Indian Education Market: Evaluation of National Education Policies

The National Education Policy aims at changing the landscape of Indian education sector and in making India “a global knowledge centre”. In the upcoming infosphere issue “Indian Education Market: Evaluation of National Education Policies”, we look into the national education policies over the years, funding sources of the Indian education sector, the effects of teacher training on student learning outcomes, and the effects of skill gap on the labour market outcomes. 

The modern education system that the British brought with them was first developed in Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. Most of the work in education at this time was done by missionaries, often leading people to believe that it was motivated by the desire to spread Christianity in India. Positions in the government were linked to education, allowing the privileged to stay in power. While the Indian National Congress made some attempts to boycott British education and start national schools and colleges, the British education was assumed to be far superior and INA were not successful in their attempts. After independence, Nehru tried to develop a self-reliant higher education system through subsidized institutions like the IITs and IIMs. He tried to increase the accessibility of education to the  lower castes. .  

The University Education Commission was the first commission to be set up in Independent India, under Dr. S. Radhakrishnan in 1948. It was to report on the status of Indian university education and suggest improvements. The Secondary Education Commission was set up under Dr. A. Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar in 1952 and was supposed to give a better analysis of the problems faced in Indian education. While it has been praised by  many, it was also criticized for not promoting women’s education.  

Popularly known as the Kothari Commission, the Indian Education Commission was set up in 1964 to formulate an education policy for India. It aimed at transforming India into a modern democracy with a socialistic society. This included free and compulsory education for all children up to the age of 14. Additionally, the Kothari commission actively promoted mathematics and science, arguing that it was engineers and scientists that met India’s development needs. This bias towards the social sciences is still prevalent in many parts of the country.  

In 1968, the government of India drafted the National Policy on Education. This was redrafted in 1979 and finally in 1986, Rajiv Gandhi announced a new policy that was intended to prepare India for the 21st century. Under this, more than 90 per cent of the country’s rural population were within a kilometre of schooling facilities and most states had adopted a common education structure. However, a large increase in financing was required to solve the problems of access and quality.  Several schemes with external aid were launched and India saw tangible results. However, such overhauling changes took place at the cost of quality. Learning outcomes were seen deteriorating. A massive difference in learning outcomes was  found between the masses who attended government schools and the children who attended other government schools like Kendriya Vidyalaya and private schools.  

From here on, a low budget for education was found to be one of the key reasons for unequitable development in public education. However, not much has changed since the Kothari Commission. It recommended 6% of GDP spent towards education. Although the sanctity of the number is questionable, this can be considered as the bare minimum as at the time,India was associated with international comparisons. The education budget of this country has never achieved this target. One needs to note that this target was set at a time when the country was in the starting phase of a welfare democracy. Today, even with paradigm shifts in the country’s socio-economic conditions, this target still seems far from achievable. This gap between the actualised goal and targets has been increasingly filled by the private sector. 

Between 1987 and 2001, several initiatives were developed to solve the problems within the education system. Schemes especially targeting the upliftment of scheduled castes and tribes have been introduced. In 2009, the Right to Education Act, which emphasises the importance of free and compulsory education for children who are in the age group of 6 to 14 years was passed.  

Privatization of education existed even before independence in the form of Christian monastery schools and colleges. However, from the 1990s has seen an upward trend. The inter-linked globalization and liberalization processes have  opened the floor for private investors. Private players were restricted to areas of education that did not jeopardize the access to quality education such as subcontracting publication of textbooks, private tuitions, partially deregulating the education sector. However, over the recent years, we see a gradual shift of responsibility from the government to the private sector.  We see some decisions that illustrate this – UGC granting autonomy to around 62 central universities. Under this, universities are being asked to finance 30% of costs incurred due to revision in salaries due to the 7th pay commission. Another example could be the setting up of Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA), a joint venture by Canara bank and MHRD where it will provide financial assistance to universities for infrastructural developments and research.  

However, with the NEP 2020, the endorsement of push towards private players is worrisome. The policy calls for privatization at almost all levels of education – school, higher education, technical, vocational, research and innovation. We can see a clear transition from timid and indirect modes to a full swung, direct intervention of private players. Privatization has been one of the most fiercely debated topics in the country. The main point of this contest is  affordability. Take, for instance HEFA, financing directly from markets based on equity will push burden onto the students by way of increased fees making it expensive for students. Further, letting the market dictate the education sector will determine which courses must be offered and which must not. This is a serious threat as the NEP 2020 looks to promote focus on interdisciplinary learning. It also opens doors for foreign investment which will again perpetuate a vicious cycle of indebtedness, poverty and vulnerability.  

