The road ahead for New Education Policy
By Sambit Dash
The New Education Policy (NEP) was keenly awaited. The education system, from primary to higher, that India has been following, has failed to capture the imagination of a young and aspirational nation. A fresh thought was warranted and NEP 2020 largely provides that freshness. The document is above all a vision; a vision to provide children a break from the rote learning heavy school life and freedom from the pressure of examinations that make or mar careers. It provides adults the opportunities to exercise their choice.
The New Education Policy has evidently went through a long consultation process and the suggestions that have been taken are for the most part, meaningful. There are nevertheless hits and misses in this policy document. While the language policy and the concerns related to it have hogged the limelight since the release of the NEP, there are many other issues that need similar focus, if the thoughts envisioned in the NEP are to be implemented in right earnest.
Revamping early education
Without doubt, the biggest set of reforms in NEP are for the early school education. Be it the 5+3+3+4 restructuring of the old 10+2 pattern, the ECCE (early childhood care and education) to build a good foundation till the child is six years old, focus on Anganwadi Centres to provide wider access to early education, early numeracy and literacy in “preparatory class” before the child enters Class I, vocational education in mid-school, a lot of emphasis has been placed on revamping early education.
This is in the right spirit since India’s school education is notorious for being below standard, which while promoting children to higher classes, fails to impart the intended learning of those classes. Right noises are made about teacher recruitment, training and their career progression too.
While all of it is laudable, implementation of most aspects of NEP will need massive investment, political will, upgradation of infrastructure and above all, a change in mindset. India’s spending on education has been lower, currently at 4.43 per cent of GDP, as compared to the recommended 6 per cent (since 1968!). As per a Unified District Information System of Education (UDISE) study of 2016-17, more than 90,000 schools in India has a single teacher.
While a Teacher-Pupil ratio of 30:1 in primary schools and 35:1 in upper primary schools is mandated as per RTE Act 2009, it was 23:1 and 17:1 respectively. Vacancies in higher education are also staggering. As per an MHRD report of 2018, about 35 per cent of faculty positions in Central universities were vacant.
Focus on infrastructure
The NEP lays focus on school infrastructure and recommends having school complexes that are well equipped. As per the UDISE study, more than 20,000 schools in India did not have toilets for girls. In the existing ones, their ‘working’ condition is anyone’s guess. In fact, the ASER report of 2018 stated that nearly a quarter of toilets in rural schools were in a state of disuse.
Thousands of schools across the country have dilapidated infrastructure. Internet facilities and computers are a pipe dream for many. Massive funds will be required to overcome gaping infrastructural shortcomings. Will new regulators help identify these gaps and will the State governments fill them? Only time will tell.
In providing a guiding light, the NEP does a welcome job. However, the road to its implementation is paved with many struggles. One way to go about it should be for States to come up with their actionable objectives based on NEP. Language is going to be a tricky issue of course. For example, Tamil Nadu has just stated that it does not intend to change its existing system, but that is for another piece another time.
Teacher training, recruitment, infrastructure, deadlines for all these activities, budgetary allocation etc should be laid out. State universities, which have mushroomed in the recent past, will have a larger role in the success of transformation envisioned in NEP for higher education in India. And for these, State governments need to proactively share their ideas vis-à-vis NEP. NEP is a journey well begun.
There are already potholes that needs manoeuvring, but they look manageable. NEP has painted a six-lane highway, broad and bright, for education in the country. But building a road requires several contractors, quality checks apart from running into local problems. There is no room for error any more. India is awaiting a transformation in education to realise its potential. The vision needs more discussion, more planning and exceptional execution.
__ The author is Senior Grade Lecturer, Department of Biochemistry, Melaka Manipal Medical College (Manipal Campus). He comments on public policy, healthcare and issues of social interest. He tweets at @sambit_dash