The New Education Policy – Opportunities and Caveats
Article Description – This article evaluates the recently announced education policy — the NEP. It discusses the necessity that drove the government into formulating such a document, the possibilities that entail upon its implementation, and the talk around its effectiveness in truly achieving what most of us have regarded with deep skepticism — better utilization of our people, at last.
When we trace human history, that last thing we want to compare it to is the process of making bread (as expounded by a documentary featured in John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight) — “God took the bread out too early and that’s how White people were born, God took out the bread too late and that’s how the Black were born, but then God took the bread out at the right time and that’s how Indians were born.” BJP, the then ruling party in Gujarat, allowed for the acceptance of such a horrendous explanation in primary school textbooks, reflecting what could only encompass a bigger political agenda — one that most of us have become wary of today.
With that being said, it is not surprising that India’s Academic Freedom Index (AFI) of 0.352 in one of the lowest in the world. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), the most popular board of education in India, founded in 1962, has helped achieve many goals in education policy, welcoming students from varied backgrounds. The NCERT textbooks that are famously referred to by students of the CBSE have become the gateway to clearing examinations delivered by this organization. However, over the years, NCERT has become redundant.
Every year students have found many ways to master these textbooks, reaching an apex in scores that have rendered many students equally qualified and often very difficult for universities to distinguish between. While these textbooks have become quantitatively adequate for Indian students to become confident enough in knowing what is required of them, it does put a very stringent bar on their overall learning career by limiting their scope. Undoubtedly, education in India has become very objective in the manner in which it is delivered; students know a detailed history of Gandhi from altered sources, without having read his autobiography or the Hind Swaraj.
Students would face multiple problems if there is an increased burden on them to actually read these autobiographies and other complex novels, despite the CBSE having done a great job of making students comfortable in English. But reading first-hand sources is still difficult for many Indian students who come from lower-class backgrounds and are victims of malnutrition and other vicious atrocities that encompass a penurious existence. But while incentivizing learning and innovation, it is important that we don’t limit those that are ready to avail themselves of the benefits of education policy that the government has only recently opened the space for — the New Education Policy. It is high time that the government realized the outcomes of such a policy, given the massive brain-drain of 3 lakh students each year.
While NRIs have been embellished with the honours of doing the country proud, we don’t necessarily want our students to deem immigration a requisite to receiving accolades for themselves or for the country. This becomes problematic in that it imposes an inequality of meritocracy that students educated in India would find themselves being burdened with. The NEP is a realization of the domestic and global inequality, thus rendered when merit becomes the ultimate decider of career opportunities that lie ahead of students. However, skepticism hasn’t left this policy untouched, despite its admirable goals.
Evaluation of the NEP
There are many positive changes that the NEP strives to bring that should be appreciated.
Firstly, the NEP strives to make sure a child’s educational foundation, in terms of basic literacy and numeracy, is strong. The policy now integrates kindergarten sections with the new 5+3+3+4 system, where the first five and the next three years are focussed on achieving basic literacy and numeracy skills. This is a welcome move as it now focuses on quality education for children, rather than just increasing the number of children enrolled in schools. This is especially in the context of rising criticism over the abysmal quality of education in India, as indicated by the ASER 2019 Report, which says that only 5% of the students enrolled in schools in the age group of 4-5 were able to read a grade 1 textbook and this percentage increases to 12.7% and 26% as the age increases.
The Policy aims to separate institutions that perform different roles in education. For example, the policy talks about forming a National Assessment Centre and PARAKH (Performance Assessment, Review, and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development) to set standards for testing and ensuring benchmarks are set towards achieving quality education across boards. It has also proposed for the National Testing Agency (NTA) to frame quality admission and entrance tests that can be used by all universities to assess a student’s capabilities, instead of having multiple entrance tests framed by different universities. These measures remove the burden on the CBSE to conduct important entrance examinations such as NEET and the JEE, thus, allowing CBSE to effectively function as a separate education board.
It also aims to provide incentives for teachers to do their duty. For example, it proposes to accommodate teachers close to the school by providing local housing (or) more housing allowances for teachers to live close to the institution. It also proposes to give continuous opportunities for teachers to learn and adapt different innovations and skills for their own professional development. It expects them to commit 50 hours per year in these activities, which are driven by their personal interests, ensuring them some liberty in terms of teaching methods and incentives for teachers to attend school.
