National Education Policy: A Critical Analysis

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The national educational policy (NEP) is both visionary and ambitious. Much of its success will depend on its execution. A panel chaired by former ISRO chief K Kasturirangan had submitted its first draft in 2018 to the Government. The Government then opened the draft for public feedback soon after Modi 2.0 in 2019. At that time it received stiff opposition from non-Hindi speaking states that saw it as an attempt to impose Hindi on them. Finally, it was approved by the union cabinet 29th July 2020 and was passed without discussion or debate in a parliament. It is a third education policy of Independent India. The first came in 1968 brought by Indira Gandhi’s government. The next saw the light of the day in 1986 under the Rajiv Gandhi government which was later modified by the P.V. Narshima Rao government in 1992. After 34 years, we have a new policy that aims to bring about a revolution in our education system. It has several promises to keep and appears to be timely in several regards.

It aims for national integration through education that enables our students to actualize their potential and appears to be sufficiently open and flexible to embrace the journey of all. One of its strengths is it’s multi-disciplinarily and availability of choice based pursuits to the students at the level of the school. This has opened several entry points and exit points for the students within the system. It has also tried to overcome the prevailing insularity in subjects of specialization in higher education and opened seamless pursuits of Science, Arts, and Humanities. To allow this to happen, it has radically transformed the entire structure of our education. The present 10+2 system is replaced by 5+3+3+4 in school education. The previous system had overly linearized education and did not accommodate the different needs of the students. The present choice-based system opens the playfield for the students and is not just linear but is also horizontal. These flexi possibilities that allow the pursuits of vocational and non-vocational subjects alongside co-curricular and extra-curricular activities may reduce school dropouts and multiple points of entry will make it easy for some dropouts to enter the system.

By and large, the NEP seems to be guided by the findings of neuroscience. The streamlining of pre-school education is a welcome move and has rightly proposed activity-based, play-based and discover- based pedagogies for our children. Besides, it has bravely kept the medium of instruction to the choice of the student as India in the 21st century mostly has multilingual student communities in our urban areas and is increasingly becoming similar in our rural areas. This has irked some imperialists of the vernaculars who like to impose local languages on the poor while the rich are allowed to educate themselves in private schools to gain proficiency in English. English has become a language of social mobility and becomes a link language to a multilingual India that refuses to be linked under Hindi.

The multidisciplinary approach that is introduced at the school level is continued at higher education and is clearly aligned to the global system. This approach opens possibilities of bringing research focus into our institutions of higher education. With this focus, the 3 years of graduation has been upgraded to 4 years. This move has been made to scrap MPhil and allow possibilities of pursuing a PhD program after a Masters’ degree. All in all, one can trace that a clear student-centric approach is inscribed in the entire system and appears to make room for critical thinking, holistic approach, inquiry-based discovery-based, discussion-based and analysis-based learning. Besides, it envisages new modes of evaluations to overcome rote learning, where assimilation of concepts and their applications are emphasised. Besides, exams are introduced in classes 3, 5, 10 and 12 which are said to lead the students to test their strengths and make wise choices of disciplines they wish to pursue.

The new education policy does have several strengths but being a visionary document it remains vague and has several ambiguities and loose ends that are confusing if not disturbing. It offers the schools to choose any medium of instruction but also proposes that it is to be mother tongue or any other regional language alongside its three-language formula which consists of any two regional languages. These ambiguities do cause anxieties in places like Goa where we have witnessed complex politics of scripts. Such politics takes us away from the student-centric focus of education and is often led by language imperialism that attempts to develop only one script of a language on the backs of our children in the name of education. This may not apply to places where languages have single scripts. But places like Goa where the mother has more than one script; does have possibilities of destruction of the mother tongue in the scripts of the minorities.

Although the NEP is largely open, it remains centralized. This can suffocate creativity and local autonomy and will produce mediocrity. The execution of all the provisions of NEP will require a huge budget. It is estimated to be 6 % of our GDP. When the present education budget is less than 1% of our GDP and our economy going doldrums for the present, it is difficult to see how it will find its finances. Alongside the Government initiative, it leaves education to philanthropy and stays silent over education for sale and does not offer any means to check corruption and privatization of education.

The new system will require improved and expanded infrastructure in the schools to run its choice-based modules as well as make room for vocational courses like carpentry, electric work, gardening, pottery etc. Besides, the training and skilling of the teachers will be an uphill task and there is no clear road map towards it. Moreover, the choice-based system will put enormous stress on the parents and students who will need guidance and counselling to make wise choices so that the learning outcomes of the student have a place in the job market that is already shrinking because of the growth in Artificial Intelligence, Machine learning and Big Data Analytics. The choices in the three language formula may or may not provide for one link language for Indians. We at least need to build a diglossia competence. This means we need competence in two languages, one of which may be the local. The other has to be a link-language that will link us all Indians. Given our diversities, Indian English is the only suitable candidate to link us all. Besides, it can make room for our global aspirations.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

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