Parsing the Education Policy – NEP 2020

The recently proposed National Education Policy (NEP) has been subjected to pillory by the media and social media, mainly due to the fervor with which the Indian government had projected the policy as a panacea to the education sector in India. The policy proposes to alter the education system of the country from its root to shoot in order to achieve a lofty goal of sustainable development (the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by India in 2015). Now, there are several ramifications to this policy that need to be analyzed. This article will focus on the clauses proposed by the NEP 2020 and studies their relevance and usefulness in current times.

NEP 2020 is imbued with the ideas of restoring and revamping all aspects of the education structure and of creating a “new system” that is built upon Indian tradition and the value systems of India. It is stated that the guiding light for this policy is the rich heritage of ancient and eternal Indian knowledge with which the highest human goals of Jnan (the pursuit of knowledge), Pragyaa (Wisdom) and Satya (Truth) can be achieved. It cites the ancient centers of knowledge- Takshashila, Nalanda, Vikramshila, Vallabhi etc- as examples of India’s eminence in the field of education and provides examples of the eminent scholars of ancient India like Thiruvalluvar, Charaka, Susruta, Aryabhatta, Patanjali, Varahamihira, Panini, Chanakya, Nagarjuna, Gautama etc, who showcase the significance of India in producing great scholars.

The indomitable spirit of the government to bring back the ancient Indian values and ethos into the current system through education is indicative of its goal to reinstate the vedic period (thereby resuscitating the Hindu culture and tradition) and to effectively ignore the other religions that India currently recognises. This can also be viewed as a seed to the gigantic process of cleansing the country to foster the next generation that believes in vedic way of life. The curious absence of the word “medieval” in the section “rootedness and pride in India” of the official NEP document, while the words “ancient” and “modern” are present, gives sufficient grounds to suspect if the government has deliberately avoided the word to erase the medieval period out of people’s minds.

The policy, in its fundamental principles, on close examination, appears to be diaphanous. In our country, where every professional and non-professional college degree is offered to students on the basis of merit through competitive exams, laying emphasis on conceptual learning will run counter to a system that puts a premium on coming out on top of cutthroat competition.

The major features of this policy includes raising public expenditure on education by the centre and states to six percent of GDP, including pre-school and anganwadis under the education institutions to cover the rural areas extensively, bringing out a newly framed curriculum that will include coding skills and vocational integration from class 6 to cater the growing technological advancements in the global level. One of the key aims of this policy is to ensure foundational literacy and numeracy skills within the early years of primary education and to achieve it completely before 2025.

The new education policy replaces the one formulated in 1986 and aims to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (“ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all) by 2030. The highlight of this policy is that it proposes alterations from school level to professional level and caters to different aspects of education (like adult education) that were not given much attention earlier.

The policy recognises the increasing importance of technology in the field of education and acknowledges the areas in which technology can play a vital role and thereby, showcases the need for a newly refurbished education system that can cater to these changes. The policy emphasises the need for a skilled workforce as the unskilled jobs will soon be entirely taken over by the machines as the technological advancements like artificial intelligence and machine learning have entered the scene. Skilled workforce is also required to meet the prevailing problem of climate change, especially in the fields of biology, physics, chemistry and other sciences and humanities. But, merely recognising the need for a skilled workforce without formulating a definite solution will not prove to be fruitful.

The notion of the policy to eliminate today’s “coaching approach” is laudable. However, it is definite that the culture of ‘competitive exam’ is here to stay. For instance, there has been a constant increase in the coaching platforms not least with the advent of “online learning” due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has provided suitable conditions for it to thrive. The whole process has indeed become easy and convenient for the learners. Ergo, it would become a herculean task for the government to rule out the “coaching approach”.

The emphasis on usage of mother tongue as the medium of education might undermine the importance of the english language which serves as the only connector that glues the nation’s cities and towns together. Furthermore, it could prove to be a disadvantage in terms of employability for the youth without the english language skills.

The aim of the policy to promote multilingualism is a direct hit at the states that do not speak Hindi or have the language as their mother tongue. Especially to the South Indian states like Tamil Nadu that have opposed the imposition of Hindi in their land will have a hard time accepting this part of the educational policy. In the name of promoting multilingualism the government plans to instate the three-language policy that makes the languages English and Hindi compulsory (and the third language being the commonly spoken language of that particular state). It is not too hard to discern this while grazing through the features of the policy. In fact, this has been devised in such a way that it can act as a loophole through which the aim of the current government to unify the country through the Hindi language can be achieved.
What the government fails to understand is that the formation of “Bharat” by utterly neglecting its fundamental component of ‘Unity in Diversity’ is a foolish act that could wreak a debacle to the social fabric and potentially destroy the nature of the country.

The policy’s attempt to increase employability and encourage learning through the medium of Indian languages shows that the policy aims for a self-sufficient India that fulfils the goal of the government’s Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan. As much as the aim can be appreciated, it should also not be overlooked that the increasing unemployment rate and the dwindling job opportunities prove to be an inhospitable environment for the government to successfully implement this policy.

The real hallmark of the NEP 2020 is curbing commercialisation of higher education. Our country has been witnessing the ruthless commercialisation of higher education and it has now extended to commercialising school level education. This has given rise to the needless establishment of colleges and institutions and a creation of disproportionality between the number of seats available and the number of filled seats, with the former being far greater than the latter. The recent decline in students opting for engineering courses set a great example for this phenomenon. Countless engineering colleges in the country established for commercial purpose gave no importance to the quality of education and thus produced batches of unemployable and unskilled youth. This has resulted in an increased unemployment rate and has driven lakhs of jobless graduates to run after government jobs where they go through the tedious recruitment process that tests their knowledge in the subjects that mostly has no relevance to their field of study. The resulting rise in competition has been of no help towards solving the scourge of unemployment as more than ten lakh graduates compete for only a few hundred vacancies available.

Thus, the aim of this policy to curb commercialisation of institutions through the reinvestment of the surplus money earned is welcome and gives hope; something that has been bleak for the education sector. However, it can only be judged as effective by looking at the rigor with which the policy will be implemented.

One of the aims of the policy to achieve the ideal of reducing the gap between the arts and science seems to be a pro-renaissance approach and is precisely why the policy has acquired a phantasmic imagery. In order for NEP 2020 to be a successful venture, it needs to be fool-proof and rigorous in its implementation. For a seemingly impossible project, the NEP 2020 is indeed a giant leap that can be a historic victory if it is followed up with a good execution plan. Otherwise, it might be an irretrievable ignominy.

-Prasanna Aditya (Freelancer)

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