The country’s first National Education Policy (NEP) was drafted in 1968, building upon the visionary Kothari Commission Report of 1966. Then, 18 years later, the country got its second NEP during the tenure of the Rajiv Gandhi government. Much has changed since then, and most of the sweeping socio-economic-political changes the country has seen have been in these 33 years.
To be fair to the various governments, each has contributed milestone initiatives during this period, such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan during NDA–I, the National Curriculum Framework 2005 and the Right to Education Act, 2009, during the UPA government. But what the country needs at this stage is a completely refreshed, comprehensive, long-term educational policy that will provide vision, strategy and roadmap for our future.
I say this to put in context and perspective the mammoth task undertaken by the Kasturirangan Committee in preparing the recently announced draft National Education Policy, 2019. Some of my colleagues, including our CEO, were deeply involved in this exercise and while this is necessary disclosure, it also allows me to state that I had a window to the hard work that the committee put in for over 18 months. It reached out to individuals and institutions, sought suggestions, bounced concepts, asked for data and research reports that would help them in their journey.
That is how, at the end of an intense exercise, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has put up in the public domain a 477-page draft policy document. There are a total of 25 chapters in five sections devoted to school education, higher education, specific focus areas, transforming governance and regulation and rounding off with suggestions on necessary conditions and financial outlays for effective implementation.
Let us look at some of the critical elements in the draft NEP 2019:
• The Right to Education should be extended from its present 6 to 14 age group, to cover children in the 3 to 18 age group. Many of us have been insisting on this ever since the RTE Act came into existence 10 years ago.
• There is a much needed emphasis in the policy on providing high-quality early childhood care -- nutritional, health, and education -- to all children between 3-6 years by 2025.
• Proposing a 5+3+3+4 school structure demonstrates the committee’s conviction that the first five years (from early childhood) is a critical foundation for education.
• Several concerted initiatives have been listed to ensure that no child loses any opportunity to learn and excel because of the circumstances of birth or background.
• A range of measures have been outlined to ensure that every student will start achieving age-appropriate foundational literacy and numeracy by 2025. This is to address the grim reality facing our education system — of students not being able to read or write and do basic arithmetic.
• The centrality of the teacher receives due recognition. There are clear guidelines on teacher qualification, transparent recruitment processes, quality and accreditation. By 2030, the four-year integrated stage-specific, subject-specific teacher degree would be the main route to becoming a teacher. The policy states that substandard and dysfunctional teacher education institutes will be shut down and teacher preparation programmes will be rigorous and take place in vibrant, multidisciplinary higher education institutions.
• The policy is scathing in its review of the current situation in our higher education and articulates a roadmap for its transformation. The plethora of colleges— 40,000 colleges and 800 universities, many of poor quality, where students go through the motions — is a problem the policy addresses squarely. It seeks to consolidate these into 15,000 vibrant, multidisciplinary institutions. It proposes a thoroughly revamped undergraduate program whose curriculum would provide integrated, rigorous exposure to science, arts, humanities, mathematics and professional fields.
• The creation of an apex governing body (Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog or the National Education Commission) that will be the custodian of the vision of education in India, may be the answer to the wicked problem of poor governance that has blighted our education system. The policy emphasises the need to separate regulation and governance, providing much needed autonomy in school and higher education.
• This policy considers all financial support and spend on education as ‘investment’, and not ‘expenditure’. While acknowledging the long-stated need that India must spend 6% of its GDP on education, the draft states that it is more effective (and actionable) to consider goals of public investment in education as a proportion of overall public expenditure. Using this yardstick, it recommends that public investment on education must go up from the current 10% of overall public expenditure to 20% over a 10-year period.
A concern for quality of learning and for equity and inclusion runs through the document, across both school and higher education. The NEP 2019 – this is still the draft — comes after more than 30 years since NEP 1986. Unlike many other domains, education takes time to show impact. Countries like Sweden and Norway, held up as exemplars, have shown the benefits of unwavering commitment to the implementation of their education policies. To stay the course and implement our education policy with conviction should be India’s way, too.
That is why NEP 2019 is so important. In a document with over 200 policy recommendations, it is only human that there will be a few contradictory suggestions, the odd impractical recommendation, some utopian or logic-defying thoughts.
It is necessary that as many citizens as possible – the general public, students, parents, domain experts, bureaucrats, civil society — provide constructive feedback, with alternatives and helpful suggestions to the draft policy that is up on the MHRD website.
The drafting committee has done its work, the government has put up the draft for public scrutiny and if we, as concerned citizens, contribute constructive feedback, the nation may achieve what could be a truly transformative policy for the kind of education that has been envisioned from the time our republic got its Constitution.
(The writer is Chief Operating Officer, Azim Premji University)