NEP 2020 is the first fresh education policy of the 21st century - the last two policies got implemented in the years 1986 (subsequently modified in 1992) and 1968. Revolutionary alterations, particularly in the technological realm, growing at a phenomenal speed worldwide, stimulated the need of a full-fledged NEP. Like in case of any major decision, the proponents and opponents have expressed their viewpoints in the context of NEP as well.
Those who favour the policy state that this policy has a vision for reclaiming, re-articulating and restructuring India to become a vishwaguru, simultaneously achieving objectives like equity, equality and fraternity. The opponents opine that this policy won’t be in a position to contribute anything to the national progress. To reach a just decision, both the consenting and dissenting views need to be properly weighed against the positives and negatives of the NEP. We shall start by the positives first.
· The policy aims to replace the current 10+2 system by a new 5+3+3+4 curricular structure corresponding to ages 3-8, 8-11, 11-14, and 14-18 years respectively, which means that it will bring the hitherto uncovered age group of 3-6 years under school curriculum.
· 100% Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in school education upto secondary level by 2030 from the present 58.5%.
· To bring two crore out of school children back into the mainstream through an open schooling system
· The mid-day meals provided to students in government or aided schools to be supplemented by breakfast
· From the age of 3, children will be part of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) which will be delivered through Anganwadis, pre-primary schools and stand-alone pre-schools - all of which would recruit workers/teachers specially trained in the curriculum and pedagogy of ECCE.
· Teaching up to class 5 in mother tongue/regional language
· Interview to assess the comfort and proficiency in teaching in local language to become an integral part of teacher hiring
· Multiple entry and exit points in higher education which indicates that under the four-year programme, students can exit after one year with a certificate, after two years with a diploma and a Bachelor's degree after three years and with a Bachelor's degree with research after four years
· Permission for foreign universities to set up campuses in India thereby helping internationalisation of education and phasing out affiliation of colleges in 15 years for granting graded autonomy to colleges
· Eliminating the rigid separation of science-commerce-arts streams
· Increasing public spending on education to nearly 6% of gross domestic product (GDP) from around 4% now
An analysis of government spending on education since 2014 clearly highlights the desperate shortage of funds in this sector. Successive governments, including the present Union government have raised an issue of boosting government spending on education to 6% of the GDP. However, in actuality, the state spending on education is not even 6% of the total budget allocation. For the past five years or so (since 2015-16), total spending of the government on education sector has remained less than 0.5% of the GDP and 4% of the total budget allocation. Precisely, computing at Rs 99311 crore, which is the highest allocation for the education sector so far (using figures of 2020-21 budget), the government need to spend Rs 13.49 lakh crore for reaching 6% of GDP and Rs1.83 lakh crore for touching 6% of the budget.
Under the industrial revolution 4.0, technology is changing very fast. When the world is moving at such a fast pace, due to the paucity of resources, we are still grappling with the age-old problems i.e. inadequate number of teachers, non-availability of books in libraries, non-accessibility of computers and poor quality of internet - wherever available. The quality of education in such cases gets fully compromised and the NEP is also completely silent about it.
NEP remains silent on the issue of accountability of the government while collecting and spending funds meant for the education sector. The government collects direct and indirect tax from the people. Besides simple tax collection, different types of cess are also imposed on the taxable income. Education cess is one of them and it was was first imposed in the year 2004 to the extent of 2% to enhance the availability of resources for providing primary education. In the year 2007, an additional cess of 1% was introduced to fund secondary and higher education. Subsequently, in the year 2019, the then finance minister converted the education cess to health and education cess and increased it to 4% (from 3%) to provide funds for improving health services of rural families. So far, from the year 2004 to 2019, education cess proceeds have amounted to Rs 4.25 lakh crore, but its utilisation has remained a debatable issue. Pertinently, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has emphasised upon the proper utilisation of funds for the purpose for which they are collected.
On one hand, the NEP is strongly favouring privatization and commercialization of education along with autonomy of institutions. However, there is hardly any mention of provisions for providing subsidised/free education to the marginalised and oppressed sections of the society. An increase in fees will only intensify the inequality between the haves and have nots.
Lastly, a dichotomy exists in terms of the creation of regulators. Where at the national front, the government is proposing a single regulator by merging UGC and AICTE to avoid the duplication of activities at the level of higher education, it is simultaneously setting up an independent State School Standards Authority (SSSA) for auditing the safety, security, infrastructure, and teaching norms at the state level.
In light of the above discussion, it won’t be inappropriate to assert that the objectives with which the NEP is framed are clear but the road through which these aspirations are to be fulfilled needs to be laid down visibly.