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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

New Educational Policy: Setting the priorities right for New India

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29th July 2020 marks the beginning of a new innings in the education sector of India. On this day the Government of India replaced a 34- year old National Educational Policy on education, framed in 1986 with the New Education Policy, 2020 based on the recommendations of Kasturirangan Committee.  It encapsulates some radical sweeping reforms in sync with the requirements of contemporary economic and social dynamics by offering a much needed fillip to reap the demographic dividend of India.
 The NEP is a comprehensive document entailing the road map for India’s future which would be shaped by instituting major reforms in its educational sector. It would be pertinent to discuss in detail some of the most important dimensions which have been envisaged in the new educational policy.


REFORMS IN SCHOOL EDUCATION

10+2 TO BE REPLACED BY 5+3+3+4

The NEP expands the period of compulsory schooling from the present 6-14 years of schooling to 3-18 years of schooling. The new system introduces 12 years of schooling with three years of of Anganwadi/ pre- schooling. It emphasises on a concept called Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) whereby the 10+2 structure of school curriculum is to be replaced by a 5+3+3+4 curricular structure corresponding to ages 3-8, 8-11, 11-14, and 14-18 years respectively. This is a drastic revisit of our imaginations of school education systems as the policy seeks to set the foundations of our future generations right from the pre school days so that a child is able to attain maximum intellectual and socio psychological skills by the time he/she graduates out of school. Various researches have also established that a child’s 85 percent of brain capacities develop by the age of 6 and hence the early years of nurturing and nourishing the potentials are very important. This would also allow a child to fully explore his/ her talents and make conscious career choices in future.

EMPHASIS ON MOTHER TONGUE AS A MEDIUM OF INSTRUCTION

The NEP highlights the importance of mother tongue as a medium of instruction till class 5 and even preferably till class 8. However, this provision is optional and not mandatory at all.  While the NEP continues to retain the three language formula and doesn’t impose any particular language on any one, it underlines the fact that a child is more likely to learn better and grasp the concepts easily if the teachings in the formative years of schooling is imparted in mother tongue or vernacular languages spoken widely in a particular region. Many child psychologists and educationists too have expressed the desire for imparting primary education in mother tongue of a children as they are more receptive to their immediate emotional and social settings and children in between the age of 2-8 are extremely receptive to multilingualism  but most notably  beginning with their mother tongues. After all, language shouldn’t become a barrier of learning, rather it should act as facilitator.

EMPHASIS ON SANSKRIT AND OTHER INDIC LANGUAGES

India is a rich treasure trove of cultures and hence comes the myriad diversity of diverse classical languages. The NEP intends to offer the students an opportunity to learn Sanskrit language through various innovative teaching and learning methods so that the students gets exposure to one of the most ancient language systems of India and its associated literary and scholarly works. Sanskrit will be taught in an interesting and experimental manner in a way that is contemporary relevant. Special emphasis will be given to its phonetics and pronunciation so as to make it enjoyable. NEP recommends setting an Indian Institute of Translation and Interpretation (IITI) to encourage research on linguistics and literary fields thereby opening up vast career choices for young graduates from the fields of language and literature. Other than Sanskrit, various other classical languages of the subcontinent like Odia, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada, Prakrit, Pali, etc have also been given due importance in the new policy.  Interested students could avail the opportunity of learning any of these languages as per their choice through appropriate technological tools so that these languages remain alive and vibrant in those regions where they could be best taught, nurtured and preserved. Learning and training in diverse classical languages will not only instil a sense of pride among present  generations about the rich historical and cultural tradition of India but would also carry forward these invaluable knowledge systems to posterity. Exposure to multi lingual-ism in an academic and professional manner from the school level will contribute to national integration and solidarity.
Students will also get to learn  some foreign languages like French, German, Spanish, Japanese,etc to enhance their productive workings skills and help them with their aspirations for global mobility.

