On 29 July 2020, the Union Cabinet cleared a new National Education Policy (NEP) proposing far-reaching changes in school and higher education. The 484 page new National Education Policy drafted by a panel led by former Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chief Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan replaces the previous National Policy on Education, 1986.
The National Education Policy 2020 envisions an India-centric education system that contributes directly to transforming the nation sustainably into an equitable and vibrant knowledge society by providing high-quality education to all.
According to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the policy focuses on ‘how to think’ rather than ‘what to think’. In the words of Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan, chairperson of the National Education Policy (NEP) drafting panel, “No language is being imposed. Multi-lingual flexibility is still the basis for the new NEP 2020”.
National Education Policy (NEP) – the need
The need for a comprehensive education policy was first felt in 1964 when Congress MP Siddheshwar Prasad criticized the then government for lack of vision and philosophy for education. The same year, a 17-member Education Commission, headed by then UGC Chairperson D S Kothari, was constituted to draft a national and coordinated policy on education. Based on the suggestions of this Commission, Parliament passed the first education policy in 1968.
A new NEP usually comes along every few decades. India has had three to date. The first came in 1968 under Indira Gandhi and the second in 1986 under Rajiv Gandhi. The NEP of 1986 was revised in 1992 when P V Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister. The third is the NEP released under the Prime Ministership of Narendra Modi.
Changes in school education
In school education, the policy focuses on overhauling the curriculum, “easier” Board exams, reducing in the syllabus to retain “core essentials” and thrust on “experiential learning and critical thinking”.
The National Education Policy 2020 seeks to replace the “10 + 2” in the 1986 policy with a “5+3+3+4” school structure
Foundational Stage: Covering children in 3-8 year age group — 3 years of pre-school or anganwadi followed by classes 1 and 2 in primary school. The focus of studies in this segment will be on activity-based learning. This would bring early childhood education also known as pre-school education for children of ages 3 to 5 under the ambit of formal schooling. The NEP also favours mid-day meals for pre-school children.
Preparatory Stage: Covering children in 8-11 year age group studying in class 3 to 5 who will gradually be taught how to speak, read, and write and subjects like art, science and mathematics.
Middle Stage: Children ranging between 11-14 age group in class 6 – 8 who will be taught subjects like mathematics, science, social science, arts and humanities.
Secondary Stage: Children in the 14-19 year age group. They will be further subdivided into two groups: the first phase covering classes 9 – 10 and the second phase covering classes 11 – 12. The multidisciplinary studies in this 4 year period would be intended to inculcate in-depth and critical thinking.
Some of the other features outlined in the National Education Policy 2020
- School students will only attend three exams in classes 2, 5 and 8 instead of exams being held every academic year.
- PARAKH (Performance Assessment, Review and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development) Board exams will be continued to be held in class 10 and 12 based but these exams would be conducted twice a year. The students will be offered up to two attempts to clear exam which will have objective and subjective questions.
- The aim is to reduce the burden on students and allow them to be more “inter-disciplinary” and “multi-lingual”.
- Report cards will be “holistic”, offering information about the student’s skills.
- Coding and experiential learning will be introduced from class 6
- Midday Meal Scheme will be extended to include breakfasts. More focus will be given to students’ health, particularly mental health, through the deployment of counselors and social workers.
The policy also proposes phasing out all institutions offering single streams and that all universities and colleges must aim to become multidisciplinary by 2040.
Emphasis on mother tongue – why, what purpose would it serve?
The National Education Policy 2020 provides that students should be taught in their mother tongue or regional language until Class 5.
Such emphasis is not new: Most government schools in the country are doing this already. As for private schools, it’s unlikely that they will be asked to change their medium of instruction. The provision of mother tongue as a medium of instruction is not compulsory for states. Education is a concurrent subject. This is why the policy suggests that kids should be taught in their mother tongue or regional language wherever possible.
What about people in transferable jobs, or children of multilingual parents?
The NEP doesn’t say anything specifically on children of parents with transferable jobs, but acknowledges children living in multilingual families: Teachers will be encouraged to use a bilingual approach, including bilingual teaching-learning materials, with those students whose home language may be different from the medium of instruction.
Changes in the higher education sector
The National Education Policy 2020 proposes drastic changes in the higher education sector like dismantling of the UGC and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), the introduction of a four-year multidisciplinary undergraduate programme and discontinuation of the M Phil programme.
Foreign universities will be allowed to set up campuses in India.
The fees of both private and public universities will be fixed.
A Higher Education Council of India (HECI) will regulate higher education and have 4 verticals:
- National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC) will regulate higher education, including teacher education but excluding medical and legal education.
