Kavita A. Sharma
The much-awaited National Education Policy 2020, replaces the 1986 Policy of Education, as amended in 1992. The latter was not considered a new policy. The new national policy has been made after an unprecedented consultation process. Over 2 lakh suggestions were received from the 250 lakh gram panchayats, 6600 blocks, 6000 urban local bodies, and 600 districts. Earlier, in May 2016, a committee under the chairmanship of TSR Subramanian, provided inputs for the evolution of a new education policy. In June 2017, a committee under the chairmanship of Dr K Kasturirangan, focused on the National Policy of Education. The draft report was submitted on 31 May 2019.
The Policy has generally been well received but clear guidelines are needed for implementing it. The devil, after all, lies in detail. The government will also have to exercise political will since several radical changes are envisaged, towards which, there is likely to be widespread resistance.
The policy envisages moving from 10+2 to a 5+3+3+4 structure to ensure age-appropriate curriculum and pedagogy. The different stages correspond to the Foundational stage (five years), Preparatory stage (three years), Middle stage (three years), and Secondary stage (four years).
The Foundational stage of five years covers children from the age of 3 to 8 years. It has three years of preschool, followed by two years of classes one and two. This is the first time that preschool has been included as part of policy. This is a progressive step as most active learning takes place at this stage. Also placing children in age appropriate classes will hopefully do away with multi-grade teaching.
The inclusion of pre-school, compulsory schooling now becomes a total of 18 years and not as earlier, up to 14 years. The emphasis is on continuous compulsory evaluation rather than on annual examinations. Examinations will only be held in classes 3, 5, and 8, while the ‘board’ examinations will be in classes, 10 and 12. Instructions up to class 5 will be in the mother tongue or in a regional language while English will be taught as a subject. The three-language formula will continue, but no language will be imposed on anyone. Information and Communications Technology (ICT) will be pressed into service for implementation and coding will be compulsory from Class 6.
School education will move to the semester system with credits for the courses studied so as to provide flexibility to students in the choice of subjects and do away with the concept of streams. Innovation and incubation of ideas, lateral and analytical thinking have been emphasized. Vocational training is to be integrated into school education for everyone together with application-based courses. The policy also emphasizes that children must learn about their heritage and study about the Indian thinkers and thought in various fields. However, to implement such far reaching changes, not only the school system will have to be revamped but also the university system or there will be a terrible mismatch.
Over 2 crore children who are out of the school system today are to be brought back to the education fold through open schools. In addition, a National Mission for Foundational Literacy and Numeracy is to be established to ensure that every student, by the time he reaches class 5, has basic reading, writing and mathematical skills.
The implementation of these laudable goals will require a massive expansion of infrastructure and revamping of teacher education. But most important is to treat the teachers with respect and not as low grade government servants who can be shunted to duties like census and election at the expense of teaching and evaluation. Any resistance from the teachers often results in arbitrary transfers causing much disruption in their lives especially if they are women with domestic responsibilities.
Some far-reaching reforms in higher education have been proposed. One is the restructuring of governance by bringing all regulatory bodies, other than those of professional education, under one platform of National Higher Education Commission. This is not a new concept; it had been earlier proposed by the National Knowledge Commission and subsequently by the Yashpal Committee. The National Higher Education Commission will consist of the National Higher Education Regulatory Council, Higher Education Grants Council, National Accreditation Council, and the General Education Council, to provide the educational qualification framework and set standards. Qualification and standards for professional education will be set by their respective bodies in fields such as agriculture, medicine, and law, among others.
A massive expansion of higher education is envisaged with the target of achieving 50 per cent gross enrolment ratio by 2035, from the current 26.3 per cent. The government proposes to raise spending on education to 6 per cent of the GDP from the current 4.6 per cent. The Kothari Commission (1964-66) had recommended this 40 years ago but it has remained on paper. Gradually, all HEIs will be given autonomy. This issue has been on the anvil from at least the 1960s, but only limited success has been achieved because of fault lines in the scheme itself together with faculty apprehensions.
According to the Policy, the private sector is also expected to play its part but without profiteering. Private Institutions will have to plough back their profit into the education sector itself. Compulsory accreditation of all higher education institutions (HEIs) will ensure quality. For transparency, they will need to put their vision and mission statements together with their practices on the website.
Undergraduate (UG) education is to be restructured, moving from the present three-year course to a four-year course with multiple entry and exit points. During transition, both the three-year and four-year structures will be acceptable. Post-graduation (PG) will be two years for the three-year undergraduate course, and one year for the four-year undergraduate course. It is ironical that the four year undergraduate programme should now be part of policy because the government had vociferously opposed it seven years ago when it was sought to be implemented in Delhi University,
All courses, whether at the UG or PG level, will be credit-based and a semester system will be followed. This in effect means that the semester system will be followed from school education up to postgraduate education. Transfer of credits will be allowed from one institution to another enabling student mobility, which at the moment, is only theoretical. To enable smooth transfer, a digital credit bank will be created. This will enable a student to not only transfer from one institution to another but also to take time off and return after a gap to pick up the threads of education once again. Application-based courses and vocational courses will be incorporated and integrated into the UG education system to make it less theoretical and more hands on. The UG education structure will be broad-based education to ensure that there is no early specialization. This is the right way forward but is likely to be resisted by the powerful teachers union of at least Delhi University as it will impact its honours programme.
