Govt needs to look into gaps in NEP 2020

There are many areas in which the government needs to rethink and find solutions if it wants to truly create a document that will not only transform the education sector but also make India an education hub in the world.

The new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 is a path-breaking document that will transform the entire educational system in the country. The new policy has many firsts to its credit including bringing pre-primary education and vocational studies into mainstream education while aligning Indian education with global trends to bring it up to global standards. At the same time, it has highlighted the rich heritage of Indian education which will continue to guide the future generations. 

One of the key takeaways of the policy is that it effectively takes the initiative to distance Indian education from the age-old rote learning process to a more logical, inquiry-based, projectled ecosystem of education and talks about creating an enabling framework for this. What is heartening to see is that there is a strong emphasis on promoting digitisation, and technology integration in the classroom. The policy also highlights the need for online education which has become so important in the times of Covid-19. However, there are many areas in which the policy leaves gaps which need to be filled considering the needs of society today. While digitisation and technology have found preference in the policy, the policy seems to have fallen short in taking them to their logical conclusion.

 While the policy pushes for the use of technology in the classroom, there is no mention about the use of technology in schools beyond mention of three things: Gamification and apps, online teacher training and smart class. Leveraging technology specifically for online teacher training is good. But the policy is not talking about technology in the schooling section. There should have been more thought on technology in classrooms which has become so relevant in today’s time and will become increasingly important and part of education going forward. Schools will also need to embrace ed-tech widely to avoid dissonance with higher education curriculum in the future.

 Next is the inclusion of vocational studies in mainstream education. While this is a welcome move and will help train students in vocational skills right from the school level, there is no mention of vocational training beyond the school level where it is important to train students for jobs. About 280 million job hopefuls are expected to enter the job market by 2050 and they would need to learn newage skills. In this scenario, a clear roadmap for vocational studies beyond schools was required. The policy is pretty silent on this aspect. 

One of the biggest disappointments in the new policy is regarding its funding. By all means the policy makes Indian education a highly regulated but poorly funded sector. The policy has increased the funding for education to 6 percent of the GDP. This is a welcome step considering that we are currently spending a little over 4.5 percent of the GDP on education.

 However, considering the ground realities and requirements of today’s times, especially at a time when integration of technology and digitisation has become a necessity, it is too little too late. The government’s intent on increasing digital intensity in education needs to be backed by adequate fund allocation. Most developed countries are spending up to 20 percent of their GDP on education.   

Another important miss by the policy is in implementation of the proposals. While it makes many recommendations for transforming the education sector, it has not provided a roadmap for their implementation without which the proposals will remain on paper. And while the new policy talks about the role of the private sector in Indian education, it has not gone into implementation of many of its proposals in the ‘Public-Private-Partnership (PPP)’ mode. The policy also lays a lot of emphasis on higher education, but there seems to be little thought on primary and secondary education which is the foundation of education for students. There is not much in the policy which talks about this. Plus, even while there is emphasis on higher education, what is of concern is that today there is an under-supply of quality education especially at the higher education level. Today 26 percent of Indians go for higher education. The target is to double it by 2035 but the roadmap or supply has not been defined making it uncertain as to how this will be achieved.  

The policy talks about augmenting physical infrastructure. That is not what the education sector needs today. There is an adequate amount of infrastructure present in the Indian education sector which can be effectively utilised. Plus, with the coming of GST, many taxes have been subsumed within it making many offices redundant and making a lot of physical infrastructure available. All that can be repurposed for the education sector rather than spending resources in creating fresh infrastructure. Resources should be used in creating digital and technology infrastructure in schools.

 The NEP rightly puts a lot of emphasis on the role of the private sector in Indian education. While this is a welcome move and will improve Indian education in a large way, what is conspicuous by its absence is the sheer lack of attention to government schools which is required at the moment, especially in context of technology and e-learning. Government schools have been lacking in improving their technology and digital infrastructure and are far behind private schools in this respect. The policy should have laid emphasis on this aspect to bring them at par or closer to that of private schools.  The other important aspect is the proposal to teach in three languages. While this and education in the mother tongue are progressive moves, there are practical difficulties. Some states like southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu may have difficulties in the three-language policy and may be opposed to it. This could bring in serious centre-states issues. Similarly, the interdisciplinary approach, which has been borrowed from developed countries like the US, sounds pretty good on paper but may have implementation nightmares. Although this will take time to settle down in India, there will be issues in implementing this in specialized technical institutions like the IITs and IIMs or in medical colleges.

 There are many areas in which the government needs to rethink and go back to its drawing board as far as the NEP is concerned and find solutions if it wants to truly create a document that will not only transform the Indian education sector but will make India one of the most progressive education providers in the world. 

The author is an educationist and chairman of Ampersand Group.