The Budding Issues Of India’s New National Policy On Education – OpEd

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The National Policy of Education 2015 coming after a gap of 29 years from the last policy known as the National Policy of Education 1986 seems highly invoking. While the fact remains that all the objectives of 1986 policy have not been realized to date, a paradigm shift in all spheres of development, including in the education sector, has become increasingly important in India. We are still struggling with persistent problems such as; quality in education at all levels, obstacles to achieve measurable learning outcomes ,lack of requisite skills and the mindset for productive employment among youth joining workforce or the low enrolments in the tertiary education (only 11% are enrolled in tertiary institutions compared to the world average of 23%). There has been an increased public spending on education since the 1968 education policy. Education expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) rose from 1.82% in the 1968 education policy, to over 4 percent in 2011-12 at all levels of education. Though the spending on education has increased, there are some intriguing issues of access and improved learning outcomes, as well as lagging global rankings of universities in Indian Education as reported by the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER). It would not be wrong to say that decades after 1968 policy of education, we still need to improve upon the pertinent concerns and issues of education.

There has been a massive expansion and diversification of Indian education at all levels, due to the pressing demands of the global ‘knowledge economy’. But this expansion has come with some concerns about ‘quality’ and ‘equity’ especially at school level. Therefore balancing the demands of quantitative expansion (increased demand of infrastructure and in-service teacher training) with the needs of maintaining quality and equity have become a challenge for education today. Thus a need of systemic change to uplift education sector was felt and the Government of India proposed to formulate the New Education Policy 2015. This policy has proposed 33 themes for schools and higher education and it will use a ‘consultative’ process to get feedback on each theme. The experts in the field of education feel that had it followed this process while deciding these 33 themes, the approach would have been more democratic.

This education policy 2015 has its main focus on “Quality of education and outcome-based model”, where quality, skill and technology adoption are the main themes. Is it important for the stakeholders to comment on themes if all the 33 themes are representative of all education issues in India? As per the speculation, as a part of the bottom-up approach, consultations are supposed to be taken from the village panchayat levels, where it can be hoped such an approach will yield true advisory and not be just another political step. Thus, it seems that the education system in India is ready to set the tone of India’s competitiveness as a young demography as well as help in promoting ‘Make in India’ and ‘Digital India’ missions. Can we hope that this New Education Policy (NPE-2015) will shape the country’s education and employability ecosystem for coming several years?

Policy Concerns for Education in India

Education occupies a strategic position in India’s development priorities. Successive development policies and Five-Year national development plans have accorded high priority to education development. Even then disparities continued due to weak implementation and evaluation systems. The key developments that guided the development of education and literacy programs in India are; various National Policies and Programs on Education.

These policies and programs were implemented through the collaborative efforts of Government of India and the State/UT Governments through district level decentralized management structures, involving local bodies. The two preceding national education policies; the National Policy on Education 1968 and the National Policy on Education 1986, focused on the concerns of ensuring compulsory elementary education,regional languages and the three-language formula, equalizing educational opportunities, creating provision for recruitment of teachers, and enhancement of infrastructure. The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 and the National Curriculum Framework 2005 (NCF) underline the conception of education as children’s right and outline a framework to reform ‘quality’ of school education.

Many of the above mentioned policies and programs are at various stages of implementation. Therefore an important concern is that the new policy must not be a departure from the existing policies, as we cannot discard the old policies for a new one. The already existing policies of education are working with their own pace and achieving results. The exiting policy context will help shape the continuities in the education sector and address the current challenges. Thus the new policy must be planned based on the various stages of implementation of the previous policies and programs and must be in continuation from there.

The Proposed National Policy on Education 2015

The National Policy on Education 2015, has proposed 13 themes for school education and 20 themes for higher education. It suggests to evaluate public-private partnerships (PPP) to finance education, seek ways of increase India’s spend on higher education to 1.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) from less than 1% now, and emphasize on research and development (R&D). While the developed countries like US spends 5.5 %, Canada 4.9, China 4.15, Maldives 11.2%, and Denmark 7.6%. The government also sought suggestions on ways to rework the examination system for better assessment of students, restructure education regulators such as the University Grants Commission and the All Indian Council for Technical Education (AICTE) as “present regulatory systems has brought little change in quality and growth of our institutions”.

The Budding Issues

The new education policy 2015 is a government step towards democratizing policy-making, the education policy is supposed to use consultative approach. It is believed that this approach will provide opportunities to the stakeholders to have their voices heard and will lead to recommendations that are accepted as policy recommendations(and are thus implementable). The question is that is it apt to consult with panchayat members rather than think tanks and educationists? It is thus a concern if the panchayats and urban local bodies possess adequate capacity to add value to such consultation. Looking at the government effort to democratise new education policy, another question that arise is why then the document has not described how these themes are arrived at? Were there consultation/suggestions of the stakeholders at various levels (village level, block level, urban and local bodies etc.) taken before arriving at each planned theme? Further, the main issue facing education today is quality but quality as a major policy concerns has not been addressed in the themes mentioned above.

One major concern/issue of the stakeholders pertains to the use of independent research conducted by the NGO’s. Government has ignored the independent surveys conducted by the stakeholders and has suggested that since such surveys are not conducted by trained teachers, the weightage will be less for such surveys. These independent surveys conducted by the NGO’s cannot be ignored as such surveys have challenged the fundamental assumption of elementary education policy which was premised upon the fact that expansion of schooling system would ensure learning among children. Such studies therefore add huge value to policy making exercise. These issues may isolate many stakeholders and instead of building consensus there could be more discord. These pertinent issues/concerns/questions will help us to know if the policy has used democratic approach in the real sense of the word.

Last Word

National policies are evolved through a mechanism of extensive consultations, in which all the states and union territories actively participate, there are governments appointed commissions and committees to periodically examine various aspects of education. In addition, countrywide debate takes place on various educational issues. The recommendations of various commissions, committees and national seminars, and the consensus that emerges during these national debates, form the basis for India’s education policies.

In this context, India’s educational reconstruction problems have been periodically reviewed by several commissions and committees. Their deliberations, recommendations and reports have formed the basis for the 1968 National Policy on Education (NPE) and the National Policy on Education Resolution of 1986. In a nutshell, it implies that policies should be framed in such a way that curricula and all the previous government programs can not only be aligned with the policy prescription, but can also be implemented. However, the framework of the new education policy 2015 does not seem to have taken this into consideration. Thus, the democratic approach adopted by the government for the new education policy 2015 theoretically, appears to be a sound way of putting a policy together but on practical front already many doubts and issues have started emerging.

Dr. Swaleha Sindhi

Dr. Swaleha Sindhi currently teaches at the Department of Educational Administration, in The M.S. University of Baroda, Gujarat, India, she has a long Teaching and Administration experience in School Education and has received the Best Teacher Award in the year 2007 for Excellence in Teaching. Her doctorate is in the area of Quality Assurance Systems in Secondary Schools. Her current research follows two core themes: Quality Assurance in Education and Policies in Secondary Schools besides other areas like Comparative and International Education, Girls Education, Educational Management and Economics of Education. Dr.Sindhi has also been writing columns on education theme in newspapers and journals and has more than thirty two research articles to her credit. She is the Vice President of Indian Ocean Comparative Education Society (IOCES) and a Life Member of Comparative Education Society of India (CESI).

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