The National Education Policy 2020 is based on the draft submitted on 31st May, 2019 by former ISRO chief Dr. K. Kasturirangan’s committee. This is the first education policy of the 21st century to replace the thirty-four-year-old National Policy on Education (NPE), 1986.

To fully grasp the provisions of the New Education Policy (2020) of the Indian Government, I wish to look back at the major Education Policies of India since Independence. The educational situation on the eve of independence was quite bleak. Hence, several Committees and Commissions were constituted to analyze the problems and make suggestions.

It was felt that Universities could play a significant role in the development process. It was suggested that the duties and responsibilities of the Universities were significant and needed in the light of the leadership they were expected to provide in politics, administration, the professions, industry and commerce. They were expected to enable the country to free itself from want, disease and ignorance by developing scientific and technical knowledge.

National Policy on Education (1968)
Arising out of the recommendations of the Kothari Commission, the National Policy of 1968 marked a significant step in the history of Independent India. It aimed to promote national progress, a sense of common citizenship and culture, and to strengthen national Integration. It laid stress on the need for a radical reconstruction of the education system to improve its quality at all stages and gave much greater attention to Science and Technology, the cultivation of moral values and a closer relation between education and the life of the people.

National Policy on Education (1986)
The 1986 policy acknowledged the achievement of policy goals set by the 1968 policy. However, it stated that increased financial and organizational support was necessary to address problems of access and quality. The policy was intended to raise educational standards and increase access to education. At the same time, it would safeguard the values of secularism, socialism and equality, being promoted since Independence.

Revised Programme of Action (1992): Learning without burden
The revised programme of action also proposed education for equality. It recommended a more comprehensive Operation Blackboard to enhance its coverage area up to upper primary level, aim at a minimum of 50 percent female teachers in future appointments at elementary level, informal education programme for the educationally deprived and working boys and girls, and computer education to as many schools as possible.

Our target has been to achieve a “Common School System” (CSS), defined in the Kothari Commission’s report of 1966 as “a system which provides education of an equitable quality to all children irrespective of caste, creed, community, language, gender, economic condition, social status and physical mental ability.”

How much of this has actually been achieved till date? Keeping this question in mind, I analyze the provisions of the much needed New Education Policy (2020) of India.

Several intricate changes have been proposed under this at the classroom as well as administrative level:

– The Ministry of Human Resources Development will now be called Ministry of Education, reverting the name given by former Prime Minister Mr. Rajiv Gandhi.
– The central and state governments will strive to increase expenditure on education sector to reach 6% of the GDP from the budgetary provision of current 4.43% (though the real spend is far lower).
– Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) will replace the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). 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.
– As India’s youth population grows exponentially, more young Indians are likely to aspire for higher education. To facilitate their placements, the NEP aims to add 3.5 crore new seats to higher education institutions. There will be increase in the Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in higher education including vocational education from 26.3 per cent in 2018 to 50 per cent by 2035.
– The National Testing Agency (NTA) will conduct entrance examinations for admissions to universities across the country. The NTA already conducts the JEE Man, the all-India engineering entrance exam, and the NEET, UGC NET, and others. As per the NEP 2020, the entrance exam to be conducted by the NTA for admission to universities and colleges will be optional. Common entrance tests will decide the fate of students instead of having the entire pressure on board examinations.
– There is a proposal to establish a National Research Foundation (NRF) with the goal to create a conducive ecosystem for research through funding and mentoring.
– Private HEIs will be encouraged to offer larger numbers of free ships and scholarships to their students, and the fees will also be regulated by applying fee caps. The National Scholarship Portal will be expanded to track the progress of students receiving scholarships.
– The policy proposes the phasing out of all institutions offering single streams (such as technical education) over time, and the system of affiliating colleges over 15 years.
– All universities and colleges must aim to become multidisciplinary by 2040. Even engineering institutions, such as IITs, will be expected to move towards more holistic and multidisciplinary education with more arts and humanities. “Students of arts and humanities will aim to learn more science, and all will make an effort to incorporate more vocational subjects and soft skills,” the document says, moving towards the concept of building your own degree, by allowing students to pursue to potentially unrelated subjects together, like engineering and music, physics and fashion design.
– Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities (MERUs) will be set up. Professional education to be an integral part of the higher education system to ensure that graduates are employable.
– A National Book Promotion Policy will be formulated, and extensive initiatives will be undertaken to ensure the availability, accessibility, quality, and readership of books across geographies, languages, levels, and genres.
– There will be three categories of universities: research-intensive, teaching intensive and autonomous degree-granting colleges. Universities will need to be enterprising, and multi-disciplinary with great importance given to liberal arts and curricula is flexible.

