Some thinkers believe that reports and recommendations invariably remain what they are if unaccompanied by the micro-details of strategic implementation maneuvers. A bit higher in the hierarchy of proposed actions and actionable steps is the wave theory of political will of the powers, the calculus of economic certainties and uncertainties, the gravitational laws pervading in the moral and social matrix of the times, and the much simpler yogic asanas of accepting divergent views and counter-points of critical thinkers in the academic and non-academic world. This cover-story has the distinct honour of being sandwiched between some worthy insights by eminent thinkers and locating them isn’t going to be difficult for the discerning reader.
Critical assessment must and always will begin by asking questions. For instance, how is the concept of ‘inter-disciplinary’ woven in with the futuristic policies mentioned? Is it true that terms like ‘future-ready’, ‘employability’, and ‘job-ready’ have been mercilessly exploited by the corporate world to hide their own inefficiencies? Or is it the other way round? How must the education industry tackle this? Do corporates too need an overhaul in their attitude? What are the features or suggestions in the policy that makes the private colleges and institutions restless? There are mentions in NEP 2019 about private and public institutions to be treated at par. What does this really imply? The concept then goes on to add that education is to be ‘not for profit’ for ALL. How do you think this aim can be achieved, considering that there are a number of institutions and universities subsisting on just grants doled out to them? Will the policy-makers read and hear the voices of dissent or will they prefer to listen only to those opinions that kowtow and applaud? Finally, is it time for more eminent educationists to enter politics and make their views heard when legislations are being debated because according to a media report, the 217 eminent people consulted while forming this draft did not include even one teacher?
The Draft NEP 2019 was submitted on the 31st of May 2019 and deals with challenges in the access, equity, quality, affordability, and accountability in the education system. I am sure the Chairman Dr K Kasturirangan will be pleased to note the sort of whirling excitement that this report has already initiated.
NEP and our school education
There is a major rejig of curriculum and pedagogy with the early childhood care education or ECCE. Focus is obviously on health, nutrition, and education but the multiple regulatory bodies involved are going to be integrated and the anganwadi institution will be brought under the new educational setup.
Training interventions for teachers are going to be sturdier as this is the only way to upgrade the doddering literacy and numeracy that exists today. Besides strategic placements of focused training for teachers (other points of focus will be recruitment, motivation, continuous education and career development), a positive increase in the use of technology is aimed at. Even Mr Anil D Sahasrabudhe, Chairman, AICTE remarks, ‘Faculty today must be prepared to bring in creative thinking and thus their critical analysis of the entire system will become note-worthy in multiple ways.’ This obviously cannot be possible unless there is an equally powerful thrust of public investment in education. These are the two pillars besides a single-minded focus on vocational and adult education that are going to lead the nation towards universal access to education by 2030.
One of the common features throughout the policy is the emergence of the idea to merge multiple bodies and schemes that are sometimes uncommunicative with each other and become the cause for needless heartburn in the officials concerned. Operational efficacy thus goes up. Another vital component of this policy is the visible shift from rote learning through modified pedagogy aimed to enhance critical thinking, creativity, scientific temper, communication, collaboration, problem solving, ethics, social responsibility and digital literacy. The objective for this dynamic transformation is set to be achieved by 2022.
There are recommendations like shutting down all sub-standard teacher training institutes in the nation and starting a 4-year integrated stage-specific B.Ed that need to go way beyond mere mentions in a report. These, like re-organising schools into school complexes where adult education too can be made possible, blurring the lines between curriculum, co-curricular, and extra-curricular areas, activating the 5-3-3-4 structure for schools, and developing core competencies to include life skills and 21st century skills can be fairly intimidating demons without a clear set of step-wise instructions with clearly defined fiscal and completion goals. NCERT developing a national curriculum framework may seem fine but why has it not thought of reducing content load in school education curriculum all these years? Why hasn’t NCERT thought of developing a national curriculum framework for adult education all these years? The question that I’d like to ask here is if all the giant procedure and process generating institutions work only when a policy pushes and catalyses them? Are terms like ‘being proactive’ actively prancing around only for junior executives in multi-nationals? Yes, policy makers believe that certain changes will improve governance, but isn’t it time that our thinking bodies stopped just waiting for instructions and began generating ideas to maximize resource utilization?
It is only correct and timely for this policy to suggest the creation of an independent State School Regulatory Authority to handle all sorts of school regulations including the oversight of the system and implementation of accreditation. A separation of functions to eliminate conflicts of interests is obviously included.
NEP and higher education
Yes, I know this and everyone else too knows pretty well that the draft NEP favours high class research, high quality teachers, and an ever-evolving inter-disciplinary curriculum besides the National Research Foundation egging this orientation onwards. The question that many people in the higher echelons of decision-making may not want to hear starts and ends with a single word: how? Yes, there will be the Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog to co-ordinate between the centre and the states and then there will be a newly created superbody given the acronym NHERA (National Higher Education Regulatory Authority) as the only regulatory authority. Yes, bodies like AICTE, the Bar Council of India etc will be responsible only for setting standards for professional practice and that UGC will be limited to providing grants for higher research. The point here is that NHERA, as the single entity to take care of regulatory structure and accreditation will be the turning point a liberal approach and a stringent care to make things work will become a norm can be reduced to a muddled chaos if the experts and the specialists and the thinkers are allowed to hop from the ‘erstwhile’ power engine to the new purring one. It is almost like being intent upon changing the name of the circus time and again but keeping the same jokers, ringmasters, jugglers, and acrobats to make sure that the show goes on. Is the NEP 2019 about old mind-sets in new bodies? As Dr Harivansh Chaturvedi asks in a straight-forward tone: “The crucial question is whether the diagnosis of the problems and prescriptions suggested are according to the hard realities existing today?”
