August , 2020
NEP 2020: A holistic roadmap to universalise education
12:01 pm

Tushar K. Mahanti

After 34 long years, India finally got a New Education Policy (NEP) in 2020. The much-awaited reforms in the Indian education system have finally arrived with the Union cabinet approving the new NEP on July 29, 2020 with a comprehensive framework to guide the development of education in the country. It was in 1986 that the present educational curriculum came into existence.

According to the policy draft, “Education is fundamental for achieving full human potential, developing an equitable and just society and promoting national development. Providing universal access to quality education is the key to India’s continued ascent, and leadership on the global stage in terms of economic growth, social justice and equality, scientific advancement, national integration, and cultural preservation.”

The NEP 2020 aims for a holistic universalisation of education from pre-school to secondary level with 100% gross enrolment ratio (GER) in school education by 2030. It proposes radical changes including opening up of Indian higher education to foreign universities, dismantling of the UGC and the All India Council for Technical Education. In school education, the policy focuses on overhauling the curriculum, “easier” board examinations, a reduction in the syllabus to retain “core essentials” and thrust on “experiential learning and critical thinking”.

The new NEP has evoked mixed responses from academicians and experts as many of them referred to the reform as “ground-breaking” and termed it an ambitious re-imagination of India's education ecosystem into a modern, progressive and equitable one. Many others cautioned that “the devil lies in the details” and hoped that the move gets translated into action on the ground.

Evolution of national education policy

That India took more than three decades to get a new education policy is not surprising, for although education is accorded top priority in India’s development scheme, there is no fixed timeline to update the education system. To begin with, India got its first broad-based and articulate education policy more than two decades after independence in 1968. Prior to this a variety of government sponsored programmes were guiding the education system in the country. Based on the report and recommendations of the Kothari Commission (1964–1966) the 1968 education policy called for a “radical restructuring” and proposed equal educational opportunities for all to achieve national integration and greater cultural and economic development. The policy aimed at fulfilling compulsory education for all children up to the age of 14, as stipulated by the Constitution of India and specialised training and qualification for teachers.

In 1986, the government introduced a new NEP with “special emphasis on the removal of disparities and to equalise educational opportunity, emphasising the educational needs of Indian women and Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Caste communities. The NEP called for a "child-centred approach" in primary education and launched the ‘Operation Blackboard’ to improve primary schools nationwide. The 1986 policy was modified in 1992 and in 2005, the government adopted a new policy based on its ‘Common Minimum Programme’. The revised policy proposed for a common entrance examination for the country as whole for admission to professional and technical programmes in the country.

In view of the rapid changes the world is undergoing in the knowledge landscape and the rising compulsion to synergise education with other facets of the economy, the present government released a draft NEP in 2019 which was followed by a number of public consultations.

The NEP 2020, which replaces the 1986 policy, was in the works since 2016 when the TSR Subramanian Committee submitted its report to the Union government. Later in June 2017, the government constituted the K Kasturirangan Committee which submitted it’s a draft report in 2019 based on the inputs provided by the Subramanian committee. The Draft NEP was made public for feedback in April 2019.

New Education Policy 2020

More than a year after releasing the draft policy for public consultations and feedback, the cabinet approved the new NEP on July 29, 2020 that introduced several changes to the existing education system. The NEP 2020 is an ambitious re-imagination of India's education system – planning to transform it into a modern, progressive and equitable one. Successful execution of this policy calls for dramatic simplification of decision-making structures and re-prioritisation of budgetary resources.

The new NEP aims for a holistic universalisation of education from pre-school to secondary level - with 100% gross enrolment ratio in school education by 2030. Given that there are around 350 million Indians today in school-going or college-going age groups, the NEP calls for a large-scale implementation of a magnitude never before attempted anywhere in the world.

In a significant shift from the 1986 policy which pushed for a 10+2 structure of school education, the new NEP proposed a 5+3+3+4 design corresponding to the age groups 3-8 years (foundational stage), 8-11 (preparatory), 11-14 (middle), and 14-18 (secondary). This brings early childhood education under the ambit of formal schooling. The mid-day meal programme will be extended to pre-school children. The new system will have 12 years of schooling with three years of Anganwadi/ pre-schooling.

The NEP 2020 focuses on students’ mother tongue as the medium of instruction even as it sticks to the ‘three language formula’ but also mandates that no language would be imposed so long as at least two of the three languages are native to India.

The policy also recommends phasing out of all institutions offering single streams and that all universities and colleges must aim to become multidisciplinary by 2040. The new NEP claims that much of the very best research in the world has occurred in multidisciplinary university settings.

Under the NEP, undergraduate degrees will be of either three or four-year duration with multiple exit options within this period. College will be mandated to give certificate after completing one year in a discipline or field including vocational and professional areas, a diploma after two years of study and a Bachelor's degree after a three-year programme.

