The New Education Policy – a Fix or a Miss?

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Deepti Malhotra
Deepti Malhotra is an expert actively working in the field of Public Health, Intellectual Property (IP), Policy, and Technology Interface with expertise in the related fields of patents, biological diversity, protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights, and India's TKDL regime. Her focus and experience especially pertain to the fields of IP, Education, Policy, and Technologies ranging from Biotechnology, Agrotechnology, Artificial Intelligence, and Blockchain Technology with an experience of over ten years. An active contributor to journals, law magazines, books, and online portals on the subjects concerning the interface of technology, intellectual property, and the legal aspects and emerging challenges in policy with evolving and ever-changing technologies and society. She has a Ph.D. and a Post-doctorate (from the U.S.A., and Sweden), a patent agent registration, and is acutely invested in the active pursuit of learning and knowledge and thus, simultaneously pursuing a Law degree (LL.B.) from the Law College I of the Faculty of Law at the University of Delhi.

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Education in India has long-suffered with an underlying problem of skimpiness of good, competent, and translatable education that begins from the early years in school up to limited university and college seats, and that is too challenged by unimaginable and unfair cut-offs. A comprehensive new education policy final draft has been released by the Government of India to address some of the long-standing issues in our education system. At the outset, the HRD minister would now be addressed to as the education minister (a post to be taken by Mr. Ramesh Pokhriyal, pen name, Nishank), restoring the change brought on by the 1986 education policy, which was India’s last national education policy, which had renamed education ministry as HRD ministry.

What was the education Policy in India?

The education policy in India has undergone many rounds of evolution before the current final draft of the new education policy starting from the university education commission of 1948-49, secondary education commission of 1952-53, the education commission of 1964-66 under Dr. D. S. Kothari, national policy on education of 1968, the 42nd constitutional amendment of 1976 that established ‘education’ as part of the concurrent list in the Indian Constitution, the aforementioned national policy on education of 1986, modification of said national policy in 1992 under the program of action of 1992, T.S.R. Subramaniam committee report of 2016, followed by Dr. K. Kasturirangan committee report of 2019.

The new education policy 

The new education policy draft itself underwent numerous modifications under the consultation process starting from the first consultations becoming available online in 2015, consulting at many levels of jurisdictions, with the draft new education policy summary released in 2019 in 22 languages and audiobooks, followed by education dialogue with representative states including Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Odisha as well as the union territory, Puducherry ministers, Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) special meeting in 2019, followed by a parliamentary standing committee on human resource development in November 2019.

Flaws in the current education system 

While specific complaints would vary depending on who you address based on age, geographical location, locality, gender, opportunities afforded due to the educational background of the family along with their monetary capacity to educate, among other such confounders. However, some complaints are common across the spectrum of our country’s populace transcending any differences. The primary concern and reward of education are securing a job. This also translates into a long-standing issue of what is taught and studied at schools, colleges, and universities in India and their relevance in real-life and employment. The criticism is well-founded when one just accounts for the number of unemployed, well-educated youths, and even older adults in our country. Even while studying, the focus is too exam-centric, and exams are taken as the primary and sometimes the only parameter that determines an individual’s capability, intellect, and intelligence, and at the same time being detrimental to employability. These critical first chances in the employed world are so important that it becomes a downward vortex which is very cumbersome to dive out of.

Problems with testing once a year 

Testing once a year also has its downfall clubbed with a system based on rote and outright rejection from meritocracy even with one bad year. Even if you turn out to be one who either due to diligence, good memory, or sheer luck procures ‘good marks’ in today’s world where the matrix is so tilted that the thresholds begin in high ninety’s and cent-percent marks which are generously given, where does that leave most individuals who on paper have brilliant marks but no way of securing a college or university position if left on the said matrix alone, where cut-offs begin and end at 98-99 percentages.

Many young, bright lives have been sacrificed to such prejudices, while the ones who do survive realize that such sacrifices were nothing but in vain as such marks, degrees, and certifications are distributed and even bought dime-a-dozen, while real-life and employability have not much to do with such marks as realized by the fortunate few, except of course, that one critical step of opening that very first door into the employed world, unfortunately. Once a year examination is also troubled by your fortune on the day of the exam, with the results being out of an individual’s control when they get stuck by illness, anxiousness, or other misfortunes, and it is not at all reflective of one’s true learning over the year akin to a lottery system.

A marking scheme and marks driven meritocracy system rather than an interest-driven and potential enhancing system of education have long lead to devastating means and medians of marks for the same student. The variation is highly reflective and dependent on the choice of subjects in a semester or year, versus uninteresting, yet mandatory and decidedly necessary subjects based on course curricula with no reliable real-life translation for said student and their employability.

