On July 30, 2020, the Union Cabinet approved the National Education Policy 2020, paving the way for significant and long standing reforms in the education sector in India.
The NEP 1986, formed nearly three decades ago, had been under scrutiny for several years. Many educationists felt that it was time to retire the 1986 policy (amended in 1991) and develop a new policy that was more suitable for current needs. The Ministry of Human Resource Development in 2017 formed a Committee, led by Dr. K. Kasturirangan to draft the new National Education Policy. The draft policy was submitted to the Ministry in May 2019, and after wide public consultation, the new NEP finally came into effect last month. In what is being described as a watershed moment in the country, the NEP 2020 promises to bring about a huge transformation in the way India delivers education to its growing population.
Let’s have a look at some of the main highlights of the NEP 2020:
The NEP recommends that the existing structure of school education must be reorganised to align with the developmental stages of children. The current structure 10+2 will be redesigned into a 5-3-3-4 design, meaning that there will be five years of foundational education(for ages 3 to 8), three years of preparatory school(for classes 3 to 5), three years of middle school(for classes six to eight), four years of secondary education(classes 9 to 12). It is also believed that this structure will bring India on par with schools systems abroad.
The biggest turning point as a result of the restructuring, will be the inclusion of Early Childhood Care and Education in the formal school structure. The NEP recognises the early years in a child’s life as the most crucial; a child learns to experience, communicate, socialise and think during the first five to six years of life, and therefore, it is critical to nurture them and provide adequate resources and opportunities that stimulate a child’s overall development. By changing the school structure to follow the 5-3-3-4 design of the school curriculum, ECCE will receive greater focus than it has in the past.
The NCERT has been given the responsibility of developing a robust, national curriculum and pedagogical framework for ECCE. This move will bring anganwadis within primary schools, and stand alone pre-primary schools within the ambit of the new education model and as experts say, force the three Ministries-MHRD, WCD and HFW to work together.
The Policy recognises the lack of basic literacy and numeracy skills in children currently enrolled in elementary school. The proportion of students who are unable to read, and do basic arithmetic is alarmingly high in the country. According to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2018, only 28% of Indian children at grade III can read at the expected Grade II level, and only about half the students in Grade V can do arithmetic at Grade II level. In order to address this, the NEP recommends that a National Mission on Foundation Literacy and Numeracy be set up under the MHRD, and sets 2025 as the deadline by when State governments are expected to ensure children achieve foundational literacy and numeracy. It also speaks of the lack of access to structured resources to teachers, and says that the government’s e-learning platform, DIKSHA, must be strengthened with additional resources for teachers.
Another significant shift which will bring some respite to students and parents, are the changes in the exam structure. The NEP places emphasis on holistic, cumulative learning rather than having one main exam determine a student’s fate in the system. The NEP emphasizes the importance of applying learning, rather than rote learning. In the future, board exams will cover a range of subjects and test only core concepts. Students can take exams on two occasions during an academic year. In order to track students’ progress throughout their school years, examinations will be conducted in grades 3, 5 and 8.
Till grade five, in both private as well as public schools, the NEP recommends that the medium of instruction should be in the local language / mother tongue, as it has long been recognised that children first begin to learn in a language that they hear more often. Experts say that learning can happen easily and be more effective if children are taught in a language they understand. The current three language system will continue, with two of those languages being Indian languages. Further, there has been a push towards making Sanskrit available in schools as an alternative to other languages.
Teacher training that has long been a cause for concern has received fresh impetus in the NEP 2020. The existing B.Ed programme for teachers will be extended to four years. Changes will be made to the curriculum by a National Council for Teacher Education, in consultation with NCERT to make sure that teachers are trained better, are up to date with the latest developments in the education space, and have opportunities for consistent professional training every year. Click here to see Learning Matters’ training programs for teachers.
However, a much more recommendation that will bring immense relief to the one about non-teaching administrative duties that teachers are repeatedly engaged in. For decades, teachers have been over burdened with delivering and monitoring various activities launched by their respective state and local governments--census, polio drives and other awareness campaigns-- that has taken away time that they could have spent in preparing for their classes and upskilling programmes. The NEP strongly recommends that henceforth, teachers be left out of non teaching administrative duties.
A common National Exam will be introduced for students applying to the 60 odd Universities in the country. This, experts say will not only regulate how Universities are run, but will also “set higher standards and build rigour into the education system.”
Last, but certainly not the least, the NEP 2020 recognises the need to better integrate technology in teaching and learning. Technology has long established its effectiveness in addressing the challenges of teaching in a classroom that has a diverse group of students, at different learning levels. Countries around the world are far ahead of India in terms of leveraging technology in education. Click here to see Tara, a virtual voice teacher that uses natural language processing and artificial intelligence, teaching communicative English to students and teachers.
The ongoing public health crisis too has put a sharp focus on the digital divide between urban and rural schools, increasing the sense of urgency with which technology, as a medium, has to be built into the curriculum. The NEP recommends the setting up of a National Education Technology Forum (NETF) to facilitate the capacity building, and use of technology in schools.