Four, despite having structural changes in terms of higher education, such as transforming higher education institutions into multi-disciplinary institutions, focusing on approaches that impart liberal arts, and emphasizing more on the holistic development of the students, one that really stands out is its focus on research. According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, there were only 3,41,818 researchers in India, which means there were only 252 researchers per million population in 2018. Out of those, only 16.6% or 56,747 researchers were women. This policy can be seen as the primary step towards bridging this gap. It has not only revamped the entire structure of college education but also introduced modules at several stages that encourage students to conduct research. For example, the policy not only suggests a 4-year multidisciplinary Bachelor’s degree with various exit options but also allows Higher Education Institutes to offer various Master’s programs that are tied with the Bachelor’s programs, provided adequate research is conducted by the student. This changes the rigid structure of conducting and producing research and enables many to pursue research as a career. It also proposes the establishment of a National Research Foundation that helps in getting grants, funding, and peer-review and helps in publishing quality research.
Possible caveats in implementing the NEP
It is no surprise that there is some natural criticism on whether the NEP has diversionary agendas in mind, given the BJP’s earlier attempt to include nationalist sentiments in academia. For instance, the stress on Sanskrit being a primary language raises concerns about what the true intention of the policy is. Since India is a secular country, stressing undue importance on Sanskrit will only highlight India’s growing identity problem, in favor of the ruling party and its proponents, at the expense of the other groups. India can’t afford to struggle with identity politics in the same realm that will shape the minds of the youth, the very people who will shape our future.
In continuation of that train of thought, it becomes imperative to question the divide that will rise amongst the different groups of individuals. Since the NEP lays emphasis on digital education, the immediate concern is the access of internet infrastructure and digital equipment among the rural areas. Not just for students, but for teachers and schools as well. With only 9.85% of government schools having functional computers and 4.09% having reliable internet connectivity, this exacerbates the divide between rural and urban children. Then the idea of creating a policy that is based on notions of “access, equity, quality, affordability, accountability” as tweeted by Modi, becomes lost in irony.
Furthermore, one certainly cannot turn a blind eye to the casteist system that is prevalent in the Indian society. In times where Dalit citizens are treated with ruthless contempt, it becomes important to ask how students will be accommodated and treated fairly, without discrimination. More importantly, the NEP envisions teaching Indian philosophy. It is necessary to bring to light that the Post-Vedic period of Indian literature institutionalized casteism and sexism. This means should the education facilitators themselves embrace the values systematized, then this worsens discrimination among other concerns.
In view of the education facilitators, this highlights another vital concern: the cultural mindset needs to undergo a paradigm shift in order for the true visions of the NEP to be actualized. The Indian education system was last reformed in 1993 when India’s position was still relatively small in the global economy. With globalization and rapid changes in technology, theoretically, the NEP has kept up. However, culturally India is still largely regressive. School dropout rates (especially for female children) are high, child marriage and child labour is still widespread and the need for even basic education is constrained by financial and structural (accessibility) factors in many sections of India. Moreover, the curriculum change, while impressive in its ideation, is still going to be administered by teachers and faculty who received an education that is vastly different from the proposed changes in curriculum. This translates to additional training costs and ultimately depends on the mindset of the teachers and parents. Cognitive biases, attitudes, and values are not something that can be changed overnight. If teachers across educational sectors fail to deliver even basic lessons effectively for any reason, then adapting to the widely refreshing policy poses serious challenges.
Finally, there is growing concern that such rampant transformation might promote privatization of education institutions, and commercialize the education system which could see a hike in fees, and more growing pressure on the rural sector, especially when unemployment is at an all-time high. Furthermore, for those that relocate within the country, the policy is silent on how the child should accommodate studying in the state language if previously the child was learning in a different language.
These are some of the pressing issues that need to be speculated on carefully by the government and related authorities in order to ensure that the policy does not remain a utopian dream. Overall, the NEP is a brilliantly drafted policy reform. It certainly advocates liberal ideals, promotes thinking and skills that every 21st-century learner needs to be equipped with. With 350 million Indians in school or of college-going age groups, the NEP is promising for the future. However, the months waiting to unfold will truly reveal the nature and intent of the reform, both politically and economically.
Snehal Sreedhar is a third-year Economics major, Siddharth G. is a second-year Economics major and Tejaswini Vondivillu is a second-year Politics, Philosophy, and Economics major at Ashoka University.