India has just approved the first Education Policy developed by a non-Congress government since independence. Coming 34 years after the last formulation of a full scope education policy and a few major tweaks in between, the people anticipated significant pivot in the way India would ready itself for leveraging the long wished demographic dividend. The new leadership of the country aspired for India to become “Vishwa Guru” or the World Teacher. Much seemed to be at stake.
The 71 pages that finally came out in the shape of NEP after three and a half decades of thinking may leave everyone happy while contributing little to change the direction of education from being full of potential to real possibilities. Happy, because most readers of the policy may find in it something they may have been looking for. But reading through it leaves one with a distinct impression that it’s a collection of myriad expressions of aspirations, replete with cosmetic changes without really managing to offer a coherent framework.
Personally speaking, I should have reasons to thank the policy planners for targeting beyond 5 years and setting goals for 2040 instead. I had been advocating for a while that just like we plan for our children for 20 years and do not wean them away from homes just after 5 years of age, all national plans for development should target 20 years ahead as well. Businesses may be turned around in a few years. But development planning takes a longer term perspective to become meaningful.
The ideologues of BJP may find the references to ancient wisdom of India, to 64 forms of art outlined by Banabhatt, to Sushrut and others rather heartening. But there is little outside of that to cheer them up in shaping the future of either the country or the future Indians.
The government would like to believe that it is abolishing language barriers, thereby encouraging those children who find it hard to learn in Hindi or English to not leave the schools early. However, the three-language formula has been in place since 1968 and has its supporters and critics alike. Still, it led to greater demand for learning in English instead. For a whole set of reasons, English has emerged as the language of success in the country and most students would like to study English if it could be made a bit easier to learn.
Multi-disciplinary education has been discussed for long but a changeover to it from the rigid silos of arts, science, commerce etc was possible but in limited ways. The new policy will make that commonplace and that may be helpful in many ways, along the lines it has done well in the US, though only if the quality of education was improved all around
Some changes are apparently designed to bring in flexibility in earning degrees over a period of time or across subjects. Offering multiple entry and exit points, within a program may keep a student from wasting the time spent in colleges fractionally and allow them to complete a degree over an extended period. However, a logical next step may have been to delink degrees from jobs, where they do not really matter, altogether. Recruiting based on demonstrated merit through a more meaningful selection process makes degrees less relevant and may encourage learning instead. The NEP may have missed that opportunity.
A beginning has been made to make vocational education being seen at par with other degree programs by clubbing vocational education with school and college education. However, to raise the “respect” for vocational programs may be meaningful only when they really get treated at par in compensation or social stature etc. That may require a deeper social change than NEP may be recognizing.
There are passing references in NEP to creativity as distinct from rote learning, making report cards include a 360 degree view, examinations at grade 3, 5, 8 etc, digital education, adult learning,” lok-vidya” about local heritage and culture etc. None of these ideas have been developed to a level where they become meaningful, however.
Tweaking does not a policy make. Turning a 5+3+2+2 into a 10+2 or 5+3+3 does not change anything. Changing a BSc into a certificate after year 1, a diploma after 2 or degree after 3 or 4 years does not change the way we learn. Training teachers at an institution with a new name or multiple exits in a 4 year B Ed program does not improve the quality of teachers. Dropping an MPhil degree program will not transform learning either. Imposing discipline and making students “behave” by mandate is unlikely to lead to better education. Nearly every policy pronouncement, when not flowing from a coherent policy, will little to change anything any more than putting all the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle would solve the puzzle.
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Should It be seen as looking at the world from the other end of the telescope? Or is it more like driving with eyes set on the rear view? Is it just a collection of what many folks felt like saying rather than thinking through and coming to a conclusion or is it designed to make previous education policy look prescient? In a way the NEP document looks like a testament to how the quality of top leadership in issues of national importance may have regressed over the years. Each of the previous policies were written by educationists of repute with the help of the permanent bureaucracy. Its hard to explain the qualitative gap between the earlier policies and the latest one.
There were several additional programs outside the NEP 1986 that became de facto policy as well. ICT at Schools, Right to Education, residential schools for the underprivileged communities etc were steps in the evolution of education policy and none of them addressed the foundational issues. After 3 decades of watching and commenting on the policy making skills of the govt of India, I expected little in the NEP. However, it surprised me greatly in being one of the exceptional documents coming from Government of India in simply the way it connected various pieces together.
A quick example, and there are several if one pays attention, on page 15/71 Para 4.13 states: “students who wish to change one or more of the three languages they are studying may do so in grade 6 or 7, as long as they are able to demonstrate basic proficiency in three languages (including one language of India at the literature level) by the end of secondary school”
I am sure someone can make sense out of it. Look forward to help in understanding how can one meet the criteria that a student should meet in grade 12 to be able to make a choice in grade 6 or 7?
Nearly every section of the NEP 2020 is shining with such gems.