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[Burning Issue] National Education Policy – 2020: Higher Education and Regional Languages

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The National Policy on Education was framed in 1986 and modified in 1992. Since then several changes have taken place that calls for a revision of the Policy.

The National Education Policy (NEP), 2020 is the first education policy of the 21st century and replaces the thirty-four-year-old National Policy on Education (NPE), 1986. Built on the foundational pillars of Access, Equity, Quality, Affordability, and Accountability, this policy is aligned to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and aims to transform India into a vibrant knowledge society and global knowledge superpower by making both school and college education more holistic, flexible, multidisciplinary, suited to 21st century needs and aimed at bringing out the unique capabilities of each student.

Backgrounder: Education Policies in India

Education Policy lays particular emphasis on the development of the creative potential of each individual. It is based on the principle that education must develop not only cognitive capacities -both the ‘foundational capacities’ of literacy and numeracy and ‘higher-order’ cognitive capacities, such as critical thinking and problem-solving — but also social, ethical, and emotional capacities and dispositions.

The implementation of previous policies on education has focused largely on issues of access and equity. The unfinished agenda of the National Policy on Education 1986, modified in 1992 (NPE 1986/92), is appropriately dealt with in this Policy. A major development since the last Policy of 1986/92 has been the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 which laid down legal underpinnings for achieving universal elementary education.

Evolution of Education Policy in India

  1. University Education Commission (1948-49)
  2. Secondary Education Commission (1952-53)
  3. Education Commission (1964-66) under Dr D. S. Kothari
  4. National Policy on Education, 1968
  5. 42nd Constitutional Amendment, 1976- Education in Concurrent List
  6. National Policy on Education (NPE), 1986
  7. NPE 1986 Modified in 1992 (Programme of Action, 1992)
  8. S.R. Subrahmanyam Committee Report (May 27, 2016)
  9. K. Kasturirangan Committee Report (May 31, 2019)

Some of the major path-breaking policies and their features:

Earlier major Educational Policies (Year)Key Features
1968Based on the report and recommendations of the Kothari Commission (1964–1966)India’s first National Policy which called for a “radical restructuring” and proposed equal educational opportunities gave the “three-language formula” to be implemented in secondary education
1986Introduced under Rajiv Gandhi’s Prime Ministership, expected to spend 6% of GDP on education for the 1st timeIt called for “special emphasis on the removal of disparities and to equalize educational opportunity” It called for a “child-centered approach” in primary education and launched “Operation Blackboard“Also called for the creation of the “rural university” model, based on the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi
19921986 Policy modified in 1992 by the P.V. Narasimha Rao government laid down a Three – Exam Scheme: JEE/AIEEE/State EEE (Engineering Entrance Exam)

The National Education Policy, 2020

  • It marks the fourth major policy initiative in education since Independence.
  • The last one has undertaken a good 34 years ago and modified in 1992.
  • Based on two committee reports and extensive nationwide consultations, NEP 2020 is sweeping in its vision and seeks to address the entire gamut of education from preschool to doctoral studies, and from professional degrees to vocational training.

Salient features of the NEP 2020

School Education

(1) Ensuring Universal Access at all levels of school education

  • Ensuring universal access: NEP 2020 emphasizes on ensuring universal access to school education at all levels- preschool to secondary.
  • Bring back dropouts into the mainstream: Infrastructure support, innovative education centers to bring back dropouts into the mainstream, tracking of students and their learning levels, facilitating multiple pathways to learning involving both formal and non-formal education modes, association of counselors or well-trained social workers with schools, open learning for classes 3,5 and 8 through NIOS and State Open Schools, secondary education programs equivalent to Grades 10 and 12, vocational courses, adult literacy and life-enrichment programs are some of the proposed ways for achieving this.
  • About 2 crore out of school children will be brought back into main stream under NEP 2020.

(2) Early Childhood Care & Education with new Curricular and Pedagogical Structure

  • Emphasis on Early Childhood Care and Education: The 10+2 structure of school curricula is to be replaced by a 5+3+3+4 curricular structure corresponding to ages 3-8, 8-11, 11-14, and 14-18 years respectively.  
  • This will bring the hitherto uncovered age group of 3-6 years under school curriculum, which has been recognized globally as the crucial stage for development of mental faculties of a child.
  • The new system will have 12 years of schooling with three years of Anganwadi/ pre schooling.
  • NCERT will develop a National Curricular and Pedagogical Framework for Early Childhood Care and Education (NCPFECCE) for children up to the age of 8.
  • The planning and implementation of ECCE will be carried out jointly by the Ministries of HRD, Women and Child Development (WCD), Health and Family Welfare (HFW), and Tribal Affairs.

