New Delhi: The varied responses that the National Education Policy (NEP) has been generating from political parties and educationists alike is a fallout of the Union government’s decision to approve it without any discussion and debate.
Given the long-term implications the NEP will have on the Indian education system, its unceremonious approval by the Union cabinet – squeezed as it was between the orchestrated excitement of the Ram Temple bhoomi pujan and the arrival of the first fleet of Rafale fighter jets – raised quite a few eyebrows, while at the same time indicated its somewhat lackadaisical attitude towards a matter as important as education.
The NEP 2020, which will replace the 1986 policy, was in the works since 2016, when the T.S.R. Subramanian Committee submitted its report to the Union government.
Later in June 2017, the government constituted the K. Kasturirangan committee which submitted its Draft NEP in 2019, based on the inputs provided by the Subramanian committee. The Draft NEP of around 484 pages was thrown open to the public for feedback after the Modi government was re-elected to power.
The final NEP 2020 is a much shorter version that intends to overhaul the existing education system by making certain paradigmatic changes. While the new NEP intends to integrate the Indian education system with global patterns, do away with “rote-learning” and instil confidence and nationalistic pride among students, many educationists believe that the disproportionate thrust on vocationalisation of education at an early stage may come at the cost of more rounded, holistic learning.
The NEP lists the changes that the policy would bring about in school and higher education systems. It has also mentioned that the existing ministry of human resource development will be named subsequently as the ministry of education.
The NEP 2020 lays emphasis on universal access to schools for all children in the next decade. It stresses on increasing the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) and putting a stop to the spiralling drop-out rate in India.
Two crore children will be brought back to the mainstream, it says. It has proposed to develop infrastructure, put in place innovative teaching centres, appoint only trained teachers and counsellors, create a conducive environment for open schools, and encourage adult literacy programmes to achieve this goal.
At the same time, the NEP 2020 will replace the 10+2 system by a 5+3+3+4 curricular structure, which includes three years of pre-schooling in anganwadi centres for children between three to eight years of age, followed by another 12 years of formal schooling. This is the first time that an NEP has extended government outreach to pre-schooling, which will include nursery education and kindergarten levels.
For this, the NCERT will be the nodal body to shape a National Curricular and Pedagogical Framework for Early Childhood Care and Education (NCPFECCE) for children up to the age of eight. The early childhood education will be a collaborative effort between the ministries of Education, Women and Child Development, Health and Family Welfare, and Tribal Affairs.
Great focus has been laid on equipping the child with “21st century skills”. For this, new subjects like coding will be introduced from Class 6. At the same time, the student will now have greater flexibility in choosing her subjects as rigid demarcation between Arts and Sciences, curricular and extracurricular subjects, or vocational and academic streams will cease to exist.
A new course curriculum towards this goal will be developed by the NCERT.
The NEP does away with annual examinations and has proposed board examinations in modular form in Grades 3, 5, and 8, 10 and 12, and will be redesigned to test conceptual understanding of students. A new National Assessment Centre, PARAKH (Performance Assessment, Review, and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development), too will be set up as to set standards of education.
The policy also includes setting up of Gender Inclusion Fund and Special Education Zones to support socially and economically disadvantaged groups. Breakfast will also be added to the mid-day meal programme in government schools.
One of the most important features of the NEP 2020 is recruitment of teachers. The Indian school system has long suffered the problem of insufficient teachers and low recruitment of trained teachers.
The NEP seeks to do away with the problem, make teacher recruitment transparent, by setting up of a common National Professional Standards for Teachers (NPST). The NPST will be developed by the National Council for Teacher Education by 2022, in consultation with NCERT, SCERT, and experts, and teachers’ organisations.
A School Quality Assessment and Accreditation Framework (SQAAF) will also be developed, according to the NEP 2020.
