By Dr S. Saraswathi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that the new National Education Policy (NEP) will mark a shift from “the burden of school bag” to “experiential learning” with focus on “job creators” instead of “job seekers”. The NEP seems to usher in a mini revolution in education system leaving no aspect of it untouched.
Nearly three decades have passed since the revision in 1992 of the National Education Policy (NEP) of 1986 and the nation has been adjusting to numerous educational problems with experimental solutions from time to time. A thorough overhaul of public education system at all levels is now proposed keeping in mind our commitments to education for all and for reaching Sustainable Development Goal No. 4, i.e. “to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all” by 2030. The NEP has the broad objective of nurturing abilities to cope with the tremendous changes taking place in the world in the beginning itself of the new millennium.
By restoring the name Ministry of Education to the Ministry of Human Resources Development, concentration is now placed on school and college education at all stages to prepare coming generations to new responsibilities and tasks developing every day in the changing world. It will address two big challenges in education – equity and quality – that have to be overcome to take the country forward.
In the words of the Prime Minister, the NEP is based on the pillars of “access, equity, quality, affordability, and accountability”. There can be no political or non-political opposition to these supportive features, but the road to attain these will not be smooth. It needs ability and aptitude to come out of the comfort zone of the familiar to adopt changes that require efforts.
Magical changes are not possible; nor are they expected. The policy sets a fairly long time frame to transform education in India in the next two decades by 2040 so as to have “one of the best education systems in the world”. Indeed, a realistic approach. Action plans are many and will be introduced gradually providing time for the switch over.
Mention must be made of the National Foundational Literacy and Numeracy Mission expected to be launched by this year end and which will come into full operation in five years. Elementary education in many States has come under severe criticism where most students fail to show expected standard of literacy and arithmetic. Cent per cent enrolment and prevention of drop-out are not the only aims of universal education. Learning is the principal objective of school education.
Education hitherto viewed as a passport for jobs will now aim at “enhancing the creative potential of humankind”. It has an ambitious objective of shaping youngsters as ideal human beings endowed not only with knowledge of various subject matters, but also with qualities that mark good citizens and human beings. This is what the concept of value-based education aims at.
Among the salient changes envisaged are removal of strict separation of arts and science courses and the barrier between academic and vocational streams. Former is necessary for holistic education, but likely to be resented by students who want to choose their line according to their liking and take no interest in other lines as if work life consists of water tight compartments. The latter is required for changing the common perception of vocational learning as inferior to mainstream education, but in this caste-ridden society, fear of resurrecting occupational castes may be raked up as a political issue. The advantages of the combinations have to be clarified to people to make them understand and accept.
So also, curricular and non-curricular activities are not strictly demarcated. Thus, many cultural, sports, and economic activities get their base in education expanding the contents of learning. This will also lead to removing existing barrier between school/college education and other types of learning – all of which are necessary to enrich human life. The NEP is designed to encourage different talents in students and does not stop with textbook learning and examinations.
The policy expands the age-group of 6-14 for mandatory schooling to 3-18 and brings 3-6 age-group under school curriculum. The existing 10+2 schooling is to be replaced by 5+3+3+4 corresponding to foundational course (3-8), preparatory (8-11), middle (11-14), and secondary (14-18). It means 12 years of schooling with 3 years of Anganwadi/pre-schooling. It is doubtful whether all States are ready to bring 3-6 year age-group under an all-India pattern of schooling.
Politics is sure to enter in the language sector. Wherever possible, the medium of instruction until Class V and preferably until Class VIII is to be the mother-tongue or regional/local language. Children will be exposed to various languages with particular emphasis on mother-tongue. Policy is firm on continuing the three language formula, but assures that no language will be imposed on any State. Two out of the three languages should be native to India. A “Fun Project” is recommended on languages of India to introduce students to the rich variety of Indian languages. Vociferous sections in Tamil Nadu are already rising against the very mention of three language formula.
Option is given to study one classical language of India and also one foreign language which may not be a popular idea.
Examination will be to test “core competencies” and board exams will be conducted twice a year. They will be redesigned and a National Assessment Centre, PARAKH (performance assessment, review, and analysis of knowledge for holistic development) will be set up as a standard-setting body.
Digital infrastructure will be built for use of technology in imparting education. Online education becoming common throughout the world, India cannot lag behind and has to make a beginning at various stages. Progress will depend on the strength of infrastructure and response of teachers and students.
A major change is provision for multiple entry and exit points at the undergraduate level which will facilitate a large number of students to get education in their speed and according to their personal convenience. It is to be welcomed by both slow and fast learners. It will be of great help to students unable to pursue the courses at a stretch and help drop-outs to pick up again. This provision, if it materializes, will doubtless become the most popular change to be used by thousands of aspiring learners of any age-group.
Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) will be set up for regulation as an umbrella institution along with four independent bodies for Regulation, Accreditation, Funding, and Academic Standard Setting. These regulatory bodies will ensure implementation of the changes envisaged in the policy.
However relevant it may be, the National Education Policy will yield its full benefits only with the cooperation of Union and State Governments. Education is in the Concurrent List in the constitutional distribution of powers between the Union and States.
We have to watch how the “Opposition Dharma” that is active in India will receive the policy that will unsettle the present settled pattern. But, it cannot be denied that the present education system needs total rethinking and reorganisation.
The author is Former Director, ISSCR, New Delhi
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