(3) Attaining Foundational Literacy and Numeracy

  • National Mission on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy: Recognizing Foundational Literacy and Numeracy as an urgent and necessary prerequisite to learning, NEP 2020 calls for setting up of a National Mission on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy by MHRD.
  • States will prepare an implementation plan for attaining universal foundational literacy and numeracy in all primary schools for all learners by grade 3 by 2025.
  • A National Book Promotion Policy is to be formulated.

(4) Reforms in school curricula and pedagogy

  • Aim: It aims for holistic development of learners by equipping them with the key 21st century skills, reduction in curricular content to enhance essential learning and critical thinking and greater focus on experiential learning.
  • Increased flexibility and choice of subjects with students: There will be no rigid separations between arts and sciences, between curricular and extra-curricular activities, between vocational and academic streams.
  • Vocational education will start in schools from the 6th grade, and will include internships.
  • National Curricular Framework for School Education, NCFSE 2020-21 will be developed by the NCERT.

(5) Multilingualism and the power of language

  • Emphasis on mother tongue as the medium of instruction: The policy has emphasized mother tongue/local language/regional language as the medium of instruction at least till Grade 5, but preferably till Grade 8 and beyond.
  • Convenience of optional language:
  • Sanskrit to be offered at all levels of school and higher education as an option for students, including in the three-language formula.
  • Other classical languages and literatures of India also to be available as options. No language will be imposed on any student.
  • Students to participate in a fun project/activity on ‘The Languages of India’, sometime in Grades 6-8, such as, under the ‘Ek Bharat Shrestha Bharat’ initiative.
  • Several foreign languages will also be offered at the secondary level.
  • Indian Sign Language (ISL) will be standardized across the country, and National and State curriculum materials developed, for use by students with hearing impairment.

(6) Assessment Reforms

  • Shift from summative assessment to regular and formative assessment which is more competency-based, promotes learning and development, and tests higher-order skills, such as analysis, critical thinking, and conceptual clarity.
  • Revamping Board Exams: Board exams for Grades 10 and 12 will be continued, but redesigned with holistic development as the aim.
  • A new National Assessment Centre, PARAKH (Performance Assessment, Review, and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development), will be set up as a standard-setting body .

(7) Equitable and Inclusive Education

  • Ensuring complete coverage: NEP 2020 aims to ensure that no child loses any opportunity to learn and excel because of the circumstances of birth or background.
  • Special emphasis on Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDGs) which include gender, socio-cultural, and geographical identities and disabilities.  
  • Setting up of Gender Inclusion Fund and also Special Education Zones for disadvantaged regions and groups.
  • Enabling disables: Children with disabilities will be enabled to fully participate in the regular schooling process from the foundational stage to higher education.
  • It will be done withwith support of educators with cross disability training, resource centers, accommodations, assistive devices, appropriate technology-based tools and other support mechanisms tailored to suit their needs.
  • Bal Bhavans: Every state/district will be encouraged to establish “Bal Bhavans” as a special daytime boarding school, to participate in art-related, career-related, and play-related activities.
  • Free school infrastructure can be used as Samajik Chetna Kendras.

(8) Robust Teacher Recruitment and Career Path

  • Robust, transparent processes for teachers’ recruitment: Teachers will be recruited through robust, transparent processes.
  • Merit based promotions with a mechanism for multi-source periodic performance appraisals and available progression paths to become educational administrators or teacher educators.
  • National Professional Standards for Teachers (NPST) will be developed by the National Council for Teacher Education by 2022, in consultation with NCERT, SCERTs, teachers and expert organizations from across levels and regions.

(9) School Governance

  • Schools can be organized into complexes or clusters which will be the basic unit of governance and ensure availability of all resources including infrastructure, academic libraries and a strong professional teacher community.

