Freedom to choose and to make choices is one of the most celebrated ideas in liberal polity, economics, and education. It seems to empower the individual, structuring the system around her rather than the other way round. The individual’s freedom to learn at her choice of pace and place evolved as the cornerstone of learner-centric learning in the 20th century. Technological innovations and improvements aided the learner and the teacher to design content transactions with an adaptable pedagogy to suit the need and demands for the selected field of knowledge.
The NEP 2020, in consonance with this progressive stance, attempts to re-structure the education system. A student now has the right to choose from the options of multiple entries and exits of an academic degree programme. However, the design of this programme requires close scrutiny.
The NEP 2020 suggests a three-four year Bachelor Degree programme with multiple exit options every year helping the learner to exit with a certificate, diploma, degree, or a degree with research at the breakpoints after every year. We would dread the very idea of students opting to exit in the middle of an MBBS or an engineering programme. We cannot fathom or imagine the idea of a medical student exiting from medical degree programme after two years and opting to become a nurse or compounder or someone exiting from an electronic engineering degree to become a next-door electrician or a pharmacy student dropping out of a programme to become a medical transcriptionist. This could plague the skill qualification programmes also; one would fear the case where one would opt out of an aviation skill programme, deciding not to become a Boeing pilot, and to fly a Helicopter. Why then does the idea of multiple exit-entries in an academic programme seems appropriate for a liberal arts and humanities programme? It might end up producing graduates with not even half-baked knowledge.
A national document must have fine-combed the difference and nuances between inter and multi-disciplinary before getting overwhelmed by multi-disciplinarity (it appears 70 times in a 66-page document). The document has used multi-disciplinary invariably even where it intended to mean intra, inter, cross, and trans, disciplinary. The dressing of an academic programme with “multi-disciplinarity” will further aggravate the situation. Imagine a scenario of a student exiting out of a programme after a year with a diploma with subjects of cloud computing, medieval history, and microbiology. The frame of MLL (minimum level of learning) at the most suits literacy and numeracy at the primary or secondary education level, it cannot be customised for a higher level of learning or higher education. The openness of multi-disciplinarity lures us but one must differentiate between making a choice from a lavish buffet spread out to satiate our desire for distinct and multiple taste buds to our need and necessity of learning coherent knowledge domains. The academic rigour and the whole-ness of inter-disciplinarity must not be made ambiguous with an individual learners’ choice to learn only a part of a discipline without apprehending the basics.
The NEP 2020 has attempted to strike a deal between two distinct eras of epistemes —it takes inspiration the ancient India in aiming to produce graduates with master skills in all the 64 kalas — taking its cue from Banbhatt’s Kadambari — and tries to synchronise that with the “Ivy league University” model system of the US.
The attempt is to produce graduates who will be self-reliant (honed with 64 kalas) and will be “productive” too — the “earn while you learn” American model. Besides aiming to produce “good, thoughtful, well-rounded, and creative individuals”, it also aims to make them “cultured”. For this, it wants students of higher education to select subjects from the “basket” of “artistic, creative and analytic” subjects without any justification that which of the disciples will be earmarked or categorised as either artistic, creative or as analytic or how “flexible” this streaming of disciplines will be.
In the attempt for “light but tight” regulation and control, the NEP 2020 suggests graded autonomy and graded accreditation of HEIs by multiple agencies with the help of multiple frameworks evolved by different agencies. There will be a National Accreditation Council (NAC), which will be helped with National achievement Survey (NAS) to be further controlled, in matters of funds, by Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC), which will be under the guidance of Higher Education Commission of India (HECI), to be aided with National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC).
These will be helped by various committees. The frameworks and professional standards will be evolved by the National Skill Qualification Framework (NSQF), National Higher Education Qualification Framework (NHEQF), and National Professional Standards for Teachers (NPST). The research in HEIs will be further aided by the creation of the National Research Foundation (NRF) and admissions to HEIs will be done on the basis of national level tests to be conducted by the National Testing Agency. All these will be under the aegis of the General Education Council (GEC) and a strengthened Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE).
Though the policy affirms that it will not be bracketing HEIs, the suggestion for “light and tight” regulatory controls and bodies will only establish and intensify hierarchies. All the HEIs are expected to be multidisciplinary institutions by 2030 and along with them, the policy envisions multi-disciplinary education and research universities in every district of the country. With an aim to raise 50 per cent gross enrolment in these HEIs, the policy makes a call to “overhaul” and re-energise higher education in India. These lofty aims will produce a populace or workforce of “high-quality” multidisciplinary aptitude achieved in fragments with the aid of multiple exits. The only problem with this is that we have not discovered a time machine yet with the help of which the learner could travel back in time and space and pick up the threads of the academic journey where she left them.
The writer is faculty, Department of Education, Central University of Himachal Pradesh. Views expressed are personal