NEP 2020: Foundation of a New Bharat
The National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) was approved by the Central Cabinet on the 29th of July 2020. The preparation of a new education policy for the country started in the year 2015 when Ms. Smriti Irani was the Minister for Human Resource Development (MHRD). When the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) came to power by winning adequate number of seats to form government as the single party without the support of any allied party it was demanded by the supporters of the BJP to revamp the education system of the country. More than any other party the BJP supporters have felt that the education system both in its content and structure has been faulty. The Macaulay’s policy has been criticised but not discarded. Our plans till now have only perpetuated the Macaulay’s policy and plans. Many stakeholders voiced their demand, met the then HRD Minister Smriti Irani and demanded that a new national education policy be developed and the system be completely revamped.
Major Concerns Addressed
It was felt and expressed for a long time that the schooling system of most areas of our country was not suitable for the less privileged and the first generation learners. A large majority of the first generation learners dropped out because they could not cope with the pressure of schooling. The concerns were twin – (i) children had to learn in a language (i.e. medium of instruction) which was alien to them, and (ii) they were too weak to physically cope with the pressure. It is often misunderstood that all children of a contiguous area of a state speak the same language. For example, most children of Bihar are speakers of Maithili, Bhojpuri, Magahi and other languages and their mother tongue is not Hindi. Those small number of children who come from families which speak Hindi in household (of white collar job holders and elites) are in an advantageous position in the class where teaching is done in Hindi.
Education in Mother Tongue
A sub-committee constituted by the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) in 2015 reported that there were nearly twenty million children out of schools and the NEP (Sec. 3.2; p. 10) quoting the 75th round of household survey of the NSSO of 2017-18 data says the total number of children out of school today are 3.22 crore. Only those children who either spoke the major language of the region or had support at home (to teach or arrange tuition) could sustain the initial years of schooling, rest dropped out, or what we call the pushed out. It has been promised in the NEP that lower primary (which has been renamed as Foundation stage) will be available in all the major mother tongues of the country. We can safely predict the unfulfilled objective of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA) will now be fulfilled.
Even the Radhakrishnan Commission while making the Recommendations (56 (4) said “that (i) pupils at the higher secondary and University stages be made conversant, with three languages, – the regional language, the Federal language and English (the last one in order to acquire the ability to read books in English)…” and had also recommended “(6) … that immediate steps be taken to develop Federal and Regional languages” (P. 284). The understanding that education especially lower primary be given in mother tongue and that India must adopt three language formula is not new but it could never be implemented (in letter and spirit) because of the lack of political will. The Government (especially out Prime Minister) has now shown the determination and the will to implement it and we can rest assured it will be done.
The other major weakness was that the children were malnutritioned and they could not apply themselves and learn till they got the mid-day meal in the school. It has been promised that children will get breakfast in the school when they come in the morning and then teaching-learning will start. The Policy says “The mid-day meal programme shall also be extended to the Preparatory Classes in Primary schools” (Sec. 1.6; p. 7-8); and in Section 2.9 says “Furthermore, research shows that the morning hours after a nutritious breakfast can be particularly productive for the study of cognitively more demanding subjects and hence these hours may be leveraged by providing a simple but energizing breakfast in addition to mid-day meal” (Sec. 2.9; p. 9). This will augment learning in the children who have been most neglected in our society.
The two initiatives of providing Foundation literacy in mother tongue and serving breakfast in the morning will show results in a few years if not in months of its implementation, in April 2021. Funds have always been a constraint which has been catered to by borrowing money from the World Bank (WB) to implement these schemes under the Strengthening Teaching-Learning and Results for States (STARS) project (approved by the Central cabinet on the 14th of October 2020) and further funds will be borrowed from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), as reported. Foreign funding comes with difficult conditions but we can trust the Modi Government to have negotiated well on the conditions so that the borrowing does not come under similar criticism that the District Primary Education Program (DPEP) got into in the 1990’s. The DPEP was wound up and in its place the SSA was brought in. Through the two initiatives we would not only be able to retain all children in schools but also take care of their health and develop a competitive Elementary education so that all have level playing field.
