A critical insight into NEP 2020 [Part II]

The National Education Policy has a grand vision but lacks insight into current reality
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According to the All India Survey on Higher Education, the Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in higher education in India has increased from 20.8% in 2011-12 to 25.8% in 2017-18.

Identified lack of access as a major reason behind low intake of higher education in the country. It aims to increase GER to 50% by 2035 from the current level of about 25.8%.  Key recommendations in this regard include: 

Regulatory structure and accreditation: The current higher education system has multiple regulators with overlapping mandates. 

This reduces the autonomy of higher educational institutions and creates an environment of dependence and centralised decision making. Therefore, it proposes setting up the National Higher Education Regulatory Authority (NHERA). 

This independent authority would replace the existing individual regulators in higher education, including professional and vocational education.  This implies that the role of all professional councils such as AICTE and the Bar Council of India would be limited to setting standards for professional practice. 

The role of the University Grants Commission (UGC) will be limited to providing grants to higher educational institutions.Currently, the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) is an accreditation body under the UGC.

The draft Policy recommends separating NAAC from the UGC into an independent and autonomous body.  In its new role, NAAC will function as the top level accreditor, and will issue licenses to different accreditation institutions, who will assess higher educational institutions once every five to seven years.  All existing higher education institutions should be accredited by 2030.

Establishment of new higher educational institutions: Currently, higher educational institutions can only be set up by Parliament or state legislatures. 

The Policy proposes that these institutions could be allowed to be set up through a Higher Education Institution Charter from NHERA.  This Charter will be awarded on the basis of transparent assessment of certain specified criteria.  All such newly constituted higher educational institutions must receive accreditation as mandated by NHERA within five years of being established.

Restructuring of higher education institutions: Higher education institutions will be restructured into three types: (i) research universities focusing equally on research and teaching; (ii) teaching universities focusing primarily on teaching; and (iii) colleges focusing only on teaching at undergraduate levels.  All such institutions will gradually move towards full autonomy - academic, administrative, and financial.

Establishing a National Research Foundation: The total investment on research and innovation in India has declined from 0.84% of GDP in 2008 to 0.69% in 2014.  India also lags behind many nations in number of researchers (per lakh population), patents and publications. 

The Policy recommends establishing a National Research Foundation, an autonomous body, for funding, mentoring and building the capacity for quality research in India. The Foundation will consist of four major divisions: sciences, technology, social sciences, and arts and humanities, with the provision to add additional divisions.  The Foundation will be provided with an annual grant of Rs 20,000 crore (0.1% of GDP).
Moving towards a liberal approach:

The Policy recommends making undergraduate programmes interdisciplinary by redesigning their curriculum to include: (a) a common core curriculum and (b) one/two area(s) of specialisation.  Students will be required to choose an area of specialisation as ‘major’, and an optional area as ‘minor’. 

Four-year undergraduate programmes in Liberal Arts will be introduced and multiple exit options with appropriate certification will be made available to students.  Further, within the next five years, five Indian Institute of Liberal Arts must be setup as model multidisciplinary liberal arts institutions.
Professional development of faculty:

The poor service conditions and heavy teaching loads at higher education institutions have resulted in low faculty motivation.  Further, lack of autonomy and no clear career progression system are also major impediments to faculty motivation. 

The Policy recommends development of a Continuous Professional Development programme and introduction of a permanent employment (tenure) track system for faculty in all higher education institutions by 2030.  Further, a desirable student-teacher ratio of not more than 30:1 must be ensured.

Optimal learning environment: Recognising that the curricula remain rigid, narrow, and archaic, faculty often lacks the autonomy to design curricula, which negatively impacts pedagogy.  It recommends that all higher education institutions must have complete autonomy on curricular, pedagogical and resource-related matters.

Education Governance

There is a need to revisit the existing system of governance in education, and bring in synergy and coordination among the different ministries, departments and agencies.

In this context, it recommends:
Creation of a National Education Commission or Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog, as an apex body for education, to be headed by the Prime Minister.

This body will be responsible for developing, implementing, evaluating, and revising the vision of education in the country on a continuous and sustained basis. 

It will oversee the implementation and functioning of several bodies including the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), the proposed National Higher Education Regulatory Authority, and National Research Foundation.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Development must be renamed as the Ministry of Education in order to bring focus back on education.

Financing Education

The  Policy reaffirmed the commitment of spending 6% of GDP as public investment in education. Note that the first National Education Policy (NEP) 1968 had recommended public expenditure in education must be 6% of GDP, which was reiterated by the second NEP in 1986.  In 2017-18, public expenditure on education in India was 2.7% of GDP.

The Policy seeks to double the public investment in education from the current 10% of total public expenditure to 20% in the next 10 years. Of the additional 10% expenditure, 5% will be utilised for universities and colleges (higher education), 2% will be utilised for additional teacher costs or resources in school education and 1.4% will be utilised for early childhood care and education..  It recommends optimal and timely utilisation of funds through the institutional development plans.

Technology in Education

Recognising that technology plays an important role in: (a) improving the classroom process of teaching, learning and evaluation, (b) aiding in preparation of teachers and continuous professional development of teachers, (c) improving access to education in remote areas and for disadvantaged groups, and (d) improving the overall planning, administration and management of the entire education system. It recommends focused electrification of all educational institutions as electricity is a pre-requisite for all technology-based interventions.  Further, it recommends:

National Mission on Education through information and communication technology: The Mission will encompass virtual laboratories that provide remote access to laboratories in various disciplines.  A National Education Technology Forum will also be setup under the Mission, as an autonomous body, to facilitate decision making on the induction, deployment and use of technology.  This Forum will provide evidence-based advice to central and state-governments on technology-based interventions. 
National Repository on Educational Data: A National Repository will be setup to maintain all records related to institutions, teachers, and students in digital form.  Further, a single online digital repository will be created where copyright-free educational resources will be made available in multiple languages. 

