Educating The Next Generation of Indians
The Union Cabinet has cleared the New Education Policy 2020 (NEP). It’s a framework -and rather comprehensive –that guides educational development in the country.
It was in the year 1964 when it was felt that an education policy framework was imperative to bring about clarity and set the direction right. In the same year, a 17-member Education Commission headed by the UGC Chairman was set up.
Based on the suggestions of the Commission, the First Education Policy came into effect four years later in 1968 and at the time when Smt. Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister.
The second one came into effect in 1986 under Shri Rajiv Gandhi and many years later, it was revised in 1992 under the then Prime Minister Shri P V Narasimha Rao. And now we have the third edition when Shri Narendra Modi is in Office.
The Education Policy is re-casted once in 25 – 30 years so the significance is huge. Several generations of students are impacted by these changes as they progress in life to take up leadership positions anddrive the economy. Therefore, it is not something that can be taken lightly.
The NEP 2020 has introduced sweeping changes and by the looks of it, it’s well thought through.It will prepare the next few generations of Indians to lead in the age of innovation and massive disruption.
The changes include opening up of higher education to foreign universities, dismantling the UGC & the AICTE, the introduction of a four-year multidisciplinary undergraduate program with multiple exit options, and the discontinuation of the M.Phil program.
In a significant shift from the 1986 policy which pushed for a 10+2 format in school education, the 2020 edition proposes a 5+3+3+4 format corresponding to the age groups 3 – 8 years (foundational); 8 – 11 (preparatory); 11 – 14 (middle); and, 14 -18 (secondary). This will benefit children in the current pre-school block (3-5 years) because now it will be formalized and the mid-day meal program can be included as well.
Understandably,eyebrows are being raised becauseuntilClass 5, children will be taught in their mother tongue or regional language. In reality, this is already happening in government-run schools and it is unlikely that things will change drastically for the private ones. After all, education is a concurrent subject i.e. both centre and the states have a say.
The NEP 2020 does not state anything specific about students whose parents have transferable jobs but acknowledges the fact that children are brought up in multilingual families. “Teachers will be encouraged to use a bilingual approach”, it vaguely states.
English Vs Mother Tongue
Whether it’s a wise move or not, there can be two sides to the argument. People in support of English being the preferred medium of instruction from Class 1do so because it dominates in the global scenario. “Introduction of English at a later stage will put children at a great disadvantage,” their reason. Whereas, the other side believes that it’s imperative to learn about one’s roots, culture, and language to have a stronger grounding. If we don’t instill these values at the outset – they passionately concur – it will be very difficult if not downright impossible to pick up the threads later on. The “Indianness” angle resonates powerfully enough and can’t be discredited completely. It gains greater currency when examples of non-English speaking nations are proffered. Though China may not be in our good books right now, there’s no denying that it’s a very powerful example. Logically speaking, if the education imparted is sound enough, a foreign language (English in this case) can be learned from Class six onwards. This approach requires aneffective course curriculum and competent teachers. Be that as it may, the quality of teaching in most government-run schools leaves a lot to be desired.
Welcoming Foreign Universities
Professionals today, cannot function in silos and the introduction of a four-year multidisciplinary bachelor’s program is a welcome move. Along with the specialization streams, it gives the students option to study elective courses as well. For instance, a Civil Engineer would be required to know the economic & social consequences too. This premise holds for every profession.
The participation of foreign universities in India is currently limited to them entering into collaborative twinning programs, sharing faculty with partnering institutions, and offering distance education.
The policy document now states that the top 100 universities in the world will be able to set up campuses in India. Though, it does not clarify the parameters for rendering such a distinction. Secondly, the HRD Ministry needs to bring in a new law stating the details on how these universities will operate in India.
The Road Ahead
It’s not easy to dismantle an existing education system overnight without impacting the lives of millions of students. To be sure, change has already been happening. IIT Delhi has a humanities department and IIT Kharagpur, a School of Medical Science & Technology. And for that matter, the MPhil degree is gradually being phased out in favor of direct Ph.D. programs.
To get the new system up and running it’ll take a while but it has to be done in a manner that ensures the centre and the states are in sync. The next 30 years will be nothing like what we have seen in the past.
There are great opportunities ahead but only for those who are willing to unlearn, re-learn, and keep up this infinite loop. Increasingly, the shelf-life of existing knowledge and their relevance will diminish,only to be re-filled by newer learnings. If we are to ride the next wave, skilling will have to be a continuous process and collaborative as well.