After several consultations on the draft National Education Policy 2019 with stakeholders in the education sector, the Government of India announced the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 on Wednesday, 29 July.
The NEP 2020 envisages commendable changes in the way education will be delivered in India.
It does so by emphasising on universal Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) and foundational literacy and numeracy, capacity building of teachers, and making the system more flexible for students by allowing them to to choose their subjects.
However, a few points of concern remain. These include the emphasis on mother tongue as the language of instruction till fifth grade, which if brought into effect, might infringe the autonomy of parents. It may also force all universities and colleges to become multidisciplinary, while their potential for such transition remains unclear.
The real test lies in how the provisions in the policy will be supported with the envisioned budget.
The Impact on Foundation Years
Literacy and education in the foundation years is very critical to long term development of children. With an aim to highlight the importance of ECCE, the NEP 2020 replaces the existing 10+2 system with a 5+3+3+4 system which brings the children from ages 3-6 years under the school curriculum.
Thus the new system will place pre-schooling years along with the formal 12 years of schooling.
The Draft NEP 2019 was criticised for focusing more on what to teach than on how to teach. However, the NEP 2020 addresses this concern.
A pedagogical framework for ECCE for children up to 8 years of age, is expected to be prepared by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). This framework will be implemented through a strengthened system of Anganwadis, pre-schools and primary schools.
This is a welcome move, considering how ECCE is imperative to a child’s social, emotional and cognitive development and is linked to retention rates and higher school readiness levels.
Seeking a Higher Literacy Rate
The NEP 2020 has also envisioned National Mission on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy with the goal of achieving literacy in all primary school students by grade 3, by 2025.
This is of significance, considering that the findings from Annual State of Education Report 2018 reflected the poor state of literacy and learning in schools of India. According to the report only 44.2 percent of Grade 5 (Govt schools) students were able to read Grade 2 level text, whereas only 26.9 percent of Grade 3 students could recognise numbers till 9 but not higher.
Changes in Evaluation
The NEP 2020 has introduced major reforms in schooling years up to Grade 12, which are directed towards the holistic development of students. The curriculum will be reduced to core concepts and the emphasis will be on developing critical thinking and practical skills.
The students will have greater flexibility with respect to the subjects they want to take up. From Grade 6, the students will have access to vocational skills and internships will be encouraged.
The ways students will be evaluated will be changed, as the focus will be more on the students’ clarity of concepts and analytical skills. Board exams for grades 10 and 12 will continue but they will aim for holistic development. Subjects like music, sports will not be considered as “extra-curricular” but will be put on the same platform as other academic subjects, such as science and commerce.
Up until now, the education system in India had been criticised for the unhealthy importance it puts on rote learning through board exams and how that only ended up in increasing the pressure on students, instead of contributing to their readiness for the outside world.
And What About Teachers?
The NEP 2020 also looks at the capacity building of teachers. This will be very essential to the implementation of the policy. The policy provides for setting up of recruitment standards and of professional development path for teachers.
Furthermore, the National Council for Teacher Education is expected to come up with a framework for reforming the curriculum of teacher education. This might help in curbing the problems of absence of teachers from public schools and in ensuring quality education to children.
Emphasis on Mother Tongue and Restricted Parental Autonomy
The policy raises a few concerns with respect to languages. It emphasises mother tongue/regional language to be the medium of instruction till grade 5 and preferably till grade 8 and beyond. It is not exactly clear if this will be mandatory, but if it is, then it will impede the autonomy of parents, who until now had the option to choose between English-medium and regional-medium schools.
Moreover, it is easier for children to grasp languages at younger ages. Hence, restricting them to only one language till grade 5 will keep them away from possible linguistic development.
Higher Education-Related Reforms
Many reforms have been envisaged for higher education as well. All higher education institutions will be regulated through a common body known as Higher Education Council of India, which will take the place of UGC and AICTE.
A National Research Foundation is slated to be set up, which will be governed independently, to promote and fund research in India. It has set a goal of converting all existing colleges and universities into multidisciplinary institutions by 2030. However, the human and financial resources needed for this will be on a large scale and the capacity for such transition needs to be mapped.
The policy promises 6 percent of the GDP to be spent on education. According to the National Economic Survey of 2018-19, India spent 3 percent of its GDP on education. As per the Budget 2020, Rs 99,300 crore has been allotted to education sector, a 4.6 percent increase from the previous year’s budget.
The increase in public expenditure on education has been very low and there is also the issue of under-utilisation of funds.
The NEP 2020 reforms will require a steady support of public expenditure to fructify them and change the face of education in India.
(Sunila Dixit is a Research Analyst at The Takshashila Institute, Bangalore. Her research focuses on health policy and development areas that affect public health at large. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)