Vocational Education

Observing that less than 5% of the workforce in the age-group of 19-24 receives vocational education in India. This is in contrast to 52% in the USA, 75% in Germany and 96% in South Korea.  It recommends integrating vocational educational programmes in all educational institutions (schools, colleges and universities) in a phased manner over a period of 10 years. 

Note that this is an upward revision from the National Policy on Skills Development and Entrepreneurship (2015) which aimed at offering vocational education in 25% of educational institutions.  Key recommendations in this regard include:
Vocational Courses:

All school students must receive vocational education in at least one vocation in grades nine to 12.  The proposed school complexes must build expertise in curriculum delivery that is aligned to the competency levels under the existing National Skills Qualifications Framework.The proposed Higher Education Institutions must also offer vocational courses that are integrated into the undergraduate education programmes.

The  Policy targets to offer vocational education to up to 50% of the total enrolment in higher education institutions by 2025, up from the present level of enrolment of well below 10% in these institutions.
National Committee for the Integration of Vocational Education: The Committee will be set up to work out the steps that need to be taken towards achieving the above goals.  A separate fund will be setup for the integration of vocational education into educational institutions.  The Committee will work out the modalities for the disbursement of these funds.

Adult Education

As per Census 2011, India still had over 3.26 crore youth non-literates (15-24 years of age) and a total of 26.5 crore adult non-literates (15 years and above). In this regard, the  Policy recommends, establishing an autonomous Central Institute of Adult Education, as a constituent unit of NCERT, which will develop a National Curriculum Framework for adult education. The Framework will cover five broad areas: foundational literacy and numeracy, critical life skills vocational skills development, basic education, and continuing education.

Adult Education Centres will be included within the proposed school complexes. Relevant courses for youth and adults will be made available at the National Institute of Open Schooling.  A cadre of adult education instructors and managers, as well as a team of one-on-one tutors will be created through a newly-established National Adult Tutors Programme.

Education and Indian Languages

The Committee observed that a large number of students are falling behind, since classes in schools are being conducted in a language that they do not understand. Therefore, it recommended that the medium of instruction must either be the home language/mother tongue/local language till grade five, and preferable till grade eight, wherever possible.     

Introduced by the first National Education Policy, the three-language formula stated that state governments should adopt and implement study of a modern Indian language, preferably one of the southern languages, apart from Hindi and English in the Hindi-speaking states, and of Hindi along with the regional language and English in the non-Hindi speaking states. The draft Policy recommended that this three language formula be continued and flexibility in the implementation of the formula should be provided.     

The Committee remarked that the implementation of the formula needs to be strengthened, particularly in Hindi-speaking states. Further, schools in Hindi speaking areas should also teach Indian languages from other parts of India for the purpose of national integration.  To provide flexibility in the choice of language, students who wish to change one or more of their three languages may do so in grade six or grade seven, subjected to the condition that they are still able to demonstrate proficiency in three languages in their modular board examinations.

To promote Indian languages, a National Institute for Pali, Persian and Prakrit will be set up. All higher education institutes must recruit high quality faculty for at least three Indian languages, in addition to the local Indian language.  Further, the mandate of the Commission for Scientific and Technical Terminology will be expanded to include all fields and disciplines to strengthen vocabulary in Indian languages. The language and dynamics of our languages, literature customs, traditions, art and culture reflect a rainbow that makes India a ‘’unity in diversity ‘’. That kind of a recognition is per se not forthcoming in NEP 2020 or the curriculum paradigms and processes it entails. Instead, there are signals, large and loud, of hegemony and homogeneity.

Too much of emphasis on the history of ‘’Ancient ‘’India to the obvious, though odious, exclusion of  ‘’Medieval‘’ India.Likewise on ‘’knowledge of Ancient India’’ that, in effect, tends to discount the ascent and evolution of India and Indians in medieval and modern periods of our history.

The National Education policy has a grand vision but lacks insight into current reality. It leaves a lot to the imagination especially on a count of implementation and funding strategies and filled with contradictory statements that take away from its core assumptions and intent. In effect the draft site steps, the implementation and the linked resource challenge and instead recommends parallel non-state structures as the solution. Even though the responsibility for learning has been put on teachers, there is very little road map available for capacity building of existing teachers and the new recruits. In a country, as diverse as India, talking about a single Indian ethos give rise to fears of cultural domination and centralisation.

The image and reality must go hand in hand, going by past experiences we have seen halfhearted implementation of such policies in the past. If Kothari Commission (1964) recommendations were implemented in letter and spirit and commitments met by successive governments India would have surpassed China in skill development and moved significantly in economic development. System that promotes meritocracy, equal opportunity and equity is good but there lies a gap between theory and practice. Corruption in the educational sector and the lack of financial resources are a major concern for the policy implementation as well as the dearth of experienced and highly skilled people to drive implementation .The truth is that merit loses to nepotism and political corruption. The silver lining is that there is a serious realization on the part of all stake holders to bring in desired change through education empowerment is a moment to be celebrated and educators to exercise cautious optimism in realizing the new educational vision.

Dr. Farooq Ahmad Wasil, a published author, and an educationist, is Consultant and Advisor to Thinksite He has over 3 decades of experience in the field of education Management – setting up, operating and managing schools.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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