Decoding the National Education Policy 2020

The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.

Jean Piaget

Education is what creates character. The importance of education can only be extracted out of an individual who never got one. Not to say, that our experiences aren’t great teachers but formal education alongside personality and character building through society starting in the family, goes a long way in making a person ready for life in all their potential. A lot has changed regarding Educational channels and new introductions, the most promising I came across some days back.

Last month a new normal took me by surprise when a group of children in my neighbourhood approached me to help them with setting up their Microsoft Teams account as their school had gone online. I had mixed feelings about it as I was a bit jealous that I never got this opportunity in my days. However, it opened a new reality and that was the increasing integration of technology with other regular facets of life. This holy matrimony of education and technology, no doubt, is going to reap a great harvest.

However, I was still unhappy with the Education framework in the country that tends to focus more on rote learning and deals with subjects in isolation. I always desired our formal education to be more holistic, multidisciplinary, interactive, engaging, practical and fun. It seems a part of my wish got answered a few days back in the form of the New Education Policy, 2020.

NEP 2020 is the first education policy of the 21st century and replaces the thirty-four-year-old National Policy on Education (NPE), 1986

NPE 2020 Press Release

What is National Education Policy 2020?

The Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, recently approved the new National Education Policy, 2020, that has recommended sweeping measures concerning India’s educational system to make India a global knowledge superpower. The new policy is built on the foundational pillars of Access, Equity, Quality, Affordability and Accountability.

Aligned to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it offers a more holistic, flexible, and multidisciplinary educational framework, keeping in mind the requirements of the 21st century. With the NEP 2020 in place, the government desires to bring the best out of every student. The target for complete implementation of the policy is set for 2040.

With an inherent focus on experiential learning and critical thinking leading the entire policy change, NEP 2020 is an ambitious plan on paper whose implementation in successive years has the power to transform the country’s development picture. While there are a lot of progressive measures outlined, a lot concerning funding, implementation, deadlines remain in the dark.

NEP 2020 has been formulated after an unprecedented process of consultation that involved nearly over 2 lakh suggestions from 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats, 6600 Blocks, 6000 ULBs, 676 Districts

NEP 2020 Press Release

The MHRD has concisely categorised the features for School and Higher Education. Some of the most remarkable components of the policy are as follows:

SCHOOL EDUCATION

100 % Gross Enrollment by 2030

As per Government data, there have been differences in GER pertaining the different levels of education with the overall GER of students in 2018-19 being 64 per cent (elementary level), 79.55 per cent (secondary level) and 58.56 per cent (senior secondary level). NEP 2020’s aim to increase the total GER to 100% up to Secondary Education seems achievable with the help of strengthening of institutions like NIOS and SOS.

Universalisation of Education 

Though the Right to Education Act, 2009 makes it compulsory to provide elementary education to all up to 14 years of age, the dream has not materialised in the true sense. To make quality education accessible to everyone, the government has proposed opening multiple avenues to take into its fold the left out. The goal is to attain universalisation of Preschool and Secondary Education. Almost 2 crore out-of-school students will be taken into the mainstream and given the option of open schooling, vocational training, vocational courses, distance/online learning, access to counsellors and social workers through development of infrastructure for a more lenient educational framework.

National Curricular and Pedagogical Framework for Early Childhood Care and Education (NCPFECCE) 

This is something new and will improve the quality of teachers in the early development stages of a child. As per the NEP 2020, NCERT will develop a National Curricular and Pedagogical Framework for Early Childhood Care and Education (NCPFECCE) for children up to the age of 8, a crucial period where a child’s mental development takes place as per global research.

Anganwadi workers and Pre-school faculty will be specially trained as per the ECCE curriculum. The planning and implementation of ECCE will be carried out jointly by the Ministries of HRD, Women and Child Development (WCD), Health and Family Welfare (HFW), and Tribal Affairs.

