31 Aug 2020 20:56 IST

The devil is the details in NEP 2020

Will many of the reforms become redundant due to lack of resources and an implementation plan?

After more than three decades, India has taken a strong and courageous step towards an education revolution through its new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. Through sweeping reforms with the new NEP, the education committee has aimed to encourage higher standards for students both in schools and colleges. I truly believe that it’s a great vision document where the Ministry of Education has clearly put forward its intent to clean the system and take education to the next level.

The policy has brought forth many new approaches such as moving away from rote learning and board exams, whilst providing experiential and skill-based learning. The policy emphasises the multi-disciplinary approach of teaching and provides multiple entry and exit options to students during their courses, thus ensuring they receive learning without any restraints.

Furthermore, the decision of increasing the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) to 50 per cent and almost doubling the present GER of 26 per cent by 2035 and many more such sweeping reforms are a welcome move. While all this looks great on paper, the devil lies in the detail. How are all these reforms going to be implemented in the next two decades?

Lack of resources

I am wary that these reforms may become redundant due to lack of resources and an implementation plan. We will get to see the outcome once the document actually gets into the hands of the bureaucrats from the ministry. I am particularly concerned about the fact that many of the proposed actions would require huge investments to implement.

If we convert one affiliated college to an autonomous institution then it will also need to have its own examination system, curriculum development body, evaluation system, academic affairs unit, and much more. This means that more manpower, and space would be needed and thus, much more money would be required. While there is a recommendation of six per cent of the GDP (almost double the present spending) to be spent on education, which is not very high considering the sweeping reforms that are aimed at, how is the government going to make a provision for this? That is the big question that we all need to ask ourselves.

Multiple regulators

Another big reform for higher education is the revamp of the current structure of multiple regulators of higher education, such as the UGC, AICTE and NCTE. This is a considerably strong reform as this will definitely remove quite a lot of the bureaucratic layers and may make the system more efficient. On the other hand, if not implemented right then it can also create one mammoth elephant which would be difficult to work around.

Another similar concern is the single grant releasing body. It may seem like a fine idea but I am wary of the fact that it may become an issue where one single body has to take a decision on the grant application for different institutions such as medical, architecture, biotechnology and engineering, while their requirements and needs would be completely different. A grant of five crore rupees and above is quite common in medical science while the same is not true in case of languages.

More imagination than clarity

Also, a multidisciplinary approach is not very well defined in the document. There are various questions raised like — should the National Law University (NLU) start offering engineering as part of the programme. Though my gut feeling is that this is not the intention, what the government probably wants to suggest is that probably NLU should focus on new age programmes and offer a law programme in which the students get some knowledge of technology too. It's difficult to say which end of the story is right and there is more imagination than clarity in the present policy so far.

Also, with respect to school education, NEP has clearly put forward a very strong vision to provide access to school education to all including pre-primary and secondary. Going beyond one to eighth grade is a welcome and overdue move but the question that needs to be addressed again is where will the money come from? While pushing the RTE Act in 2010, it was thought to include pre-primary as well but in the final act provision, free and compulsory education only for six to14 years was kept because of the lack of resources. One may wonder what has changed over the years that the government will be able to foot the bill in such a populated country, especially when many states are still grappling to provide quality education in the existing RTE Act provision.

I believe that there would be a need to amend a minimum of five to six Central Acts to be able to implement this policy. This should be an easy task if the present government continues; or else bringing these changes with a new system would make the execution difficult.

Even though the government should be congratulated on putting this great vision document and coming out with bold ideas, implementation is going to be a key challenge. Academic Bank of Credits and re-introduction of a four-year programme and many more are clearly welcome moves. Though a little apprehensive, I am very positive on the new NEP.

(The author is Additional Director, Lovely Professional University.)