The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 is a bold attempt to reimagine education in India. The existing system has remained fundamentally the same since modern education was introduced in India, and needed a complete overhaul. This was much-awaited since India is believed to have entered the demographic bulge in 2018. This golden period—predicted to last till 2055—will be driven by the quality and productivity of our people.
The NEP, while being modern in outlook, also amply borrows from India’s rich heritage and aims to nurture and enhance it further. The policy talks about emerging technologies, changing employment landscape, India’s commitment to SDG 2030 goals in good measure across the document. Taking inspiration from institutes like Takshashila and Nalanda, it emphasises a liberal style of education, recommends a seamless blend of arts, humanities, physical fitness, languages, in addition to science and mathematics.
The NEP recommends universalisation of Early Child Care and Education (ECCE), and introduces the 5+3+3+4 format—emphasising foundational numeracy and literacy at the end of initial five years (equivalent to current grade 3). Assessment in schools would undergo a big change—rote memorisation is making way for formative, competency-based assessment that tests higher-order skills such as conceptual clarity, analysis and critical thinking.
This, in my view, could be the single most important contribution to reforms in the education system. Even for 10th and 12th grades, while there will be summative assessments, there will be two exams in an academic year—thereby helping divert the unnecessary attention, almost an obsession that is prevalent today with board exams. In addition, the NEP recommends modern subjects such as coding to be introduced in class 6; in the same measure, it recommends having compulsory vocational education from the same class. It promotes inclusivity with a Gender Inclusion Fund and Special Education Zones to support economically and socially disadvantaged groups.
The NEP provides greater flexibility to students in choosing the subjects. Rigid demarcation between arts & sciences, curricular & extracurricular subjects or vocational & academic streams will cease to exist. The NEP’s call to consolidate and transform all higher education institutions into large multidisciplinary institutions with enrolments in the order of a few thousands is a welcome move. This will help fix a fragmented higher education system and will go a long way in creating vibrant learning ecosystems, increasing resource efficiency and making our institutions globally competitive. Many forward-looking measures such as four-year undergraduate degrees, multiple entry and exit, banking of credits, flexibility to choose subjects across disciplines, phasing out of affiliated colleges are sure to bring in a big positive change in our universities and colleges. The Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) would be the single apex body and will provide greater autonomy to educational institutions.
The formation of the National Testing Agency (NTA) will help in bringing uniformity and standard for aspiring students to prepare for university education—especially those who come from rural India. The recommendation to converge regular and vocational education is much needed from the perspective of increasing the employability of students. I am sure this will help in overcoming the perception attached with vocational education.
Overall, the NEP has rightly put learners at the centre of the policy by offering them increased flexibility. In my view, this will put India on track to attain Goal 4 (SDG4) of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, by seeking to ensure inclusive and equitable, quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all in the next decade.
(A version of the article appeared in Financial Express, 10 August 2020 )