From doubling enrolment rates to increasing Budget allocation, NEP 2020 could prove transformational

The reforms embedded in the National Education Policy 2020 represent an overhaul of the current education system and could usher in a better tomorrow for the country

Rishikesh BS July 31, 2020 10:06:08 IST
From doubling enrolment rates to increasing Budget allocation, NEP 2020 could prove transformational

The National Education Policy 2020 has finally arrived.

It has taken 34 years for the country to bring into play an education policy since the introduction of the previous one. In its 2014 election manifesto, the NDA had promised a 'new education policy' and after coming to power, then-newly-appointed education minister Smriti Irani promptly announced that the policy would be drafted. Little did anyone realise that it would be in the making for five long years as it went through a rigorous process of consultations.

Over these five years, the development of India's new education policy involved thousands of consultations across 21 states at the village-, block-, and district-level: The process was led by the state education departments in partnership with the panchayats; this was followed by six regional consultations that were organised by the nodal officers from National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and Regional Institutes of Education (RIE). It all began with the launch of a portal in January 2015, seeking public opinion on 33 different themes of education.

By November 2015, a committee was established under the chairmanship of the late TSR Subramanian; this committee did its round of grounds up consultations and it also visited educational institutions before finally submitting a draft report in May 2016 which ran 217 pages with a 120-page-long annexure, for good measure. The report had a list of more than 300 educationists, vice-chancellors, experts from various related domains, civil society and non-governmental organisation representatives, and representatives of education providers in the private sector whom they had consulted.

Meanwhile, there were changes in the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD), including a change of guard at the helm with Prakash Javadekar taking charge of the portfolio. Although the ministry released a report for public comment calling it "Some inputs for the Draft NEP 2016", another committee was set up in June 2017 under the chairmanship of Dr K Kasturirangan. This committee had the massive task of reviewing all the earlier material, including the consultations under the previous committee, and the critiques the ministry had received, as well as fresh inputs from the public.

Additionally, this committee undertook another round of consultations seeking clarifications on important aspects of education, on which various people from different walks of life had given their opinions, during the discussions held across the length and breadth of the country. After consulting nearly 74 institutions and more than 200 individuals, in December 2018, the Kasturirangan Committee submitted the Draft National Education Policy (DNEP) to the Government of India. Those who read all 477 pages of this magnum opus would have no doubt in their minds that it was indeed a seminal work. The government made it public and sought comments and hopes were raised that the country would have a new education policy. However, the General Election of 2019 was soon announced and discussions regarding the National Education Policy slipped into the background.

Once the NDA came back to power at the Centre in May 2019, work on the NEP picked up — this time with a new HRD minister at the helm. The ministry had received lakhs of comments on the Draft NEP that was submitted by the Kasturirangan Committee. All the comments were reviewed and many were even responded to by the ministry and finally almost a year-and-a-half later, the Draft NEP has been accepted as the National Education Policy 2020.

I have described the entire process in some detail because it is crucial to understand and appreciate that at no other time has the country witnessed such wide and robust consultations for developing an education policy.

At the end of this process, for educationists who have followed the making of this policy, it is also highly satisfying to note that genuine efforts were made to make the process as democratic as possible. Furthermore, independent committees under highly respected personalities were established to perform the task of evolving a new education policy for the nation. Therefore, when a policy as comprehensive and transformational as the NEP 2020 is dedicated to the nation, it is a rare and a momentous occasion that ought to be celebrated. It is time to bury the minor disagreements that may have existed in order to implement what is envisioned in the NEP 2020.

The NEP 2020 visualises an education system that contributes directly to transforming our country into an 'equitable and vibrant knowledge society', by making sure that every child in this country has access to 15 years of high-quality school education and by doubling the enrolment in higher education in the next 15 years from the current 25 percent gross enrolment ratio to 50 percent. It is in order to fulfil these goals that the policy makes an explicit commitment to public education including an increase in expenditure on education to six percent of GDP at the earliest.

To enable the transformation envisaged by NEP 2020, in both school and higher education domains, a series of actions are to be undertaken from evolving integrated curricular frameworks to bringing about large scale structural changes across all the domains of education including teacher education. Many challenges lie ahead.

There are many changes that are required, which are fundamental in nature to implement NEP 2020; such as the re-imagining of the current 12 years of schooling into a 15-year period — from ages three to 18 years and split the 15 years into four specific blocks corresponding to different levels of child development, establishing special education zones (educational SEZs) to provide access to high quality education to all young adults desiring to pursue higher education, comprehensive changes to curricular approaches, completely transforming teacher education and the set of measures to ensure 'light but tight' regulation in order to balance autonomy and accountability of institutions.

This illustrative list clearly indicates that the reforms embedded into NEP 2020 are not only transformational in nature, but represent a comprehensive overhaul of the current education system. Most importantly, these reforms come as an integral part of NEP 2020 and are critical in order to realise the vision of this policy.

It is crucial that all stakeholders of education in the country come together to work towards this NEP 2020's goal of creating a better tomorrow for our children; and a better Indian society for the future.

The author is a faculty member, Azim Premji University. Views expressed are personal

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