NEP 2020: Knowledge economy for the globalised world

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By Vanisree Ramanathan

The much-needed reforms in the Indian education system have finally arrived with the Union government’s announcement of a new national education policy, which will undoubtedly open new avenues for the education sector. The existing system desperately needed restructuring in all aspects with a view on quality, global standards and Indian values, but it couldn’t materialise because of many roadblocks.

The authorities maintained a studied silence or evinced little interest all these years whenever the question of a new national education policy was raised. After 34 years of waiting and deliberations, a paradigm shift of the National Policy on Education (NPE) India 1986 to the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 with the aim of “access to quality education” in India has happened. The decision to bring in a new education policy reiterates the fact that education is the most powerful tool to transform the world.

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Right from renaming the ministry of human resource development to the ministry of education to the setting up of a Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) and Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities (MERU), the new policy envisions an effective education system in the country. The NEP proposes the review and revamp of all aspects of the education structure, its regulation and governance to create a new system that is aligned with the 21st-century globalised education.

Scholars Philip G. Altbagh, Pawan Agarwal and K.B. Powar have highlighted the challenges and complexity of Indian higher education and provided invaluable insights to craft new policies suited for the global higher education environment. Even though education has become a fundamental right in India through the enactment of RTE 2009, administrative inefficiencies, defective curriculum, unsatisfactory teaching standards and shortage of funds as well as qualified teachers are posing challenges to compulsory primary education. Indisputably, the NEP 2020 visualises an India-centric, integrated, comprehensive, collaborative and forward-looking education system.

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In the digital world, instead of sharing information through power point presentations, teachers will have to put in an extra effort to facilitate critical thinking and assist students in making sense of that information and applying it in the right context as mentor or facilitator. Standards of research and research outcomes or impact have always been a concern of Indian universities. In many of the potential research-oriented universities, due to the severe shortage of good faculty, shortage of funds, poor quality of Ph.D. programs, lack of research incentives, there is dearth of a research culture, research collaborations and quality research outcomes. The establishment of National Research Foundation along with the categorisation of universities into research intensive universities, teaching universities and autonomous degree granting colleges will help the faculty and students to leverage their activities according to the nature of the institution.  As many universities are burdened with a large number of affiliated colleges, it is a courageous decision to do away with affiliations and the related administrative as well as the examination-related load.

As far as the medium of instruction is concerned, the NEP has set a three-language model, giving more importance to the mother tongue in the first stage of education. Teaching up to grade five in the mother tongue/regional language is not the imposition of anything. It is the signal of the will as well as cultural aspirations of any free country that will give clarity of thought to young minds. Integration of vocational education will empower each student in at least one vocational skill. It is a self-sustaining skill-based model incorporating the Narendra Modi government’s Make in India, Skill India, Start-up India and Atmanirbhar Bharat initiatives.

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The NEP focuses on the knowledge economy in terms of promoting cultural heritage, increasing the gross enrolment ratio (GER) in higher education and encouraging more youth to pursue higher education. For the first time in the education policy of India, internationalisation of higher education is added with the aim to create a knowledge hub which will attract foreign nationals, promote research collaborations and student exchanges in a cooperative effort. Encouraging foreign universities to collaborate and set up campuses in India will boost international relations in diverse sectors along with cultural and knowledge exchanges. The Global Citizenship Education (GCED) along with the preparation of students to think and adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle helps to understand global challenges and find innovative solutions.

The new system of 5+3+3+4 replacing the existing 10+2, with five years of foundational stage, three years of preparatory stages, three years of middle stage and four years of secondary stage will bring the hitherto uncovered age group of 3-6 years under the school curriculum, which is recognised globally as the crucial stage for the development of the mental faculties of a child. Another notable proposal is the formal school assessments at end of classes 3, 5, 8 to track the learners’ progress at regular intervals rather than having it only at the end of class X &XII. Even though board exams at class X &XII will continue, it will be redesigned as a modular or multidimensional one to assess the holistic development.

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The four-year degree programs can include research projects, which will help in introducing students to a research mindset from undergraduate level itself. Apart from teachers’ assessment, the progress card will include self-assessment and peer assessments. The idea of sports-integration to enhance the psychological and cognitive achievements of the learner, along with establishing counselling systems for handling emotional adjustments and stress of students during their studies is a reform in the right direction.

The present complex nomenclature of Higher Education Information (HEI) in India such as deemed to be university, affiliating university, affiliating technical university, unitary university etc will be altered with one category, “university”. The layered accreditation system helps to differentiate a degree granting stand-alone college from a wholesome university. Accreditation should set standards in quality of infrastructure, faculty, technology, gross enrolment ratio (GER) and research facilities. Introducing a mandatory course in teaching pedagogy during Ph.D enrolment for aspiring professors to train them on the methodology and tools of knowledge transfer is a very promising step.

The National Testing Agency that conducts entrance examinations for undergraduate admissions in all the streams at least twice every year will eliminate the undue stress on coaching to score highest possible percentages in these exams.

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Let us hope that with the plan to allocate 6% of the GDP, along with multiple stakeholders’ investments and good governance, the challenges in terms of funding, best in class resources and the huge scalability can be dealt with to an extent. Balancing flexibility and control, centralisation and contextualisation, autonomy quality and access to education will determine the success of the programme, along with disclosure, compassion, innovation, constitutional values and inclusion to create meaningful and lasting impact.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG-04) focuses on primary education as a well-defined tool and many states in India are in different leagues in the case of basic education. To achieve SDGs and convert India into a self-reliant nation and make Indian learners future ready global citizens, the NEP 2020 must be implemented with inclusion of the marginalised sections of the society.

As education is a concurrent subject, the implementation of the proposals requires support from various quarters, particularly legal which depends on further regulations by both states and the Centre. Even though the NEP meant to transform the educational landscape by 2040, with an aspirational vision, the implementation blueprint and rigour along with collaboration with stakeholders’ engagement will determine the expected outcome.

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Common regulatory regimes along with multiple controls require restructuring, interlinking, streamlining of procedures, resource generation and optimisation, which facilitate academic freedom. It is not an easy task to alter the existing structure and mindset with tailor-made solutions. We will have to walk an extra mile and take extra effort to reinvent an extraordinary education system for our country.

Priority of curriculum reforms in schools along with more productive public-private partnership under the leadership of Higher Education Commission of India is crucial. There is no doubt that education in India will boost the economy, help reap the demographic dividend and will become the catalyst to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. If we are dedicated to judiciously implementing NEP, it has the potential to rebuild an education system to mould global citizens with intellectual capital and integrity for the knowledge economy in the globalised world.

(Vanisree Ramanathan is Associate Professor in Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth, Kochi, Kerala. Views expressed are personal.)