NEP 2020: Increasing GER in higher education, how to make vision a reality
Set on the pillars of “Access, Quality, Equity, Affordability, and Accountability”, the new National Education Policy (NEP 2020) promises to address the current challenges such as poor literacy level, high dropouts and a lack of multidisciplinary approach. But, it does not clearly define the milestones or propose financial commitments to execute the plan.
While it is lauded as a highly aspirational policy that envisages reorienting Indian education system to meet the 21st Century needs, it will need a strong implementation plan and thorough consideration of existing issues and inequalities that the pandemic has aggravated. One of the key targets of NEP 2020 is to raise Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) to 50% by 2035. Will the visionary policy be able to achieve it? The answer is yes, but only through a strong execution plan and active participation of all the stakeholders.
History has witnessed that while enhancing GER has been one of the main purposes of education policies in the past, there is very little difference made on the ground. Looking back, the first National Policy on Education promulgated in 1968 called for “radical restructuring” of education. It proposed equal educational opportunities especially for Scheduled Tribes (ST), Scheduled Caste (SC) and women, and to ensure social integration and boost GER. Did it fully achieve the aim? The analysis suggests the implementation was not very successful.
Currently, even with higher educational institutions constantly striving to develop, the number of students enrolling in universities is 37.4 million with a GER of 26.3. Thus, the target GER of 50% is not an easy one. NEP 2020 aims to achieve it by restructuring the curriculum and pedagogy and reform assessments. While it sounds impressive on paper, the execution on ground will need drastic measures.
Below are two recommendations that address (a) the fulcrum around which quality education revolves namely Teachers, and (b) effective and timely implementation of NEP 2020:
Establishing National Educational Service: To meet the target of 50% higher GER, India will need 3.3 million more teachers in higher education by 2035 based on a teacher student ratio of 1:15 which is a 235% increase from the current availability of 1.4 million. This is a huge challenge considering that teaching is not among the coveted professions and hence not many young people are willing to opt for it.
To raise the bar, India should take lessons from countries such as Finland and South Korea where teaching is among the most aspirational professions. To start with,there is a need for establishment of National Educational Service (NES) that would be as coveted as the IAS, IPS, IRS. The NES would be the fountainhead for generating educational leaders who would spearhead the professional development of teachers and education in each of the 935 districts in the country. Along with having content knowledge and content-specific pedagogy, teaching courses should be tailor-made to include current social and political issues. There should also be special programmes to develop “education specialists” and “research specialists”. Ongoing professional development of teachers can be ensured through a public-private partnership.
For better career growth, teachers should be provided with opportunities for promotion and lateral entry to the NES based on teaching experience, performance, and pursuit of professional development opportunities.
Setting up Task Forces: The 42nd Amendment Act transferred education from State list to Concurrent list. But states still can resist/ refuse the implementation of NEP 2020 like some states appear to have already hinted. Besides, some underdeveloped states do not have the infrastructure and capacity to implement the policy.
In such a scenario, the government should establish task forces consisting of eminent educational leaders, professors and volunteers to ensure smooth implementation in each state. The state level task forces should be led by an apex task force at the centre to promote, integrate and monitor the ground-level implementation of the important targets and milestones in the journey. To ensure achievement of outcomes, the apex task force should be headed by a CEO much like the CEO of NITI Aayog.
For NEP 2020 to succeed in its aim to enhance GER swift implementation is vital. And a skilled task force can ensure by assisting in creation and designing of curriculum in local/regional languages and monitoring the quality requirements of universities and colleges. All states need to do the groundwork by 2025 and to have a smooth execution of the policy by 2040. Any further delay will hamper our demographic dividend advantage.
While the policy is timely and its objective is noble, it calls for transformational leadership to execute plans to bring about the far reaching changes visualized to galvanise the Indian education system to attain global standards.
(Author Dr Suresh Mony is Director, SVKM’s NMIMS Bengaluru campus. Views expressed here are personal.)