Impact of new education policy :are reforms needed?

Education in its most fundamental sense can be defined as a means to develop one’s personality thorough not merely acquisition of knowledge but also the ability to ply this knowledge in one’s life.

The goal of this paper is three-fold: to familiarize the reader with the New Education Policy 2020, (“NEP”) to critically analyze its impact and suggest reforms. Further, it aims to raise crucial questions about the shortfalls of the policy.

Owing to the fast paced changes seen firsthand by the Indian education sector in the past three decades, reforms were a dire necessity. The NEP was launched in July, 2020 after a gap of 34 years as a catalyst to better equip the education sector to the needs of the 21st century.

The goal of the NEP is to achieve expansion, equity and excellence in the Indian education system. Being a vision document, it outlines developmental goals, promotes digital learning and thereby facilitates national development.

The NEP broadly highlights two aspects of education: the first one being school level education and the second one being higher level education.

The first aspect of the policy talks about school education. It introduces a (5+3+3+4) formula as opposed to the prevailing (10+2) formula to encourage proper learning for each age group.[1] Additionally, it lays emphasis on vocational education and promotes internships from an early age.[2] A criticism that arises is that this could lead to money mindedness and unhealthy competition among children. However the criticism is narrow-sighted as the long term benefits of hands-on education greatly outweigh the slight money making tendency among children.

The policy outlines the need for flexibility of choice in subjects and attempts to change the rigid three stream system .This means that a student can choose subjects across various disciplines of science, commerce and humanities .The intent of this change was to mollify stream based prejudices and increase choice in the stream selection process. However, it fails to foresee its practical implications on a student’s career. For instance, if a student takes up history, physics and chemistry in grade 12th and aims to pursue engineering in India. The eligibility for the engineering colleges still mandates a student to study physics, chemistry and math at school level, rendering the student ineligible. This discrepancy exists across a multitude of disciplines in India. Therefore, the policy fails to successfully harmonize school education with college education.

The policy encouraged the ‘medium of instruction’ to be in one’s mother tongue up until the 5th grade under the broad agenda of “promotion of regionalism”. However, it must be kept in mind that the ability to write and speak fluent English is a determinant for job security in the present scenario. Therefore the NEP deprives students the opportunity to master English from a young age, effecting their employability in the future.

Conversely, the policy comprises of some positive fundamental changes like revising the CBSE board exams to make them easier and more application based, introducing a more holistic 360 degree assessment and proposing a common exam for undergraduate courses pan India .These changes would not only revolutionize school learning but also reduce the pressure on students driving them to do well.

The second part of the policy deals with higher education. It introduces a credit system and an exit option for university students at the end of each year, granting them a certificate /diploma/degree in accordance with the completion of individual academic years. In my opinion, this offers students a false sense of freedom under the garb of job security. What’s more is that the bleak reality remains that rates of unemployment are the highest among graduates with a technical education degree. There is a massive increase in joblessness among educated youth which has almost doubled from 6.1 per cent in 2011–12 to 17.8 per cent in 2017–18.[3] This means that the system allowing students to exit their education before completion could contribute to their unemployment.

Moving on to the legal aspect, the policy has witnessed procedural issues as it was not open for discussion in the parliament thus leaving massive scope for introspection and debate. It follows a duty based approach instead of a rights based approach in its undertones.

Additionally, the policy states a rather optimistic financial budget wanting to spend 6 percent of the GDP on education when currently it spends 1.6 percent. Similar promises were made in 1968 by the Kothari commission and what the government fails to provide is a clear a road map of how these goals will be attained.

We in India have a law which limits our fiscal deficit and government spending. Although the need of the hour is a law which sets a minimum percent of the amount of the budget to be spent exclusively on education.

The question remains that given our investment in education, can we perform better as a country? According to me, we can. We should do away with the idea of education as a non-profit entity at least in the higher education because the reality lies in the fact that Private sector already accounts for more than 76% of total institutions of higher education thus debasing the argument that we cannot afford private higher education in the first place.[4]

One might argue that by making education commercial, one would limit access to education however what I propose is to commercialize higher education and financing the needy by the industry/government/NGOs and civil societies by providing more merit based as well as need based scholarships. Furthermore, according to the UN global rankings for education India is ranked 35 .Thus the policy should also introduce real time checks and balance through the NEP.

Largely, the policy is in agreement with the general pedagogy of education in the context of India and does not particularly support blatant ideological agendas that ill-serve the cause of education. Moreover, it plans to establish a central authority for education in India in order to streamline and centralize education which is portrayed as a positive change. This action is likely to create a system of quick decision making and curtail bureaucratic complications.

Lastly, the most significant aspect of the policy deals with implementation. Given that there is less than 40 percent penetration of internet across the country, can we truly achieve digital learning? Problems like absenteeism and lack of teachers, frequent power cuts and irrelevance of subject still plague the education system in our country.

Given the educational landscape in India, it can be concluded that there is a severe need for strong democratic will and intent for this policy to be a reality in the near future.

[1] National Education Policy 2020 Ministry of Human Resource Development Government of India. (n.d.). [online] Available at: https://www.mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/NEP_Final_English_0.pdf.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Tradingeconomics.com. (2019). India Unemployment Rate. [online] Available at: https://tradingeconomics.com/india/unemployment-rate.

[4] All India Survey on Higher Education, 2014–15 report.

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