The newly introduced New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has taken the Indian academia by storm. Opinions stand divided. The 68-page policy document has its share of good policies but their implementation will be a challenge.
This is the third version of an education policy, which has been cleared by the Indian Cabinet. The first in 2017 was summarily rejected in the Parliament. The second in 2019 was forced to be amended within a day on the language question and even in this case, there has been numerous criticisms. The fact that the policy was introduced without discussion in the Parliament makes convergence and consensus a difficult proposition.
According to Partha Chatterjee, Minister, Department of Education, Government of West Bengal, the NEP has been formulated without being passed in Parliament and the states were not taken into confidence. He added that though education is in the concurrent list, the contents of the policy were not discussed with the state governments.
C. Raveendranath, Minister, Department of General Education, Government of Kerala, spoke about the lack of an ‘implementation strategy’ of the NEP. In his initial reaction given to the media, he also criticised the policy for harming the federal structure of India. The Kerala government had earlier expressed its concerns over several recommendations that might adversely affect the existing education system. It had also criticised the new policy for removing the power granted to the states for designing syllabus.
DMK leader MK Stalin has also urged the central government to defer the implementation of the NEP. He has stated that the policy needs to be redrafted after a consultative process involving various stakeholders and state governments. He has particularly opposed the ‘three language’ formula enshrined in the new policy.
Education was initially in the state list. The emergency and the 42nd amendment to the Constitution transferred it to the concurrent list. But even then, school education was managed by the states through their respective state school boards. According to many commentators, the NEP abandons this. In case of higher education, the role of the central government will be overarching. The centre of higher education governance will be assumed by the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) superseding the role of UGC, AICTE and other such bodies. Headed by the Indian Prime Minister, it will have 12 government appointees and just two academics. According to many critiques, these changes will be perceived by many as attempts to centralise education in India and will likely face stiff opposition – posing a significant challenge to the implementation of this policy.
Funding will be another important challenge. The NEP envisages an increase in educational spending from 4.6% to 6% of GDP, which amounts to around Rs 2.5 lakh crores per year. This money will be spent in building educational infrastructure, appointing teachers and in providing free breakfast to school children. However, with the economy in shambles and government tax collection at an all-time low, the million-dollar question is how will this excess fund be generated by the government.
The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the economy hard. The focus of the government - for quite some time - be economic recovery and providing health infrastructure. Therefore, it seems far-fetched that the government will further strain its resources to implement this ambitious education policy at this point of time. The focus on interdisciplinary academics is welcome but will be difficult to implement in India. It entails a complete shift in the mindset of the academia who have been promoting and executing ‘departmentalised’ education.
The issue of exclusion also needs to be tacked for this policy to be executed well. School dropout rates have been a cause of worry. According to many commentators, this can be linked to the presence of gross socio-economic inequalities in India. For example, only about 6% of Scheduled Tribes (STs), 8% of Scheduled Castes (SCs) 9% of Muslims and 10% Other Backward Castes (OBCs) are able to complete schooling till class 12 among children who are admitted in class 1. For any education policy to be successful, redressal of inequalities needs to be the first point of action.