Problems with the conventional education system

Another downturn with the conventional education system without due thought is the change in education that acknowledged and even emphasized learning with one’s hands and hands-on experiences towards industrialization and assembly line learning where one specializes way too early leading to very early compartmentalization into supposed ‘streams’ that an individual is supposed to be ‘stuck in’. The condition and understanding are so dire with stuck mindsets that thinking outside the box, interface learning, freedom of expression, innovation, uniqueness, and multiple interests are often looked down upon and heavily discouraged in favor of streams and specializations.

Investments of time and money not paying dividends with collected degrees and certifications based on rote learning and little practical experience, especially in the decisive aspects of money management, emotional quotient, perception, self-reliability, team building, foresight, risk-to-benefit assessments, team management, etc. never making even a blip in that ‘highly educated’ degree-laden individual’s learnings and education. Ultimately, these leaves the ‘educated’ person poorer and more distraught than an individual who may not be as well-educated but is well-adjusted and self-experienced with the cruelties of ‘employed’ life, rather than having had that shield of going through formal education.

The losing grip on Math and Language 

Surveys across the country have illustrated a problem with the once a stronghold of our country’s educational system, i.e., command on math, especially mental math from the very beginning in our primary schools, where now many students fail at even basic math with simple additions and subtractions. Language stands as another caveat with spelling, pronunciation, and grammar. There are fundamental missing keys in the foundation that leaves the students behind before they even begin their proper education based on and taught in said language.

Features of the new education policy 

To address the problems as highlighted above, the new education policy provides a universal early childhood care education system, along with a focused national mission on foundational literacy and numeracy. The curriculum at the schools is to be in a 5+3+3+4 pedagogical structure. Furthermore, the new education policy extends the right to education from 3 to 18 years from the previous 5 to 14 years. This, on paper at least, would also address the discrepancies due to highly varied home education front and challenges faced especially with the indigent, underprivileged, downtrodden, and otherwise uneducated families and communities. So, every child is entitled now to free and compulsory education from 3 years up to 18 years, likely going up to the end of school years in India.

Additionally, although not explicit from the policy itself, it would be an educated assumption that the ‘mid-day meal’ policy, a coveted and beneficial policy in our country’s education system, would expand and apply to the extended age group of children from 3 years up to the age of majority in India. Also, considering the heavy loads and burdens on school children with little practical implementation, there would be a reduction and streamlining of the curriculum with an emphasis on core concepts along with vocational integration as early as class 6th onwards towards achieving the aim of employability.

A likely controversy arises with the recommendation on language for teaching in the new education policy, where although it was not made mandatory and rather left up to the schools to choose and decide on the option of teaching language for young children up to class 5 in India in the child’s mother tongue or otherwise. While, many may consider the education granted in the formidable, fundamental, primary school years in a child’s mother tongue a welcome idea. Seemingly a good step, it is nonetheless distraught with complications, especially considering today’s global education and employability standards and vast variation in our country’s very many regional languages at the minimum. Thus, on the flip side of the argument considering the language of dissemination of primary school education, one must not forget the increasingly mixed language speaking and understanding people dispersed across the country along with most of the technology and at the very least, books available and designed in English or Hindi, would this not lead to another division and hindrance when such students move to higher education, colleges and then employed world, where language such as English can be a determiner of employability and even confidence of a candidate without prejudice to their education and intelligence.

And again, the same would be layered with the challenge of affordable, good, and competitive education for employability later in life. In fact, when considering global advantage, a command on one’s English proficiency and usability has often worked in the favor of Indians due in part to the early introduction and education of English in schools, vastly starting at the primary school level. However, the caveat that remains is the proficiency of the teachers teaching the primary school kids and their ability to correlate the importance of good fundamental math and language education for the later years with more complicated subject-matter.

The new policy has clubbed many regulatory bodies from University Grants Commission (UGC), All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), to National Council for Teachers Education (NCTE), excluding medical and legal education, into a singular regulatory body under one regulator of education. This translates into a centralized regulation of education. This may either turn out to be a much more streamlined regulation and educational control and better overall standards with lesser discrepancies and inequalities or depending on the transparency and qualification of the ones in control of such a unified regulation, even more problems spearheaded by singular regulation and hence, limited options and avenues for change and amendments considering the trickle-down effect. In addition to the single regulator for higher education, excluding the medical and legal fields, an independent board of governors is to be established. Further transparency to be introduced in the form of online, self-disclosure-based systems of approvals replacing inspections. There would be a national educational technology forum and special education zones for disadvantaged regions.