Another significant aspect relates to policies that would meet the future learning needs which will engrain practical skill-based learning. The policy addresses most of the critical issues that daunt our current education landscape and brings about a totality in terms of the paradigm shift that we need for educated and skilled people in India. As Indian employment sector faces a dichotomy with compartmentalised skill-sets wherein many of them are unemployed due to lack of skill-based education, the new NEP will be a step in the right direction.

The Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) will be set up as a single overarching umbrella body for entire higher education, excluding medical and legal education. HECI will have four independent verticals – National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC) for regulation, General Education Council (GEC) for standard-setting, Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC) for funding and National Accreditation Council (NAC) for accreditation. Public and private higher education institutions will be governed by the same set of norms for regulation, accreditation and academic standards. The government will also establish an Academic Bank of Credit for digitally storing academic credits earned from different HEIs so that these can be transferred and counted towards the final degree earned.

The new format will require existing structures and institutions to reinvent themselves and undergo an evolution of sort. The separation of functions would mean that each vertical within HECI would take on a new, single role which is relevant, meaningful, and important in the new regulatory scheme.

An ‘atma-nirbhar’ Bharat

What is significant is that although the policy apparently would appear a narrative of various programmes aiming at modernising the country’s education system, a deeper look would find that bigger objectives are enshrined in these programmes.

The "vision" of the policy advocated for “an education system rooted in Indian ethos that contributes directly to transforming India, that is Bharat, sustainably into an equitable and vibrant knowledge society by providing high quality education to all, and thereby making India a global knowledge superpower.” 

In NEP 2020, skill education is given prime importance in school and higher education. It will be introduced at school level from pre-school to class 12 to empower each student at least in one vocational skill. Continuing to higher education, it aims to increase the gross enrolment ratio in higher education including vocational education from 26.3% (2018) to 50% by 2035.

Education must be an economic growth booster and the policy stresses upon the knowledge economy in terms of promoting cultural heritage, increasing GER in higher education and creating a pool of talented and skilled youth who would boost the national economy. Since knowledge economy is interrelated to society, its growth and spread will bring multitudes of socio- economic improvements.

The policy emphasises on foundational literacy and numeracy without any rigid separation between academic streams, extracurricular and vocational streams in schools. Vocational education will start from class six with internships. Assessment reforms with 360-degree holistic progress card, will be introduced to track student progress for achieving learning outcomes.

An “atma-nirbhar” Bharat will encourage high performing Indian universities to set up campuses in other countries to propagate India’s culture and education. Alternatively, selected universities from among the top 100 universities in the world will be facilitated to operate in India.

The flipside of the NEP 2020

The NEP 2020 apparently looks very impressive and a large number of academicians and commentators have hailed it. But while the transformational changes stated in the policy are considered timely to revamp the educational system to meet the present needs, implementation of the policy looks challenging. And this is despite the fact that the PM has promised that he is “fully committed” to the new NEP and has assured that it will be implemented fully.

To begin with, its implementation would require significant investments in educational infrastructure, technology, and teachers’ training. For example, the shift in school education to the new format will require teachers to be trained in new pedagogy, a learning process through the thinking and practice of teachers who will accompany learners. Till date Indian education system has largely been based on rote system or on memorisation technique through repetition.

From a funding standpoint, this is a big challenge the country has never faced before. The new NEP 2020 envisages an increase in education spending from 4.6% to 6% of GDP, which amounts to around `2.5 lakh crore per year. A tall order considering the fact that public expenditure on education in India has not come close to the recommended level of 6% of GDP, as envisaged by the 1968 Policy, reiterated in the Policy of 1986 and reaffirmed in the 1992 review of the policy.


Education's share in the Centre's

 budgetary expenditure


         % share











Source: Centre's Budget Documents


The current public expenditure of Centre and states together on education in India is around 4.43% of GDP (National Education Policy 2020) and only around 10% of the total government spending. These numbers are far smaller than most developed and developing countries.


Education's share in the states'

and UTs' budgetary expenditure


% share











State Finances: A Study of Budgets – RBI


The next issue is to maintain the timeline proposed in NEP. In higher education, academic credit transfers are expected to be put in place by December 2020 for select institutions; multiple exit and entry points into higher education will be available from 2020-21; the four-year degree programme will be introduced by 2021 for central universities and for others by 2022. Common entrance tests will be worked out by February-March 2021 and possibly administered by May 2021.

This haste does not factor in the enormous strain that most of the higher educational institutions have faced during the pandemic - which is by no means over. This strain has been particularly been severe on the vast majority of the diverse student population that finds a space, not necessarily ideal, within public universities, both state and central. This space will probably be transformed beyond recognition. Apart from the human cost, there are likely to be huge financial costs as well.

What makes things complicated is that this policy comes into being at a time when the economy has been battered by the Covid-19 induced lockdowns, government tax collections are abysmally low and the fiscal deficit is feared to touch a new high putting a severe constraint on the exchequer.

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