- National Accreditation Council (NAC), a “meta-accrediting body”.
- Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC), for funding and financing of universities and colleges. This will replace the existing National Council for Teacher Education, All India Council for Technical Education and the University Grants Commission.
- General Education Council (GEC), to frame “graduate attributes”, namely the learning outcomes expected. It will also be responsible in framing a National Higher Education Qualification Framework (NHEQF).
National Council for Teacher Education under the GEC, will act as a professional standard-setting body (PSSB) in addition to other professional institutions like Veterinary Council of India, Council of Architecture, Indian Council of Agricultural Research and National Council for Vocational Education and Training.
The National Testing Agency will be made responsible for conducting entrance examinations for admissions to universities across the country, in addition to the JEE Main and NEET.
Higher education institutes like the IITs will be encouraged to make changes in the curriculum and introduce a diversity of learning.
Will the entry of foreign players in higher education help?
The National Education Policy 2020 opens the floodgates for the top 100 universities in the world to set up campuses in India. While it doesn’t define the top 100, the government may use the ‘QS World University Rankings’ as it has relied upon the past while selecting universities for the ‘Institute of Eminence’ status. However, none of this can start unless the HRD Ministry brings in a new law that details how foreign universities will operate in India.
It is not clear if a new law would enthuse the best universities abroad to set up campuses in India. In 2013, at the time the UPA-II was trying to push a similar bill, the top 20 global universities, including Yale, Cambridge, MIT and Stanford, University of Edinburgh and Bristol, had shown no interest in entering the Indian market. Participation of foreign universities in India is currently limited to them entering into collaborative twinning programmes, sharing faculty with partnering institutions and offering distance education. Over 650 foreign education providers have such arrangements in India.
The students enrolled in the four-year course proposed in the new NEP can exit with a certificate after one year, a diploma after two years, or a bachelor’s degree after three years. However, a master’s degree will continue, as usual, followed by a PhD – as per current practice all over the world. MPhil degrees will be slowly phased out. This should not affect the higher education trajectory at all.
How will NEP affect academic institutions like IITs?
The IITs are already moving in that direction. IIT-Delhi has a humanities department and set up a public policy department recently. IIT-Kharagpur has a School of Medical Science and Technology. Some of the best universities in the US such as MIT have very strong humanities departments. Take the case of a civil engineer. Knowing how to build a dam is not going to solve a problem. He needs to know the environmental and social impact of building the dam. Many engineers are also becoming entrepreneurs. Should they not know something about economics? A lot more factors go into anything related to engineering today.
How will these reforms be implemented?
The National Education Policy 2020 only provides a broad direction and is not mandatory to follow. Since education is a concurrent subject (both the Centre and the state governments can make laws on it), the reforms proposed can only be implemented collaboratively by the Centre and the states. This will not happen immediately. The incumbent government has set a target of 2040 to implement the entire policy. Sufficient funding is also crucial; the 1968 NEP was hamstrung by a shortage of funds.
The government plans to set up subject-wise committees with members from relevant ministries at both the central and state levels to develop implementation plans for each aspect of the NEP. The plans will list out actions to be taken by the HRD Ministry, state Education Departments, school Boards, NCERT, Central Advisory Board of Education and the National Testing Agency, among others.
Under NEP 2020, numerous new educational institutes, bodies and concepts have been given legislative permission to be formed. These include:
- National Education Commission, headed by the Prime Minister of India
- Academic Bank of Credit, a digital storage of credits earned to help resume education by utilising credits for further education
- National Research Foundation, to improve research and innovation
- Special Education Zones, to focus on the education of underrepresented group in disadvantaged regions
- Gender Inclusion Fund, for assisting the nation in the education of female and transgender children
- National Educational Technology Forum, a platform to facilitate exchange of ideas on technology usage to improve learning
- The policy proposes new language institutions such as the Indian Institute of Translation and Interpretation and the National Institute/ Institutes for Pali, Persian and Prakrit. Other bodies proposed include the National Mission for Mentoring, National Book Promotion Policy, National Mission on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy.
The National Education Policy 2020 suggests many policy-level changes when it comes to teacher’s education. For instance, the minimum education required to become a teacher would be a 4-year Bachelor of Education by 2030. The teacher recruitment process will also be strengthened and made transparent. The National Council for Teacher Education will frame a National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education by 2021 and a National Professional Standards for Teachers by 2022. The policy aims to ensure that all students at all levels of school education are taught by passionate, motivated, highly qualified, professionally trained, and well-equipped teachers.