The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 could not have come a day too soon. It replaced the extant policy introduced 34 years ago, which had remained stuck in first gear for about two decades. The world has changed very rapidly in that time. Our educational needs have also changed. We are facing a critical time when questioning intelligently, challenging rigorously, debating constructively and deciding impartially about the education sector has been a felt need.
The NEP, which seeks to provide a comprehensive framework for school and higher education in the country, answers this need. The NEP promises to address the twin problems of our education system, namely, rote learning and the disconnect between education and life. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while addressing a conclave on the NEP, highlighted how it focuses on the shift in approach from ‘what to think’ to ‘how to think’ and how it transforms the ‘intent’ and ‘content’ of the education sector with emphasis on integrating ‘local’ and ‘global’, ultimately laying the foundation for a ‘New India’. These objectives no doubt are transformational in nature.
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The NEP proposes to change the existing school curricular structure. It seeks to replace the 10+2 structure with a 5+3+3+2 structure, thus roping children from ages three to five into the formal education system. The NEP also recognises the importance of learning in the mother tongue at least till Class 5. A mission for foundational literacy and numeracy, free breakfasts in government schools, vocational education from Class 6 along with internships and a redesign of board examinations are some of the key initiatives for school education.
The thrust on early vocational education has its detractors. They argue that it will weaken the students academically and perpetuate hereditary occupations. But their argument is weak. It is proven that technological advantages in vocational education help students of all sections and such training is in no way detrimental to academic excellence. The NEP aims to focus on skill development including physical education. A major reform is four-year undergraduate courses with multiple entry and exit options and a credit transfer system proposed to be introduced in 20 Institutes of Eminence (IOEs) from the 2020-21 academic year.
The NEP also aims to bridge the engineering and liberal arts worlds. Another proposal is the establishment of a model multidisciplinary education and research university in every district. This is a bold initiative but it will be a non-starter in some states where the governments have carved out very small districts for political reasons. Affiliations to universities have lost charm due to overload. The NEP seeks to abolish this system. This is a much-needed reform. We have admitted misfits into the teaching profession for too long. To address the problem, the NEP seeks to put in place a robust teacher recruitment system. The other significant reform is weeding out teacher education institutions. They hardly serve the purpose for which they were established. They need to go.
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For the use and integration of technology, and to ensure equitable use of online and digital education, an autonomous body known as the National Educational Technology Forum will be created to provide a platform for the free exchange of ideas and processes on the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning. The NEP also proposes a bold prescription to move educational institutions to the path of self-assessment and voluntary declaration, freeing them from yearly inspections.
The ‘light but tight’ regulatory approach—a single, lean body with four verticals for standards-setting, funding, accreditation and regulation—is a radical reform. Arts, science, technical and teacher education will be under its fold, replacing many existing regulatory bodies. Top foreign universities will be allowed to set up campuses in India. There shall be a National Research Foundation with a comprehensive approach to transform research culture in all Higher Education Institutions (HEIs).
The one change that has brooked no delay is renaming the Ministry of Human Resources Development as the Ministry of Education. The NEP proposes to implement the policy in a phased manner with the optional sequencing of 100 action points. The National Testing Agency will introduce a pilot version of the Common Entrance Test by December 2020, which will be the basis for admissions to all the IOEs and the Central Universities in 2021. In the decade of 2030-40, the entire policy will be in an operational mode.
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Education is a concurrent subject. Therefore, operationalising the proposals under the NEP hinges on the establishment of suitable regulations by both the Centre and states. The NEP proposes to strengthen and empower the Central Advisory Board of Education in which the education ministers of all the states are members. The mechanism has been well-thought-out, but much depends on the conviction of the political executives of the states and the education functionaries across the country.
Reforms in education are not easy. There are too many players in the game and to motivate them in a particular direction is a stupendous task. Academicians and education administrators are the hardest to convince. Rooted as they are in their past, education for them is etched in self-replication. Therefore, they are unlikely change agents. But in the absence of a choice of starting on a clean slate, the focus has to be on how to identify, prepare and retrain education leaders such as vice-chancellors, principals, headmistresses, registrars, etc.
The case of political masters is no better. They believe that the policy is self-propelling, which can never be true. It requires strong political will and robust wisdom to operationalise the reforms. How many political bosses in states have the necessary educational foundation and sagacity to drive the reforms is the moot question. But chief ministers must find one open-minded, tenacious and educated minister in their states to implement the reforms. If we succeed in doing this, the NEP will take off beautifully and pave the way to realise the dream of a ‘New India’.
Educationist & ex-commissioner of Collegiate and Technical Education in erstwhile Andhra
Courtesy: The New Indian Express
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