By Kriti Mishra, a third-year law student from Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, Indraprastha University, Delhi.
The New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 got its nod from the Union Cabinet in July last year. Thereafter, Union Ministers Prakash Javadekar and Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank pledged that the (new) Education Policy and also the third in line would ensure ‘high-quality education and pedagogy’ unlike the ones before it.
The NEP draft committee, headed by former ISRO chief K Kasturirangan made some sweeping suggestions and was lauded for a forward-looking and novel approach. These suggestions and changes were projected to meet the needs of students in varied social and cultural settings by bringing to use several policies and programs, most of which have largely remained unaddressed for decades now.
This article primarily focuses on myriad provisions that fall within the broad ambit of the ambitious framework and elaborates if the Policy is foresighted enough to have an effect on the literacy rates in India.
This article will discuss how the Policy focuses not only on providing financial assistance to the Social Economic Disadvantaged Groups (SEDGs) but also on developing support systems for them. Including perks like rendering a diploma at the end of one-year, bilingual language promotions for easier dissemination of knowledge, and a low student-to-teacher ratio, among others.
Despite a wide array of foresighted recommendations such as an increase in digital literacy and effective use of technology, the Policy is not very loud in enunciating the potential that these recommendations might have. The article will analyse to what extent are these recommendations achievable.
The piece will underline that despite the uncertainty over NEP’s implementation, it has the potential to reshape millions of lives. While also highlighting a few shortcomings.
Following a Student-Centric Approach
The most critical stakeholders in any education policy are the students and NEP 2020 maintains a student-centric approach throughout all its provisions. The aforementioned points provide a detailed view of some of these provisions and how they might pan out.
Economic Removal of Difficulty to Increase Accessibility
The New Education Policy talks about high-quality education as a right that must be guaranteed to every individual, emphasising for increased accessibility of Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDG’s).
A national scholarship portal will be set up and expanded to support, promote, and track the progress of the students receiving scholarships. Private institutions will also be encouraged to offer economic concessions to their students. (10.2)
To ensure a successful transition of the SEDG’s to higher education, high-quality centres will be set up to provide constant encouragement to these communities, and sufficient funds and resources will be granted to Universities and Colleges for this purpose. (12.4)
A systematized arrangement with increased hostel facilities will be enabled for students coming from the rural and backward areas. Such facilities are deemed to provide the necessary support needed for their inclusion. (12.9)
It also states that the Centre and the State Governments will take necessary steps to ensure that books are made accessible and available at affordable prices pan India, including socially-economically disadvantaged areas as well as for those living in rural and remote areas. (21.9)
Multiple Entry and Exits
A significant number of students used to drop out halfway in school/college owing to debilitating dues or other social factors.
Even if they intended to join back, there were no such provisions to adjust their time spent in the course. Leaving most people with the only option to pursue a degree all over again. This wastes a lot of their time and many of them aren’t even able to learn or grasp effectively, discouraging many from completing their education and therefore, increasing the dropout rate too.
The (new) policy talks about ‘multiple entries and exit points’, creating opportunities for lifelong access to education. If a student is leaving their course at the end of a year, they shall get a diploma, an advanced diploma after two years, a bachelor’s degree at the end of three years, and a degree with research after completion of four years.
An academic bank of credit will be created to store the credits of the student digitally and can be utilized in awarding degrees from the institutions. (11.5 & 11.9)
Student Exchange Programs
Another major initiative is to encourage research collaborations and student exchange programs between Indian and global institutions. This initiative could open better and bigger avenues for the education sector.
It provides the facility of transferring credits between institutions which could help in a smooth shift for Indian exchange students globally. The Policy would allow some of the best global universities to build campuses in India which will increase mobility for Indian students if they’d wish to study, transfer credits or carry research in any of these universities.
The internationalization of education at home aims to provide premium education at affordable prices. (12.8)
Bilingual Language Promotion
The Policy provides for new modes of engagement. It furthers inclusion by disrupting language barriers and by allowing HEI (Higher Educational Institutes) students to choose a bilingual medium of instruction. The same will be available for both private and public schools.
This particular provision though received pushback from critiques, many have argued that through this provision only Hindi/Sanskrit will get priority over other languages. Without dwelling into this debate, if we examine entirely based on the growing digital economy and the unavailability of Indian languages affecting access to vital information for many. This provision could prove to be well-received by the masses.
A report by FICCI analysed, that there could be a digital enfranchisement of about 200 million Indians only if the content is made available in the regional languages. NEP’s emphasis on promoting multilingualism and reviving local languages will create a workforce that will significantly contribute to the diversification of the cyber content.
However, creating markets and demand for the local/regional languages is an added benefit, simultaneously enabling more awareness and revival of regional languages.
- Internship Opportunities
The new annual employability survey 2019, conducted by ‘Aspiring minds’, estimated that about 80% of the Indian engineers are not fit for any job, and only 2.5% possess AI skills that are considered desirable by recruiters especially in the tech sector.
NEP 2020 lay a special focus on holistic and multidisciplinary learning. It provides a flexible and innovative curriculum that can facilitate a shift from rote learning to an all-rounded development of a student.