Emphasis on Vocational Education
The NEP has also rectified the weakness of our system that learners can opt for only academic subjects. If we look at the present structure it will be apparent that we created a very tight structure for schooling where ‘most’ children were forced to study subjects and combinations which was thrust upon them. Students had to opt for Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics/Biology and they could not choose any of these subjects with the subjects categorised as ‘Arts’ like Political Science, Economics, Geography etc. and obviously they could not take any of the vocational subjects like Dance, Painting etc. as their choice of subjects. The argument often given was that where will they pursue higher education or what will they do in life after pursuing such combinations. Students and some parents had been resenting this watertight approach of the Examining Boards.
The National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) (An autonomous school examination board under the MOE, Govt. of India) has been flexible in permitting learners to choose combinations as per their liking for years and no chaos has happened. Children can take science subjects with Arts and also one vocational course to obtain their Sr. Secondary certificate. This approach and structure was much appreciated by the Kasturi Rangan Committee members when it was presented to them at the interaction at the MHRD. It is encouraging to see this has become a part of the National Policy now.
Globally the trend has been to facilitate learners in choosing subjects of their choice. This will result is retaining children in school. Children will be able to enjoy studies if they are allowed to choose subjects of their liking and interest. A large number of students come from families which have been following traditional professions like agriculture, printing, weaving etc. which have been our strength and which had put India at the top of the global trade map. Why should all children study only academic subjects and look for jobs outside their village or locality? Children should, if they like be allowed to study music and earn a living by organising music events in their own vicinity. The NEP will open gates for many such vocations and in times to come produce ‘educated’ craftsmen/women.
PM addresses the nation on NEP 2020
The Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation on the National Education Policy 2020 through videoconference on 7th August 2020, the death anniversary of Gurudev Ravindranath Tagore. In August 2009, The Right to Education Act was passed and it should have come in force immediately but the then PM Dr. Manmohan Singh, addressed the nation on 1st April 2010 with apologies that his government was not ready to implement the Act and had asked for five years’ time to fully implement it. It is not the time to ask why was the RTE passed if we were not ready and why was the PM making a promise for a date when it was not sure if he would be PM on 1st April 2015? It is interesting to hear both the addresses. Anyone who hears both the addresses one after the other will herself realise the difference – Bharat has realised its potential!
The PM addressed without any notes as usual but amazingly covered all the major strengths of the Policy and queries raised. There is no doubt very criticism has come from any quarter, not even the opposition parties. Surprisingly even the political parties from Tamil Nadu have not raised any issue about the language of instruction in schools and so it seems PM also did not take up the medium of instruction issue. It must be mentioned that sections 4.9 to 4.22 of the Policy deal with this issue so meticulously that all stakeholders are satisfied. Even though there is nothing new in this. It is a reiteration of the previous Three Language Formula.
He emphasised on the extensive consultations on this policy as some have raised the issue of unduly long time of more than five years taken to draft this Policy. It was clear that he has followed the critics and his address was an effort to answer the critics as well. He expressed his satisfaction on the wide consultation. He admired that the Policy has not been criticised for any bias. People have got what they wanted to see change in the education sector. His expressions and body language showed the jubilation.
A number of policies have been issued by various governments but they have not been implemented, is a major criticism today. It was apparent from the address of the PM that he is also aware of the government functioning. Policies are floated but no effort is made to implement the recommendations. It was encouraging to hear from the PM that necessary changes will be made to implement the Policy. It was so reassuring to hear the PM when he said “Political will is with you. I am with you fully committed.” We would not have believed if the election was round the corner but as the elections are nearly four years away we can trust the PM.
The job of the politician is to make his policy the policy of the people and that is exactly what the PM did. After discussing the details he put it on the stakeholders to take upon to implement it. Once again he is different! He addressed the Vice Chancellors and Heads of Boards of School Education and Principals (of colleges and schools) in the same vein. Never before anyone must have given such importance to School Boards and school principals. It must be first time that the PM addresses school principals. PM has realised that the real change agents are the school principals who are most neglected in this country and he has put the focus on them.
The PM has made it amply clear by mentioning that a nation progresses only with its own values and education after NEP will be Bharat centric and that can make “Bharat Future Ready”. This can be taken as the guiding force for the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) and the textbooks that will be written by the NCERT based on the NEP 2020. The PM also mentioned how he looked at education from school to research in a continuum and promotion of respect for labour. He also expressed surprise, like Bharat centric academics, that our education system was destroyed but we made no effort to put it back on rails. He assured it will regain the lost glory it once had. No major change had taken place in education in recent past, he said with surprise.