Even a cursory look at the plans expressed one gets a feeling that is rather invigorating. One of the radical features is the mention of a slow transition of all institutions towards full autonomy – academic, administrative, and financial. Tagging along is the fact that all private and public institutions will be treated at par in the long term and that education to finally be a ‘not for profit’ venture for everyone concerned. PadmaShri Dr Pritam Singh believes that “the physiology of education is market-driven and government led and any policy needs to consider this in every way.” He goes on to add that for research to be progressive, additional sources for generating funds need to be identified. “Look at the CSR spending in the country that is around 50,000 crore in 2018,” he says, “A mere 5% of this can be diverted into the National Fellowship Fund. Mathematically, a corpus of 2500 crore means taking care of a huge number of fellowships besides other productive activities. Once we have the right kind of students, we will also have research that makes its mark globally.” While we are on innovative approaches, it must be mentioned that in one of my short conversations with eminent educationists, Dr M VenuGopala Rao remarked that “we also need to think about having courses ideated by the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI). Foreign universities should be allowed to open campuses in India and Indian universities may be allowed to open their campuses overseas.”
Talking of finances, the NEP clarifies that the fiscal burden was 6% of the GDP in 1968 and remained the same in 1986. However, in 2017-18 it was 20% of the GDP. Thus it is only logical to look towards doubling public investment to rise upwards from a mere 10% to 20%. For higher education, the Policy sets a target of achieving at least 50% GER (Gross Enrolment Ratio) by 2035. Today we are a little above 25%. The higher education system is to be literally turned into a new entity if the aim to create world-class multidisciplinary higher education institutions that are distributed across the country is to be actualized. Vocational education that is today sitting outside in a separate bucket will be integrated and brought under one roof as the aim is for it to be 50% of the total enrolment by 2025 from the present 10%.
According to the 2011 census we have 3.26 crore youth non-literates and 26.5 crore adult non-literates. With these kind of bone-chilling figures, it is only heartening that the NEP 2019 talks about moving towards a liberal approach of which the 4 year undergraduate programs with multiple exit options will be an important part besides the entire thought-cloud about the inter-disciplinary programmes.
As already mentioned earlier, professional education will be integral to the overall higher education system. Sudhir Ahluwalia praises the aim in the new NEP to discourage “the setting up of stand-alone universities for professional education” and the fact that “institutions that offer either professional or general education will organically evolve into institutions offering both seamlessly.” This objective is targeted to be achieved by 2030. The intentions are more than just being fine and no one can ever disparage the inclusion of facts like having a 30:1 student:teacher ratio, professional development of faculty, and even the the wave of encouragement to build upon research capabilities.
Dr Jitendra K Das writes that “a wish list with inclusions like the establishment of new institutions, restructuring old ones, use of technology, and boosting vocational education needs a clearer roadmap.” Dr Raj Singh mentions that “caution may be needed in certain functional areas to remove excessive stifling regulations as has been the practice in the past.” Dr Irfan A Rizwi opines that “the real test of any policy, including that of NEP 2019, is in its implementation”. Thus we have the intellectuals being appreciative of the features of NEP 2019 but at the same time being a tad worried about implementation and the fact that the road-map needs to be unambiguous and clearly defined. These doubts exist because the past decades have not been excessively kind on education and education-related policy-making.
Dr Rizwi has also mentioned in his commentary that this “policy requires a renewed focus on this aspect without curbing our secular ethos of religious freedom.” Earlier NEP documents have invariable invoked the secular vision of the country in one way or the other but the 2019 document mentions a number of values and goes on to invoke our “democratic outlook and commitment to liberty and freedom; equality, justice, and fairness; embracing diversity, plurality, and inclusion; humaneness and fraternal spirit; social responsibility and the spirit of service; ethics of integrity and honesty; scientific temper and commitment to rational and public dialogue; peace; social action through constitutional means; unity and integration of the nation, and a true rootedness and pride in India with a forward-looking spirit to continuously improve as a nation”. A word, even when it makes its appearance physically can be absent in spirit… and this document has a myriad other facets that talk about progressive education even as it remains silent on the word secular. However, it will be equally interesting to see if this absence leads to yet another yet hidden interpretation though I am confident that the policy has a lot of good vibes surrounding it.
The NEP talks about reducing content curriculum and encouraging critical thinking that in the current flow of things seems rather improbable. We seem to have had a gala time adding more and more flab to our content in the past decades… and I am not talking about heavier school bags here, but about the bulging reading lists even in higher education. In my opinion this has been happening because we have always been fascinated with information instead of being an informed nation. A sudden shift from being an information-obsessed society to being a critical one is never going to be easy. Moreover, giving lip service to critical thinking isn’t ever going to be enough if our leaders and decision-makers are going to be afraid of being questioned, grilled for truth, and are going to come heavily upon dissenting opinions and expressions. We live in times when the borders between fact and fiction is blurred, when technology has given us all access to create and communicate multiple interpretations of anything, and where campaign and propaganda rules our psyches. Thus when the NEP talks about a liberal approach even the powers around us need to avoid stifling new voices and fresh conversations, however uncomfortable they may seem to be. A recent article in thewire dot in points out that “the report’s understanding of critical thinking has less to do with independent thought or free and critical inquiry into received traditions and wisdom and more to do with courses in statistics, data analysis and quantitative methods (page 229).” Only time will tell us if the words in the current NEP are going to encourage our coming generations to question, critique, and remain free to think.
As a final word it will be reasonable to say that a good policy attempts to be an enabler and importantly, a supporter of freedom where accountability has been factored in. The NEP 2019 contains these encouraging signs though a lot depends on the people or sets of people who step in between the formulation of a policy and its actual implementation.
Note: This article was first published in Education Post – July 2019 issue…
07 August 2019