The new policy aims at transforming curricular and pedagogical structure from the existing 10 years + 2 years to a more inclusive foundational to secondary stage transition. The new structure and comparison of the two are explained below.

To begin with, the actual number of years remains the same and there will be no additional years. It can be looked at as playschool, nursery or kindergarten classes combined with classes 1 and 2. Here is a look at the new pedagogical structure proposed in comparison to the existing one.

Today, a student (in most cities) enters formal education at the age of 3 by means of playschools. Then he/she moves to a ‘school’, i.e. Kindergarten 1 and 2, and 12 years of secondary then higher secondary education.

The new structure now proposes dividing the same structure into cognitive developmental stages of the child – early childhood, school years and secondary stage.

Although there will be no change in number of years a student spends within the formal education system in the country at the school level, the new structure brings into its fold the already existing play schools within the ambit of ‘formal education’.

The main impact of this change will mainly be on the schools in rural areas, where a formal pre-primary education is non-existent. But it can be achieved by bringing informal “Anganwadis” within the ambit of formal education. This is a time-consuming process and will require very precise planning with the sole purpose of letting the Right to Education be available, in reality and just not in papers, to every child in the country.

The new curricular structure will require urban and English medium schools also to rearrange their academic activities. However, the so-called new structure is nothing but a kind of rearrangement of the old structure.

These are the changes made to the structure of the degree courses:

a) Bachelor’s Degree: a three- or four-year multidisciplinary Bachelor’s programme, with options to exit earlier. While the traditional BA, B.Sc., and B.Voc degrees will continue, under the four-year programme, students may exit after 1 year with a Certificate, 2 years with a Diploma or 3/4 years with a Bachelor’s degree.

“The 4-year multidisciplinary Bachelor’s programme, however, shall be the preferred option since it allows the opportunity to experience the full range of holistic and multidisciplinary education in addition to a focus on the chosen major and minors as per the choices of the student,” the policy states. The 4-year programme “may also lead to a degree ‘with Research’ if the student completes a rigorous research project in their major area(s) of study”.

b) Master’s Degree: Higher education institutions will have the flexibility to offer different designs for Master’s programmes: a 2-year Master’s for students with a 3-year Bachelor’s, or a 1-year Master’s for those with a 4-year Bachelor’s.

c) M.Phil. programme shall be discontinued.

d) Ph.D. requirement will be either a Master’s degree or a 4-year Bachelor’s degree with Research

A New Teacher Training board will be set up for all kinds of teachers in the country. No state can change this.

One of the highlights of the NEP 2020 is a general guiding set of National Professional Standards for Teachers (NPST) which will be developed by the National Council of Technical Education (NCTE) by 2022. The NCTE will be reorganised as a Professional Standards Setting Body (PSSB) under a General Education Council (GEC). By 2030, teacher education will be gradually shifted to multi-disciplinary colleges and universities.

Teacher’s training by various institutions is a welcome step but again its implementation is a challenging task. It should aim at increasing teachers’ efficiency and capacity to apply the knowledge rather than re-revising the theoretical concepts in the subject. Learning programme for parents is again a kind of impractical proposal, particularly in rural and semi-urban areas.

