NEP - An Indian Ethos

The draft suggests a multi-disciplinary higher education system and a simplified university system, to emphasise on professional, humanities and pure science streams.

The National Education Policy (NEP) proclaims “Curriculum and pedagogy will be transformed by 2022 in order to minimise rote learning and instead encourage holistic development and 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, creativity, scientific temper, communication, collaboration, multilingualism, problem-solving, ethics, social responsibility, and digital literacy.” These attributes in a policy that kept the country waiting for more than three decades are most welcome. Certainly, a good attempt to collate all required skills. Learning pedagogies and assessment methodologies gestate long before changing. Six long years of work in progress has culminated in some worthy suggestions and some concerns. The increased stress on investments in education and skill development especially after they saw a downward slide in the last four years, is both welcome and much needed in a country with more than 60% population below 30 years of age.  

That the document steers clear of epithets like “Socialism and Secularism which were a part of earlier education policies is a step in the right direction. Education policies must handhold long term economic policies in the country. This policy attempts to set economic directions through the delivery of education, for 'Atmanirbarata' that the PM spoke about. Sustainability and stability of economic reforms associated with governments adhering to the socialism of the 21st century have been constantly questioned. Haven’t we seen the Bolivarian government of Venezuela almost collapse due to their economic policies that led to shortages in Venezuela, a high inflation rate and a dysfunctional economy? Though Socialism believes that the means of making, moving, and trading wealth should be owned or controlled by the workers and that everything in society is made by the cooperative efforts of the people and citizens, its imprint within a globalised world was never sought to be changed and remained dogmatic. On the other hand, the principle of separation of the state from religious institutions is often treated as secularism. Its interpretation has always been to meet political ends. In today’s context, Pluralism or the "doctrine of multiplicity" in logic could be a better way to define our existence. The Education policy does well to establish the Indian ethos.  

The country needs an equitable education to serve all kinds of disparity whether, caste, class, religion, gender or disability-based especially in the aftermath of a drop in the functioning of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan, by 31% and 71% respectively in 2017. One important parameter that defines equity is curriculum. NCERT and SCERT would do well to address all concerns past, present and future irrespective and in spite of the right or left inclined critics. That the Policy envisages a 6% GDP for education augurs well for the objectives set.  

In a country where a premium is attached to education by every family, rich or poor, the draft signals setting up new schools and establishment and merging of new institutions, an idea worth exploring. Replacing the UGC by a Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) is a much-needed reform that can promote greater autonomy and focus on better academic outcomes with facilitating and enabling provisions. 

The NEP correctly though a little ambitious, lays stress on a 100% and 50% enrolment at the primary and Higher education respectively. Massive funding is needed to realise these goals. One suspects, the recommendations seem to rely more on hope than experience.   

The recommendation to change the structure of the school with a start from 3 years of age, merging 9-12 standards into a possible 8-semester framework, replacing current assessment with application-based assessment pattern, creating new School Complexes and Special Educational Zones for backward areas is a radical and brave idea. Including preschool with the government school system will provide infra and logistic challenges and free control suggestion in private schools can pose legal challenges. Revamping under-graduate education with multiple entry and exit options is innovative. However, it requires the employment markets to be equally dynamic. A recommendation separating the regulation of schools from aspects such as policymaking, school operations, and academic development and recommendation of creating an independent State School Regulatory Authority in each state prescribing basic uniform standards for public and private schools may bring about logistics challenges.  

The policy talks of teaching in local language ‘Wherever possible’. A great idea to preserve Indian languages. However, the government schools operating under state boards teach only in the local language. It is the private schools that rose to cater to the aspirations of parents and students and started English medium schools. And so, students moved from government schools to private schools. Reversing this paradigm is fraught with legal challenges besides a need for political acumen.   

The draft suggests a multi-disciplinary higher education system and a simplified university system, to emphasise on professional, humanities and pure science streams. Phasing out complex nomenclature such as ‘deemed to be university’, ‘affiliating university’, ‘unitary university’ and retain only terms as public, private, or private-aided is much needed. Pitching for multidisciplinary research universities or comprehensive teaching universities appears rational, though a debate of a teaching institute that also does research or a research institute that also does teaching will go on forever, whatever be the recommendation. Any regimentation of education can only be counterproductive.  

One major disconnect of Indian Universities has been the research quotient of our universities and disconnect with the industry. Research without patents and IPR’s is a cause for concern. Innovation, variously understood has always been on the side-lines. The draft NEP’s recommendation of a new authority, the National Research Foundation (NRF) though a good idea, could be limited in effectiveness, given that Higher education financing agency (HEFA) also has similar functions.  

A National Mission on Education through ICT to enable virtual laboratories to provide remote access to laboratories in various disciplines will certainly prove useful but in itself cannot substitute the real. Blended learning instead of disaggregated distance or online learning paradigms would have added value.   

Any policy must connect education with available opportunities of employment. The employment opportunities too must grow many times. Programs that allow for this exposure and provide students with tangible outcomes must be started in every district and every village. The draft is fairly impressive in setting a future direction. However, the centre must ensure that the policy does not face litigation, state resistance and operational challenges hitting the ground for the road to success and the road to failure are almost exactly the same.   

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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