Similarly, it is proposed that education upto Class 5, and preferably until Class 8, will be imparted in the mother tongues of students. Classical languages like Sanskrit, Pali, and Prakrit have also been proposed at all levels, while foreign languages will also be offered from the secondary school level. S
everal studies have spoken about the need for foundational and preparatory education in mother tongues for better comprehension and clarity. Educationists have welcomed the move but also remained unsure about how the government plans to implement such a system, especially in a diverse country like India.
The policy, however, says that “no language will be imposed on any student”.
Yet the decision assumes significance in the light of the controversy when the draft NEP has attempted to impose Hindi as a compulsory language for all schools. The proposal was withdrawn following stiff opposition by southern states.
How is higher education envisioned in NEP?
NEP 2020 has set itself a tall task of increasing the GER in higher education from 26.3% (2018) to 50% by 2035.
Here too, emphasis has been on providing a flexible curriculum through an interdisciplinary approach, creating multiple exit points in what would be a four-year undergraduate programme. Single discipline universities, along with Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities (MERUs) and a National Research Foundation will be set up, according to the policy.
One of the paradigmatic shifts will be the setting up of Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) for entire higher education. HECI will function as the single overarching body for all higher education, excluding medical and legal studies, and replace all other regulatory bodies like the University Grants Commission or the All India Council for Technical Education.
Its four independent verticals will also be responsible for all grants, funding, standards and accreditation to make it one of the most centralised regulatory institutions. Many educationists believe that such high regulation by the government may impede the evolution of higher education in the long-run.
Different Boards of Governors to oversee day-to-day functioning of different universities has also been proposed. However, many in the know of the system fear that these may lead to controversial appointments of people, and may hamper the functioning of higher education institutes, and entail greater politicisation of education.
The NEP also talks about granting graded autonomy to colleges, in a move that will phase out affiliation of colleges to universities in the next 15 years.
As far as teaching is concerned, a new National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education, NCFTE, will be framed by 2021. The BEd degree is likely to become a four-year integrated course by 2030.
Extreme emphasis has been given to digitalisation of higher education and open learning systems to boost the GER.
Online courses, digital repositories, student services towards making this a reality will likely be developed. An autonomous body, the National Educational Technology Forum (NETF), will also be created to encourage the use of technology in college education.
Is the NEP high on rhetoric?
Although a lot of the new policy aims at making progressive changes in the Indian education system, much of the stated vision, educationists say, had already been included in previous NEPs and other documents. A clear plan to implement the vision had always been missing.
The 2020 policy also suffers from the same lack of clarity as to how the plan will be implemented, they say.
The NEP 2020 says that the central and state governments will strive to increase expenditure on education sector to reach 6% of the GDP. This has been the stated goal since the 1960s since the Kothari Commission’s report, but is yet to be achieved. Moreover, the Modi government has been cutting the fundings constantly. “It is just that since May 2014, our spend to GDP ratio has been falling. Six years ago, in 2012-13, education expenditure was 3.1% of the GDP. It fell in 2014-15 to 2.8% and registered a further drop to 2.4% in 2015-16,” says Peri Maheshwar of Careers 360.
In fact, successive governments have attempted to increasingly open the doors of private investment in the education sector. The NEP 2020 is no different. While speaking about 6% funding, the Union government doesn’t mention whether it will release the funds from its own pocket or generate it from private enterprises.
“Talks about graded autonomy and HECI will open the doors for privatisation of public education. As a result, colleges will have no option but to increase their fees or take loans through HECI. When we talk about 6% expenditure on education, we talk about grants from the government, not 6% loan through the proposed HECI. Privatisation of education, along with multiple exit points, would lead to more drop-outs, which is exactly the opposite of the government’s stated claim. The NEP 2020 paves the way for an institutional decoupling of the state from education,” said Sachin Narayanan, professor of English at Delhi university.
Moreover, he said while the government plans to introduce classical languages in school education, the big question is how would it implement it. “Even research scholars find it hard to crack the codes of languages like Pali and Prakrit. Before announcing such a step, the government did not even bother to see whether it can be implemented or not,” Narayanan said.
Similarly, the proposed changes in school education have not taken into account many realities, those who work on the ground to improve public education say.
