The National Education Policy (NEP) is based on wide-ranging consultations, including reports of the TSR Subramanian (2016) and K Kasturirangan (2019) committees, deliberations in 676 districts, 6,600 blocks, 2.5 lakh gram panchayats and discussion with teachers and the common man. It is thus important in more ways than one. It is only the third education policy promulgated by the Centre — the other two being the policies enunciated by Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi in 1968 and Rajiv Gandhi in 1986. But at a more fundamental level, the NEP is important for several quantitative, and more importantly, qualitative changes across the development spectrum. These range from pre-school to higher education with thrust on practicality and skill development; breaking the stereotypical divide of arts, commerce and science streams in high school; reorganising schooling years; making the education system more inclusive; permission to foreign universities to establish branches in India; and thrust on Indian and ancient languages. There is a refreshing move from periodic “inspections” to self-assessment and voluntary declaration with transparency, quality standards and positive public perception being the keywords. A single, lean structure with four verticals for standards-setting, funding, accreditation and regulation will provide “light but tight” oversight.
Other transformative changes relate to education in the local language or mother tongue at least up to the fifth grade and if possible, eighth and beyond; universal access and early childhood education; curriculum change leading to learning outcomes (LOs) and competencies; stress on equity, gender, special needs and promotion of multilingualism.
Also welcome is the focus on early child development, the endeavour to reduce the dropout rate, putting in place different forms of assessment, the emphasis on essential learning and critical thinking and the centrality of the teacher and teacher education. The NEP will bring two crore out-of-school children back into the mainstream. The policy aims at a 100 per cent Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in school education by 2030 and 50 GER in higher education by 2025 – it’s currently about 25 per cent.
Universal access to education at all levels can be achieved by multiple learning pathways involving both formal and non-formal education modes, through a focus on achieving desired learning outcomes across levels, recalling dropouts back to school, alternative and innovative education centres. While “education is a public good”, NEP also suggests philanthropic private participation.
Some elements of the overarching Universal Access to Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) framework relate to the NCERT’s National Curricular and Pedagogical Framework for Early Childhood Education (NCPFECE). It also involves aligning NCPFECE with the latest research on ECCE and national and international best practices. The integration of vocational education with basic education in all institutions by identifying focus areas based on skills gap analysis and mapping of local opportunities will develop entrepreneurial competencies.
Innovations in the higher education ecosystem include high-quality universities and colleges, multidisciplinary education, learning optimisation, extension of the graduate course from three to four years, multiple entry and exit points, college teachers’ education, replacement of the UGC, AICTE and NAAC, dispensing with the MPhil programme and the proposed National Research Foundation. The key principles of the NEP relate to accessibility, equality, accountability, affordability, and quality of education. The “fragmented” ecosystem of higher education will be integrated once NEP’s vision of combining different institutions into multidisciplinary universities and “higher education institution clusters” or “knowledge hubs” is realised. By upgrading the digital infrastructure, emphasising on learning at your own pace and underlining the importance of online courses, the NEP attempts to bridge the digital divide.
India is gradually acquiring its place in the world of knowledge. NEP, a judicious mix of need-based policy, cutting-edge research and best practices, constitutes an important element of the country’s development strategy and facilitates the way for “one nation, one curriculum” policy.
The policy talks of solving mathematics problems through a variety of innovative methods, including the regular use of puzzles and games. There is a provision to teach coding at the middle-school level and an emphasis on mainstreaming Sanskrit to increase “knowledge of ancient India and its contributions to modern India”. It talks of capping fees and tries to address persistent problems such as teacher absenteeism. The shift from printed content-oriented teaching to experimental learning and concept-oriented teaching requires the implementation of NITI Aayog’s School Education Quality Index (SEQI’s) vision for teacher adequacy. It also requires transparent systems for merit-based selection and deployment of teachers and online systems for teacher transfers. At the same time, it talks of an enabling milieu for teachers — good salaries, and the ready availability of pedagogic tools. They are free to design curricula and evolve assessment methods and implement innovative pedagogies.
The proof of the pudding is, however, in the eating. The philosophy of access, equity, infrastructure, governance and learning has ultimately to be grounded in action to drive India’s growth, modernisation and structural transformation. The policy justifiably aims to increase the spending on education from the current 3.2 per cent of GDP to 6 per cent of the GDP. However, mobilising funds could be difficult because of the resource crunch, low tax-to-GDP ratio, kick-starting the economy, strife with neighbours and competing development requirements. The policy’s success will also hinge on its integration with the government’s other polices — the New Industrial Policy, Digital India, Skill India, Atmanirbhar Bharat and the “vocal for local” programme.
It’s crucial that such challenges are addressed. For, addressing the imperatives of the present and expectations of the future will depend on the policy’s success.
This article first appeared in the print edition under the title “An eye on the future”. The writer is Governor of Rajasthan.
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