States must pick up the gauntlet on National Education Policy for it to be effective

If the states, along with the Centre, can iron out the difficulties of the 2020 policy, students will benefit and India will truly realise its demographic dividend

Aatish Parashar August 25, 2021 07:04:11 IST
States must pick up the gauntlet on National Education Policy for it to be effective

Representational image. AFP

By introducing the National Education Policy 2020, the Human Resource Development Ministry attempted to hit many birds with one stone. Replacing a 34-year-old National Policy on Education (NPE) 1986, the new policy envisions radical transformation in India’s education system and drives administrators to take many steps in making education learner-centric.

India’s previous education policies have focused on increasing access with equity. We have seen this in three NEPs (1968, 1986 and the 1992 amendment). These policies, along with The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 (RTE) laid down the legal foundations for India to achieve universal elementary education. With 25 crore children enrolled in 15 lakh schools, India has the largest school education system.

However, as the nation has developed, its challenges have grown. For instance, while India has achieved near-universal enrollment at the elementary level (grade 1 to 8), enrollment rates have declined as students progress through grades. Moreover, the needs of the world today are not what they were three decades ago. Technological advancement has underpinned faster development, and time has come for India’s education to match up to this reality.

At the heart of NEP 2020, lies a desire to move from ‘education for all’ to ‘quality education for all’. The policy, which the government aims to implement in its entirety by 2040, is a carefully drafted document that contains some thoughtful decisions which, if implemented well, can have immense positive consequences.

The concept of mid-day meals was a brilliant intervention launched back in 1995 to increase both enrollment and nutrition of students. Taking it a step ahead is one of the most impactful elements in the new policy; the move to start serving breakfast in schools. For many students, school meals are the only source of a nutritious meal, the lack of which stands as a tall barrier in their learning journey. This move not only checks increasing dropouts but also the problem of malnutrition.

In a fast-changing, technology-oriented world, the acquisition of certain skills has become non-negotiable. NEP allows the curricular integration of such essential subjects so students can know and grow. The NEP mentions building scientific temper, evidence-based thinking, gender sensitivity, digital literacy, coding skills, computational thinking, ethical and moral reasoning, and the like.

It also advocates foundational learning of subjects like mathematics and computational thinking through methods like puzzles and games that make the learning process enjoyable and engaging; a shift away from rote learning for exams to conceptual understanding. The inclusion of contemporary themes is a progressive step, which will ensure that students are prepared to face emerging challenges.

States like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh have taken a lead in implementing the policy in letter and spirit. For example, the Madhya Pradesh state administration has directed the private university regulatory commission to closely monitor the effective implementation of NEP and to focus on the quality of education and its delivery. The state administration has made it clear that attention must be paid to the improvement of existing courses, research, and innovation in the context of the NEP.

Not just state governments, even the country’s civil society organisations are taking the lead in implementing NEP in its essence by increasing access to quality education. Shiksha Na Ruke is a Smile Foundation initiative providing 50,000 children in 22 states access to continuous learning through alternate learning mediums.

In the area of regulation too, NEP hits the bullseye. For decades, there has been a grey area with respect to the government’s role in education. The government held three roles in education: making policies, regulating private schools, and running state schools. There was a conflict of interest, with the government being an active player and the regulator.

The NEP vests these functions in separate independent bodies, by asking states to set up independent regulators (State School Standards Authority). This will ensure that though education is on the concurrent list (meaning both state and central government can regulate it), states will be able to exercise true federalism.

The NEP also recognises the role of low-cost Budget Private Schools in educating the estimated 92 million children enrolled in them. Over the last few years, such schools which are established in confined spaces like slums and crowded residential areas have been an integral medium for providing quality education to low-income families, and economically weaker families have, in fact, preferred sending their children to such schools over free government ones.

However, due to a lack of resources, less funding and low-budgets, these schools have struggled to comply with input-heavy RTE norms pertaining to school infrastructure. In a bid to empower these schools, the NEP proposes a “light but tight” regulatory approach where all schools shall comply with minimum standards of operation, more responsive to the realities on the ground. State governments must now take the onus of ensuring that all provisions of NEP are implemented well so they serve their intended motive. State governments have the power and means to ensure on-ground implementation and should leave no stone unturned to do so.

Among other things, the NEP comes with an inclusive approach, not shying away from partnering with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and community members to deliver impact on the ground. Placing emphasis on the need for vocational education, the NEP has set a target of 2025, by when at least 50 percent of learners in schools and the higher education system shall have exposure to vocational education.

To achieve this, it encourages institutions to partner with NGOs that work on-ground and can endow students with contemporary knowledge. Additionally, to encourage life-long learning, NEP puts emphasis on the need for enhancing adult education, and mandates state to work with NGOs and other community organisation to take efforts in this direction.

On NEP 2020’s first anniversary, the government launched some key initiatives like the National Digital Education Architecture (NDEAR), Academic Bank of Credit and National Education Technology Forum (NETF), all of which could catalyse a revolution in Indian education. NEP 2020 lays an ambitious roadmap, attempting to demolish barriers to quality learning. It is now up to states to implement it well, work with the central government to iron out difficulties so students can benefit from the policy and India can truly realise its demographic dividend.

The author is a Professor, Dean and Head, Central University of South Bihar

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