Success of National Education Policy depends on General Education Council
The public education system entails regulation and monitoring to ensure excellence in achieving goals in policy documents. But, it generally encounters scepticism in the esoteric circles of academicians who believe in the doctrine of absolute individuality in professional life. As such, regulation are viewed as excessive and restricted. It is in this context that the extant regulatory regime of higher education in India is restrictive rather than facilitative.
Besides, the reforms envisioned in the National Education Policy (NEP), 2020, need reforms in the regulatory mechanism to ensure its implementation. Four verticals under the Higher Education Commission of India will be set up, which will function in synergy. These verticals are the National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC), National Accreditation Council (NAC), Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC) and General Education Council (GEC).
EMPOWERING GRADUATES TO BECOME GLOBAL CITIZENS
The GEC is the most crucial vertical for the success of the NEP, 2020, and thus is its soul. The council shall be responsible for framing graduate attributes (GA) – the qualities, skills and understandings that students should develop while pursuing degrees. Intended to empower graduates with competencies and 21st-century skills to become global citizens and contribute to the nation’s economy, GAs shall also provide for content mapping, suggest pedagogical pathways and effective evaluation tools for measuring attainment levels prior to award of the degrees. In essence, the basic mandate of the GEC shall be to prepare learners with skill sets.
The GEC, through the National Higher Education Qualification Framework (NHEQF), will ensure a departure from certifying educational qualifications on the basis of duration, entry qualifications and other criteria to a system of quantifying and certifying predefined competencies. It is supposed to provide a framework for translating competencies into credits and/or hours, seamless amalgamation of the formal and non -formal modes of earning credits and fixing minimum credits for certification, and finally, a framework for the academic bank of credits.
INTEGRATING VOCATIONAL INTO HIGHER EDUCATION
The NHEQF will work with the National Skills Qualifications Framework (NSQF) for the integration of vocational into higher education. The NSQF focuses on qualifications in accordance with levels of knowledge, skills and aptitude. These levels are defined in terms of learning outcomes irrespective of whether these are acquired through formal or informal learning opportunities. Professional bodies such as the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Veterinary Council of India, National Council for Teacher Education, Council of Architecture and National Council for Vocational Education and Training will act as professional standard setting bodies (PSSBs) and shall set standards for professional courses.
Traditional skills such as carpentry, pottery and other forms of craftsmanship abundantly available in rural India need to be institutionalised. As such, NHEQF should also devise standards and mechanism for certifications of such skills informally imparted in rural homes that craftsmen traditionally inherited from previous generations. This will help preserve the traditional skill base of rural India, and also will provide impetus and recognition to craftsmen.
CONVERTING CHALLENGES INTO OPPORTUNITY
The challenge and opportunity before the nation is to help the GEC to translate its mandates into ground realities. The GEC will accomplish its mandate through a panel of experts. The moot question is, whether the GEC can have the luxury of enough expertise to develop programmes and course-wise GAs and a broad framework for course contents in commensuration with GAs along with corresponding pedagogical pathways – a Herculean task.
More importantly, are the teachers trained and equipped to engage with the type of personalised, experiential, flipped and similar student-centric pedagogies to mentor the learners to achieve targeted GAs and to develop the required level of competencies matching with international standards?
Devising measurable evaluation tools and putting those into practise will be another challenge. Making the education system learner-centric with focus on how and what to learn and inculcating in them the desire for lifelong learning will be another challenge. All this can be possible provided the teaching community decides to come out of the comfort zone and imbibes the spirit of the guru shishya tradition to rise to the occasion and convert challenges into opportunities.
Initially, the quality of students entering higher education may also be a cause of concern, but quality will improve once school students trained under the new education system start pursuing higher education. A tight but light and facilitative regulatory framework, sufficient grant for developing world-class infrastructure, recruitment of quality teachers and tangible accreditation mechanism will be crucial for the GEC to meaningfully discharge its responsibilities. This quadrant under the Higher Education Commission of India can function and meet the objectives of the NEP if all verticals work in coordination.
COMMITMENT FROM STAKEHOLDERS
The Union education minister demonstrated commitment in sensitising stakeholders, including civil society, with all aspects of the NEP. The same level of commitment is a must on the part of the nodal ministry, the University Grants Commission and vice-chancellors in actualising the reforms.
Students, teachers, institutions and civil society should work in tandem to ensure that the GEC fulfils its mandate for developing 21st century competencies in youth and adults alike to enable them to become global citizens with critical and rational thinking in the socio-economic and cultural contexts of the nation. The GEC can help realise the prime minister’s vision of making Bharat atmanirbhar (self-reliant). This way, it can become the soul of the NEP.
The writer is vice-chancellor, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, and a member of University Grants Commission. Views expressed are personal