The Switch to a 5-3-3-4 Approach 

With a transition from the 10 + 2 model to the 5 – 3 – 3 – 4 structure, a very important function has been fulfilled and that is of taking preschool (ages 3-6 years) into the domain of formal education. This is an important step considering the focus of more and more research on the relationship between foundational education and increase in learning levels, decrease in dropout levels and higher incomes in future. A student will now undergo 12 years of schooling with 3 years of pre-school. The new structure can be categorised as follows:

Foundational Stage (3-8 years)

Preparatory Stage (8 – 11 years)

Middle Stage (11- 14 years)

Secondary Stage (14-18 years)

Pre School Inclusion Benefits

With preschool under formal education structure, the mid-day meal programme will be extended to all children in the age group of 3-6 in addition to the provision of a nutritious breakfast. This will encourage more parents, especially the poorer ones to enrol their children into preschool. Better health means better attendance, better learning, better retention, better mental development and eventually low dropout rates.

Less Exam Stress

So this is going to be a game-changer at least for all the students in school. Too bad, we cannot go back to school. While there will be a continuous holistic assessment done periodically, students will now have to take exams in Grades 3, 5, and 8. Also to lessen the Do or Die situation and conundrum faced by Board students, NEP 2020 makes it possible for students to appear for the board exams twice in a year. With diminishing the emphasis on rote learning, the education system will now work more on developing core competencies and skills.

New Regulatory Framework

NEP 2020 visualises transparent and separate systems for policymaking, regulation, operations and academic matters. The creation of an independent State School Standards Authority (SSSA) by States/UTs and Transparent public self-disclosure of all the basic regulatory information, will contribute tremendously to public oversight and accountability factors. The policy also talks about a School Quality Assessment and Accreditation Framework (SQAAF) to be designed post consultations with all stakeholders. Though nothing has been exclusively spoken about Fee Regulation for schools, the transparency culture and increasing centralisation are sure to address this long-held worry of parents across the country.

Emphasis on Multilingualism and Promotion of Culture

India, being a melting pot of cultures, this addition was not surprising. The policy states schools must adopt a policy of keeping the medium of instruction in the student’s mother tongue at least till 5th Grade, wherever possible, for easy understanding and comfortability on the student’s part. Some basic flaws and controversies, we will discuss, a bit later.

Sanskrit, the mother of all languages, with other classical languages will be an option in the three language system at all levels. This will be a relief to students as Sanskrit has time and again proved to be a scoring subject. Besides, foreign languages like French and German will also be offered at the secondary level.

To bring the Indian culture and traditions under formal schooling, promotion of traditional Arts / Lok Vidya will be encouraged in all schools and plans to have Artist(s)-in-Residence will be developed for all HEI / School or School Complexes.

Foundational Literacy and Numeracy

With just a 5 year deadline, this seems to be the most promising and progressive plan of action. The MHRD will set up the National Mission on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy and will ask States to prepare an implementation plan for attaining the goal of universal foundational literacy and numeracy in all primary schools by 2025 for all learners by Grade 3. To that effect, a National Book Promotion Policy is to be formulated.

Holistic Education

The policy keeps on stressing the word ‘holistic’ everywhere which is a noteworthy step to bring Indian education at par with the successful education models adopted in other countries. To achieve that, the Centre has decided to reduce the curriculum content, keeping the syllabi concise, to the point and directed towards essential learning skills (core curriculum) and equip students with 21st-century skills while also encouraging Mathematical Thinking and Scientific Temper.

The policy favours easing of rigid separation between academia, extracurricular and vocational education which is a welcome change as it will help in providing holistic development. Another futuristic and progressive inclusion is providing coding lessons and 10-day internships from Grade 6 onwards. States and local communities will be important decision-makers in these outside class training programmes. If implemented carefully, this will ensure at least 50 per cent of the students by 2025, have comprehensive exposure to vocational education.

Essential skills training is necessary for a country like India considering just 2.5 per cent of our current workforce has any kind of vocational training. With our workforce demographic likely to increase in the near future, professionals with actual skills and training will go a long way in consolidating India’s economic trajectory. Take the example of countries like China and South Korea where soon after the 9 – year or 10- year schooling period, students have an option to go for vocational education or higher education, whatever suits their interests and aptitudes. This way the country develops career-ready individuals with focussed in-situ training as soon as the students reach 17-18 years of age. This will also help to reduce competition for higher education and lessen the stress levels of students and parents.

Another impressive game changer is the 360-degree holistic progress card for student assessment which will focus more on learning outcomes, mental and emotional progress and creation of required skills than just plain grades.