A Multidisciplinary Vision
With the emphasis being on multidisciplinary and inter-disciplinary learning all HEIs, including the IITs and IIMs, will have to become multidisciplinary. This change goes a step further. Courses in fine arts and performing arts will be offered in all HEIs. A proposal of far-reaching consequences is to bring indigenous knowledge orLok Vidya into the mainstream. Lok Vidya is not “traditional knowledge systems” because these are actually alive and used by large numbers. These need to be known and researched. This is a good proposal, but to implement it, the UGC norms cannot be followed. To bring them into the mainstream, craftspeople and practitioners of indigenous knowledge, who do not have formal degrees, will necessarily have to be incorporated into the mainstream education in HEIs. This is likely to create resistance in the teaching community as up to now, there has been no concept of incorporating people without formal recognized qualifications into mainstream education.
In keeping with the orientation towards application, applied research is emphasized. For this, the research base of universities and colleges will have to be widened and strengthened. A good proposal is to establish a National Research Fund, open to both public and private universities, based on the premise that a good research idea must be encouraged no matter where it comes from.
A radical recommendation is to set up HEIs in local languages. While this is theoretically sound because many students are unable to cope with English as the medium of instruction, but given the strong aspiration to know English that is seen as a language of upward mobility, success of these institutions is doubtful. And even if they do succeed, the employability of their graduates may not be as good as those of English-medium institutions.
To encourage regional languages, new language institutions are to be setup and an Indian Institute of translation and interpretation has to be established. If widespread translation can be done, it would go a long way in national integration and giving access to literature and knowledge in local or classical languages. Digital technology has to be used to promote Sanskrit and other classical languages like Classical Tamil. A National Institute for Pali, Prakrit, and Persian is also to be established. Publishing is to be recognized as small-scale industry or a priority sector to enable access to quality books at affordable price and 50 per cent of all library grants are to be utilized for books in Indian languages.
Use of digital technology is proposed to expand access to higher education. However, this is easier said than done. The digital divide in the country is the ground reality. Even in tier-two cities, connectivity is poor. The rural areas and the hilly regions have little or no connectivity, at least not enough to be able to access online lectures. It is also proposed to improve the quality of open and distance learning. At the moment, the quality of distance education leaves a lot to be desired.
Certain affirmative action steps are to be taken proactively for instance, a gender inclusion fund is to be setup to provide equitable and quality education to all girls and transgenders. This is in addition to the already existing affirmative policies. A controversial recommendation is to set up Special Education Zones for underprivileged students. This is likely to create a fair amount of controversy. The intention may be to provide focused education to the underprivileged sections of society, but it can also be interpreted as segregation and discrimination.
Internationalization of education is to be promoted. Foreign universities ranked among the top hundred will be facilitated in setting up campuses in India. The question is, will such foreign universities be keen to do so? To begin with, clarity will be needed on the fee that they can charge; affirmative and policies that they would have to follow; and the salaries that they can offer to the teachers. The question would also arise on parity with Indian universities. A robust legislative machinery would be needed and speedy resolution of disputes, if any, that may arise. The judicial processes in India are complicated and dispute resolution is so slow that in the interim period the institution goes downhill. However, if internationalization is done, it will have to be remembered that it must be a two-way process. Currently, the ground reality is that India is one of the countries with the largest “student-sending” abroad, while its share of students coming from abroad is abysmally low.
Finally, it is recognized that adolescents and young adults need mentoring. Too many rapid changes happen in their lives, which often lead to confusion and bewilderment. It has been proposed that teachers mentor students but in today’s world the problems may be too complex for them to handle without training. A progressive step proposed is to set up a National Mission for Mentoring. It will take the services of retired and outstanding teachers who are also fluent in some regional language for long- and short-term mentoring apart from the services of employed faculty. Every HEI will need to have mental health professionals and the required infrastructure for them to function effectively. This is the first time that issues of mental health and the well-being of students are being articulated as policy.
The NEP has been well received. However, it seems like a dream from which one is scared of a rude awakening. At every step, teachers will have to be taken on board and intensive training will have to be imparted at every level. Change is uncomfortable and few will want to come out of their comfort zones. However radical they may sound, many of the recommendations have been made before, beginning with the Kothari Commission. Over the years, words such as excellence, quality and merit have begun to sound hollow and meaningless as the gulf between policy and ground realities seems almost insurmountable. While political will is required for implementing the policy but politicization must be kept at arms-length. A detailed road map for implementation together with a realistic time line is required if the policy is not to remain a pipe dream.
(Dr. Kavita A. Sharma is the former President of South Asian University)