On 29 July 2020, Union Cabinet approved a National Education Policy 2020. Since independence, this education policy has been added for a third time after 1968 and 1986 (along with 1992 modification). It has received much appreciation from all sectors that it introduces a visionary, inclusive, participatory, and holistic approach in the Indian education system. However, along with its admiration, the educationists and political parties also question its efficiency and implementation.
The policy primarily aims to enhance the creativity of children. It emphasizes multi-disciplinary teaching and high-quality education. It aims to bridge the gap between the advancing needs of the 21st century and the current state of learning outcomes. It promotes the employment of excellent teachers and teaching methodologies that makes education more experimental, holistic, integrated, learner-centered, discovery-oriented, flexible, discussion-based, and, most importantly, enjoyable. The policy seeks to raise ethics and constitutional values in students through education. It relies on the use of technology and continuous review of the student for better learning outcomes.
The very first change brought by NEP is now visible on the website of the Ministry of Education. The policy has re-designated the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) as the Ministry of Education. Interestingly, MHRD was earlier known as MoE from independence till 1985. The government, led by PM Rajiv Gandhi, tried to bring all education-related departments under a single head and formed MHRD. However, after 1985, various departments within MHRD came out to be recognized as separate ministries and ultimately left MHRD to look after education.
One of the significant reforms National Education Policy has brought in school education is to modify the 10+2 structure to the 5+3+3+4 pattern that will cover children from ages 3-18 years. This structure will formally include the children from 3-6 years into the education system. The inclusion of children from the age of 3 years emphasizes the quality Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) and ensures their healthy brain development and growth. The policy sets a target for achieving universal foundational literacy and numeracy in primary schools by 2025. The policy also aims to achieve a 100% Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) by 2030 to check and prevent the massive dropout of students from the education system.
NCERT has to play a crucial role in the development of curriculum and pedagogy frameworks to equip students with 21st-century skills. It will include the introduction of coding in the Middle Stage (class 6 to 8) and providing flexibility to the students to choose subjects of their interests since a boundary between arts and sciences, curricular and extracurricular related activities, and vocational and academic streams will no longer remain in force.
The policy advocates for infrastructure development to smoothly attain its objectives. It mainly considers the interests of girl children and specially-abled children. It talks of increasing government school’s credibility through up-gradation and enlargement of the premises and providing trained teachers to the students.
NEP recognizes the role of teachers in shaping the next generation of citizens. It heavily emphasizes the recruitment of trained, efficient, and sensitized teachers for providing quality education to the students with care. It helps to ‘recruit the very best and brightest to enter the teaching profession at all levels’. However, at the ground level, government schools face a massive shortage of teachers that counts more than 10 lakh teachers, especially in rural areas. For these areas, the policy provides an opportunity for outstanding students to pursue a 4-year integrated B.Ed. programmes under a large number of merit-based scholarships. The policy seeks to establish it as a minimum degree qualification for teaching by 2030. Apart from that, incentives will be provided to the teachers for teaching in rural schools, and excessive transfer of teachers will be stopped. A common guiding set of National Professional Standards for Teachers (NPST) will be developed by 2022 by the National Council for Teacher Education in consultation with NCERT, SCERTS, teachers, and expert organizations to cover the expectations of the role of teachers at the different levels.
NEP attempts to bridge the gap between the language spoken by the child and the medium of instruction. It suggests that medium of education for a child up to Grade 5 and preferably till Grade 8 will be her home language or mother tongue. The policy stresses the need to appoint a large number of language teachers in all regional languages around the country, particularly in 22 languages, as provided under the Eight Schedule of Indian Constitution. On the lines of gender inclusiveness, the policy states that ‘the Government of India will constitute a Gender-Inclusion Fund to build the nation’s capacity to provide equitable quality education for all girls and transgender students.’
Concerning the higher education, the policy recommends to end the fragmentation of the higher education institutions and transforms them into large multi-disciplinary universities and HEI clusters by 2040. On the pattern of ancient Indian Universities, students will be allowed to study in multi-disciplinary environments, carry out cross-disciplinary research, and become well-rounded across disciplines. It also aims to increase GRE in higher education from 26.3% in 2018 to 50% by 2035.
NEP will setup Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) to act as higher education body by replacing other regulatory agencies, for example, All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and University Grants Commission (UGC). It will establish four independent verticals as regulators, accreditation, grants & funds, and framing learning outcomes for a higher education programme, to work in synergy under one institution. Further, it talks about the establishment of the National Research Foundation (NRF) that will enable the country’s research culture.