This is in alignment to what several civil society groups and edtech companies, including Learning Matters, have been advocating for many years.
The NEP emphasizes on the need to increase the gross enrollment ratio to 50% by 2035, by encouraging institutions to increase the number of online and distance learning programmes available, as this will increase the reach.
Higher Education Institutions will be governed by a Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) replacing the UGC / All India Council for Technical Education. It will also be restructured into three categories-degree or undergraduate colleges, research and teaching universities, and teaching universities that focus only on teaching. The NEP recommends more autonomy in academic, financial and administrative functioning.
The NEP has introduced an element of choice in the HE curriculum. It says that the curriculum framework must be revised, in order to give more flexibility and choice to students on subjects they want to study. For the first time, a multidisciplinary framework where students can choose to study across streams particularly in secondary school has been recommended. Further, students will be able to accumulate academic credits earned from various HEIs and earn degrees based on this credit system.
Research and innovation, traditionally low on funding in India, are expected to receive a boost, by the setting up of a National Research Foundation. The Foundation will be responsible for facilitating funding and improving research opportunities.
Foreign universities will be allowed to set up campuses in India, and will be given “exemptions from regulatory and governance norms” so that they follow the same rules and regulations as autonomous institutions in the country would.
Recognising that vocational education is the need of the hour, the NEP recommends that vocational education and training be introduced in all schools, starting from Grade VI and higher education institutions over the next 10 years. This is noteworthy because it gives students an opportunity to gain new skills, learn and experience different types of vocations and be job ready.
Educationists and policy makers, while recognising that a majority of the changes in the NEP 2020 are positive, have also pointed out several grey areas in the policy that need to be addressed. The most significant criticisms against the policy are:
Funding: The NEP in 1968 envisaged investing 6% of GDP in education. However, public expenditure on education in India was just over 4% of its GDP in 2018. Experts agree that India has a growing youth population, and it needs a substantially larger budget allocated to education. The NEP 2020 acknowledges that expenditure on education has to be increased, and commits to increasing the expenditure to 6% of the GDP, but does not address where the additional funding that will be required to make NEP come true will come from, nor does it say how the increase will be shared between the centre and the states. This will be a significant roadblock if it is not addressed adequately.
Timelines: Many reforms recommended in the NEP are not time bound. Educationist Meeta Sengupta, says in an Economic Times interview, NEP: 2020: What does the new policy mean for learners and India’s education system?’ on July 30, 2020, that although there are broad timelines for implementation specified in the NEP, between 2021 and 2035, it is too long a time period for fundamental changes to occur, and fears that the recommendations will fall through the crack without more clarity on timelines.
Local language /mother tongue as medium of instruction: Some educationists argue that insisting on mother tongue as the language of instruction will further widen the gap between urban and rural India, and maintain the status quo on class-based differences in society. Parents who can afford to send their children to English medium schools will continue to do so, but those who cannot will continue to send their children to schools that use the local language as the medium of instruction. Invariably, those children will be left out of higher education and employment opportunities. There is also no mention of what will happen to children who migrate with their parents all across the country. Dhanmanjiri Sathe, an Economics Professor at the Savitribai Phule Pune University has expressed her concerns, in a recent article in the Indian Express, on August 4, 2020. She says that there is a conflict “between what the educationists say-one understands the subject best in the mother tongue, we as a nation should not lose such a multitude of languages, and what the parents think is necessary for the economic survival of their children.” Given this context, many experts have emphasized the need to continue to increase children’s exposure to English right from an early age, and place equal emphasis on English, so that children are not left behind.
Anganwadi centres: In terms of ECCE, a valid criticism against bringing anganwadis into the formal schooling structure, is the fear of additional responsibility that may be enforced on anganwadi workers. Experts say that there are several issues facing anganwadi workers which have remained unresolved over the years. Underpaid, under-recognized, and yet over-worked with duties not directly related to the centre, many critics say that before any reforms are carried out, there must be attempts to fix the sense of distrust and disillusion anganwadi workers feel towards the State. On the bright side, the NEP has recommended that anganwadi workers with secondary education be given the opportunity to upskill, with a six month certification programme in ECCE.
Privatisation: Experts feel that moving towards autonomy of higher educational institutions, will open the doors for greater privatisation of public education and lead to increase in fees. This may lead to more dropouts which defeats the purpose of the NEP 2020.
The lack of a detailed plan: A clear plan to implement the changes is missing in the NEP 2020, and it will be impossible for state governments to carry out the recommendations of the NEP 2020 without deliberations on planning and implementation.
Despite the issues pointed out by several experts, the NEP 2020 is a step in the right direction. It addresses key issues that have haunted the education system in India for more than three decades and therefore, must be lauded for its intent to fix those issues, and its foresightedness to drive transformational changes in the education system. One must also remember that the NEP 2020 provides a framework; it is a vision document not an operational one. The key to realising NEP 2020 is in how rigorously and diligently it is implemented on the ground. This can only happen if the government takes swift steps to make changes to existing laws, provide support to teachers and educational institutions, and give them some direction that would make implementing the recommendations in NEP 2020 easy and effective.