Education is fundamental for achieving full human potential, developing an equitable and just society and promoting national development. Providing universal access to quality education is the key to India’s continued ascent and leadership on the global stage in terms of economic growth, social justice and equality, scientific advancement, national integration and cultural preservation. Universal high-quality education is the best way forward for developing and maximizing our rich talents and resources for the good of the individual, in society, the country and the World. The world is undergoing rapid changes in the knowledge landscape with various dramatic scientific and technological advances such as the rise of big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence, many unskilled jobs worldwide may be taken over by a machine, while the need for a skilled workforce, particularly involving mathematics, computer science and data science in conjunction with multidisciplinary abilities across the sciences, social sciences and humanities will be increasingly in great demand. With climate change, increasing pollution and depleting natural resources, there will be a sizeable shift in how we meet the world’s energy, water, food and sanitation needs, again resulting in the need for new skilled labour particularly in biology, chemistry, physics, agriculture, climate science and social science. The growing emergence of epidemics and pandemics will also call for collaborative research in infectious disease management and development of vaccine and resultant social issues heighten the need for multidisciplinary learning.
The New Education Policy 2020 is the first education policy of the 21st century and aims to address the many growing developmental imperatives of our country. The policy proposes the revision and revamping of all aspect of the education structure including its regulation and governance to create a new system that is aligned with aspirational goals of 21st century education, including SDG4 (Sustainable Development Goal-4) while building upon India’s traditional value system. The National Education Policy lays particular emphasis on the development of the creative potential of each individual. It is based on the principle that education must develop not only cognitive capacity-both the fundamental capacities of literacy and numeracy and higher-order cognitive capacities such as critical thinking and problem solving-but also social- ethical and emotional capacities and disposition. In today’s age of the knowledge-led economy, developing human capital to drive India’s next wave of socio-economic growth is critical. For the first time, there is an unequivocal admission by the policymakers that the existing system is obsolete. Key objectives of the NEP-2020 around reforms curriculum, universalization of early childhood education, national mission for fundamental literacy, accreditation to shift focus from inputs to outcomes and change in governance structure to ensure that the operator, the regulator and adjudicator are not the same are all laudable and potentially disruptive.
How can this new policy be implemented successfully? Here are a few tips
EXAMINATION: Examinations in our country seem to be the be-all and end-all of the education process. Until institutions of higher education migrate to more holistic criteria for admission, we won’t see a significant shift in the obsession with examinations. It’s time we dropped the percentage system and arrived at results that provide just the grade or broad range of performance, so someone who scores 95 per cent is not seen as lesser than someone who scores 98 per cent. We need to adept a system of admission where kindness is valued as much as achievement.
TEACHER: NEP-2020 acknowledges that no reform will work unless the teachers are brought centre stage. So the teachers must be at the centre of the fundamental reforms in the education system. The new education policy must help re-establish teachers, at all levels, as the most respected and essential members of society, because they truly shape our next generation of citizens. We need to rightfully glorify and make teaching, one of the noblest and aspired profession for the best and the brightest. Building on the medical residency model, we must attach all teachers’ education colleges to the top schools in the country. Theory and practise must go hand in hand using every good classroom and every good teacher to make more teachers.
INVESTMENT: We’ll have to put our money where our mouth is. As per UNDP estimates, the total financial requirement for India to reach SDG4 by 2030 averages to $173 billion per year, far exceeding the current government budget of $76.4 billion a year for education. Government schools spend about Rs24, 000- Rs 30,000 per child per annum, while in private schools, 91 per cent of students pay lower than Rs 24,000 per annum. However public expenditure on education in India has not come close to the recommended level of 6 per cent of GDP as envisaged by the 1969 policy reiterated in the policy of 1986. The current public expenditure on education in India has been around 4.43 per cent of GDP.
OPENING THE SECTOR: It’s obvious that the government won’t be able to shore up investment to the required levels and would need significant private participation with the current regulatory structure and obsession with keeping it ostensibly clean through not for profit mechanism. We’re ensuring our students are deprived of quality education. If we need investment, we need to incentivize investors. Numerous politicians and bureaucrats have expressed that the whole not for profit agenda is a charade. “How can we expect institutions to invest Rs 100 crore in skilling up schools and not expect a return on their capital? Not liberalizing means keeping the sector unorganized, where all kinds of businessmen with no background interest or skills in education get into the field and run sub-standard institutions. If the sector opens up, we will see big chains coming in from within India and across the globe that might have business interest but will ensure that there is a certain level of professionalism, efficient use of technology and scale to invest in research and development to deliver more for lesser costs. A good educational institution is one in which every student feels welcomed and cared for, where a safe and stimulating learning environment exists, where a wide range of learning experiences are offered and where good physical infrastructure and appropriate resources conducive to learning are available to all students.
NEP A MISSION: The purpose of the education system is to develop good human beings capable of rational thought and action, possessing compassion and empathy, courage and resilience, scientific temper and creative imagination with sound ethical moorings and values. It aims at producing engaged, productive and contributing citizens for building an equitable, inclusive and plural society as envisaged by our Constitution. Millions of parents and educators around the country have deep-rooted and extremely outdated mental models of what education should be. Assumptions like –rote learning works, examinations and competition are a must even at a young age, we should follow one book, examination results equal intellects, we all did fine with this kind of education- are all barriers to change. So, NEP-2020 is a Mission with a vision to eradicate age-old obsolete system of education in India.
This national Education Policy envisions an education system rooted in Indian ethos that contributes directly to transforming India, sustainably into an equitable and vibrant knowledge society by providing high-quality education to all and thereby making India a global knowledge superpower. The government needs to run strong campaigns to emphasize the need for change and to invest in curriculum, structures and practices that re-humanize and re-build our ailing education system.
(The views expressed are the writer's own)