Beyond jargon and keywords, what is the NEP 2020 and why do we need it?
This National Education Policy envisions an education system rooted in Indian ethos that contributes directly to transforming India, that is Bharat, sustainably into an equitable and vibrant knowledge society, by providing high-quality education to all, and thereby making India a global knowledge superpower.
I know, it’s a lot to take in and it largely sounds like bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo.
Indian ethos, transformation, Bharat, sustainability, knowledge society, global, superpower — such glorious keywords, much wow.
But bureaucratic feel-good jargon side, let’s ask some very basic questions about the NEP. Why do we need it? What does it really do? How will it affect us? How will it affect our kids and those who want to go for higher education? Does it deal with our modern society in a modern way that will make us all feel very modern?
A lot has already been written about the policy, mostly an elaboration of the highlights listed by the Press Information Bureau. But the fact of the matter is that this one document will have a profound impact on our country for years to come. We need to look at it section by section, and really examine what it’s saying.
And that’s precisely what we’re going to do in this series on the NEP. Welcome to part one! We’ll take our own sweet time with it and, of course, GIFs are in!
Why do we need a National Education Policy?
This question might sound stupid, but it really isn’t.
That’s because this document is not a law. And this is something which everyone needs to understand. The NEP is laying down a vision of whether it intends to direct our education system in the next few decades and why it intends to do that. But the actual implementation will be done by making changes in existing laws, bringing in new laws, and also making changes in regulations both by central and state governments.
So when you read this document, understand that the government is basically doing this:
For my non-Hindi peeps, a translation:
“Sapno se bhare naina, na neend hai na chaina.” Eyes are full of dreams, they are restless and there is no sleep.
Dreaming is the first step towards achieving your lofty goals, after all.
The new policy will replace another 34-year-old dream, aka the National Policy on Education that was put out in 1986. The new policy is being projected as the first education-related dream document of 21st-century India. Which is true, but it won’t solve all the problems currently plaguing our education system, so take all of it with a cartload of salt.
The “vision” of the policy, which this piece began with, is essentially what the NEP is about. In simple terms, devoid of jargon, it’s about making Indians smarter by giving them better quality education so that they become nicely oiled cogs in the machine called India (aka Bharat), and continue towards making the country a superpower so that other countries are so, so jealous of our awesomeness.
That’s the dream.
For over a century, education has primarily been seen as a way to improve the quality of humans in a society and make them more productive so that a country’s economy expands. Education is meant to make humans capable enough to fit in a job, or start something of their own, do their best, and get paid for it. That would, in turn, give them money to spend. They’d buy stuff and grow the economy some more.
It’s a beautiful cycle with that critical element of “education” embedded within it.
The ministry in charge of this all-important task is called the “human resource development ministry” for a reason. Because “humans” are a “resource” that must be “developed” — and put to use. It’s a super no-nonsense name with a clear purpose in mind. But the Modi government has changed that and has now decided to call it the “Ministry of Education”.
So, with a change in name, will there be a change in attitude as well?
To answer that question, let me throw you another jargon-y line.
Education Policy lays particular emphasis on the development of the creative potential of each individual. It is based on the principle that education must develop not only cognitive capacities — both the ‘foundational capacities’ of literacy and numeracy and ‘higher-order’ cognitive capacities, such as critical thinking and problem solving — but also social, ethical, and emotional capacities and dispositions.
The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2019, released by NGO Pratham this year, points out that only 16 percent of children in Class 1 in 26 surveyed rural districts can read text at the prescribed level. Almost 40 percent cannot even recognise letters. Only 41 percent of these children could recognise two-digit numbers.
A table from Pratham’s 2018 report on children in government schools in Class 5 who can read Class 2-level text, and the change in it over time, reveals a scary picture.
In 2018, only 44 percent of Class 5 students could read Class 2-level text. This essentially points to how our education system has failed in equipping kids with even the most basic “foundational capacities of literacy” at an early age.
It’s safe to say that our entire education system until now was so focused on getting kids into school and keeping them there that it largely ignored what these kids do inside the school. According to government data from 2017-18, India currently has a 19 percent dropout rate. This rate varies drastically across the country: from a 33 percent dropout rate in Assam to a 3.4 percent dropout rate in Jammu and Kashmir.
Apart from dropout rates and learning levels, our education system is plagued with multiple other problems like unavailability of teachers, quality of teachers, affordability of higher education, lack of on-the-job training in colleges, and more.
The NEP addresses a lot of these issues and offers some solutions. The policy’s overall objectives go something like this:
- Giving individual attention to the capabilities of each student.
- Achieving foundational literacy and numeracy by Class 3.
- Children should be able to choose their own paths in life according to their talents and interests.
- Eliminate harmful hierarchies among streams (arts, science and commerce), and eradicate silos between different areas of learning.
- Emphasis on conceptual understanding rather than rote learning and encouragement of creative thinking.
- Promote multilingualism in teaching and learning.
- Encourage some life skillz along the way like communication, cooperation, teamwork, and resilience.
- Ensure integrity, transparency, and resource efficiency of the educational system through audit and public disclosure.
- Encourage pride in India and its rich, diverse, ancient and modern culture and knowledge systems and traditions.
- Access to quality education must be considered a basic right of every child.
Now that we have this wishy-washy dreamy stuff out of the way, we shall be free to delve into the minutiae of the solutions offered by the policy. Starting with school education in the next part of this series, it’s going to be a wild wild ride.
So, strap yourself in.