NEP had a range of the other highlights to provide students a holistic education. It creates the National Educational Technology Forum (NETF) as an autonomous body that will facilitate the use of technology for learning purposes. It will allow the top-ranked foreign universities to set up their campuses in India. The new policy provides multiple entry and exit points in a four-year undergraduate programme, that entitles a student for a certificate after completing one year, or a diploma after two years, or a Bachelor’s degree after three years. For this purpose, the policy establishes an Academic Bank of Credit (ABC) that would digitally store the academic credits earned from various recognized HEIs. The colleges will be granted graded autonomy through a stage-wise mechanism, and affiliation of college will phase out in the next 15 years.
Along with a long list of achievements, NEP has also observed several criticisms. NEP is getting criticized for its over-centralization by different political parties and teachers associations as it aims to replace UGC and AICTE by HECI. It has been argued that the unexplored and unjustified merger of different educational bodies with an apprehension of their success is problematic. Prior to that attempts should be made to study the lacunas of institution like UGC and resolving them within the existing framework. On similar lines, it constitutes the National Testing Agency (NTA) as a premier, expert, and autonomous testing organization to conduct the examination. Nonetheless, these changes appear to extra-centralize the education system that was not envisioned by the Constitution makers.
NEP is a policy introduced by the Union and not a law in itself. Governments have to make laws to give effect to various aspects of the policy. Education is a subject under the concurrent list of the Indian Constitution and allows both Centre and State to enact laws in collaboration with each other. Notably, NEP is not mandatory for States.
Other significant criticisms of this policy include that it promotes the commercialization of education and has not undergone a discussion in the Parliament before the adoption. It is suggested that reform like removal of M.Phil. programme must have involved consultations from stakeholders.
Educationists across the country highlight the one common challenge to new education policy: its implementation. The goals set up under NEP 2020 requires to overcome infrastructural barriers, shortage of funds, raising competence, cooperation among centre and states, and immense commitment from bodies at all levels.
More than 6% of the GDP to be utilized for expenditure on education was a long-standing requirement that has never got implemented properly. Till 2017-18 the public expenditure on education was around 2.7%. An adequate funding mechanism must be brought into place to realize the expenditure goals of the present policy.
Teaching in the mother tongue might help children grasp the contents better; however, a delayed introduction of the English language in their curriculum could be problematic for their future. NEP mentions that teachers should adopt a bilingual approach to teach their subjects. It is yet to be seen how a child best suited to be taught in her mother language will adapt to the bilingual approach. It also requires highly trained teachers who realize the importance of striking balance between mother tongue and medium of instruction.
NEP often uses the term ‘quality education’ to be delivered to students. In the light of present-day realities where access to education is itself a challenge, providing quality education requires a sincere dedication from the government, public authorities, teachers, schools, and students. With the adoption of three language formula, the new policy promotes multilingualism along with national unity. Notably, this formula was present in previous education policies; however, its implementation has always remained a challenge. For instance, Tamil Nadu has not followed the three-language formula in the past and intends not to follow the same under NEP 2020.
Technical questions have been left open in the policy. For example, it does not mention the criteria to determine the top 100 universities in the world. The more important question is whether the foreign universities will be equally interested in setting up a campus in India? Also, even if they come here, they might not provide a similar standard of education to Indian students compared to their native standards. Nevertheless, it will still offer a competition for Indian Universities.
Goal 4 of the Sustainable Developmental Goals seek to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’ by 2030. The reconfiguration of the education system under NEP aims to achieve this goal. However, it is also to be noted that the policy seeks to fully develop and implement the education system by 2040 in a phased manner. If we go by this timeline, it implies that Goal 4 will be hard to achieve on time.
NEP develops upon the unfinished agenda of previous education policies and India’s growing developmental imperatives in the 21st century. With a shiny vision for the education system in India, it holds numerous challenges. It provides an interlinked and interdependent framework of objectives that necessitates achieving each goal for the fulfillment of others. A single failure anywhere in the policy will disturb its whole structure and objectives. Undoubtedly, this policy contains an outstanding development of future generations; however, these favorable outcomes depend upon the appropriate implementation of the policy in its letter and spirit.
*Siddharth Singh is a research scholar at the Faculty of Legal Studies, South Asian University, New Delhi.