The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) released a new National Education Policy on 29th July, 2020. Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, tweeted that the new policy is based on access, equality, quality and affordability and aims to transform the level of education in India by transforming it into a “vibrant knowledge hub”. In light of the same the MHRD has been renamed “Ministry of Education” to showcase that the country’s focus on education has deepened. It aims to achieve 100% gross enrolment ratio in school education by 2030 and 50% in higher education by 2035.
In this article, I will discuss the need for a new education policy, the major reforms brought about by the Government, its significance and conclude with a critical analysis of the same.
Need for a new policy
The new education policy was released more than three decades after the previous one making its predecessor out of touch with the needs of the ever-changing world. Since the last time India upgraded its education policy, we have liberalized the economy, the population has grown by 65% and the middle-class society has begun aspiring to do better which requires education. Developments have been made in all sectors of the society and the quality and mode of education has to keep up with the same. Further, education is not constricted by regional barriers which means that India’s education system has to come to par with the global standards to ensure that students from our country do not face a disadvantage when they go abroad to study.
The Ministry made some major reforms in the phase of school education aiming to reduce the barriers created by the introduction of ‘streams’ and thus, create a more flexible education system. The new policies places emphasis on native languages and altered the curriculum to include their study as well. To transform the education imparted to the students its necessary to provide training to the teachers. Recognizing the same the Government intends to improve the strength of Teacher Eligibility Tests by including better test material and also accounting for its scores at the time of recruitment. Further, the policy intends to make it mandatory for teachers to have completed the four-year BEd course before they can teach. The new education policy has also brought about major reforms to the higher education system. Firstly, it aims to increase the enrolment ratio of students for the same and secondly, to integrate India’s numerous fragmented institutions into large multidisciplinary universities. Further, it unifies the length of courses offered by universities to three to four years while offering students an exit option if they decide to leave before the completion of the course.
Significance of the new policy
The Education Policy of 2020 places due importance on the formative years of school life. It has changed the school structure from 10+2 to 5+3+3+4. This new arrangement brings children into the fold of education at a young age of three years old which thus, focuses on providing them with foundational education and a better all-round education. To further the aim of all-round education the Government has also included in its policy vocational courses to ensure that even students from disadvantaged societies are incentivized to attend school. In addition to the above an important development under this policy is to alter the length of bachelor courses offered by universities. The length has been increased to four years which now matches the international standards. This makes it easier for Indian students to take advantage of opportunities to study abroad and not missing out due to their prerequisite to have finished a four-year graduation course. This will also encourage healthy competition between students at a global level.
The policy, while it brings about some much-needed reforms, is lacking in certain areas. It does not make any provision for improving the standard of education with respect to teaching courses that have practical application. The Indian education system has been suffering from this gap for many years now. Schools and colleges do not teach us the skills that will students will be required to do when they get a job. Further, the policy proposes a free breakfast scheme. This is problematic because it will increase the burden to be borne by the schools and add a financial burden on the Government. From the previously implemented policy of this nature, the ‘mid-day meal’ scheme we have seen how inefficient the system is. Another free meal to be given at the school will only increase the inefficiency of this scheme and will likely result in both the meals being sub-par in quality of food and its distribution to the students.
A significant proposal under this policy is to utilize 6% of the GDP in the education sector. The same has been in place since the Kothari Commission but the Government has been unable to implement it. The GDP growth rate has slowed down due to the pandemic and the recent aggressions with China require that the Government strengthen the army of the country. Further, the pandemic has also highlighted the need to invest in the health care sector of the country to ensure that medications and any future vaccines will available to the people when required by them. Thus, the plan to direct 6% of the GDP towards education will not be possible as there are other sectors in the country that require the investment more.
Another important feature of the policy that poses a lot of questions is the proviso regarding medium of instruction. It states that the ‘mother tongue’ should be the medium of teaching up till class 5. Placing so much emphasis on the mother tongue comes with many issues. While it is true that it is easier to learn a language in one’s early years it can have negative implications in one’s later years. It can affect job and higher education prospects and make it difficult to get jobs or admission in universities of different cities as students would not have studied the regional language. It will thus, affect the migrating workers and students immensely. This will also impact English education. Students from weaker sections of the society will be disadvantaged because of not having learnt the language in their early years and will face issues because of the same throughout their lives. The richer students will have an upper hand having studied in private schools where the medium of instruction is English. Government has also focused a lot on learning Sanskrit which when seen from a practical perspective does not make much sense as it has no application in today’s day and will not help students improve their future prospects and hence, their economic status.
The Government also aims to phase out any affiliation to universities which opens the door for many private universities to emerge. This can lead to poor students not being able to access the same and even if they are able to, they might face issues because of not being familiar with the medium of instruction. The Government has a responsibility to provide quality higher education to the students, but this policy shows their intention to back away from the same and let private investors enter the industry and profit which will indirectly increase the economic gap between the rich and poor.
An additional point to note is that the coronavirus pandemic has also highlighted the importance of digital education. The Government has to focus on providing schools, teacher and students with the requisite tools for making it possible to study and learn on a digital platform.
Coordination between the Centre and the State is necessary to ensure the success of this policy since education comes under the Concurrent List. States must provide their consensus for implementation of the policy and aid the Centre in the development of infrastructure to ensure quality education to the students as per the policy guidelines. Proper guidelines must be created for the cost sharing of education related expenditures between the Centre and State. Allowing States to decide which languages students studying there will learn creates a lot of discrepancies within the country and will adversely affect many students who might be prejudiced because of learning only regional languages and not a language that is widely spoken all over the country.
New developments have been made in the technology sector which has also created new subject matters like cyber security and artificial intelligence. Due emphasis must be laid down to implement courses covering these matters as they are focused on the future. Opening the door for private universities with respect to higher education seems to be serving the interests of the rich and will disadvantage many students of the country who will be unable to afford the high tuition that will inevitably be charged by such institutions. A clear roadmap must also be provided regarding the training of teachers and the requirements they need to fulfil to qualify to teach under any section of the school structure.
It was extremely necessary to update our education policy but some of the provisos would cause more harm than good. The Government should be prepared to issue additional guidelines whenever required to ensure its smooth implementation and to safeguard the interests of all the students in the country whichever region or economic group they might come from.