The Union Cabinet approved a new National Education Policy on 29 July 2020, after a 34-year gap, the first education policy of the country in this century. Originally to be announced in December 2019, it was delayed and then scheduled for release in March 2021. Nevertheless, the National Education Policy, 2020, is meant to provide a vision and comprehensive framework for school and higher education.
The NEP, although approved by the cabinet, has not been presented in parliament. The first to be formulated by a Bharatiya Janata Party government, it’s a policy and not a law, with implementation depending on both the states and the center, as education is a concurrent subject.
The rechristened Education Ministry says that an increase in government funding of education to 6% of GDP will enable the NEP’s execution. However, with funding levels of 2.5% and 3% in the past, this level of funding for education has not been achieved in India. Not even when prime minister Manmohan Singh proposed the doubling of the education budget to 4.5% of GDP. The ambition of the current government to achieve this level is admirable since, without investment in education, there will be no ‘demographic dividend.’
There are many points in the NEP that are already being fiercely debated, not least, the proposal to make the mother tongue the medium of instruction till Class 5. The education minister would not even confirm that centrally-run schools will implement this policy. All central and state politicians know that voters want English medium education for their children more than anything. Strengthening the Indian languages will require much more serious investment in culture and the development of recognized and peer-reviewed scholarly and scientific publishing in those languages.
Some of the proposals
The NEP proposes to change the school structure from the current 10+2 (Class 1-10 of general education followed by two years of higher secondary school with specialized subjects) with a 5+3+3+4 structure. It will bring children from ages 3 to 5 years within the formal education system for the first time, and ensure curricula continuity in the last four years. Free breakfasts are to be added to free lunches in government schools. Foundational literacy and numeracy are mentioned, as is vocational education and internships from Class 6, as is the redesign of examinations.
A new umbrella regulator is proposed for higher education with separate verticals for regulation, standard-setting, accreditation, and funding. It will replace several regulatory bodies and include arts and science, technical and teacher education. The introduction of 4-year undergraduate degrees, with options for lateral entry and exit and a credit transfer system, is proposed in higher education. ‘Top’ foreign universities will be allowed to set up campuses in India.
Good intentions versus good troubles
The timeline for NEP implementation is educational transformation by 2040. The Ministry of Human Resource Development will immediately metamorphose into the Ministry of Education. According to the education secretary for Higher Education, Amit Khare, with over 100 action points in the policy, implementation will come in phases. He stated, “For instance, 4-year undergraduate degrees with multiple entry-exit options will be introduced in the 20 IoEs from the 2020-21 academic year, while others continue with the existing three-year degree courses.”
Suffice to say that a healthy discussion has started. While there are legal and financial hurdles to implementation, one looks forward to a meaningful debate in parliament and state legislatures as well as civil society. So far, the discussion has mainly centered on the policy suggestion to make the mother tongue the medium of instruction till class 5, but there are several other issues.
Most important is how and where 6% of GDP expenditure on education will be spent. Not where will it come from, because it has to be found – since education is one of the main aspirational goals of the nation’s population. Education and edutech are huge industries, and the government cannot retreat from its constitutional ‘fundamental right to education’ obligations. As an investment, the building of government schools, universities, and modern educational and research infrastructure to a high standard can play its share in reviving the economy. And the unfettered creation and discussion of ideas, culture, and modern skills its spirit.