The new policy provides an unprecedented mix-and-match, expressing yourself without the constrains of streams and specializations. This holistic and multidisciplinary flexible education plan is a long-awaited improvement over the predecessors. And an institutional and potentially revolutionary amendment in the new policy is the freedom given to the student to choose their combination of subjects which they choose to study rather than the pre-defined confines of mandatory streams. Lok vidya or local artists as master instructors to be enrolled and their expertise made available in schools.

The as-yet controversial Four-year undergraduate program (FYUP) program is revisited and adopted in the new education policy forever changing the three-year undergraduate landscape of our nation’s colleges and undergraduate universities. Integration of practice and internships starting from school level children up to higher education that is translatable into practical knowledge, know-how, and, ultimately, employability with the last year dedicated to research and practical training. However, a salient feature is that it provides and leaves it at the option of the student to instead take the three-year degree course rather than the introduced four-year course. This ultimately may save a year for the student interested in pursuing research and doctoral endeavors while also making them competent in global education endeavors which till did not require Indian undergraduate students to pursue a Master’s degree, which many times ended up consuming additional two years of education. The policy introduces a five-year, integrated Bachelor’s-cum-Master’s program, while M. Phil is to be discontinued. Thus, coming at par with global education, Master’s degrees for Indian students would become less of a necessary evil with diminished overall importance, which has, however, been left as an option for the colleges and universities to adopt and implement as per their choice.

Towards globalization and meeting global standards in our nation’s higher education, the new education policy introduces a national research foundation along with the internationalization of higher education. Flexibility and accessibility are further encouraged with the integration of vocational, teacher, and professional education systems. Alongside this, a focus on technology is provided in the new education policy with encouraging the use of technology in education planning, teaching, learning, assessment, administration, management, and regulation via self-disclosure online with minimal human interface. Technology would also be increasingly made accessible to disadvantaged groups, such as with divyang-friendly education software. Additional accessibility to technology to be provided with e-content in regional languages to induce accessible dissemination of education in the regional mother tongue. Establishment of virtual labs along with digitally equipped schools, teachers, and students would supplement technology access and usage in education. Even at the school level, the curriculums would integrate 21st-century technology skills, mathematical thinking, and scientific temper, all the while departing from the previously adhered to a rigid separative structure based on streams of arts and sciences, curricular and extra-curricular activities, vocational and academic streams and specializations. The education system would recognize, acknowledge, and provide for the education of gifted students. Digital libraries would be set up in all public and school libraries.

Towards inclusivity, the new education policy further provides with a gender-inclusion fund to build the nation’s capacity to provide a quality and equitable education for all girls as well as transgender students. Furthermore, there will be a national assessment center for school education as a standard-setting body that would set universal norms, standards, and guidelines for assessment and evaluation of all recognized school boards in India, and guide the state achievement survey and national achievement survey. There will also be a national professional standard for teachers by the year 2022 to develop and assess expertise, competencies as well as appraisal based on performance standards for different ranks of teachers. A transparent online self-disclosure would also be implemented for public oversight and accountability.

Departing from globalization and focusing on India and its culture, language, value, and knowledge system, the new education policy provides for a focused enhancement of education of literature and scientific vocabulary in Indian languages, along with the establishment of a national institute for ancient Indian languages of Pali, and Prakrit. There would be a focus on Indian language research, strengthening the promotion of classical languages and works of literature at the national institutes, creation of an Indian Institute of Translation and Interpretation, enhancement in cultural awareness of the Indian knowledge system along with the promotion of traditional arts.

And an overarching ambitious mission under the reformed new education policy is to achieve a 50 percent gross enrolment ratio by the year 2035, which promises to be sensational and highly beneficial to our nation and potentially our economy. The new national curriculum framework would encompass school, teachers, early childhood education as well as adult education towards such a goal of enhanced gross education. Alongside access, the board education is going to be low stakes, less rote, and more knowledge and application-based.

The institutes themselves to be transformed into higher education institutions as either research-intensive or teaching-intensive universities along with autonomous degree-granting colleges and model multidisciplinary education and research universities to be established at the minimum near every district. The higher education would further see the evolution of graded autonomy in terms of academic, administrative, and financial aspects at an institution. The affiliation system is proposed to fade out in the next 15 years. There is going to be a national mission on mentoring. The higher education institutions have common norms for both private and public institutions along with the advent and implementation of private philanthropic partnership and fee fixation within the broad regulatory framework. There would be a common entrance exam administered by the national testing agency for admissions to higher education institutions.

