary boundaries dominate academic research. Expanding the country’s research capabilities, improving the standards, and evolving culture of research is an urgent need for India to become a knowledge economy. The emphasis on research in NEP 2020 and the proposal to set-up the National Research Foundation (NRF) as an autonomous body augurs well to fast-track, improve quality, and synergize different research activities in the country. I am a strong proponent of strengthening industry-academia partnerships to produce industry-relevant research, to productize, and to monetize the same. It is gratifying to see NEP 2020 talk on similar lines.

Conclusion

NEP 2020 is a watershed moment for the Indian education system and a long-awaited policy initiative. The Policy is bold, comprehensive, and envisages large scale, transformational reforms in school and higher education. The overwhelming number of consultations and suggestions that have gone into shaping this policy is truly democratic, and I congratulate the Union HRD Ministry (Now, Ministry of Education) for undertaking this mammoth exercise. The MHRD Ministry should foresee challenges to the execution of this policy in letter and spirit. Education is a concurrent subject and the implementation of the Policy proposals largely depends on further regulations by both States and the Centre. Collaboration among all the stakeholders for a meticulous action plan is recommended.  

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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