Change is the only constant. As our young nation strides towards development and advancing our capabilities globally, it becomes imperative to take inspiration from our ancient heritage and cultural values to transform the existing status quo with a modern and futuristic approach. The recently approved New Education Policy is a much-needed guiding light to nurture our demographic potential.
Many stalwarts have, from time to time, made arguments for a better education system for India. The British raj had delegitimised the Indian education system. After Macaulay’s Minutes of 1835, the colonial government’s work in education was primarily motivated by self-serving concerns. While Western education was spread among Indians, scientific, technical and moral education was largely ignored. The Indian reformers believed that to keep up with the times, a modern education system was needed.
During the Round Table conference in 1931, Mahatma Gandhi, in one of his speeches, said: “The beautiful tree of education was cut down by you British. Therefore, today, India is far more illiterate than it was 100 years ago.” Babasaheb Ambedkar had also opined that everyone has a right to learn. Ambedkar even metaphorically compared education to the milk of a tigress and added that one who drinks it will ultimately strive for progressive changes in the society.
After Independence, several steps were taken by successive governments to decolonise the education system, including through the University Education Commission (1948-49), Secondary Education Commission (1952-53), D S Kothari Commission (1964-66) and the National Policy on Education (1968).
President A P J Abdul Kalam had emphasised the need for a value-based education that instils righteousness at a young age to make a cultured citizenry capable of transforming India into a prosperous, peaceful, secure, happy and developed nation.
The National Education Policy in effect until now was 34 years old. A more apt vision was needed to meet the aspirations of the New India. Since January 2015, an unprecedented consultation that involved nearly two lakh suggestions from 2.5 lakh gram panchayats, 6,600 blocks, and 676 districts took place in committees constituted under the chairmanship of former cabinet secretary T S R Subramanian and eminent scientist K Kasturirangan, which ultimately fructified into the NEP 2020.
NEP 2020 is an ambitious and futuristic policy that ensures opportunities for children to hone their talents by fixing the lacunae in the education system. Recognising the urgency of foundational learning, the shift from the 10+2 system to the 5+3+3+4 — with foundation, preparatory, middle, and secondary stages — will focus on a more holistic development of children. The emphasis on skills like analysis, critical thinking, conceptual clarity and co-curricular and vocational subjects will diversify their learning. Universal access at all levels of school education will be guaranteed, and it is proposed that the around two crore children who drop out will be brought back into the education system.
The mandatory teaching of an Indian language will protect and promote our linguistic and cultural diversity. India has thousands of languages and dialects, and each language has its significance and identity. India takes pride in this. But on the other hand, 196 languages in the country have been included in the list of endangered languages by UNESCO. The NEP’s emphasis on local languages will address these concerns. The implementation of a mother-tongue based multilingual education system will pave the way for addressing the pending demands of recognising many languages — like Rajasthani, Bhojpuri and Bhoti, among others — under the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.
The proposed reform in school curricula and pedagogy, a transparent process for teacher recruitment, merit-based promotion and development of the National Professional Standards for Teachers, setting up a Gender Inclusion Fund, and also Special Education Zones for disadvantaged regions and groups will empower the academic fraternity. Changes like PARAKH (Performance Assessment, Review, and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development) will redesign assessment and standardised the education boards across the country.
The multiple exit and re-entry system, credit transferability across the universities, and multi-disciplinarity in the higher education system have provided flexibility to students. The internationalisation of education will be facilitated through institutional collaborations, student and faculty exchange programmes, and allowing top-ranked international universities to open campuses in our country. It is proposed that 3.5 crore new seats will be added to higher education institutions. Such prompt measures will ultimately converge the gap between industry and academia and harness our demographic dividend.
Under the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, this well-thought and forward-looking document will be an important milestone in India’s journey towards becoming a global knowledge superpower. The return of the Ministry of Human Resource Development to its earlier name, Ministry of Education, has provided a more focused and fresh perspective to the education ecosystem. NEP 2020 has been well received and Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank and dedicated teams are leaving no stone unturned to ensure its implementation in letter and spirit. I urge all the stakeholders — students, parents, teachers, public representatives, universities, media, and civil society — to discuss and debate the nuances of NEP 2020.
The writer is Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises