The New Education Policy- Changes and Challenges.
The New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 was passed by the Union Cabinet on July 30, in a swift process that raised eyebrows and was met by protests by opposition parties who felt that the NEP, with its long term impact on the coming generations, should have been put up for debate in the lower house as well as the upper house of the Parliament.
However now in place, The NEP 2020 presents a series of changes and challenges that have to be gradually implicated and addressed over the course of coming 10 to 15 years. Keeping in mind the vastly evolved world scenario from the time the last education policy was drafted in 1986 and edited in 1992, the NEP stands out in its focus on providing students with opportunities to develop ‘21st-century skills’, with the introduction of coding as a subject from class 6. The NEP also aims to integrate technology and use it more efficiently by establishing National Educational Technology Forum (NETF), which will act as a platform to ensure the free flow of ideas on how to use technology to enhance learning, teaching, and assessment.
The existing 10+2 pedagogical structure will be replaced by a 5+3+3+4 system, including the pre-school in the framework as well. These 4 stages will be the Foundational stage (ages 3-8), Preparatory stage (ages 8-11), Middle stage (ages 11-14) and the Secondary stage (ages 14-18). The boundaries between art & science would also be blurred, allowing students to choose science subjects like Physics, along with Humanities subjects like Philosophy.
The Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) will be given a fresh makeover as the Ministry of Education, aiming to promote holistic learning, and laying special emphasis on vocational training of all students from an early age. Goals have also been set to boost the gross enrolment ratio (GER), both in higher and primary education, with a 100% GER at the Primary level, and a 50% GER for higher education, which was at 26.3% in 2018, to be achieved by 2035.
(Image credits- https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=isCOT99RsQU)
The entire education system will be overseen by the newly formed Higher Education Commission of India (HECI), which will have four vertical bodies- General Education Council, Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC), National Accreditation Council (NAC), and National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC) focusing on standard-setting, funding, accreditation and regulation respectively. A new assessment centre, PARAKH (Performance, Assessment, Review & Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic development) will also be established in order to set the norms, guidelines and standards for evaluation and assessment of students. The board examinations are also expected to get ‘easier’, aiming to test the core competencies of the students, and aiding to the systematic dismantling of the infamous coaching system prevalent in India.
Many educators and experts have long voiced their opinion that in the initial years, it is easier for a child to understand the concepts in their home language, mother tongue, or the local/regional language. Acting on this, the NEP has instructed schools to use one of these languages until 5th standard, preferably till 8th standard as a medium of instruction. This move comes as a welcome change after the earlier ruling that made Hindi a mandatory language till class 8th, which was met with strong resistance from the multiple South Indian States. A 3-language curriculum will be in place which will offer Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, among other classical Indian languages as options. A choice of foreign languages like Korean Japanese, Thai, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Russian will also be offered at the secondary level.
On the college front, a more flexible curriculum is to be adopted for under graduation, with more options to stop midway providing a 1-year exit with vocational and professional certification, a 2-year course for diploma and a 3/4- year course for an undergraduate degree. However, this new system has also been met with some criticism, with claims being made that it will promote and add to the drop-out rates.
The government has announced that it will increase funding in the education sector to 6% of the GDP, which has been the stated goal since the 1960s and has not been met since.
(Image credits- https://www.drishtiias.com/daily-updates/daily-news-editorials/national-education-policy-nep-2020)
Factors like these have raised worries among experts, with the NEP being compared to another party manifesto, full of promises of necessary change but no fixed timelines or concrete plan to carry it out. In multiple aspects, the centre still needs to work out terms with the state governments, as the successful implication of the NEP is equally dependent on both. One such case where there is a visible contrast in the policies of the centre and the state is the recent move by the Telangana government to mandate English as the medium to deliver lessons in schools. The worst-hit would be the Anganwadis, which under the NEP have been trusted with the responsibility of Pre-Schooling but have historically been underfunded and have had weak infrastructures. With new goals in mind and the added incentive of included breakfast in mid-day meal schools, these Anganwadis are in the dire need of a thorough renovation, not just in terms of physical infrastructure, but also in terms of staff and trained teachers. Further challenges wait for the students of the lower-class category, as the government incorporates distance learning and online classes in its curriculum which, a major part of achieving the projected GER. The pandemic in itself has shown the harsh reality of the weak online learning structure currently present in India, with just 24% of households having an internet connection. The number dwindles further for the number of households with computers, which is just 11%, and where students can attend lectures on smartphones, computers are a requisite for research work and assignments. The step to make education digital seems impressive on paper, but the figures clearly indicate that Indian households are not yet equipped enough to handle it. Implementing the model will only result in increased education inequality, making it harder for the poor to access quality education.
The NEP also aims to decentralise education, with more and more universities and institutions being granted autonomous status and being monitored by standards and guidelines set by the HECI. This step will slowly but surely lead to the privatization of education, which can end disastrously as private entities begin to enter the game with profit as the main agenda, and conveniently charge exorbitant fees just by fulfilling basic necessities set by the center.
Where the NEP 2020 has a lot of potential and is indeed the need of the hour for the age-old education system, there is a massive responsibility on the shoulder of the authorities concerned to gear up and formulate a plan of action with solid deadlines and achievable goals while also avoiding the concentration of power to avoid the babu raj, tackling corruption that can easily creep in. Only with a dedicated team, and someone to take a strong stand and take charge, do these goals seem achievable. Otherwise like the Right To Education (RTE) act, with its 10 pointers to improve school education, of which only 12.6% were met over 10 years, NEP will also become a failed attempt to reform the Indian education system.