“The NEP 2020 has taken the soul of the Right to Education away from school education. Barring once, the RTE has not been mentioned even once. It reads more like a party manifesto, a document full of promises which are not time bound,” said Ambarish Rai of the RTE forum, an advocacy organisation.
“The final policy talks about universalisation of school education from 3-18 years, without making it a legal right. Hence there is no mandatory mechanism for the union and state governments to make it a reality. Without the RTE Act, universalisation will be very difficult,” he said.
He feared that the emphasis laid on digital education can lead to further segregation as India currently doesn’t have adequate infrastructure to support it. “More than 70% children from marginalised backgrounds could be excluded, as evident from the COVID-19 pandemic, where many children are missing online classes due to the digital divide in the country,” he said.
“The policy, in the name from philanthropic schools and PPP, is laying the roadmap for entry of private players in education, which will further commercialise education and the existing inequalities will be exacerbated,” he said, while adding that only a “Common School System” could remove the discrimination in the school education system and ensure uniform quality of education to all children. However, the NEP does not talk about the CSS at all.
He said that the NEP should not act as the tool with which to supersede the RTE Act, which made education a legal right. “Among the 10 pointers that the RTE has laid down to improve school education, only 12.6% of the criteria were fulfilled in the last 10 years. This is our reality. From the problem of abysmal teacher-student ratio to extremely poor infrastructure in schools, our education system is crumbling at a different level. What was required of the NEP was to take baby steps to address those problems instead of announcing more grand plans and create another new framework,” Rai said.
Lack of detailed thinking may affect the NEP’s vision. For instance, it has proposed a four-year undergraduate programme. A similar experiment in Delhi university failed miserably a few years ago. The then HRD minister Smriti Irani had to withdraw the four year course, which was implemented without proper thinking, leading to much confusion among students and teachers.
The new changes in higher education has already started to face opposition from teachers’ bodies. The Federation of Central Universities Teachers’ Associations (FEDCUTA), in a press release, said:
“The empowerment of the Board of Governors hand in hand with redefined autonomy is in parallel with the neoliberal reforms that deregulated businesses. It amounts to converting/handing over education as a business to corporate houses. It is unwise to forget that the former HRD Minister, Shri Javadekar had minced no words in claiming that “the Government is striving to introduce a liberalised regime in the education sector.”
While the NEP 2020 seeks to universalise education, and attempts to give access to students from all backgrounds, the teachers’ unions believe the proposed changes will serve only the interests of the rich.
There are other problems too. Stress on vocational training from the preparatory stage, many fear, would lead to students from marginalised backgrounds dropping out early to take up jobs. This may also impede a more holistic learning.
Similarly, while education in the mother tongue could be a good step, how is the Union government planning to convince the state governments to do so. State governments will have an equal stake in implementing the NEP as education is on the concurrent list. For instance, the Jagan Reddy-led Andhra Pradesh government recently made English as the compulsory medium for all government schools.
Given the diversity of languages and dialects in India, and growing internal migration, it will be very difficult to implement a mother tongue-based learning, and may hegemonise Brahmanical systems of learning in India. Given how centralised the education system will become after the new policy is put in place, it will become increasingly difficult to factor in varied needs of diverse Indian people.
Much of these issues could have been debated in the Parliament. However, that did not happen, leading to many opposition parties like the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Congress, and Aam Aadmi Party criticising the unilateral nature of the NEP’s approval.
However, it has also found support from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which believes that the NEP will help “Indianise” education. “The policy refers to the need to instil a deep-rooted pride in being Indian, not only in thought, but also in spirit, intellect, and deeds, which is what we have been stressing on,” a RSS functionary told HT.
At the same time, leaders of privately-funded universities and schools have also welcomed the NEP, which they feel will make them active participants in charting out the course of education in India.
While the Sangh parivar affiliates and industry experts feel that most of its recommendations have been accommodated in the new policy, educationists and stakeholders in public education feel differently. There lies the NEP’s biggest drawback.