Therefore, by providing internships to explore the practical side of knowledge, it will enhance employability for students across the board. (11.8)
Academic and Career Counselling
About 600 million people in India are under 25 years of age, implying that more and more students today require career-related guidance.
A survey conducted by an online career counselling program has revealed that out of 250 career options available across four domains covering 5000 job types, 93 per cent of students were not aware of more than seven conventional career options. Given that India’s young population is currently surpassing the entire population of Europe, career counselling is the need of the hour.
Under the NEP, universities and colleges will be required to set up ‘high-quality support centres’. Wherein, students will be able to benefit from academic and career counselling, enabling them to make better and informed career choices.
Acknowledging Mental Health
The policy takes a step further by recommending ‘counsellors to ensure the physical and emotional wellbeing’ of students.
Counsellors will be appointed to tackle the issues of mental health, stress management, and emotional distress. (12.9) It also states that there will be sensitization of faculty and counsellors concerning ‘gender identity’ issues. (14.4.2.k)
This arrangement under the policy is unarguably a good start, but looking at NCRB’s data on suicide suggests that one student dies by suicide every hour in India. Moreover, about twenty-eight such cases are reported every day. Therefore creating counselling centres will not be enough.
India accounts for the highest number of suicide rates globally between the age group of 15-29. Caste-based discrimination is one of the primary causes of suicides in Higher education institutions and the same does not receive even a passing mention in the policy. Social unacceptance for LGBTQIA+ students can aggravate mental health problems even further.
Factors such as anxiety, depression, ragging, bullying, forced career choices and emotional neglect need special attention that goes beyond facilitating just student counsellors.
Such complexities can only be resolved through well-trained counsellors and mental health professionals who are capable of mediating between students and parents. However, there’s a severe shortage of mental health professionals in India. To bring about any change concerning the mental health of students, the government and policymakers will have to redirect their attention towards this shortage and must ensure urgent hiring.
Mental health should be incorporated into the curriculum to normalize the issue as well as enable the students to take help unhesitatingly if the need arises.
Low Student-to-Teacher Ratios
The Policy aims at improving the learning outcome by focussing on a low student-to-teacher ratio. Student-to-teacher ratio is one of the most important factors that determine quality education; and the Policy acknowledges that.
The All India Survey on Higher Education Statistics estimates that there is a shortage of over five lakh teachers in the higher education sector, leading to a student-teacher ratio as high as 29:1 in 2017-18.
As mentioned above, a low student-teacher ratio is a metric of quality education. Lesser number of students per teacher will enable the teacher to devote more time and attention to individual students, leading to better class participation. Thereby, improved academic performance and better learning experience (13.3).
Technical and Vocational Skills
Technical and vocational education is a constituent of both the right to work and the right to education and forms an integral component of all levels of education. The emphasis on holistic and multidisciplinary learning, including technical and vocational helps ‘achieve steady economic, social and cultural development and full and productive employment’.
Universities and Colleges are required to facilitate internships with local industries, small business, craftsman, artists, etc. The same is in line with the National Skill Development mission and Vocal For Local missions started by the Indian Prime Minister. Including these initiatives as a part of the curriculum will enable a shift from theoretical understanding to practical learning and implementation.
This could also increase access to education and degree qualification for those who are forced to quit their education to join the workforce while they are still young.
If the provisions are implemented effectively and swiftly, the NEP has the potential to reshape the lives of future Indian generations.
However, as with other plans and policies, the success of NEP will also be solely dependent upon holistic implementation.
Cooperation between the centre and states is a must to achieve success, but many states have posed against the policy and have alleged that the Centre has attempted to ‘centralize’ education and tried to bypass the states.
The NEP 2020 encourages the holistic development of the individual by teaching courses on environmental studies, community engagement, and value-based education. However, the students are not given much-required access to subjects like women studies, gender studies, etc., and the same does not find any mention in the policy as well.
The Policy positions as a ’21st-century document’. However, it’s only ironic that the inclusion of individuals with different sexual orientations finds no mention in the policy.
Even the general provisions for the inclusion of transgender find their place in the school education but lose their mention in the transition to higher education.
In a country like India where 23 million girls drop out of school every year when they attain puberty as they find it difficult to travel while they are menstruating. Given this reality, including only a one-line statement on ‘improved medical and sanitation facilities’ is not enough to increase access for women especially for HEI students.
The NEP indeed has many significant provisions, but grand plans require impressive infrastructure. The Govt. has allocated 6% of the GDP for the implementation of the policy, however, this target was recommended by the Kothari Commission long back in the year 1965.
This time, as the historical trends have suggested, poor implementation has led to just piling up of good policies on paper, be it education or be it health. Moreover, it will be interesting to see how the Government will invest or exhaust double the amount of what it has been spending on education in all these years.
After 34 years, a new policy in the education sector has come into existence. Even though certain priority areas have been not given due consideration, the provisions are nonetheless crafted with the best of ability to solve the majority of problems connected with the archaic education system in India. The time is not yet ripe to fully review or predict the impact that NEP would have, but with all tall promises, it will be interesting to keep a tap on how long it will take for them to be fulfilled.
There’s definitely a long way ahead.
Access the entire text of the policy here.