National Education Policy 2020 – Are We Walking The Talk?

A policy of such nature in a country with diverse interests, diverse cultures, diverse languages and diverse thought architectures would not be able to really meet the personal and social interests of all individuals and communities.

The draft version of the National Education Policy 2020 or the NEP 2020 had been going to & fro for many months in Year 2019 and started to move out of mind share as we entered the new Year 2020. The pandemic further ensured that most conversations and the many multiple webinars focussed on the problems faced by children, parents and teachers with school buildings shutting and how online classroom delivery was the new buzzword to keep the continuity of learning going. Teachers rose to the occasion, parental views started getting divided on sensitive issues like fees and the benefits (or lack of it) of Online learning by their children, School Trustees and management kept treading on a fine line to manage the school deficits and folks kept opining on the environment in many forums. Amongst this din and plethora of opinions and comments and views from educationists, media folks, parents, school owners and many education departments of state governments, MHRD, GOI on one morning of August 2020 smartly released the National Education Policy without any warning to anyone….and lo behold, as expected the entire narrative around education in India now shifted to this new policy that has now become official after clearance from the cabinet.   

I was not even born when the first set of policy-making happened for Indian education in the late 1950s and then the 1960s.  I had just crossed my teens when the last NEP was conceived in 1986. In that sense for me to see and study a NEP after three and a half decades is definitely one of the milestones in my life…especially given how the world has changed, how India has changed and how the thinking process of the next generation of learners have changed. I have been speaking with many renowned academicians, policymakers (including a few who were part of the previous NEP), current and ex bureaucrats, new age parents, parents of the generation gone by, field Practitioners like Principals and Teachers, content writers and also the consistent vehement critics to any new initiative that comes out. One common thread of thought comes across everyone while describing the NEP in a single sentence is “The document looks progressive and is in the right direction but the real test lies in its interpretation and implementation” – After having read it in its entirety and in context of what the earlier NEPs were and given the times we are in, I believe that “the policy document as a guideline sets the right tone and framework for making India a nation of thought leaders, vision executors and nation builders without letting go of the roots that form the rich and diverse culture of the motherland that we belong to.” 

So while there are tons of points in the NEP that can be delved into and debated, I am taking the liberty to pick up a few which I see as most relevant given the context of time and comparison with the earlier ethos that drove our education values.  

  1. The policy is customised for India and is India centric 

The focus on the earlier policies was on globalization and global practices. The 1952 Policy (then called commission) conceptualised education, the 1968 policy brought in the 10+2 schooling format and took 10 years for all states to implement the same. The 1986 Policy was designed around ICT with an objective to bring about a scientific temper. We are in Year 2020. This is an era where the focus has to be to connect knowledge and deploy the same effectively. The context demands a repositioning, especially with India trying to seek its place and status as a competitive global leader in various dimensions of political, economic, industrial and social designs. Unless the policy focuses on an India-centric approach, the passion for local enterprises, opportunities for exploring our skills, the efforts for seeking global markets would slowly vanish. Further, it rehabilitates the Indian mind and knowledge assimilated over thousands of years, as an opportunity to a fast-changing world seeking to rediscover itself with Peace and prosperity.  

  1. Focus on Early Child Education  

While the earlier policies have certainly addressed to the issues of Universalization of primary education and further to the universalization of school education, the gap between goals and achievements has continued to exist, thanks to wastage in our efforts in our designs, actions and priorities. This policy has appreciably brought in the much-needed focus on development from 0-3 and 3 – 6 years which was never considered in earlier policies. Extensive researches in cognitive development, both at the pre-natal stage and post-natal stages, clearly indicate the importance of its nurture as vital to the futuristic intellectual, emotional and social profile of the individual. Sequencing early education in a package of 5-year scheme is in tune with the psychological development processes. Further, there is also evidence to show that brain development is faster, intensive, extensive and larger up to the age of 8- enabling curiosity, search and skills. Research also indicates the opportunities for extensive language skills and competencies during this period of growth. The formal system of educating the formative years of a child has to be replaced through informal learning content designed to make the entire absorption process fun and interesting for the early natural learner.  The fear of exams and being positioned competitively happens at this stage and the new NEP attempts to drive that fear away through an entirely different process of evaluation. However, education of the families, parents and society with regard to the physical, emotional and developmental profiles in these years of growth has to be taken up extensively through a parallel training of parents and high parent engagement programs to ensure their buy into this change. 

