Sir Ken Robinson once stated that, “Teaching is a creative profession, not a delivery system. Great teachers do (pass on information), but what great teachers also do is mentor, stimulate, provoke, engage.”
In a similar manner, India’s National Education Policy (NEP)–introduced in 2020 by its central government–outlines ambitious targets to mentor, stimulate, possibly provoke but definitely engage. But while its intentions are noble, it was met with a big uproar among the country’s education fraternity. In colloquial terms, there was a big halla gulla among educators. Such is always the case when a new system is put in place.
The disagreements might also have arisen due to ignorance about the NEP’s objectives or perhaps the fact that the majority of us are better off living in our comfort zones. Educators, in particular, are often loathe to new ideas or reforms. They feel once they master a system, they know it all. And then, unfortunately, learning ceases for most.
Meanwhile, the fact remains that once a policy is passed, it is here to stay. So, the best way forward is to understand the system and why it was necessary to introduce a revamped NEP.
The NEP’s timeline
The NEP is a comprehensive framework to guide and develop India’s education system. A new policy typically takes decades to be ideated, formulated and implemented. In the present scenario, when changes in the education system have not keep pace with evolving workplace demands, the government decided to revamp old policies.
The 2020 NEP was long overdue; it was instituted 34 years after the last one. To place into perspective, this is only the third education policy overhaul since 1947.
The first one was introduced in 1968. Known as the Kothari Commission, a 17-member education commission headed by the University Grants Commission Chairperson D.S. Kothari drafted a national coordinated policy in education. The education system at the national level was outlined as a 10+2+3 format — meaning ten years of secondary education, followed by two years of higher secondary education. Thereafter, a further three years of college education would ensue.
Since science and mathematics are an integral part of any country’s growth, the Kothari Commission recommended maths and science as key elements of the academic curriculum in schools. The highlight was free and compulsory education for children aged 6-14 years. A three language policy was also adopted.
The second iteration of the NEP was tabled in 1986. It placed special emphasis on the removal of disparities for specific disadvantaged groups. Removal of illiteracy among women, education for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, minorities, the disabled and differently abled–through non-formal and adult education programmes–were suggested.
‘Operation Blackboard’ — a centrally sponsored programme incentivised poor families to send their children to school. It also envisaged a common educational structure and a national curricular framework with a common core.
Themes that were also given priority were the history of India’s freedom movement, constitutional obligations, and there were also components that nurtured a sense of identity. The same national level aligned ‘10+2+3 system’ remained unchanged. Meanwhile, maths and the sciences were given the same push as was the case in 1968.
Highlights of the 2020 NEP
The third iteration of the NEP retains the same objectives broadly. However, its most distinct upgrade is the new model introduced. The earlier 10+2 model of education has given way to a 5+3+3+4 model. As per this new policy, the 10+2 structure is to be replaced with a 5+3+3+4 structure that corresponds to specific age brackets. It comprises the following.
Foundation stage. The first five years are termed the foundation stage — spanning three years of primary education, followed by classes one and two. It now includes pre-school years in the foundation stage. These were earlier considered a part of informal education.
Preparatory stage. The ensuing three years–comprising classes three, four and five–are termed the preparatory stage.
Middle stage. Between classes six and eight is the middle stage.
Secondary stage. This is the final stage in high school comprising classes 9-12.
To the delight of students–and I’m sure teachers too–is a reduced frequency of examinations. In comparison to eight examinations earlier, the new model will conduct only three examinations for classes three, five and eight.
The new education model will lay strong focus on providing vocational education and imparting knowledge of core subjects. In addition, the Ministry of Education outlines that every student–when leaving for higher education–must have at least one core skill. Students will also be encouraged to learn modern tech-based skills such as coding and they can even sign on for internships from class six onward.
The earlier model of separating science, arts and commerce streams has been done away with. Flexibility is now offered, where a student can learn subjects that cut across streams. In simple terms, a student can now pick any combination of subjects he or she desires to. They can study physics and business studies together if they choose to.
An under graduate programme will comprise a four-year degree course. The Indian Institute of Technology’s new Liberal Arts, Sciences and Engineering (LASE) programme is one example of how the NEP’s vision will be implemented.
A constant stressor for school students in their senior years are board exams. The NEP mandates that these will become easier. Moreover, students will be granted a chance to appear for their board exams twice a year — a move that will greatly help in improving academic scores.
The 2020 NEP is a more comprehensive framework that certainly has its sights on the overall improvement of the system. And by consequence, there will be a ripple effect that will yield positive outcomes.
Takeaways for educators
Personally, I feel the NEP offers flexibility — a welcome change for educators. The opportunity for students to pick any combination of subjects, from class nine onward, is well appreciated. The stereotyped categorisation of science, commerce and humanities was overdue for an upgrade. In the process, it had alienated millions of students. Parents deemed their children intelligent only if they opted for science in the higher secondary level.
In fact, when a child wanted to pursue humanities, their parents often would seem apologetic almost. I hope this prevailing mindset changes for the better. There must be closer focus on vocational education — a segment that many thought was only for artisans or journeymen who could not fare well in academics.
Besides, co-curricular activities must form an integral part; they should be promoted, not shunned. The Khelo India programme will enhance interest in sports in both schools and colleges. This initiative offers hope for thousands of students who excel at games and would like to pursue careers in sports. This will bring a more holistic approach to education in its truest sense. It will help leverage a child’s aptitude too.
A major NEP overhaul came after a considerable time span of 34 years. The world, as an aggregate, has progressed by leaps and bounds during this time. Technology is now a central feature and each year, we come upon new career paths emerging. There are new job titles that we’d earlier never heard of. On the same right, several job roles are also becoming obsolete. And while these fast-paced changes became the norm, our education policy was clearly lagging behind. Fortunately, the NEP’s is a case of better late than never.
The NEP, in my opinion, should be reviewed every 15 years. There should always be an addition of recent methodologies, with new subjects introduced that are relevant to changing times and workplace demands. These are key steps towards rooting out incompetence and widening the scope of learning. It will also ensure more opportunities for students when they seek employment.
While the overarching NEP framework is positive, there are a few glitches. I feel an educational institution–especially in the private sector–should be given greater autonomy in their day-to-day operations. Government and public interference is detrimental to an educational institution’s long-term growth and sustainability. With that said, the NEP’s merits far outweigh its demerits.
As an educator myself, I find there is hope in the new policy. The NEP has my approval. The winds of change blow gently, leading my thoughts to be best summed up from Socrates’ perspective. He said, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”