The last National Policy on Education was framed in 1986. It was modified through the Programme of Action (POA) in 1992. Since then a complete paradigm shift has taken place and new concerns and imperatives have emerged necessitating to frame a New Education Policy to address these concerns so as to gear itself towards the demands of the 21st Century.
Accordingly, the government of India constituted a drafting committee on October 31, 2015 under the Chairmanship of TSR Subramanian with NUEPA to provide administrative assistance. The Committee was to submit its report by December 31, 2015. The Committee submitted its report in May, 2016. Based on this report a document titled , “Some Inputs for Draft National Education Policy 2016” was put in the public domain in order to solicit public opinion.
After receiving a large number of recommendations and suggestions, the MHRD felt that extensive deliberations through a high level committee are needed to frame a National Education Policy. Accordingly, on June 24, 2017, MHRD constituted a committee under the chairmanship of Dr. K. Kasturirangan for preparation of the draft National Education Policy. The Committee submitted its report on May 31, 2019 . The Draft National Education Policy 2019 (DNEP 2019) was uploaded on MHRD’s website eliciting views/suggestions/comments of stakeholders, including the public.
A brief summary of the Draft NEP 2019 was also translated in 22 languages and uploaded on the Ministry’s website. According to MHRD around 2 lakh suggestions on the Draft NEP were received from various stakeholders.These were analysed and extensively discussed. After a long wait we now have“ National Education Policy Document” approved by the cabinet on July 29, 2020.
The National Education Policy document looks like a very comprehensive one and a quick glance at it gives an impression that it provides plenty of opportunities. The question remains whether the corresponding interventions required to materialize these opportunities are in place and does the policy provide us a comprehensive framework to guide the educational destiny of the country towards the 21st century.
The preparation of the Education Policy document is a serious exercise which should provide us with an overall framework to be materialised by operational implementation strategy to govern the education system in a country. It has to clearly define the purpose of education, objective methods to be used to attain given objectives and instruments to measure quality, success or failure. The present document looks like focussing more as educational reforms than on a policy framework. Let us examine some of its important aspects in order to draw some inferences:
Universalization of Education
One of the important goals of NEP stated to be is Universalization of Education from pre-school to secondary level with 100% Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in school education by 2030. In my opinion, the RTE Act could have been one of the main instruments to achieve this. The policy document admits that a major development since the last Policy of 1986/92 has been the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 which laid down legal underpinnings for achieving universal elementary education. Interestingly, the policy document is silent on extension of RTE Act to cover children up to the age of 18.
The extant 10+2 structure in school education is envisaged to be modified with a new pedagogical and curricular restructuring of 5+3+3+4 covering ages 3-18. Currently, children in the age group of 3-6 are not covered in the 10+2 structure as Class 1 begins at age 6. In the new 5+3+3+4 structure, a strong base of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) from age 3 is also included.
It is a huge challenge to replace the current 10+2 system with a new 5+3+3+4 curricular structure. The necessary strategy for achieving this is not clearly stated in the policy document.
The Policy document envisages ‘Vocational Education’ to start from Class 6 with Internships. It is envisaged that by 2025, at least 50% of learners through the school and higher education system shall have exposure to vocational education. It needs a complete structural and academic revamping of the School Education system. The policy documents does not provide any framework for such massive revamping and does not recognize the importance and relevance of ODL which could play a major role in skilling a large number of learners by providing the support in skilling and re-skilling
For the first time, the menace of drop out has been recognised by the policy document and the first intervention envisaged is to provide effective and sufficient infrastructure so that all students have access to safe and engaging school education at all levels from pre-primary school to Grade 12. I don’t think that lack of effective and sufficient infrastructure is the cause for drop out. Nor providing regular trained teachers, can attract students back to school.
It is also envisaged to bring 2 crore out of school children back into the mainstream through an open schooling system. Drop out is a big challenge which has never been seriously addressed. A recent study by G. Sampath on, “Why children drop out from primary school” published in December, 2016 concludes that, “Poverty, availability and accessibility are the three big reasons why children drop out of school”. Are we addressing these contributory factors?
It is also envisaged that National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) will develop high-quality modules to teach Indian Sign Language, and to teach other basic subjects using Indian Sign Language. NIOS and State Open Schools are also expected “to offer A, B and C levels that are equivalent to Grades 3, 5, and 8 of the formal school system; secondary education programs that are equivalent to Grades 10 and 12; vocational education courses/programs; and adult literacy and life-enrichment programs.”
