Birth of an idea: A few years ago, I asked a former cabinet minister, “What’s your vision for education”? He replied, “Open more and more schools”, to which I blurted, “Will opening more schools open the minds”? The seeds of the new policy were sown after that discussion. When I was drafting the election manifesto of the BJP under an erudite scholar, Prof. Murli Manohar Joshi (chairman of the BJPs Manifesto Committee), we discussed this issue in detail. As a former Union HRD Minister, Joshi was clear that after the Kothari Commission, we haven’t looked at the policy holistically, and that we should come out with a new education policy after a careful study of the recent developments. Thus, the idea of new National Education Policy (NEP) was transformed into an electoral promise, which has finally seen the light of the day. After 1986, we have an education policy after almost four decades.
The NEP is an outcome of a mammoth exercise and firm commitment from the top leadership for drafting a policy that will lead India into the future as a world power, and the foundation of the same will be built on knowledge.
The policy has gone in for a significant overhaul of the education system—from terminologies and institutional framework to functionality—when it comes to transforming the governance, delivery, and financing of education.
Major Shift: One of the most significant shifts in terms of impact, I believe, is the way in which the government has addressed silos in education from the perspective of vocational studies, co-curricular and curricular activities and also, the combination of choices in terms of arts, social sciences, and sciences, multiple entries and exit options along with credit transfer.
Addressing New-age Skills: Having coding as a language in middle school will go a long way in unleashing the creative potential of the generation. If you add creative thinking, design thinking, logical decision making, and innovation; Indian education, perhaps, will be amongst the world’s best.
Freedom and flexibility: More latitude has been given to the institutes and academicians in terms of curriculum design and delivery. Affiliated college systems will be a thing of the past. Teachers have the freedom to define the way they will teach. Discovery-based approach, experiential learning, and blended learning tools will make education more participative to the learner, to ensure that there is a knowledge transfer, rather than sifting through pages and memorising the content. A holistic 360-degree report card with self-assessment will lead to deeper introspection and a lasting intrinsic change for students. Inspiring videos from luminaries will be a good way to reduce the curricular burden on kids while inspiring them by showcasing role models from all walks of life. Through NEP, we have opted to give more flexibility but ensured that it is without compromise.
It is high time that we understand that after every level of schooling or a degree, one needs to acquire certain skills. So, the students will acquire a vocation in middle school, which means we are bringing relevance to education in terms of skills enhancement and capacity building for various sectors. In the future, this might converge into ‘earn while you learn’ once you have a skill. The competency assessment will make education more meaningful and address the issue of dropouts due to the existing theoretical education design. Innovate measures have been taken with regards to two years diploma, a longer degree course, and an academic credit bank, and having MOOS (Massive Open Online Courses) with credit score.
By ensuring similar benchmarks for assessment of private and public institutions, we can look forward to better outcomes from educational institutions as a level playing field. Changes in the teacher recruitment process, tenure track, and administrative positions available to teachers are radical changes that will attract talented people to academics.
From an infrastructure standpoint, self-sufficiency at district levels through HEIs (Higher Education Institutions) in every district, and clustering approach, coupled with digital education, will fill the much-needed gap at district and sub-district level. Setting up science, maths, arts clubs is the way to instill more curiosity and turn a person into a lifelong learner. National Research Foundation will take the research output to a new level. The role of alumni in institutions’ governance will positively impact the education system as a whole.
I have been a strong proponent of keeping bureaucracy out of education, and I am glad that the idea that I championed within the NEP—to keep IES (Indian Education Service) out—has been accepted. This has been a recommendation of every committee since 1966 for over half a century. It wasn’t easy to kill this idea, but I am glad I succeeded in having my way. We need to de-bureaucratize the implementation of this NEP as well for converting the grand vision into a reality.
The National Education Policy is a giant leap forward for India’s education system, and a lot will depend on how it is interpreted and implemented. One challenge, though, is the skilled human resources and the transition time needed. But overall, when I look at this policy from the lens of a parent, I feel jubilant. After laying a strong foundation for healthy India through Ayushman Bharat, PM Narendra Modi has laid the foundation for the next pillar—education—as insurance and assurance for a self-reliant India.
(Prof. Rajendra Pratap Gupta is a leading public policy expert and has played a key role in drafting the health and education policies. He served as a member of the National Education Policy Committee and is an author of the best-selling book on education: ‘Your Degree is Not Enough- Education for GenNext’. He tweets @rajendragupta. Views expressed are personal.)