To that effect, a new and comprehensive National Curricular Framework for School Education, NCFSE 2020-21, will be developed by the NCERT. This has to be implemented immediately knowing we have already reached mid-2020. How will the Centre bring together all states to agree for one Curricular framework is the question now.

Social Inclusion

The Policy aims to cover the entire gamut of the population under its educational wing and for that, it has recommended certain measures for the socially and economically disadvantaged groups. Special Education Zones and Gender Inclusion Funds will be developed in addition to new and improved scholarship programmes. Every state/district will be encouraged to establish “Bal Bhavans”, a special daytime boarding school, to participate in art-related, career-related, and play-related activities. Free school infrastructure will be used as Samajik Chetna Kendras and Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBVs) will be extended up to Grade 12. This, if adopted in reality, will go a long way in increasing the literacy rate (secondary education) of girls in the country.

Better Quality Teachers

A teacher is the nucleus of any Educational Institution and therefore no education policy can keep them out of the development plan. India’s track record with the quality and availability of teachers hasn’t been great with some of them being paid a meagre salary. While the government doesn’t touch the topic of teachers’ salary, it showcases a broad plan to make teachers suitable for the 21st Century Learning modules so that they don’t just teach but are also Learners and Facilitators in the entire system set up.

The Government proposes a National Curricular Framework for Teacher Education for designing teacher learning modules. These will stress on developing qualitative methods and techniques for assessing and improving teachers. By 2030, teachers would need to have a minimum 4 Year integrated BeD degree. Shirley Paul, Principal of Sheth Madhavdas Amarsey High School, Andheri, beautifully explains the proposed complex transition expected of teachers in the near future in the discussions hosted by journalist Faye D’Souza on YouTube. She says, “The transition from Rote learning to Application, Analysis, Evaluation and Creation module is a long road to walk”.

A National Professional Standards for Teachers (NPST) is also in the development process. The policy makes an ambitious aim to make teachers ready as per the assessment reforms by 2023.

The Government had initiated the process of formulating a New Education Policy through the consultation process for an inclusive, participatory and holistic approach, which takes into consideration expert opinions, field experiences, empirical research, stakeholder feedback, as well as lessons learned from best practices.

NEP 2020 Press Release

HIGHER EDUCATION

General Enrollment Ratio – 50% by 2035

From the current rate of 26.3%, the government has aimed to reach a GER of 50 % by 2035. Quite an audacious goal considering the challenges and inefficiencies currently plaguing the Higher Education system. The government has also announced to add 3.5 crore new seats. A proper road map as to how this aim will be acheived is awaited.

Multidisciplinary Approach

This is something I have dreamt forever. Finally, some part of it is going to be formally integrated with our education system. Students will now have the freedom to choose and mix and match subjects at all levels, be it Undergrad, Postgrad or PhD levels. This flexibility and integration of subjects are going to be a challenge in coming years but if developed properly with quality syllabi setting and improved faculty and infrastructure, will make India stand out in global education standards.

Transfer of credits 

An Academic Bank of Credits will be established to facilitate Transfer of Credits for digital storage of academic credits earned from different HEIs.

4 Year Programme with Multiple Exit Points.

Currently, if a student drops out of a course due to a personal or professional reason, he/she is unable to claim any academic degree. However, with the current 4 Year programme developed by the NEP 2020, students can drop out and earn specific certification, diploma or degree with respect to the number of years they spent on a particular course.

So if you drop out after 1 year, you will get a Certification, in case of 2 years, a Diploma will be awarded. For completing 3 years, the student will earn a Graduate Degree. The 4 Year Graduate Degree with Research will provide the student with a platform equivalent to M Phil, after which students can immediately apply for a PhD. This will save the student’s time and mark their entry into specific fields much before than what is now possible.

While this looks like an efficient plan on paper, care will need to be taken to ensure there is no dilution of standards concerning the work and research of PhD students.

Setting up of new Institutions

The Government has planned to set up Model Multidisciplinary Education and Research University (MERU) at least in every district which will be at par with the renowned IITs and IIMs.

To encourage a spirit of inquiry and a scientific temper as per our Directive Principles of State Policy and to foster a rich research culture to develop improved research capabilities, a National Research Foundation is also to be developed.