(10) Standard-setting and Accreditation for School Education

  • NEP 2020 envisages clear, separate systems for policy making, regulation, operations and academic matters.  States/UTs will set up independent State School Standards Authority (SSSA).
  • The SCERT will develop a School Quality Assessment and Accreditation Framework (SQAAF) through consultations with all stakeholders.

Higher Education

(1) Increase GER to 50 % by 2035

  • NEP 2020 aims to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education including vocational education from 26.3% (2018) to 50% by 2035. 3.5 Crore new seats will be added to Higher education institutions.

(2) Holistic Multidisciplinary Education

  • Broad based multi-disciplinary, holistic UG education with flexible curricula, creative combinations of subjects, integration of vocational education and multiple entry and exit points with appropriate certification.
  • An Academic Bank of Credit is to be established for digitally storing academic credits earned from different HEIs so that these can be transferred and counted towards final degree earned.
  • Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities (MERUs), at par with IITs, IIMs, to be set up as models of best multidisciplinary education of global standards in the country.
  • The National Research Foundation will be created as an apex body for fostering a strong research culture and building research capacity across higher education.

(3) Regulation

  • Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) will be set up as a single overarching umbrella body the for entire higher education, excluding medical and legal education.
  • It will function through faceless intervention through technology, & will have powers to penalize HEIs not conforming to norms and standards.
  • Public and private higher education institutions will be governed by the same set of norms for regulation, accreditation and academic standards.

(4) Rationalized Institutional Architecture

  • Higher education institutions will be transformed into large, well resourced, vibrant multidisciplinary institutions providing high quality teaching, research, and community engagement.
  • The definition of university will allow a spectrum of institutions that range from Research-intensive Universities to Teaching-intensive Universities and Autonomous degree-granting Colleges. 
  • Affiliation of colleges is to be phased out in 15 years and a stage-wise mechanism is to be established for granting graded autonomy to colleges.

(5) Motivated, Energized, and Capable Faculty

  • Recommendations for motivating, energizing, and building capacity of faculty thorugh clearly defined, independent, transparent recruitment.
  • Freedom to design curricula/pedagogy, incentivizing excellence, movement into institutional leadership.

(6) Teacher Education

  • National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education, NCFTE 2021: A new and comprehensive framework will be formulated by the NCTE in consultation with NCERT.
  • By 2030, the minimum degree qualification for teaching will be a 4-year integrated B.Ed. degree.

(7) Mentoring Mission

  • A National Mission for Mentoring will be established, with a large pool of outstanding senior/retired faculty – including those with the ability to teach in Indian languages – who would be willing to provide short and long-term mentoring/professional support to university/college teachers.

(8) Financial support for students

  • Efforts will be made to incentivize the merit of students belonging to SC, ST, OBC, and other SEDGs.
  • The National Scholarship Portal will be expanded to support, foster, and track the progress of students receiving scholarships.
  • Private HEIs will be encouraged to offer larger numbers of free ships and scholarships to their students.

(9) Open and Distance Learning

  • Measures such as online courses and digital repositories, funding for research, improved student services, credit-based recognition of MOOCs, etc., will be taken to ensure it is at par with the highest quality in-class programmes.

(10) Online Education and Digital Education

  • A dedicated unit for building of digital infrastructure, digital content and capacity building will be created in the MHRD to look after the e-education needs of both school and higher education.

(11) Technology in education

  • National Educational Technology Forum (NETF): An autonomous body will be created to provide a platform for the free exchange of ideas on the use of technology to enhance learning, assessment, planning, and administration.

(12) Professional Education

  • All professional education will be an integral part of the higher education system.
  • Stand-alone technical universities, health science universities, legal and agricultural universities etc will aim to become multi-disciplinary institutions.

(13) Adult Education

  • Policy aims to achieve 100% youth and adult literacy.

(14) Financing Education

  • The Centre and the States will work together to increase the public investment in Education sector to reach 6% of GDP at the earliest.

