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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 37, New Delhi, August 29, 2020

The New Education Policy: A mixed bag | P.S. Jayaramu

Friday 28 August 2020


[This article is part of New Education Policy 2020 Special Focus Issue]

by P.S. Jayaramu

The Central Government’s New Education Policy(NEP) was out recently and is being debated nation Wide. While the NEP has covered a wide variety of issues ranging from Pre-School education to higher education, my purpose here is to scrutinise some of the key aspects of the Policy.

Let me first focus attention on the impact of the NEP on School education. The decision to impart education from standard 1 to 5 in the mother tongue is, on the face of it, a recognition of the feelings of the underprivileged who have clear disadvantages in learning if teaching is done in English. The announcement that this will be followed by both public and private schools hopefully sets at rest fears that it may be opposed by the latter.

 However, teaching in mother tongue is not going to be as all encompassing as it is made out to be. Officials have already stated that teaching in mother tongue would not be imposed on Central Schools as they cater to the educational needs of the children of government employees who are transferable throughout the country. The Private schools too would manage to teach in English medium. As such, the decision, for all practical purposes, may apply only to Public schools in States. Here again it has been officially clarified that since education is in the Concurrent List, with most States having their own School Boards, State Governments will have to be brought on board for the actual implementation of the decision. With all these exceptions, One doesn’t know how the grand idea of teaching in mother tongue works out to be in reality. Additionally, filling up the 11 lakhs teachers posts which are vacant and imparting periodic training to them are essential to impart quality teaching.

While on the one hand the language issue per se seems to have been handled by the Government pragmatically with the announcement that Hindi would not be imposed on States, some of them are opposed to the three language formula, as seen from Tamilnadu’s announcement that it will continue to follow the two language formmula. In a country as diverse as India, linguistically and culturally, implementation of three language formula is not easy.

As regards higher education, one of the key elements of the NEP is to introduce four years multi disciplinary undergraduate courses with multiple entry and exit options. This is a welcome move, though the four years courses are already in vogue in some parts of the Country. The same is going to be perhaps a norm. Exit, entry and re-entry options going to be introduced is a pattern practised in many western countries where students finance their education themselves, unlike in India where parents largely take upon themselves the financial burden. More importantly, the four years programme itself would allow a certain level of higher learning to students, as it envisages a research degree also to students who take up project work as part of their stint in the College. Here again, over 45 percent of the vacant teaching positions in colleges and universities need to be filled up on a priority position to ensure quality teaching and research guidance.

 The decision to move away from the existing affiliation system, a colonial legacy, in a phased manner is timely. In fact, the time line of 15 years fixed is far too long. If anything, such a process should be expedited with accent on promoting more and more autonomous colleges, with power to chart out their own courses and examination systems, which would get upgraded to university status eventually. The affiliation system has been grossly misused in our higher education eco system.

With postgraduate courses likely to be of one year duration, though the Document says it could be for two years, if States decide so, the decision to do away with the MPhil programme is realistic. Since entry into teaching positions are based on national and state level entrancce examinations( NET and SLET), the professional utility of the MPhil programme stands eroded.

The most notable and welcome aspect of the NEP is the decision to enhance public spending on education to six percent of the GDP, something which was first recommended by the Dr. Kothari Commission in 1966 and talked about by P V Narasimha Rao when he was Prime Minister. In reality, we have seen that during the UPA era, GDP spending on education did not cross 3 percent. The NDA Govt raised it between 2014-17 to 4.2 percent, but this year it has come down to 3.8 percent. With the nation facing the health and economic pandemic, it is doubtful if the grand idea of rising the GDP spending on education would reach six percent in the foreseeable future.

As regards the entry of foreign universities, knee jerk or ideological opposition to them need to be avoided. At a time when some Indian Universities are themselves planning to set up foreign campuses, opposition to it is unconvincing. In any case, it it is doubtful whether the top fifty Ivy League universities would open shop in India. While they can be allowed academic autonomy, There should however be appropriate regulatory mechanisms in place to to ensure compliance with national requirements.

The move to abolish UGC and the AICTE, were doing rounds and the same has now been announced. The new body which will take over its functions, probably the Higher Education Commission, will have onerous responsibilities in promoting and regulating higher education in the country. What shape will it take, when and with how much of functional autonomy remains unclear as of now. It is hoped the new body would face less political interference and governmental control in its functioning.The decision about Medical and Legal education being continued under separate regulatory authorities is pragmatic, but care will have to be taken to root out corruption in them, specially the Medical Council of India.

On the whole NEP appears to be a mixed bag. Effective implementation is crucial for its success.

P.S. Jayaramu is former Professor of Political Science Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi.

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