National Educational Policy: Redefining ‘Studentship’ for Atmanirbhar Bharat

  • As the world becomes borderless, global standards set the game rolling in creating new paradigms towards efficiency, and that is precisely the roadmap that the NEP 2020 lays forward.
  • The NEP demands a paradigm shift from what is ‘decades of soaking’ in a static and repetitive academic module to what has been proposed as a dynamic, holistic, multi-disciplinary and extended spell of action
  • A good vision for school education can positively lay the foundation for higher education on the lines of multi-disciplinary and further to trans-disciplinary with a shared focus on science, arts and humanities.

One thing in common between Dr K.Kasturirangan and myself is that we are the alumnus of Sree Rama Varma (SRV) High School Ernakulam in Kerala established in the year 1845. Of course, there is a gap of decades between Dr Kasturirangan and me passing out from SRV. In fact, the decadal difference is so much’ so much that Dr Kasturirangan retired as the Chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in 2003 and I only passed out my high school in 2005. This irrelevant comparison of decades can be vaguely correlated to India’s history – timeline of introducing education policy. Nothing odd.

Dr K. Kasturirangan in June 2019, as the Chairperson of the committee drafting the National Education Policy, reiterated that India’s education system needs no fine-tuning but a ‘change in totality’. The first time Government of India introduced a policy for education was in 1968. The second education policy followed in 1986. The Union Cabinet on 29th July 2020 approved the National Education Policy (NEP) – 2020 which has come after more than three decades, 34 years to be precise. The NEP has made recommendations for several institutional reforms, including the establishing the Prime Minister led National Education Commission.

The NEP 2020 has called for ‘transformational reforms’ in school & higher education sectors and vouches for access, equity, quality, affordability and accountability in education. The NEP has envisioned to transform India into a self-sufficient global knowledge economy through a holistic, flexible and multidisciplinary education system that suits the challenging needs of the 21st century, thus chiselling the roadmap for ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’. Some of the essential highlights of the NEP 2020 are:

School Education:

1. Universal access to school education at all levels through infrastructure support, innovative education centres, open schooling, vocational courses apart from other support.

2. Early childhood care through replacement of 10 + 2 school curriculum with a 5 + 3 + 3 + 4 curriculum for the age groups of 3-8, 8-11, 11-14 and 14-18 respectively. This shall enable the pre-schooling of children during their crucial 3-6 age group thereby enabling the development of mental faculties, play/activity-based thinking and learning of the child through the proposed National Curricular and Pedagogical Framework for Early Childhood Care and Education (NCPFECCE).

Early childhood education will emphasise on (a) developing curiosity (b) logical thinking and problem solving (c) arts, crafts and music (d) relationship with nature (e) colours, shapes, alphabets and numbers (d) teamwork and collaboration (e) play-based and discovery-based learning (f) ethics (g) self-identity (h) etiquette, behaviour and emotional development. This will be implemented by strengthening institutions, including Anganwadi and pre-schools with teachers trained in the new syllabus.

3. National Mission on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy for primary schools for all learners by grade 3 by 2025.

4. Holistic revamping of school curriculum and pedagogy according to 21st-century skills and requirements through reduced curricular content yet enhanced critical thinking and a greater focus on practical learning. Towards this, choice of subjects together with increased flexibility has been given and rigidity between arts – science, curricular – extracurricular and distinguishing of vocational – academics have been diluted. This aims for laying the foundation towards multidisciplinary and flexible learning from the school level.

5. NEP 2020 has layed emphasis on native language or mother tongue as the medium of teaching and instruction till Grade 5. Sanskrit and other classical languages as an option at all levels of school and higher education; foreign languages from secondary level to enhance lingual skills of students which opens the scope towards a lingua-cultural mind of the student. Standardisation of Indian Sign Language across the country aimed at developing curriculum for divyang students with hearing impairment.

6. Reforms in academic assessment that emphasise on competency, promote learning and development, testing analytical skills, critical thinking and conceptual clarity. School examinations in Grades 3, 5 and 8 with a redesigned holistic assessment for 10 and 12 board exams. Towards setting standards in this regard PARAKH – ‘Performance, Assessment, Review, and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development’ will function as a new National Assessment Centre.

7. Equitable and inclusive education for every child to learn and excel irrespective of circumstances related to birth or socio-economic or geographical background. Gender Inclusion Fund and Special Education Zones for disadvantaged regions and groups to be set up in this regard.

8. National Professional Standards for Teachers (NPST) for robust teacher recruitment and career path.

Higher Education:

9. Increasing Gross Enrolment Ration from 26.3% to 50% by 2035. Target addition of 3.5 crore seat to higher educational institutions.

10. Multidisciplinary education through flexible curriculum, combination of subjects, vocational education and training for undergraduate courses with multiple exit options with ‘appropriate certification’ after every year i.e. the student will be an eligible Certificate holder after 1 year, Advanced Diploma after 2 years, Bachelor’s Degree after 3 years and Bachelor’s with Research after 4 years. Establishment of Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities (MERUs) with global standards at par with IITs, IIMs. This would benefit students aiming at selective learning, certification and securing early employment opportunities.

11. Establishing a National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education – NCFTE 2021 towards enhancing teaching standards and recruitment. Four year integrated multidisciplinary course/training for teacher recruitment. National Mission for Mentoring through senior/retired faculties for providing mentoring to university and college teachers.

The need for creative thinking, critical analysis and innovative solutions has been constantly rising in today’s globalised and competitive world. As the world becomes borderless, global standards set the game rolling in creating new paradigms towards efficiency, and that is precisely the roadmap that the NEP 2020 lays forward. Therefore the need to set higher standards in skilling and training by ensuring the multi-faceted framework through vocational and multidisciplinary education is the need of the hour. This would pave the way for competitive advantage in global markets for India.

The National Education Policy – 2020 reassures that the days of memorising are gone and paves the way for interactive and practical classrooms as a policy mandate. The challenges in this regard are going to be infrastructure up-gradation and much importantly attaining global infrastructural standards in the long term. India has a history of falling back on infrastructure development deadlines in the urban and rural areas. But the lessons learnt during the COVID-19 pandemic assert the need for constant up-gradation of amenities and facilities. The task of recruiting and training, upgrading teaching and presentation skills of teachers is going to be an ‘Everest’ challenge. It would demand a paradigm shift from what is ‘decades of soaking’ in a static and repetitive academic module towards the proposed dynamic, holistic, multi-disciplinary and extended spell of action.

It is undoubtedly true that a good vision for school education can positively lay the foundation for higher education on the lines of multi-disciplinary and further to trans-disciplinary with a shared focus on science, arts and humanities. The NEP – 2020 is going to put to test the political leadership, bureaucrats, administrators, policymakers, teachers, parents and other stakeholders of their willingness and proactiveness enroute a mammoth task of upgrading the very definition and scope of ‘studentship’ for the envisioned Atmanirbhar Bharat.

Sabareesh.P.A is currently a Research Scholar at the Centre for Studies in Science Policy (CSSP), Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.