Understanding the New Education Policy

The Union Cabinet recently unveiled the new National Education Policy (NEP)-2020, proposing sweeping transformational reforms in our School and Higher Education systems.  These reforms look holistic, flexible and going to promote multi-disciplinary education with an increased focus on basic skills, to make the life of students more natural and attract foreign education players to the country. Built on the five foundational pillars of Access, Equity, Quality, Affordability and Accountability, the education policy will set the roadmap that aims to transform India into a vibrant knowledge society and global knowledge superpower. It is the third major revamp of the framework of education in India since 1947; the first Education Policy was adopted in 1968 and the last one in 1986 later modified in 1992. The NEP includes universalization of education up to the secondary level with 100% Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) by 2030 and bringing 2-crore out of school children back into the mainstream through an Open Schooling System. Likewise in Higher Education with a current GER 26.3%, a target of 50% by 2035 has been set. The policy seeks to ramp-up public investment in education from the current 4.6% of GDP to 6%. The Ministry of Human Resource Development will now be the Ministry of Education, UGC, AICTE will be replaced by separate bodies and Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) will be an umbrella term for entire Higher Education.

The NEP will replace the existing 10+2 system by a new 5+3+3+4 curricular structure which corresponds to the age groups 3-8, 8-11, 11-14 and 14-18 years respectively. In the Foundational Stage (3-8), a child would start at a play school/nursery/kindergarten at the age of 3 for a period of 3 years and continue for classes 1 and 2. There is a thrust on early childhood care and education as it is a crucial stage for the development of mental faculties of a child. The Preparatory Stage (8-11) includes play, discovery and activity-based interactive classroom learning. Middle Stage (11-14) includes empirical learning in sciences, maths, arts, social sciences, humanities with vocational education to start from Class 6. Secondary Stage (14-18) includes classes from 9-12, envisages multidisciplinary study where students would be able to pick and choose any set of subjects from the available structure. Subjects like arts, music, crafts, vocational skills, sports, yoga, community service, etc will also become a part of the curricula and students can choose whatever they want. The new policy envisages that every student coming out of school/college is adept in at least one skill having a report card giving comprehensive report on his/her skills and capabilities instead of just marks. The schools will take examinations in Grades 3, 5, and 8 and there will be Board exams for Grades 10th and 12th classes. Board Exams will be allowed on up to two occasions during any given year, one main examination and one for improvement, if desired.

The undergraduate degree will be of 3-4 years duration and it will be multidisciplinary in nature. There will be no rigid separation between academic streams like arts and sciences, between curricular and extra-curricular activities and between vocational and academic streams. Students can select subjects of their liking across the streams and choose any set of subjects. With multiple exit options, the students can take sabbatical and join again after some time. A certificate will be awarded after completing 1-year in a discipline, an advanced diploma after 2-years and a Bachelor’s degree after a 3-year program. A 4-year multidisciplinary Bachelor’s program will be the preferred choice for the students as they will be awarded a degree with research if they complete a project alongside their degree. MPhil program has been discontinued and a common entrance test will be held for admission to universities and all the courses at undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD level will now be interdisciplinary. Affiliation of colleges will be phased out in 15-years and Graded Autonomy will be given to colleges on the basis of the status of their accreditation. Academic Bank of Credits will be established to facilitate transfer of credits. Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities (MERUs), at par with IITs, IIMs, will be set up as models of best multidisciplinary education of global standards. The National Research Foundation will be created as an apex body for fostering a research culture and building research capacity across Higher Education.

Ours has been a paper-pen based education. In recent years there has been a lot of hype on job-orientation or vocationism in our institutions. But the reality is that our whole education system is grounded in rote learning and its futility in practical life is a major contributing factor to the lack of our progress and development. The institutions don’t focus on meaningful learning, but making the students to pass the exams with a fixed style of question papers that have been doing the rounds from time immemorial. A rate-race set for obtaining high marks wreaks havoc on student’s life. These issues have been addressed in the new policy as the Board exams will now be easier with reduction in the syllabus and it will test primarily the concepts, core capacities rather than months of coaching or rote learning. The multidisciplinary education, would prepare students for multi-functional jobs which they may take up over their lifetimes that should make them less dependent on Govt-sector jobs. This move encourages privatization of higher education which has both positive and negative impacts. It is encouraging that in new education policy, mother tongue will be a preferred medium of instruction at least up to class-5 and no language would be imposed on anyone. No doubt we have ignored our regional and local languages but we cannot ignore the importance of English language in today’s world. English is an international language which has a great comparative global advantage in all perspectives of life. If we go for Sanskrit we will fall back on English again for almost every white-collar job, legalities and official communication.

In today’s fast-paced world, when we are facing huge unemployment problems of youth, the key thrust of curriculum and pedagogy has to be on real understanding and learning, and equipping the students with the key skills besides creating holistic and well-rounded individuals. Technology will play a major role in academics and the administration. Science education is a must and it should teach students the scientific method to differentiate between good science and pseudo-science. Students have to learn math’s not to solve an exam problem but to learn the problem-solving altitude. They have to be trained in analytical and critical thinking and made aware of the bias and prejudice that are present in humans. The emphasis on concepts, ideas, innovations, research applications and problem-solving can make learning holistic, enjoyable and engaging. The students have to be given open or free hand to decide about their life, education, career, job etc and not pressurizing them for getting good marks. For an education system to be progressive, holistic and inclusive, a degree of flexibility is a must. We have to wait and see the implementation plans for each aspect of the NEP that will list out actions to be taken by multiple bodies as the Govt has set a target of 2040 to implement the entire policy. The Education is in a concurrent list where both the Centre and the State Govts can make laws on it.

Dr Muhammad  Amin Malik is a College Principal