National Education Policy 2019– The Much-Sought Transformation?

Education enhances an individual’s ability to contribute positively to the growth of their nation, and therefore assumes a central role in national polity. In fact, it forms a key parameter for measuring the level of human development in modern societies– and rightfully so, for a holistic education in one’s formative years is fundamental not only to building a career of one’s choosing, but it also lays a strong foundation for the healthy psychological and physical development of an individual.

National Policy on Education (1968-1992)

Compulsory and accessible education, thus, is a primary concern for governments, further necessitating the formulation of policies that guide its implementation. Soon after independence, India prepared its National Policy on Education (NPE-1968) that aimed at making education available to all the citizens of the country. It laid down certain structural norms guiding the education system in India, such as the 10+2+3 structure for education up to graduation, and the language development norm that encouraged the study of English and Hindi, along with regional or foreign languages as the third language. It envisioned the provision of free and compulsory education for all children till the age of 14 years (then Article 45), which later became a fundamental right in 2009. It also focused on the importance of properly training teachers, and maintained that the government was responsible for reviewing the progress of the implementation regularly. The NPE was revised twice– in 1986 and 1992, making changes for greater accommodation of backward classes, females and the physically disabled. It also outlined that institutions would be given resources for the development of libraries, computer labs, etc. Further, the Central Advisory Board of Education was established to review the progress of the education system and suggest changes to the system from time to time. States were also allowed to form State Advisory Boards of Education for catering to the same functions at the state level. The protection of education from commercialisation through government regulations was also mentioned.

The Problems

Over the decades, however, the inefficiencies of our education system have only blossomed into view. The limited purview, lack of attention to the development of important life skills, and undue focus theory-based study that barely equips the students with practical knowledge and abilities, has resulted in a crisis clouding the system. When he came to power in 2014, PM Narendra Modi too, acknowledged that our education system is in dire need of transformation, and promised a revision of the same.

Draft National Education Policy, 2019

The work began in 2015, and was undertaken by the Committee for Draft National Education Policy, that constituted of the Ministry for Human Resource Development in June 2017. The committee, chaired by Dr. K. Kastirirangan, did extensive ground work for four years and presented its report on May 31st, 2019.

All provisions in the report are guided by an attempt to address the following key challenges that the committee believes affect the education system the most: access, equity, quality, affordability and accountability. The report addresses numerous issues that are present at the various levels of formal education, from primary school education to higher learning, teachers’ training, vocational and adult education.

Starting with school education, the report suggests a change in the structure of schooling based on the 5-3-3-4 design: 5 years of foundational stage (pre-primary to class two); 3 years of preparatory stage ( classes three to five); 3 years of middle stage (classes six to eight); 4 years of secondary stage (classes nine to twelve). This division is based on the physical and psychological needs of the students as per their developmental age. The policy gives special emphasis to primary education and nutritional care, and outlines directives for anganwadis and primary institutes for the same. This holistic approach also reflects another crucial change being sought by the new policy– to widen the scope of the Right to Education Act, 2009 (which earlier catered to children between six to fourteen years of age) to include children from three to eighteen years of age. The policy further believes that small anganwadis are problematic to develop and thus, proposes the concept of a school complex in villages or towns that house primary institutes, secondary institutes, and vocational and adult education facilities. The complex structure would allow efficient investments and holistic growth.

The report also noted that the current curriculum burdens the students and encourages rote learning. Thus, it recommends a syllabus consisting of only core topics that allow understanding and encourage thinking. It also talks about changing the exam structure by proposing State Census examinations for the third, fifth, and eight standards, to examine the understanding of students at various milestones. Additionally, it holds that board exams must allow students to choose their core subjects and must test only key concepts and skills. Students also must be allowed to choose the semester in which they wish to appear for the exam.

For the teachers, the existing B.Ed. programme is to be replaced by a four year integrated programme that involves high quality content, pedagogy and practical training. It also proposes the formation of a separate body for regulatory purposes that would check the functioning of public and private schools alike. This is a remarkable step if implemented well, because private schools have become extremely expensive and pose a serious threat to accessibility and equity of education.

Moving on to higher education, the committee observes that the Gross Enrollment Ratio is only about 25%, which is attributed primarily to a lack of access. Consequently, the committee intends to establish new higher educational institutions. The report also noted that the presence of multiple regulatory bodies create discrepancies and confusion, and thus proposed the formation of a single National Higher Education Regulatory Authority (NHERA). The NAAC will be separated from the University Grants Commission and will become an independent and autonomous body to accredit all higher educational institutions in the country, while powers of the UGC shall be limited to providing grants to the institutions. A National Repository shall be created to have digital records of all institutions, teachers and students.

Research is also to be incentivised by the establishment of a National Research Foundation, an autonomous body mentoring and facilitating quality research, in the fields of science, liberal arts and humanities. Another proposal intending to broaden the liberal arts studies aims at restructuring the undergraduate course to include a common core curriculum and one/two areas of specialisation (major). This undergraduate course will be of four years, with multiple exit options and certifications. Moreover, it plans to establish five Indian Institutes of Liberal Arts as models in the next five years. These acknowledgments and towards liberal arts are a much needed change in a society full of stigmas that treat hard sciences as superior subjects. It also aspires to develop a Continuous Professional Development programme for the faculty members of higher educational institutions. It provides for the latest technological equipment in institutions for an advanced and modern learning environment, but at the same time encourages  all institutions to gradually move towards academic, administrative and financial autonomy.

It also gives suggestions to improve vocational education, i.e. professional training for trade, or various crafts. Despite its obvious benefits, it is somewhat unpopular in India, as compared to countries like Germany and the USA. Since it makes people more employable, the report seeks to integrate vocational education with all institutions. This corresponds to the National Policy on Skills Development and Entrepreneurship (2015), and mandates that students receive education in at least one vocation between grades 9 to 12.

The report also focus on adult education, for which the establishment of a National Curriculum Framework is suggested. It will cover foundational literacy and numeracy, critical life skills and vocational skills development, basic education and continuing education. Relevant courses will be made available through the National Institute of Open Schooling and a newly-established Adult Tutors Programme will be implemented for one-on-one teaching.

The draft was recently embroiled in controversy due to a proposal for making Hindi a mandatory language in schools– it was resisted by the South along with several other states. That clause has now been removed, and we see that the draft policy is otherwise very impressive and addresses the problems in the education system quite effectively. The proposals attempt at modernising education and making it more practical and holistic. The policy is certainly very ambitious and intends to bring a long-awaited transformation in the country’s education system. Let us hope that the progressive measures are implemented well, and benefit all.

Picture Courtesy- Pakistan Today

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