While the central government claims “prioritization” of elementary education, there is a continuous fall in public expenditure on higher education. However, this prioritization should also be inquired into. When we look at the expenditure on elementary education as a proportion of total budgetary expenditure, it is abysmally low. Trends over the last 25 years suggest that over 80% of spending has come from state budgets. As the CAG’s 2017 performance audit noted, the Centre does not make any separate financial provisions for the implementation of the RTE. It is through schemes like Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan that additional transfer of resources to the state are financed by the Center. However, in the Infosphere issue, we see that the Center puts major responsibility in the shoulders of already burdened states. Increasing expenditure alone would not increase the human capital stock of the country as quality of education also plays a major role. Public expenditure and Quality education are hence inter-dependent.   

With the 1992 revision of National Policy on Education (NPE) 1986, quality in-service education became an integral part of the education landscape in India. To create awareness about the critical perspectives of this policy, the first Programme of Mass Orientation of School Teachers (PMOST) was organised. Many other training programs were introduced on a state level, to coalesce national education vision with the state. Shiksha Karmi Pariyojna (SKP) in Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh Primary Education Project (APPEP) and Bihar Education Project (BEP), UP Basic Education Project (UPBEP), Mahila Samakhya (MS) and Lok Jumbish (LJ) promoted state education and other state level initiatives culminated into upscale school-based in-service education in the District Primary Education Project (DPEP). 

The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan framework, implemented in 2001(revised later), mandated 20-day training under In-service Education for Teachers (INSET) for all Primary and Upper Primary teachers every year for improvement of the quality of elementary education. The Right to Education (RTE) Act 2009 identifies INSET as an instrument to improve the quality of elementary education. Training transactions impact teachers in terms of their perceptions about training and learning achievement. Due to training, efficacy of classroom transactions improves, thereby it readily improves student’s ability to learn. MHRD entrusted the study of INSET impact on classroom transactions to NCERT. A report published in 2011, revealed that student achievement had significant correlation with ‘treating students respectfully’ and summarising main points to conclude the lesson in the States of Tamil Nadu, Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. In a majority of the states, the correlation was in a positive direction between student achievement and group work, praising students, presenting new concepts/ideas through discussion with explanation and using own experience to participate in discussion.  

New Education Policy 2020 aims at establishing a common guiding set of National Professional Standards for Teachers (NPST) which will be developed by 2022, by the National Council for Technical Education (NCTE). The policy also lays down that the NCTE will be restructured as a professional standard setting body (PSSB) under a General Education Council (GEC). Teacher education will be gradually moved into multidisciplinary colleges and universities by 2030. 

India’s formally trained workforce – which stand at merely 2.3% in comparison to economies like South Korea where formally trained workforce stands at 96%. Obsolete curriculum is one of the major deterrents in the labour market. Despite changes and updating the curriculum, skills education in schools or graduation courses at colleges/universities are non-transferrable in the labour market, resulting in unemployment among the educated. There is a need for inculcating a skill set which is sensitive to the fast-changing employment landscape. Despite this, most institutions review their curriculum and skilling programs often without considering the contemporary requirements of industries. All Indian Council for Technological Education (AICTE) had revised its guidelines and mandated that every engineering and technical course, taught post 2018-2019 must include mandatory internship courses to allow industrial exposure and interactions that enable students to understand the industry requirements. However, the benefits of these changes are yet to be realized. 

In 2018, the Ministry of Human Resource and Development (HRD) department and University Grant Commission (UGC) organized the National Conference of Vice-Chancellors and Directors on Research and Innovation. The UGC has decided to improve higher education by revamping the curriculum. One of the resolutions which was adopted was to ‘Adopt and implement Learning Outcome Based Curriculum Framework (LOCF) in HEIs at the conference. This would allow the UGC to update the curriculum from the academic year 2019-20.  

Finally, the latest and change in India’s education policy has been NEP 2020. With the large gap being present between education and employment, this act looks to change both the school and college system in order to ensure that students are given more vocational training, and learn skills that they can directly apply in the job market. 

Archita Sridhar is a second year student of O.P Jindal Global University pursuing her Master’s in Public Policy. Divyansh Singh Parihar is a third-year student of O.P Jindal Global University pursuing his major in Economics. Diya Chadha is a third year undergraduate student at Ashoka University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Finance.

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