New Regulatory Framework 

light and tight Higher Education Commission of India will replace the UGC and AICTE. It will function as an overarching umbrella body to handle regulatory, academic and accreditation aspects of higher education. The Government plans to make all intervention faceless through technology integration, & confers powers on the Commission to penalise HEIs not conforming to norms and standards.

Both Public and private higher education institutions will be governed by the same set of norms for regulation, accreditation and academic standards, to bring more uniformity and conformity across institutions. A spectacular measure in the form of On-line Self Disclosure based Transparent System for Approvals in place of ‘Inspections’ has been laid down to reduce corruption, rectify substandard evaluations and eliminate redundant models of reference.

The PowerPoint released specifically mentions ‘Fee fixation within Broad Regulatory Framework‘ pointing towards a uniform fee structure to be adopted by both public and private institutions.

Phasing out of Affiliation of Colleges

India lags in making institutions of excellence autonomous and therefore the NEP 2020 prepares to phase out the entire system of Affiliated Colleges in the next 15 years. By 2035, Colleges will be either autonomous or a constituent of a University. This has the potential to make less governmental interference and more freedom possible relating to an Institution’s administrative, financial and academic structures.

All Institutions to be Multidisciplinary

The policy also highlights the phasing out of all institutions offering single streams and to make all universities and colleges aim at becoming multidisciplinary by 2040. This has an inherent loophole as it will take away from the basic identity, culture and expertise of certain institutions which are world-class in their specific streams.

For All levels of Institutions

Open and Distance Learning

‘This will be expanded to play a significant role in increasing GER. Measures such as online courses and digital repositories, funding for research, improved student services, credit-based recognition of MOOCs, etc., will be taken to ensure it is at par with the highest quality in-class programmes.’ – MHRD Press Release

Some noteworthy announcements

PARAKH (Performance Assessment, Review, and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development)- The National Assessment Centre is created to develop this assessment system which will be comprehensive, integrated and will use artificial intelligence to display the learning outcomes, the deficiencies, and the remedial measures required by each student. It will test actual life skills like analysis, critical thinking, and conceptual clarity.

National Educational Technology Forum – This will be an independent body that will facilitate the free exchange of ideas concerning the application of technology in various phases and levels of education, be it learning, assessment, planning or administration.

Online and Digital Education – The global pandemic, Covid19, has already brought technology into every home and made us realise the growing importance of technology in our lives. For that purpose, a dedicated unit for the building of digital infrastructure, digital content and capacity building will be created in the MHRD. It will focus on addressing the e-education needs of both school and higher education. Some of its proposed features include developing Divyang Friendly Education Software, e-Content in Regional Languages, Virtual Labs and Digital Libraries. Education will be turned online so that learning never stops even in times of faceless interactions.

Internationalisation of Education – In addition to providing foreign languages in the secondary school, the GoI also proposes to invite the TOP 100 Foreign Universities to set their campus in the country. This will not just bring World Class Education home but will also impact the state exchequer by reducing the outflow of cash in form of foreign education that is both expensive and a channel for loss of revenue for the country.

Promotion of Indian Languages – To promote, preserve and maintain growth and richness of our past, the National Institute for Pali, Persian and Prakrit Languages and the Indian Institute of Translation and Interpretation will be set up.

Most controversial feature

Medium of Instruction

Though the document specifies ‘wherever possible‘, this encouragement of keeping medium of instruction in the mother tongue till 5th Standard and beyond will prove to be a double-edged sword. While it will help students to grasp and retain concepts and internalise learning, their future competencies and opportunities are likely to get affected due to the world becoming more Global and English providing a common factor. If the Government can address this problem, a lot of parents and students will need not worry about equal opportunities or English supremacy in higher occupational structures.

Also if the country is going to promote cross country partnerships in the Education sector, a massive focus on Mother Tongue being a medium of instruction till secondary school will be a cause for concern once the student comes out of School.

Challenges

The Medium of Instruction – Schools should be given the freedom to choose their medium of instruction. Or else States can make it mandatory. Considering India’s diverse backgrounds and a global inclusive educational framework, unnecessary focus on mother tongue in academia can be fatal for future workplace performance as English provides a common factor. Quality of communication might drop. Promotion of Indie Languages should be encouraged but the medium of instruction should be something that will help the students in actual life.

