By Parvathy Ramesh, University of Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh.

India-centred, sustainable, equitable, vibrant, and high-quality – these are the keywords used to describe the vision of the draft National Education Policy (NEP) in a report submitted on May 31, 2019. Chaired by Dr. K. Kasturirangan, the Committee for Draft National Education Policy proposes several reformations in the present educational structure, regulation, and governance, keeping in mind Indian traditions and values while being aware of the goals of the education sector in the 21st century. The policy correctly mentions that education should be viewed as a public good, and not as a commodity to be consumed, and goes on to recommend new policies in several key areas:

Technology and Curriculum

One of the underlying ideas of the policy is made apparent in the Preamble of the 484-page document. The draft policy desires a focus on quality education, as opposed to previous years when policies were largely preoccupied with the issue of access and equity in education. This section further claims that India has been “fatally slow” in adopting technology as a means of improving governance, planning, and management of education, as well as in using it as a tool in promoting educational quality. Some of the recommendations along this line include digitization of learning and computerization of assessment, to allow students to retake tests with ease.  

In terms of the curriculum, there will be a focus on holistic education, with equal importance given to “curricular” and “co-curricular” subjects. Regrettably, social science as a subject in the school years is only fleetingly mentioned for the Middle Stage, with a focus on discussing issues and values such as patriotism. It would be better to include this subject in earlier classes and to use it as a starting point to foster critical discussions about the ethical, personal, and future consequences of the socio-political scenario in India and abroad. To discourage rote learning, NEP recommends that board exams should focus more on testing a student’s core capacity, in a way that a student who attends classes and puts in enough effort should score reasonably well. To minimize the high stakes of board exams, students would be allowed two attempts in a given academic year. The underlying idea here is that the board exams should be summative and not formative. 

Another issue that crops up often in education is the use of language. One recommendation in the NEP is that of promoting local languages and including a course on “The Languages of India” in grades 6 to 8 to enhance awareness of different regions and their languages and to learn token phrases and literature from each. Although the draft policy correctly mentions that early childhood is the ideal stage for picking up languages, the policymakers do not differentiate between language learning through immersion and through teaching, both of which lead to very different abilities in children. The former leads to better acquisition in a shorter time but would be impossible to follow in the 3-language system proposed. In light of this, and with the NEP’s insistence on using the local language during the initial years of schooling, it does not make a lot of sense to enforce script learning and reading of another, locally unused language to 3-year old children. 

Teacher Recruitment

The document recommends the formation of school complexes – a mix of schools in the locality consisting of secondary, pre-primary and middle schools. Teachers would then be shared across these schools, in an attempt to address the problem of vacant teaching posts. In terms of teacher recruitment, the NEP acknowledges the lack of initiatives for recruiting teachers and mentions the pitfall of not involving practical aspects of teaching in the recruitment process. Henceforth, teacher education tests would include revised test material to recruit outstanding teachers. It also recommends the curbing of frequent teacher transfers and prohibiting delegation of non-teaching work to teachers. Although the NEP mentions the inclusion of local teachers in tribal areas and set protocols for complaint management, there is no clear recommendation for reservation for these communities in teaching and non-teaching posts or opportunities to create unionization of staff within schools to promote accountability in complaint processing.

Reformation of Higher and Professional Education

The NEP has recommended a merger of universities and colleges into multidisciplinary institutions and differentiation of higher education institutes (HEIs) into 3 types of universities – autonomous degree-granting colleges with a focus on undergraduate education and research, teaching universities concerned with teaching and research, and research universities with an emphasis on research and teaching. However, all three institutions would run undergraduate courses, which may lead to confusion among prospective students. The NEP needs to clarify the difference (if any) in these undergraduate courses, and also ensure the autonomy of the HEIs. 

The proposed National Research Foundation is expected to fund research in multiple disciplines and promote innovative research in all universities, including private institutions. NEP should ensure that provisions for funding and accreditation should be in place in such a manner that this kind of support is received based on regular checks and inclusive discussions with faculty, students and administration of the institution. A good step in the right direction would be to allow faculty the autonomy to design the curriculum. This would be of help in motivating the professors, who are experts in their study or research area to incorporate fresh ideas and recent findings to the syllabus, in tune with the needs of the society in which they teach. Another way of recognizing research excellence would be to allow state and other institutions with a good track record of teaching and research to be considered as research universities. 

The draft policy also addresses the rampant shortage of doctors in the country by upgrading district hospitals to teaching hospitals by investing in specialized medical infrastructure and trained teaching staff. It was recommended that for the MBBS degree, the first two years would be common for all science graduates, after which specializations in dentistry, nursing, etc could be selected. An exit examination in the fourth year of MBBS would serve as an entrance examination for postgraduate medical courses, to spare students the time and resources spent in preparing for an entrance examination at the end of their residency.

Education for the Disabled

Concerning the education of children with disabilities, the NEP recommends mainstreaming – the process of integrating special needs children into regular schools. To facilitate this, there is a provision of making schools more accessible, as well as providing study material suitable for those with sensory disabilities, although there is no mention of digital education for those with disabilities. In terms of finances, the NEP talks about scholarships for the disabled and funds set aside for schools, resource centers and parents of disabled children who require homeschooling. A particularly positive aspect of the policy is the recommendation for the recruitment of special educators and counselors in each school complex. However, the policy document is unclear about the qualifications for these professionals – it recommends repealing the MPhil program, which is currently the only accredited course in India for rehabilitation specialists and clinical psychologists. A welcome change would be in the area of examinations – at present, the rules regarding the appointment of scribes for exams are vague and often cause a problem for disabled candidates. Ideally, a uniform scribe policy and promotion of digital aids for blind candidates as suggested by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment should be included.

The draft is currently facing criticism from academics, activists and educationists alike, starting from criticism of the policies itself to comments about the lack of references for most of the studies and reports quoted within the document. Concurrently, others have lauded it as an unprecedented, commendable effort that has done well in addressing the deficiencies of the Indian educational system and suggesting meaningful but not over-ambitious steps to overcome them. Whatever the popular views are, it has to be remembered that this document has been issued and is accessible to the public to encourage discussion, and more importantly, generate recommendations. The committee will be reviewing the feedback and is expecting an addition of 10-20% changes in the current draft owing to the inclusion of inputs from all over the country. 

References:

Johnson, R. K., & Swain, M. (Eds.). (1997). Immersion education: International perspectives. Cambridge University Press.

Ministry of Human Resources Development, Government of India. (2019). Draft National Education Policy. Retrieved from https://innovate.mygov.in/new-education-policy-2019/