NIOS was established to provide education up to pre-degree level to those who for one or the other reason could not make use of the formal education system. There is no clear cut strategy or roadmap in the policy document as to how NIOS can achieve this target of 2 crore, teach Sign language and make other necessary interventions. It is not only a question of achieving physical targets but more importantly how to deliver quality educational interventions.
Flexibility in choice of subjects
The NEP has also laid emphasis on increased flexibility and choice of subjects of study particularly at secondary school level. In my opinion it entails that students will have to be equipped with analytical and decision making skills to make choice of subjects. There is no indication how these skills will be developed. I was greatly impressed by the Educational Framework followed by some countries considered to be imparting the best of school education in the world. For example in Singapore, one of the measures taken to build a broad and deep foundation for lifelong learning is “Student-Centric and Values- Driven Holistic Education” with a clear-cut roadmap. We only fix numerical targets at times, never to be achieved.
As far as Teacher Education is concerned, although the policy document has made a number of statements including to ‘improve and reach the levels of integrity and credibility required to restore the prestige of the teaching profession,’ and the Regulatory System to be empowered. The main intervention seems to be through a 4-year B.Ed programme with multidisciplinary institutions by 2030. This may be a good long-term strategy but Teacher Training may not be able to wait and needs immediate attention through well modulated short term quality training programmes, which seems to have been overlooked.
Open and Distance Learning (ODL)
The NEP has underlined the significance of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) by stating that all types of institutions could offer ODL programs, provided they are specifically accredited to do so. The intent seems to be that it will help realise the goal of 50% GER.
The existing data shows that “out of 21.1% GER in higher education, 3.5 million students are enrolled in the open and distance institutions that comprises 12% of the total enrollment of 29.6 million in higher education in the year 2012-13.” Is then ODL only an instrument to achieve targeted GER?
Actually the biggest challenge with ODL is to address the issue of perceived notion of its equivalence with the formal system. We have not given it much needed equivalence nor have we accepted it as supplementing and reinforcing formal education systems.
Having spent decades in imparting education through distance mode, I was shocked to see how ODL was ignored both in the earlier documents as well as in the constitution of NEP committee.
It has the greatest potential to democratize education in general and higher education in particular in the country. It seems to have been completely neglected for reasons best known to policy makers. I only hope that it will receive due attention in the implementation strategy document.
Equitable and Inclusive Education
Finally, I would like to touch upon an important aspect relating to equity and access. Under section 6 of the policy document on “Equitable and Inclusive Education: Learning for All“, it is categorically stated that, “Education is the single greatest tool for achieving social justice and equality. Inclusive and equitable education – while indeed an essential goal in its own right – is also critical to achieving an inclusive and equitable society in which every citizen has the opportunity to dream, thrive, and contribute to the nation.” The intention seems to be noble but not fully translated into action. The Muslim minority seems to be main target of negligence.
In a research paper on “Educational Development of Muslim Minority: with Special Reference to Muslim Concentrated States of India” published in Journal of Education and Research, NIEPA , New Delhi, the researcher Manju Narula categorically concludes that “in spite of being the largest minority, they are lagging behind in education in comparison with other religious minorities. Literacy which is a first step to education is lowest among the Muslim minority and inter- state variation in their literacy rates is also very high.”
One also notices that the policy document also does not mention about “Madrasa Modernization Programme” which was suppose to have been planned for upliftment of the Muslim community. It could have been a great step towards Equitable and Inclusive Education if the “Scheme to Provide Quality Education in Madrasas (SPQEM)” was recognized as an policy intervention to provide “modern, quality education” in every madrasa across the India.
To conclude , in my opinion the New Educational Policy framework has to be a document which guides the nation to turn India into a knowledgeable and learning society. These policies are not frequently framed; therefore there is a need to have a serious look at the above concerns before an implementation strategy is designed and finalized. It is clearly stated in the policy document that implementation will be guided by various principles and the important principle to be kept in mind while framing , implementation strategy is that “the spirit and intent of the Policy will be treated as the most critical matter.”
Education is a great leveller and is the best tool for achieving economic and social mobility, inclusion, and equality. I am looking forward to seeing how our Ministry of Education will ensure that every school is a good school by creating opportunities for all.
Cristian Aedo and others in a World Bank Blog considers Finland: A miracle of education and states that “the Finnish education policy values more quality and less control and competition. Schools, teachers and local authorities are trusted and there is a political consensus about the commonly agreed goals of education.” The big question remains: “Do we trust school teachers and have we got political consensus?”
The author is Former Vice-Chancellor, IGNOU. Views are personal.
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