GER Levels – There should be more focus on states with extremely less GER like Bihar and special measures including funding should be undertaken. If these states are left as they are and GER is increased in other already developing states, then even if we reach our target, real progress will remain absent.

Abroad campuses – After inviting the Universities and Colleges, the Government also needs to pay attention to the Learning Modules and courses delivered. Specific terms need to be decided to keep quality of education at par with the parent institutions or else it will just remain for namesake.

Multidisciplinary Approach to Institutions – Stand-alone technical universities, health science universities, legal and agricultural universities etc. will aim to become multi-disciplinary institutions. Not just that the government hopes to make all higher educational institutes multidisciplinary.

This is a rather debatable topic. While it has many positives and looks promising, one concern raised by certain academics and experts is the dilution of expertise and identity of institutions that are guided by certain philosophies and competencies. To expect all institutions to be multidisciplinary will erode the command of the institutions on programmes and courses they are known for. A healthy education system will comprise a diversity of institutions, not a forced multi-disciplinarity. The policy risks creating substandard multidisciplinary colleges instead of standalone universities and colleges excelling in selective fields or area of study.

Just imagine, if a TISS loses its identity of being the best in terms of providing Social Sciences and becomes a Jack of all Trades. Some institutions for sure should become multidisciplinary but to convert all would be suicide.

Exams to be less focussed on – This is great to think about but is it practical? The very basis of all competition is limited opportunities and access to institutions and jobs. Unless the government creates more HEIs to accommodate the growing student population once exams are eased, this will in future create a new problem. One solution can be diverting those with a vocational aptitude to go for vocational training and enter the workforce. This way balance can be maintained.

Budget – Let’s poke the elephant in the room. Though it is not the work of a policy, which functions like a Vision Statment, to address financial matters, we need to ask, ‘Where is the money going to come from?’ Things like Teacher Training, new curriculum, regulatory set-ups, infrastructure, all need to start now to achieve goals at the stipulated time. The entire revamp of the Preschool system involving anganwadis and their training and development certainly needs more money and more Human Resources. With India’s current economic situation, 6 per cent of GDP contribution looks difficult. The Kothari Commission had suggested the number back in 1966 but it seems only Kerala has fulfilled its commitment.

Online Education – This cannot be achieved unless there is greater internet penetration (the current figure is 40 per cent) with adequate connectivity and fewer powercuts for those even in remote areas. Thus the government needs to plan an interdepartmental framework to make the Digital Education dream a reality.

The 4 Year Degree Programme – The policy doesn’t explain the curriculum or syllabus that such a structure of the programme would require. Also, this shouldn’t institutionalise dropout incidents. The value of such legalised dropout in the form of Certificates and Diplomas needs to be measured in the real world while searching for employment.

Treat Public Schools like Kendriya Vidyalayas – Our Government has adopted a policy of favouritism when it comes to Kendra Vidyalayas, that have the best infrastructure and capabilities whereas the other public schools and colleges are a sham. GoI needs to work on the basic infrastructure of all public and private institutions of learning to get the ball rolling.

Important questions left unanswered

The policy doesn’t talk about teacher absenteeism which is one of the primary reasons for dropouts and delivery of low-quality education.

It is silent on creating a map for designing proper funding and distribution channels.

Development of STEM Education and delivery of quality PhD research and thesis

Questions on Data Protection as Schools, Colleges and Universities are moving online

Way forward

It is just a policy. It is not mandatory. But it is a step in the right direction. As Education is a concurrent subject, State governments need to work in collaboration with the Centre and create proper plans and fix deadlines for getting measurable outcomes immediately as much of the time has gone into getting the draft approved.

With an increasing focus on Digital and progressive learning, now is the right time to hit the nail. Governments should also focus on providing enough autonomy to institutions in developing a unique state-of-the-art learning module and should make developing the new curriculum an inclusive process.

For future concurrence with the policy guidelines, the government plans to set up subject-wise committees with members from relevant ministries at both the central and state levels to develop implementation plans. A yearly joint review of progress against targets set will be conducted post the planning phase.

Education is no longer a Luxury. It is a necessity. 

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