SKILL EDUCATION AND VOCATIONAL TRAINING :

The most striking feature of the NEP is the emphasis on skill development and vocational training right from the school levels itself. The policy stresses that appropriate steps should be taken to enable the exposure of students to at least one skill from the school levels to prepare them for the future work force competitiveness. Countries like China, Japan and Germany have established their supremacy in the domain  of manufacturing and technological superiority because of the emphasis on skill education right from the childhood. The NEP also envisages ambitious programs to be  taught like Coding from class 6 onward to facilitate their entry into the era of disruptive technologies like Industrialization 4.0. The document also talks about internship programs for students of Class 6-12 in collaboration with local ITIs and industrial units. Therefore, its a holistic approach to prepare the future generations to usher in an era of ‘’New India’’ armed with ‘’Aatmanirbharta’’ in professional domain to extract benefits out of the economies of scale.

REJIGGING THE PURPOSE OF BOARD EXAMINATIONS:

One of the banes of our educational system is the over obsession with rote learning with the ultimate objective of mugging and cramming of lessons to get good grades. This mad race for percentages puts enormous burden on the mental health of children and stymies their creative potential of comprehending the subjects. The NEP rightly recognizes this fundamental flaw of our system and intends to fix it by redefining the parameters of Board examinations, considered an important milestone of a student’s career. While the board exams would continue, the test would be on the basis of absorption of ‘’core concepts’’ and their applicability rather than purely theoretical manner of question and answer. This shift will have manifold impact on the excellence and competence of students when they appear for competitive exams like IITJEE, NEET, UPSC Civil Services, etc as these coveted exams test the aptitude of students strictly on the basis of understanding and applicability of concepts rather than only memorising and vomiting  out the content on the day of examination.  This type of evaluation and assessment would sharpen the analytical and logical reasoning skills of students and hence enrich the texture of our education system.

REFORMS IN HIGHER EDUCATION

INCREASING GROSS ENROLMENT IN HIGHER EDUCATION

NEP 2020 aims to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education including vocational education from 26.3 per cent in 2018 to 50 per cent by 2035 and aims to add 3.5 crore new seats to higher education institutions. This is a realistic and pragmatic target as India’s core strength lies in its demographic dividend and it could aid in all round development of India only when the country invests adequately in its human resource by providing them right education, appropriate skills and providing enough avenues to help them realise their worth. Higher education has to be more dynamic, purposeful, professional and lucrative so that students don’t discontinue their studies after schooling and pursue their higher education in their respective fields of interests. The policy aims to achieve 100 per cent youth and adult literacy.

INCREASING THE EDUCATION BUDGET
One of the most heartening announcements in the NEP is the aim of increasing the spending of education to 6 per cent of GDP from the present 4 per cent as well as capping the fees charged by higher educational institutions. This would allow more inclusion of economically and socially disadvantaged sections into the higher education system as previously, many were unable to access quality higher education in various professional courses because of hefty capitation fees. More state funding of education also means more funds for research and development, with decent stipends and scholarships to meritorious students and research scholars. This would fulfil the mandate of an inclusive education system by honouring the principles of social justice.  

NEW REGULATORY BODY: HECI

The NEP proposes a new institutional mechanism named Higher Education Commission of India(HECI) which will act as an umbrella body for entire higher education, except for medical and legal education. This new body will be relieved of the funding responsibilities which has, at present crippled the efficient functioning of the existing UGC. Hence, stripping it of dual responsibilities will help HECI to focus more on academics and operate will full autonomy and capability not having to bother about funding and grants to various universities and academic programs. The body also has the leverage to redefine standards on curriculum, knowledge and skill outcomes thereby instilling professionalism in the higher education process.  Public and Private educational institutions will be governed by the same sort of norms and standards.

