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National Education Policy 2020: A Step Forward

People have, for decades, questioned why the education system in our country seems mundane and repetitive and why the system never reformed with changing times? The National Education Policy 2020 [i] addresses all these questions and more. Built on the foundational pillars of access, equity, quality, affordability, and accountability, the National Education Policy (hereinafter, NEP) aims to transform India into a “global knowledge superpower”. This policy is an all-inclusive framework that provides for large scale transformational reforms in the entire education system. These systemic reforms will revolutionize education for the 300 million students in the country.


Right from basic terminologies to the governance and funding of educational institutions, this policy has shaken things up. This policy marks a drastic change for students – instead of being mere pawns in the ‘rat-race’ to score well, students will now be given greater command and improved choices to select their path. Increasing emphasis on critical thinking and discovery-oriented learning as compared to content-based memorization marks a great step forward in the system. A grand vision of what the future of education in India should look like has been laid out by this policy. Like any other policy, the NEP has evoked mixed reactions from the public, academicians as well as several ministers. While several find it progressive and the need for a better future in terms of education, several others stated that the ‘devil lies in the details’.[ii]


HISTORY OF EDUCATION POLICIES IN INDIA

A staggering 34 years after the previous Education Policy, the NEP marks a fresh change in the system. This is only the third major change brought in the education sector post-independence. The first[iii] was promulgated in 1968 under Indira Gandhi’s rule on the recommendations of the Kothari Commission. It marked the first endeavor to structurize education in the country. To accomplish total harmony and integration in the education system of the country, the National Policy on Education, 1968 focussed on providing education to persons from all sections of the society. Consistent with the provisions in the Constitution, this policy suggested compulsory education for all children between ages 6 to 14. The Kothari Commission also recommended that 6% of the national income be spent on education, similar to the 2020 policy. However, this policy was largely criticized for the lack of implementation provisions and promoting the three language formula.


The next major change took the shape of the NEP of 1986[iv] under the Rajiv Gandhi government. Furthering the idea of education-for-all as in the 1968 policy, this laid greater emphasis on people from backward classes and adult education. It initiated the concept of the use of technology in education and opened up the sector to private enterprises. Several schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and Mid-Day Meal Schemes are an outcome of this policy. This policy was later revised by the PV Narasimha Rao government in 1992 to suit developmental changes in society.


Owing to the several significant changes in over 3 decades, the need for reformation in the sector arose. The draft NEP, submitted by a panel chaired by former ISRO chief K Kasturirangan in 2018 was opened to elicit suggestions or comments from the public. The Union Cabinet in July 2020 approved this policy. However, it is important to note that so far, the NEP is only a policy, not a law. The implementation of this policy is contingent on further regulations and approval by State governments.


IMPROVISATIONS IN THE FRAMEWORK

Initiating the schooling process early on is supremely reformatory. This new policy aims to extend provisions under the Right to Education Act, 2009 from ages 3 to 18. Universalization of education from such early stages will ensure foundational literacy and numeracy. Moreover, the reconfiguration of the pedagogy from the existing 10+2 system to the 5+3+3+4 system will warrant smoother transitions for students. Previous systems were not entirely accommodative of the needs of students with changing times and instead, were based on textbook-based rote learning where the excessive focus was on traditional examinations only.


The NEP 2020, on the other hand, puts choice at every level, thereby opening up a vast spectrum of alternatives for students with multiple schemes in place. The reduction in the rigid course structure among the three streams aids majorly in utilizing student potential to the fullest. Other schemes such as the removal of separations between academic, extra-curricular, and vocational subjects, the multiple entry-exit systems and the concept of an Academic Bank of Credits suit student requirements. Another major highlight is the aim to fuse education with skill development in terms of both life skills, critical thinking abilities, and creativity as well as handiness in vocational crafts like carpentry and basic training in health and hygiene.


Bridging the gap between education and technology is another key takeaway from this policy, the need for which has amplified due to the ongoing COVID-induced lockdown. An increase in the use of educational software and AI as well as teaching coding in the school itself will be a major contributor in digitally empowering society as a whole. Several other schemes like an improved framework for teacher training, the creation of a Gender-Inclusion Fund, and the transformation of assessment tools that test conceptual clarity and critical thinking skills are major benefits of the NEP.


One point that raised a lot of controversies was that of the medium of instruction. However, appreciative of India’s multilingual culture, the policy clearly states that the medium of instruction should be a student’s mother tongue ‘wherever possible’ to bridge the gap between the language spoken and the one learned in school. English remains to be the global language and will still be taught in schools. The aim to set up the National Assessment Centre for School Education for school boards and the National Testing Agency for universities to frame guidelines for examinations reduces problems of inflated grading systems and standardizes the entire process. Furthermore, the policy also allows top foreign universities to set campuses in India as well as include provisions to host international students in the country. All in all, the policy seems like a step in the right direction.


IMPLEMENTATION

In the words of Prof. Rajendra Prasad Gupta, a public policy expert and one of the members of the National Education Policy Committee, “India's education policy is futuristic and bold, and at the same time practical, considering the needs of the time. But a lot will depend on how it is interpreted and implemented.[v] This policy recognizes the pre-existing flaws in the system and facilitates a holistic and participatory approach. Truly, if implemented in its entirety, the NEP has the potential to bring India on par with leading countries. However, the policy fails to provide much-needed clarity on implementation. It raises difficult questions that are immeasurably vital for the youth of today but offers no mechanisms for the same.


The fact that the NEP is visionary in terms of its goals set for 20 years from now is a limitation. Conversely, several specifications – such as the creation of ‘inclusion funds’ for the education of socially disadvantaged groups as well as the provision of breakfast to students – only require adequate resourcing. The final goal is to transform our education sector by 2040, and only time can tell if this policy is implemented in its true vision.


ENDNOTES

[i] National Education Policy, 2020 https://www.mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/NEP_Final_English_0.pdf

[ii] News Article in The Hindu: NEP Evokes Mixed Reactions from Academicians https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/nep-evokes-mixed-reactions-from-academicians/article32235112.ece

[iii] National Policy on Education, 1968 (revised in 1992) https://www.mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/document-reports/NPE-1968.pdf

[iv] National Policy on Education, 1986 https://www.mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/upload_document/NPE86-mod92.pdf

[v] Article on NDTV: NEP Explained by One of its Authors https://www.ndtv.com/opinion/national-education-policy-nep-explained-by-one-of-its-authors-2272855


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

This blog has been authored by Niti Gosrani who is a 1st Year B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at Government Law College, Mumbai.


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