Curiosity and creativity the hallmark of Bhartiya education was not promoted, he expressed surprised, but also reassured that from nursery to research we will experience change. He said we got into the rut of making doctors and engineers. Demand mapping was not done. Students and youth stopped critical and innovative thinking; philosophy and purpose of education was lost.
Talking like a professional the PM talked about the importance of making children and youth critical thinkers. He mentioned instead of thinking in piecemeal we need to think holistically. He expressed surprise that our system was based on “What to think? How to think?” which we lost. He invited academics by saying now NEP has been released and discuss questions that have come up.
The PM also addressed the students and shared that the curriculum will be curtailed and made relevant as there was no paucity of information. All information is available on mobile. Discrimination is important. NEP emphasises on short but relevant syllabus, and enquiry based learning. He is hopeful that ‘will to learn’ will increase so participation will also increase. The NEP provides students the freedom to switch over from one to the other course. HE has been made free of the shackles of rigidity and provided multiple entry and multiple exit. He said to the students “Follow your passion. Don’t run after degree but follow passion. You take admission but lose interest so you can leave. Job requirement is not fulfilled by the degree so multiple exit has been made possible… People will change profession during lifetime so be ready to reskill and relearn in one’s lifetime.”
The PM’s address has brought so much good news and jubilation to all teachers from the primary classes to the universities. He has addressed the teachers and assured that the teacher education which has not been in good shape will be taken care of. The last student who was left out or pushed out will no more be left unattended. Those who work with hand will get the respect they deserve because the society depends upon their hard work.
In nutshell it can be said the PM has infused enthusiasm and jubilation in all stakeholders of education. The will is loud and clear and we can definitely see the promises becoming reality. He shared his understanding of the importance of autonomy in education of teachers, institutions and the system. The best performing nations have no government interference of imparting education. His emphasis on school education definitely raises hopes that we can expect a statutory and autonomous School Education Commission (SEC) alongside the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI).
New Paradigm Policy
The present Policy is very different in many ways. It is the shorted policy document of all the policies on education issued before or after Independence. It is just sixty six pages as against seven hundred page Kothari Commission report just to quote one example. Even the drafts submitted by Subramanian and Kasturi Rangan were many times longer. This shows the Government has no intention to issue a review of the sector document.
It does not confirm to the traditional format of policy documents like the Radhakrishnan Commission, Mudaliar Commission, Kothari Commission etc. but is in the form of an office order which shows the Government is aware of the issues and challenges in education and it won’t remain a document only but will be implemented this time. This Policy does not bear the name of any Chairperson or committee members. It can be called a vision document of the Modi Government.
The Policy mentions dates by which the commitments will be fulfilled and also names the agencies which will undertake the activity. For example the decision to bring in children from the age of 3 years to the Aanganwadi/play school will be accomplished by 2025 and the curriculum for children and teachers of Aanganwadis will be developed by the NCERT and the training to teachers will be provided through online platform. During 2017-19 we have already trained more than twelve lakh teachers through the online platform manged by the National Institute of Open Schooling. So we have the team and experience available to do it. Similar issues and roadmap has already been laid down in the NEP unlike previous policies. No wonder the Prime Minister has addressed the teachers twice (on 7th August and 11the September 2020) since the Policy was approved by the Cabinet on the 29th July 2020.
It has been said time and again that Macaulay wanted to make the Indian Education system a bureaucratic system instead of vidya parampara. Traditionally the teacher in collaboration with the society managed the system. Those who worked with hand like the agriculturists, the manual workers were respected, but they were marginalised in the last few centuries. In the last seventy plus years of Independent India no effort was made to undo what Macaulay did and bring back the teacher centre stage. The bureaucratic structure has gradually become stronger. This Policy will bring swift transformation in the system and we can expect to see the creation of an independent statutory body for school education as a prototype of the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI), to decide on the quality parameters and also maintain standards amongst different school examination boards. One can rest assured the promises made in the NEP 2020 will all be fulfilled by 2030 and as the Policy says as the last line “In the decade of 2030-40, the entire policy will be in operation mode, following which another comprehensive review will be undertaken”. We are on the path of making a New Bharat and 2040 we will witness Bharat emerging as a global knowledge hub with economic power, it can be said with confidence.
By Dr. Chandra B. Sharma
(The writer is Professor of Education, IGNOU, New Delhi)