NO COMPARTMENTALISATION OF STREAMS

The rigid silos which exists in the current education system giving selective preference to a particular stream of study over others owing to prevailing social construct or peer pressure needs to be done away with for a broader academic and social vision. The NEP rightly addresses this issue and seeks to blur the boundaries between traditional arts, science and commerce streams and curricular and co curricular activities.  From now onwards, a student who is inclined towards Science can take up Physics as his major and simultaneously pursue a degree in History if is interested to learn the subject. Similarly, a student of Business Management can take up a degree in Fashion Studies side by side. The idea is to encourage cross – functional thinking so that the student has basic knowledge of subjects across educational fields through dual degree programmes.  This would foster all – rounded development of students by combining their scholastic and co scholastic attributes in a positive and socially productive manner. A Civil Engineer  definitely needs to have a good knowledge about structures and materials but simultaneously he also needs to be aware of environmental and social impact of a dam that he is constructing. Who will provide that? Perhaps a degree in Economics and Development Studies! IITs in India have already started Humanities and Social Science departments. We need to optimally integrate these innovative academic programmes to achieve the desired objectives.   Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities (MERUs) at par with IITs and IIMs will be set up as model institutions of multidisciplinary education imbued with global standards.


MULTIPLE ENTRY & EXIT OPTIONS

Under the NEP, undergraduate degree will be either of 3 or 4 – year duration with multiple exit options available to the students. After completing 1 year in a discipline or field including vocational or professional education, students will be awarded a certificate, a diploma on completing two years of study and a Bachelor’s Degree after 3 years. This  has been done to encourage enrolment of students in degree courses who otherwise were reluctant to enrol due to fear of wasting time and money because if they had to leave studies mid way due to some reasons, they won’t be awarded any degree. Government will also establish an Academic Bank of Credit for digitally storing academic credits earned from different Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs) so that these can be transferred and counted towards final degree earned.

ONE YEAR MASTERS PROGRAM AND SCRAPPING OF MPHIL

The NEP seeks to restructure the existing two years masters program in India by converting it into a one year program. This would vastly benefit those students who chose to pursue their Masters degree from foreign universities. Although many universities abroad already have the provision of one year Masters program, many universities in India don’t accept the one year degrees due to which many talented brains face a lot of difficulty in pursuing research or teaching job in India despite having meritorious Masters degree from the most reputed universities of the world.
      Similarly, the new policy proposes to scrap the existing MPhil programs which act as a precursor to PhD. Now, a student can directly enrol for PhD after completing post graduation. Earlier, students had to do devote too much of time and resources for completing their research work as it involved both MPhil and PhD. It makes no sense to exhaust one’s time and energy in doing research in two different stages when the objectives of research are broadly same in both MPhil and PhD.

INTERNATIONAL COLLABORATIONS

Institutional collaborations between premier universities of India and reputed global universities will give momentum to internationalisation of education. The NEP seeks to expedite this synergy through student and faculty mobility as well as encouraging famous foreign universities of distinguishable academic fame to set up campuses in India. This will add not only new dimensions to our education system but also bring dynamic new ideas and expertise as well as teaching and research methodologies on multiple arenas hitherto oblivious to our colleges and universities.

REORIENTING THE TEACHING SKILLS AND TRAINING

Quality and standards of education can’t be raised until and unless we reorient our pedagogic skills and methods.  A new and comprehensive National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education, NCFTE 2021, will be formulated by the NCTE in consultation with NCERT.  Teaching as a job will be infused with more professionalism and competence and by 2030, the minimum qualification for  teaching will be a 4 – year integrated B.Ed. degree. So, teaching as a degree will be regarded on the same parameters just like other professional courses like engineering, medicine or management. Stringent action will be taken against substandard Teachers Education Institutions (TEI).

WAY FORWARD

Just like the Ministry of HRD as been renamed as Ministry of Education, lets hope that the nod it gave to the new educational policy proves to be substantive and effective with regard to its outcomes in the near future. The educational sector, despite being one of the most important social indicators of a country, was also the most neglected one in case of India over the years. Finally, the student and academic fraternity have something to hope as it was a long and arduous wait. The NEP has much to offer, has raised expectations due to its numerous ambitious and thought provoking ideas. What we make out of it, depends a lot on our collective efforts in realising the most cherished social goal, ie, education for all. Ultimately, a purposeful education system will lay the foundation for a productive economy catapulting India into the orbit of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ as well as a 5 trillion economy.

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