Availability of vocational courses will be good, subject to its proper and effective implementation. Regarding choice of subjects, too much flexibility can create chaos. This will require appointment of new teaching staff, well trained in various skills. This will increase the cost to the school, increasing the fee structure. Creating a workable timetable with various subject combinations might increase the number of school hours and also leave a probability of having free lessons for few students during the day. Keeping such children productively engaged will be a task.

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.

The NEP 2020 states that emphasis will be given on Sanskrit and other regional languages. It proposes the establishment of the Indian Institute of Translation and Interpretation with a significant emphasis on Sanskrit and other Indian languages. This IITT will make extensive use of technology to aid in its translation and interpretation efforts.

Another statement is that Sanskrit will be made “mainstream” with strong offerings in the schools – including one of the language options in the three-language formula – as well as in higher education. Sanskrit universities will also be pushed towards becoming large multi-disciplinary institutions of higher education. Apart from this, it is said that regional languages will be promoted in the education world.

Bringing Sanskrit into the “mainstream” is a controversial issue and may hurt the sentiments of some communities. It is neither the national language nor the official language of India. Hence, the purpose of this step towards improving the quality of education is dubious. In the present scenario, it cannot be a popular measure.

“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 dropouts, 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.

The lack of detailed thinking may affect the NEP’s vision. For instance, its proposed four-year undergraduate programme has seen a similar experiment in Delhi university fail miserably a few years ago, due to much confusion among students and teachers.

The new changes in higher education have 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.”

Education still being the part of the Concurrent list, the implementation of NEP will depend on the individual state policies. It has been noticed that implementation of education policies takes a very long time. By the time it is implemented on the ground level it becomes redundant. So, the success of NEP 2020 will also depend on the efficiency and commitment of both central and state governments.

There seems to be the influence of the RSS on the policy, especially with the inclusion of Indian National Values. This may be considered good provided they don’t go overboard and introduce the RSS brand of nationalism. Another RSS influence seems to be the emphasis on Moral and Character building which again is good provided it does not lose the need for a more cosmopolitan and accepting approach, which is necessary to maintain peace in a secular country like ours.

The suggestion for the need to change and adapt a more India-centric syllabus with the RSS having a say in what to include and what to exclude may result in a more hardline approach, which could affect the secular fabric of the country and a modification of textbooks and what has been taught so far.

The recommendation to allow the entry of foreign universities, especially the top-ranked ones, is good but there is no clarity on what role they will play and what norms they will have to follow.

The entry of foreign universities will cut down the emigration of students to foreign shores and will also have an effect on the local ones which may see a reduction in the number of admissions.

Besides this it will also impact the under privileged, bright students who may not be able to afford the higher fees that will obviously be charged by these universities.

Although there is mention of equal opportunity in education here, no light has been thrown upon exactly how to achieve that effectively.

This New Education Policy implements Bloom’s Taxonomy, and encourages the pursuit of Liberal Education. We must remember that this system did exist in India in the days of yore. Whether we regain our old glory will be seen in times to come.

Vision 2040 of the New Education Policy strives to make India reach global standards in terms of education, with students receiving more vocational training to help them make clearer decisions. It aims at holistic teaching with the inclusion of co-curricular activities at all levels.

Overall, in my opinion, the biggest challenge in reforming higher education in our country is the problem of ‘brain drain’ which largely comes as a result of the widespread corruption which has penetrated our higher educational institutes, compelling the most brilliant academic minds to migrate to countries like the UK, USA, Singapore and Australia.

To completely revolutionise the system of education in the country and bring it in line with the rest of the world, our Government will need to find a way to incentivise such reputed academicians to come back to their country and take charge if it truly wishes to deliver on its promises.

Also, it will all depend on its proper implementation for the welfare of the students, without messing it up with political interests.

Further, there is no mention of financial allocation for its successful implementation.

Madhukar Jetley is a Member of the Legislative Council of Uttar Pradesh

Cover Photo: Representational image. BASIT ZARGAR / The Citizen