  1. Perception to English Compulsion gives way to options of Multilingualism 

Language has very strong emotional and cultural content, thereby creating positive ownership and belongingness to the motherland and its tongue. This is also useful to help create a social fabric both at the national and global level for co-existence. The socio-political and economic growth dimensions do call for skills and abilities in multiple languages.  The NEP move to enable learning at the formative level in mother tongue is a welcome step to keep the learners in comfort zones for purposeful and extensive learning. With making three language formula more flexible accommodating study of any modern Indian language as an opportunity, the decision of the government appears to be much broader-based and appeasing to all linguistic segments. The objective to help children have the freedom to learn through selective priorities of learners than to learn the way the Policy warrants would be met through the NEP. Any suggestion to downplay the importance of language as against science and technology is an outcome of regressive thinking and inability to understand the diversity of India.   

  1. Reforms in curriculum 

We live in an era where 5-year-olds learn how to google on the smartphone, 15-year-olds write blogs and articles and 21-year-olds become entrepreneurs. The NEP recommended reforms have been in approaches to the curriculum including a focus on experiential learning, technology-enabled learning, integrated learning, inclusive approaches to content with co-scholastic inputs, suggestions on the use of Artificial intelligence, Virtual Reality, Coding and Blended learning are all forward-looking and harmonious with the transformations in our knowledge systems and knowledge processing. They are essential to make the next generation to stay in tune with their contemporary systems.  

  1. Revisiting Assessments 

The NEP has recommended revisiting assessments patterns to make them more credible, valid, realistic and localized. The focus on self-assessment, peer assessment and teacher-led assessment is indeed a blended recipe if the right systems are put in place. The fear of learning because of assessments can largely be diffused through technology-driven digital assessment patterns that evaluate a student right from the beginning and in a formative manner than allowing the final examination to become the single point decision-maker on the child’s future. The Governments, both at the state level and the central level should take initiatives to make the government schools and its students, technology sensitive and competent. There is an attempt to make the Focus to shift from ‘Achievement’ to ‘pursuit of excellence’ and if implemented well can become a Game Changer with the new NEP.   

  1. Focus on improving the quality of Government schools

There is a recommendation of spending about 6% of the GDP on education. The number has been recommended even 3 decades back and yet the Indian Government has been spending on an average 2.3 to 3% of the GDP on possibly one of the if not the most important tool to build India. Having said this, apart from the focus to increase the spends, the focus has to shift to how effective and productive is the way the current expenditure is being spent. All data indicates that by and large, good quality education delivery is compromised in government schools in India. Political interventions, presence of multiple departments with overlapping responsibilities with lack of coordination and collaboration between them, the yawning gap in the continuous professional development of teachers, deployment of government teachers to various non-professional activities, lack of motivation due to low professional esteem and various other considerations haunt the quality pursuits of government schools. While ‘subsidy’ and ‘free’ education is vital for social justice and to ensure the deprived to be active and engaging participants in social architectures, non-provision of good quality education will be roadblocks to these glorious goals. Conscious efforts with accountability need to be put in place including much better models to encourage effective Public-Private Partnerships in School education. Suggestions of NEP to have school clusters for administration is indeed a wise and pragmatic suggestion to weave confidence through collaborative efforts.  

  1. Teacher Empowerment 

Critical to successful implementation of the vision of the NEP is teacher empowerment. The NEP in its draft has acknowledged without reservation, the evils that exist in our teacher education alongside the poor quality of the curriculum, fake colleges, unethical practices of certification and others. The Government’s attempt to put in place some fresh thinking, by experts, drawn from different fields to re-articulate the curriculum liberating it from the controls of the dogmas in which they are imprisoned is welcome. Acknowledgement that the Indian Teacher is the centre of the education reforms is an important step to ensure regaining of the lost status on a global platform. The belief in ancient thought processes in defining and empowering the teacher are not alien to modern education. The teacher development processes should be akin to developing belief in Indian ethos, competence and wisdom.  

In conclusion, it is important to acknowledge that a policy of such nature in a country with diverse interests, diverse cultures, diverse languages and diverse thought architectures would not be able to really meet the personal and social interests of all individuals and communities. Somewhere it has to strike a balance, somewhere it has to define its pragmatic existence and somewhere it should become administratively feasible. With several new gateways to open education to more pragmatic and sensitive purposes, the new National Education policy has done a respectable job. However, the speed and effective implementation will need 5 key support systems ie. Teacher Empowerment, Technology Innovation, Change in Assessment patterns, Parallel Parent Engagement and an openness to have private sector and public sector co-exist. The NEP and its execution should undergo a review every 2 years if our education system has to focus on developing self-esteem, self-confidence and self-actualization both at the individual level and at the national level.  

(Vinesh Menon, the author of this article is the CEO-Education, Skilling & Consulting Services, Ampersand Group) 

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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