Positive Aspects of Higher Education in Regional Language

  • Subject-Specific Improvement: Several studies in India and other Asian countries suggest a positive impact on learning outcomes for students using a regional medium rather than the English medium.
  • Performance in science and math, in particular, has been found to be better among students studying in their native language compared to English.
  • Higher Rates of Participation: Studying in the native language results in higher attendance, motivation and increased confidence for speaking up among students and improved parental involvement and support in studies due to familiarity with the mother tongue.
  • Additional Benefits for the Less-Advantaged: This is especially relevant for students who are first-generation learners (the first one in their entire generation to go to school and receive an education) or the ones coming from rural areas, who may feel intimidated by unfamiliar concepts in an alien language.
  • Increase in Gross-Enrollment Ratio (GER): This will help provide quality teaching to more students and thus increase Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education.
  • Promotes Linguistic Diversity: It will also promote the strength, usage, and vibrancy of all Indian languages.
  • It would also help prevent language-based discrimination.

Issues with the policy

1) Lack of integration

  • In both the thinking, and in the document, there are lags, such as the integration of technology and pedagogy.
  • There are big gaps such as lifelong learning, which should have been a key element of upgrading to emerging sciences.

2) Language barrier

  • There is much in the document ripe for debate – such as language. The NEP seeks to enable home language learning up to class five, in order to improve learning outcomes.
  • Sure, early comprehension of concepts is better in the home language and is critical for future progress. If the foundations are not sound, learning suffers, even with the best of teaching and infrastructure.
  • But it is also true that a core goal of education is social and economic mobility, and the language of mobility in India is English.

3) Multilingualism debate

  • Home language succeeds in places where the ecosystem extends all the way through higher education and into employment. Without such an ecosystem in place, this may not be good enough.
  • The NEP speaks of multilingualism and that must be emphasised. Most classes in India are de facto bilingual.
  • Some states are blissfully considering this policy as a futile attempt to impose Hindi.

4) Lack of funds

  • According to Economic Survey 2019-2020, the public spending (by the Centre and the State) on education was 3.1% of the GDP.
  • A shift in the cost structure of education is inevitable.
  • While funding at 6% of GDP remains doubtful, it is possible that parts of the transformation are achievable at a lower cost for greater scale.

5) A move in haste

  • The country is grappled with months of COVID-induced lockdowns.
  • The policy had to have parliamentary discussions; it should have undergone a decent parliamentary debate and deliberations considering diverse opinions.

6) Overambitious

  • All aforesaid policy moves require enormous resources. An ambitious target of public spending at 6% of GDP has been set.
  • This is certainly a tall order, given the current tax-to-GDP ratio and competing claims on the national exchequer of healthcare, national security and other key sectors.
  • The exchequer itself is choked meeting the current expenditure.

7) Pedagogical limitations

  • The document talks about flexibility, choice, experimentation. In higher education, the document recognizes that there is a diversity of pedagogical needs.
  • If it is a mandated option within single institutions, this will be a disaster, since structuring a curriculum for a classroom that has both one-year diploma students and four-year degree students’ takes away from the identity of the institution.

8) Institutional limitations

  • A healthy education system will comprise of a diversity of institutions, not a forced multi-disciplinarily one.
  • Students should have a choice for different kinds of institutions.
  • The policy risks creating a new kind of institutional isomorphism mandated from the Centre.

9) Issues with examinations

  • Exams are neurotic experiences because of competition; the consequences of a slight slip in performance are huge in terms of opportunities.
  • So the answer to the exam conundrum lies in the structure of opportunity. India is far from that condition.
  • This will require a less unequal society both in terms of access to quality institutions, and income differentials consequent upon access to those institutions.

 Way Forward

This ambitious policy has a cost to be paid and the rest of the things dwell on its implementation in letter and spirit.

  • Implementation of the spirit and intent of the Policy is the most critical matter.
  • It is important to implement the policy initiatives in a phased manner, as each policy point has several steps, each of which requires the previous step to be implemented successfully.
  • Prioritization will be important in ensuring optimal sequencing of policy points, and that the most critical and urgent actions are taken up first, thereby enabling a strong base.
  • Next, comprehensiveness in implementation will be key; as this Policy is interconnected and holistic, only a full-fledged implementation, and not a piecemeal one, will ensure that the desired objectives are achieved.
  • Since education is a concurrent subject, it will need careful planning, joint monitoring, and collaborative implementation between the Centre and States.
  • Timely infusion of requisite resources – human, infrastructural, and financial – at the Central and State levels will be crucial for the satisfactory execution of the Policy.
  • Finally, careful analysis and review of the linkages between multiple parallel implementation steps will be necessary in order to ensure effective dovetailing of all initiatives.

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