Another welcome change with the new education policy is the option of completing a dropped-out degree education that it allows a student to keep their education/semester credits in a ‘credit bank’ of sorts which can be revisited even after dropping out from a course due to numerous reasons ranging from a dearth of money, poor grades, family emergency and need, etc., and the same can be utilized at a later time to finish the outstanding degree course. This credit transfer and academic bank of credits program additionally make a provision for granting a certificate to a first-year drop-out, a diploma to a second-year drop-out, and then a full-fledged bachelor’s degree to a student upon the completion of a three-year course, which as aforesaid can also be graduated as a four-year undergraduate degree program.

Taking into consideration the caveat associated with one-time testing, the new education policy makes internal assessment vigorous in its application and implementation and simultaneously provides for the schools to conduct examinations twice in a school year replacing the annual exams, essentially addressing the exam day lottery. This has the potential of taking away the pressure on students to perform well in one-chance annual exams, and rather, allows such unconventional means of assessment to spread the educational assessment throughout the year giving opportunities to students to self-assess and work on specific subjects based on internal assessment and mid-year exams. At the same time, it allows willing teachers to focus on students not performing well in a subject to be educated differently while they have a chance to aid their recovery in a particular subject with poor performance. The national assessment center for performance assessment, review, and analysis of knowledge for holistic development, PARAKH to be implemented.

However, limitations and scope for improvements remain, starting with not allowing a competitive, commercial education and rather sticking again with a fictional yet unachievable not-for-profit education system as preached by the predecessors resulting in underpaid teachers, limited resources, without any incentives towards dissemination of education as one of the fundamental pillars of our nation’s development and society’s prosperity is essentially a miss. Especially, given that private education built on tuitions and coaching centers is blooming with unwavering prosperity where the same educators are employed as the ones employed in schools, and they impart the required education to their students but for-profit outside of the idealized education systems. Although, a counter-argument from the new education policy lies in the impetus towards public investment in the education sector to reach 6 percent of the gross domestic product. The creation of such high educational institutions has been made easier along with stand-alone professional education institutions culminating in multidisciplinary institutions.

In the footsteps of the aforementioned problem, the greater evil of corruption forms the earliest basis of biased privilege—the ones who can afford it versus the ones who cannot afford to pay hidden fees, cash payments, and so-called donations to competitive educational institutions. The need for the hour is free market based educational systems given the importance of it is the underlying and early determiner as well as a deterrent to later education and employability of students. The fictional fix to bridge the gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ is essentially widened and made uncrossable with upholding the notional not-for-profit education system. Rather, it should be made meritorious, with support available to one’s underprivileged and less fortunate in terms of early scholarships for students, while giving due to teachers and educators who are heavily invested in building and shaping our nation’s future.

The issue of under-education in a supply and demand format is systematically made worse by arbitrary and high cut-offs which are unimaginable given the humongous population of students in our country. Higher education remains a privilege of a few, especially those who have had a strong foundational start beginning from the gap rising at the primary school level up to passing out of competent, competitive schools versus feasible yet incompetent school systems. The absence of higher education options combined with non-translation into employability along with stupendous charges in private education with again limited returns in the employed world leaves the nation wanting for more fair and accessible education policy and institutions.

Conclusion

Ultimately, as Guy Kawasaki famously said, ‘Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard.’ There are numerous things to be celebrated from the changes brought in by the new education policy after 34 years. Be it a dedicated 6 percent of gross domestic product devoted to education, the flexibility of choice and upliftment of rigid barriers of streams between science and arts, making it feasible for every student passing out of schools to be adept at one skill at the minimum, technology-infused learning to develop 21st century skills, more diverse and low-pressure testing that is spread out over a school year, coding to commence from class 6th, right to education spanning almost the whole of a child’s school life, removing gender bias and enhancing holistic access, it is a commendable and timely change in the education policy. However, it all boils down to implementing or even failing to implement the greatest of ideas to see them bear fruits and pave way for a stronger, more educated, equal, and prosperous nation and society. Thus, time shall tell how the ambitious, prudent, and welcome amendments to our education policy and ground-level effects thereof pay off in the long run. And as aforesaid, major inadequacies and defects remain to be fixed especially considering the ever-increasing divide between the haves and have nots, the well-educated, educated, and undereducated let alone uneducated translating into the employed and unemployed driven by early biases in access to introductory education that never goes away later owing to the said early disadvantage which must be removed in an equitable manner.


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