The possibilities, and gaps, in the draft new education policy
India has only two more decades to reap the benefits of the demographic dividend. Education will be keyUpdated: Aug 12, 2019 19:09 IST
The previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government embarked on some path-breaking liberalisation measures in education in the history of independent India. In the higher education domain, perhaps for the first time, there were a string of initiatives undertaken to promote autonomy and quality in our institutions. The Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) Bill, graded autonomy for institutes, Institutes of Eminence among others were aimed at breaking the shackles of our premier institutions and making them nimble. The draft New Education Policy (NEP) offers further guidance for the current government. The proposed national research foundation already finds mention in the recent budget.
In the school education sector, the reforms in teacher education carried out by the previous government find resonance in the draft NEP. Four-year B. Ed programmes were conceptualised. About 15 lakh untrained teachers have taken the diploma course. The proposal in the NEP of offering a tenure track to teachers to become master and expert teachers, and putting institution leaders through leadership programmes, are in sync with what the previous government took baby steps in through the LEAP and ARPIT programmes.
India is past, what demographers called, “peak child”. The share of the 0-19 year cohort in our population has started to decline already. We have only two more decades left to reap the remnant benefits of demographic dividend. This is also happening in the backdrop of industry 4.0, where automation, artificial intelligence are going to hold sway. How we harness technology to develop human capital on a large scale will determine how equitable the fruits of future prosperity will be distributed.
Our kids are digital natives and can access material on the Internet with natural ease. Also, we are already in the gig economy, which demands learning skills with short life spans and life-long learning . Certification has already become the norm, especially in the start-up world.
Perhaps in this regard, the draft NEP has not been bold enough to propose radical use of technology in education. India is already the second largest subscriber of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in the world. The government-run SWAYAM has more than one crore subscribers. Students from remote parts of India are already able to access the best tutorials online. Our school children in urban areas learn through apps such as Byjus.
The draft NEP also refers to the huge shortage of teaching faculty, which is up to 40%. If we have to train our students on a grand scale, the magic wand is the massive popularisation and acceptance of MOOCs and other tech platforms.
It can hasten the achievement of doubling our Gross Enrolment ratio from 25% in the next decade.
The previous government rightly recognised the power of technology. In school education, it started Operation Digital Board to facilitate teaching through online materials. Building up of the tech platform of SWAYAM was also coupled with regulatory changes in UGC and AICTE, empowering universities to offer up to 20% of their courses through SWAYAM.
The draft NEP also focuses excessively on the government education bureaucracy. Some of the proposed changes, even if implemented properly, will take 15 years. There is also an inherent distrust of the private sector. About 40% of our school children already study in private schools. The government being the “public arbiter to values”, to borrow the Harvard economist Lant Pritchett’s phrase, need to also learn to make it easy for true educational entrepreneurs to build schools and participate in nation building.
It is also undeniable that a fraction of private schools charge excessive fees, tarnishing the image of the whole sector, especially of the budget private schools that constitute more than 80%. Nevertheless, a beginning has been made in allowing schools to set their own syllabus within the contours of the national curricular framework. It will help our schools develop best-practices that work in the Indian milieu.
The best parts of the draft NEP are the ones on languages and Indic thought. There is much-needed reorientation towards our own history and culture. Another section that has obtained almost universal acclaim is the recognition of early childhood education. It is a product of extensive research in cognitive psychology over the years and activism by civil society in various states.
The emphasis on vocational training in both school and higher education is a much-needed corrective measure. In fact, in higher education, the draft NEP calls for expansion of vocational courses to 50% of the learners by 2025. This has ramifications on the holistic learning of our students, addressing social biases and offering relevant skills to the market.
The draft NEP also offers solutions to untangle the conflict of interest in higher education by separating regulation, provision of education, financing, accreditation and standards setting. The previous government was already working on separation of powers through higher education evaluation and regulation authority.
The policy proposes creation of Special Education Zones (SEZ). It fits well with the prime minister’s thrust on 115 “Aspirational Districts”. The government could also conduct a few worthwhile experiments that can be scaled up in the rest of the education system. The draft NEP has been a massive consultation exercise.
The proposals offered are steady, incremental and executable. Hopefully, the feedback received in the last two months will correct the few anomalies. But the proof of the pudding will be determined by how many of the recommendations the executive takes up to enact laws and initiate programmes.