NEP 2020: Challenges that govt must address to expedite education reforms

The strive for learning continuation during the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a new and incredible opportunity to overhaul India’s archaic education system, which is rooted in the thoughts, ideas and societal needs of the past century.
students and teacher in a class room(Agencies)
students and teacher in a class room(Agencies)
Updated on Dec 02, 2020 05:38 PM IST
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ByRustom Kerawalla

The strive for learning continuation during the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a new and incredible opportunity to overhaul India’s archaic education system, which is rooted in the thoughts, ideas and societal needs of the past century.

The new National Education Policy (NEP) was announced right in the middle of the pandemic in July and draws from the common precinct of making India’s education system future ready. The NEP 2020 focuses on bringing the much-needed transformational changes in the Indian education system with a global perspective.

With the new policy, early childhood education has been brought in the realms of mainstream education for the first time. Skill-based learning is being prioritised with greater use and implementation of modern technologies. A multi-disciplinary, value-based approach to education focussing on holistic development along with life-skills training has been suggested in the policy to improve employability of students.

Though the NEP 2020 is path-breaking, the lack of a clear roadmap for implementation of the proposals in it is delaying the much-needed educator sector reforms, which is crucial for sustaining India’s future growth.

As the nationwide lockdown which is enforced since March is being lifted in a phased manner and students are starting to prepare to return to their classrooms, immediate and coordinated implementation of NEP reforms across all states needs to be prioritised. There are certain challenges that the government must also address to expedite the implementation process.

Inviting private sector funding

The NEP-2020 envisages increasing the education spend from 4.6% to 6% of GDP. Considering the pronounced move towards digitisation and e-learning in the post-COVID years, a higher spend would be needed for establishing the required technology and digital infrastructure. Developed countries allocate up to 20 per cent of their GDP on education, and India would also need to ramp up its spend in order to succeed in its quest of bringing the education sector at par with global standards. 

Given the current situation of the economy, getting private sector funding to meet the developmental goals is a plausible solution. The government should start evaluating PPP models without further delay for getting the private sector to contribute, collaborate, and collectively utilise their expertise for expediting the transformation of education in India.

Ramping up the higher education infrastructure

At present, India’s higher education enrolment, calculated in terms of Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER), is only 26%. GER is the ratio of population in the 18-23 age group to the number of people enrolled in higher education. Achieving the goal of doubling GER by 2035 will require far higher and faster investment in ramping if the higher education infrastructure.

Building new infrastructure would be a herculean task requiring massive investments and much longer time to implement. Hence, to meet the challenge of under-supply of quality higher education institutions in India, instead of building new infrastructure the existing government structures could be repurposed and rebuilt into modern higher education facilities. Such conversions could be fast-tracked through Public-Private -Partnership (PPP) participation, which could be similar to the built-operate-transfer (BOT) infrastructure projects.

Resources should be instead used in creating digital and technology infrastructure of higher education institutes so that they can extend equitable education opportunities to every student in the country through their ed-tech platforms. More importantly, the collaboration between government, higher education institutions service providers, Ed-tech companies and public and private enablers is the urgent need of the hour for creating the requisite education infrastructure in urban and rural areas.  

Greater focus on improving teaching standards

With the modernisation of school and college infrastructure, teachers also need to be skilled in modern teaching pedagogies and methodologies. Hence, while ramping up infrastructure of schools and colleges, improving quality of teachers must also go hand-in-hand to prepare a ready and vast pool of trained teachers for the 21st century classrooms.

The Government will need to come up with fixed investment plans, including in the Union Budget 2021 and also collaborate with the private industry to ensure continuous skill enhancement and training of teachers and bring them at par with global standards.

Expediting digital infrastructure development

Ed-tech has proven its invincibility in education continuity for students during the prolonged period of lockdown. However, education is one of the areas where digital disparity was most prominently visible during the lockdown when many students didn’t have the means and access to continue their education through the online mode.

Since remote learning and technology-backed education delivery expected to become the New Normal in post-COVID world, huge investments will be needed for developing digital infrastructure such as digital classrooms, remote expertise-driven teaching models, AR/VR tools to bridge gaps in physical teaching and creating laboratory infrastructure.

The availability of the requisite hardware, software, network equipment, connectivity, and 24X7 reliable information are the keys to bridging the digital divide in education. Like the government is opening up to private investments in infrastructure sector such as power, telecom and transport, digital infrastructure development in higher education institutes and schools also needs to be fast tracked through the private sector funding. Private players should be roped in to develop the digital infrastructure in government educational institutions within stipulated deadlines and also allowed to run it.

Guidelines for standardising content

Considering the longevity of the pandemic, content is being up-scaled to include a blend of augmented and virtual reality for pre-primary, primary and secondary education. Growing demand for online education is fuelling sales of Ed-Tech products. Ed-tech providers are preparing e-learning and curated content plans and are also involved in localization of the content to cater to the needs of various ages, regions, and culture.

However, there are huge disparities and the content quality and matter, which is a point of concern. Guidelines need to be provided for all Ed-Tech players for universalization and standardisation of content.

Enforcing a common implementation plan

With no fixed roadmap to follow for the implementation of the new education policy, the states and Union territories are announcing their own plans and deadlines. However, such asynchronous implementation will defeat the very purpose of NEP to provide equitable opportunities to access standardised and high quality of education to all and from every parts of the country.

The government must issue guidelines to state governments on a common implementation roadmap. Fixed deadlines must be assigned for achieving each of the milestones in order to make the NEP implementation process smoother, seamless and synchronised across the country.

(Author Rustom Kerawalla is Chairman, Ampersand Group. The views expressed here are personal)

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Friday, May 27, 2022