National Education Policy 2020 is a giant step forward to realise the golden Indian philosophy of indefatigable effort to attain knowledge, wisdom and truth
In the year 1963, an American Economist Robert Heilbroner published a book named “The Great Ascent”. In the book, Heilbroner wrote, “Economic growth is not merely a matter of physical resources or of training skilled workers, it needs ‘education’ of the whole population in new ways of life, thought and work.”
And five years later, the independent India published its first National Education Policy (NEP 1968). It manifested our unequivocal commitment to embark upon the “great ascent” of economic development that Heilbroner talked about.
Since then, we have come a long way. Indian education system has given one of the most sought-after brains to the world. We have groomed one of the finest mathematicians, engineers, doctors and accounting professionals that form the backbones of Fortune 500 companies. India forms the fastest growing and the fifth largest economy in the world and boasts having the most vibrant diaspora in different geographies, thanks to the traditional quench to seek wisdom and truth through different sources of knowledge.
In the last three decades, we have witness tremendous technological advancements and drastic changes in economies and societies, but education could not remain immune from that. An ever-evolving technological landscape and the commensurate requirements of improved knowledge, skills and attitude called for an equally agile and adaptive human resource development. Our current educational system increasingly struggled to offer solutions to these challenges. It looked increasingly static, compartmentalised and detached from the ground realities.
Against this backdrop, the committee headed by renowned scientist and former ISRO chief K Kasturirangan has proposed ground breaking changes in both, educational policy and its implementation, culminating into the National Education Policy (NEP 2020).
While a lot has been written and shared in the public domain about NEP 2020, what impressed me as an educationist are the below five aspects:
Firstly, it introduces a much-needed flexibility, so that learners can choose their learning trajectories and programmes. There would be no hard separations between arts and sciences, between curricular and extra-curricular activities, between vocational and academic streams, etc.
If we delve into the history, we see multiple examples of how great personalities had switched over from one educational sector to another. Sir Charles Darwin had left his medical education at Edinburgh halfway, and later pursued his passion in Botany at Cambridge. Jack Ma was a dropout of Harvard prior to building his Alibaba Empire. Similarly, Sachin Tendulkar is practically a PhD in Cricket; however, the current educational system didn’t call him even a graduate. However, things are expected to change during NEP 2020.
Secondly, it envisages making education more experiential. It’s worth mentioning para 1.25 of NEP 2020, which says, “In our opinion, all good and purposeful education should consist of at least four basic elements:
- literacy or a study of languages, the humanities and the social sciences;
- numeracy or a study of mathematics and the natural sciences;
- work-experience; and
- social service.
Thirdly, there is a clear shift of focus from education during the formative years to a lifelong education. This change was highly necessary to enable our human resources adapt to the disruptive changes. The Covid-19 crisis created an exponential need for online education, and the teaching fraternity and students were involuntarily familiarised with various conferencing platforms.
Fourthly, it takes our endeavour of universal education to the next level, viz. the universal high-quality education. This emphasis on quality is also reflected in the restructuring of school curriculum and pedagogy from today’s 10 + 2 system to a new 5+3+3+4 design: Foundational stage, consisting of 3 years of pre-school and 2 years of primary school; preparatory stage, consisting of grades 3-5, building on the pedagogical and curricular style of the foundational stage; middle stage, consisting of grades 6-8, introducing experiential learning within each subject and explorations of relations among different subjects, along with the introduction of more specialized subjects and subject teachers; secondary stage, consisting of grades 9 -12, involving greater depth, greater critical thinking, greater attention to life aspirations, and greater flexibility and student choice of subjects.
In particular, the students would have an option of exiting after grade 10 and re-entering in the next phase to pursue vocational or any other courses available in grades 11-12, including attending a more specialised school, if so desired.
This, coupled with the changes in grading systems and introduction of continuous feedback mechanism may bring about the desired qualitative changes in the educational sector. The NEP also focused on providing vocational education and internship at school level. These internship will not limit benefitting only to the academic institutes and students, but it will also have advantage for local market, industry and agriculture sector. As the local market will acquire the latest information for the latest trends and latest development respective fields from the students, it will assist them to explore new market opportunities nationally and internationally. Students will have an exposure to local corporate and agricultural sector that can lead them to utilise their knowledge to resolve issues faced by local market and also can contribute for its growth. In this way academic institutes can play a role of catalyst for local social transformation.
Fifthly, the NEP proposes the much needed “de-bureaucratisation” of the higher education in India. It envisages an umbrella organisation, the Higher Education Commission of India (HGCI) that would facilitate a “light but tight” regulatory framework. The committee and the Government of India deserve a round of applause for drafting and approving a policy that envisions a faceless and transparent regulatory intervention using technology, thereby reducing the human interface.
Sixthly, education is one of the crucial tools in soft power politics. Many international students carry impact of the country where they study. In India, more than 1 lakh international students attain their educational degrees in various universities. India is one of the favourite Educational destinations of Asian and African students owing to affordability of education and diverse culture system. The NEP will open door to international universities to establish their campus in India. Hence, it can be an opportunity for Indian and foreign universities to have collaboration and establish their campus. This sort of collaboration will form a platform for exchange of knowledge that will not restrict itself
to academic level but it will reach among the students.
Seventhly, multidisciplinary approach in educational system will bring holistic development among the students. It will also provide an opportunity to students to pursue their passion and give various dimensions from students’ latest knowledge to the respective sectors.
A thorny path ahead
A great policy does not necessarily result into a great outcome, unless there is a continued commitment towards the objective. The earlier NEP 1968 envisaged an investment of 6 per cent of GDP in the educational sector. As against that, our current outlay in the sector is pegged at about 4.43 per cent (source: NEP 2020). This leaves us with an investment gap of almost Rs 3 lakh crore year on year.
Out of the current expenditure, a sizable portion is spent on the primary education, leaving an insufficient investment in the higher education. And the outcome is glaring. A recent OECD report mentions that around 71 per cent of adults in India do not have upper secondary education.
A lot of effort would go into building new curriculum, material, testing standards, developing AI-based evaluation apps, capacity building, etc. To bring about the desired qualitative change in education, the NEP 2020 envisages conducting 6-month certificate programmes for the anganwadi workers in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE). Just imagine, there are around 13 lakh anganwadi workers in India. So, how much time will it take to conduct their certifications? Thanks to Government of India, where Prime Minister Modi has given his consistent focus on infrastructural development in the field of information technology which can enable flow of information from urban to rural India. The NEP focuses on online and digital education. These days Internet is flooded with educational content. The content available thus need to be monitored and authorised by Ministry of Education to eliminate unwanted content burden on the students.
The pursuit of knowledge (jnan), wisdom (pragyaa), and truth (satya) has always been considered in Indian thought and philosophy as the highest human goal. Thus, NEP 2020 is a great step forward to achieve that goal. The destiny of India is being shaped in universities and academic institutions.
(The writer is executive president of MIT- World Peace University, Pune )