Transforming and creating a dynamic education system is fundamental for the progress of any country – India is no different. The idea is to open our minds to excellence.
K Kasturirangan

“Transforming and creating a dynamic education system is fundamental for the progress of any country – India is no different. The idea is to open our minds to excellence.” says K Kasturirangan, who is behind the drafting of the National Educational Policy 2020. It aims to bring major reforms in the portals of learning by introducing and implementing a sea of change across all levels of education in India. National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 is paving way for transformational reforms in school and higher education sector beginning from September-October, as the government aims to introduce the policy before the new session begins.

The previous revision of the NEP was back in 1986, before India’s economy was liberalised and that is the framework on which our current education system rests. Efforts for a new education policy have been underway since 2015, which has been five years in the making now. It went through multiple drafts before the cabinet approved it on 29th August 2020, which left the country divided on various fronts, though NEP 2020 seems like a robust document, and they have addressed all the right points but it is impossible to discuss the effectiveness before the year 2030.

The policy is based on the pillars of “access, equity, quality, affordability, accountability” and will transform India into a “vibrant knowledge hub” tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi soon after it was unveiled. The policy document says that it “aims at producing engaged, productive, and contributing citizens for building an equitable, inclusive, and plural society”. Goal of the NEP is to achieve 100% Gross Enrolment Ratio in preschool to secondary level by 2030.

One of the sweeping reforms is the transition from the decades-old 10+2 format to 5+3+3+4 structure, covering children between the ages of 3-18. This structure brings the already existing play schools within the ambit of ‘formal education'. The new structure proposes to divide the existing structure into three cognitive developmental stages of the child- early childhood, school years, and secondary stage. Age group of 3-6 years are not covered in the existing structure, which begins only at grade 1. Schooling was mandatory for children aged between 6 and 14 years. However, now education will be compulsory for children aged between the 3 and 18 years.

Another crucial reform is in the medium of instruction in home/state/local language apart from English, recommends the mother tongue as a medium of instruction, but has not made it compulsory. The policy states that children learn and grasp non-trivial concepts more quickly in their mother tongue. The states hold the right to decide this as education is part of the concurrent list, which makes it a flexible document. E-courses will be developed in regional languages and virtual labs will be set by the National Educational Technology Forum (NETF).

We are not a community that has considered vocational education important, but bringing it into schools from class 6 will ensure that we dignify the whole understanding of labour. Every child is to learn at least one vocation and exposed to several more by sampling of important vocational crafts such as carpentry, electric work, metal work, gardening, pottery making, etc., as decided by States and local communities during Grades 6-8. Vocational education is incorporated with internships, a 10-day bagless period with local vocational experts such as carpenters, gardeners, potters, artists, etc.

The NEP aims to reduce the curriculum content to its core essentials, focussing on key concepts and ideas in order that children are able to practice more critical thinking and among other things, more analysis-based learning, greater focus will be on experiential learning. There will also be no stiff separation between arts and sciences, between curricular and extra-curricular activities, and between vocational and academic streams. Students can select subjects of their choice across streams. Among other things, the NEP has renamed the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) as the Ministry of Education, a sign of the country’s changing focus on education.

Engineers of the Future NEP, 2020
The National Education Policy aims to achieve 100% adult literacy and increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher educations, including vocational education, from 26.3% (2018) to 50% by 2035. For this, 35 million new seats will be added to higher education institutions. The goal is to create greater opportunities for individual employment by emphasising more on digital, technology and a focus on vocational education, among other overhauls. It is a wonderful opportunity for really looking at this whole discourse that has been going on for years about 21st century skills, ensuring they are embedded right from primary education. Students of class 6 and onwards will be taught coding right from schools.

The universities will then have to change accordingly. The changes cannot come in at the click of a button. But they will come in because there is so much dovetailed into the universities—the change in methodology of entrances, systems of subject selection. There won’t be standardized subject schemes like PCM, PCB etc. A student can take physics and music, but universities don’t recognise this. So they will have to evolve. Even engineering institutions like IITs, will move towards more holistic and multidisciplinary education with more arts and humanities. The undergraduate degree will either be of a three- or four-year duration, with multiple exit options within this period. Colleges will have to give a certificate after completion of one year in any discipline or field, a diploma after two years of study; and a Bachelors' degree after a three/four year programme.

Technical education includes degree and diploma programmes in, engineering, technology, management, architecture, town planning, pharmacy, hotel management, catering technology etc., which are critical to India’s overall development. There will not only be a greater demand for well qualified manpower in these sectors, it will also require closer collaborations between industry and higher education institutions to drive innovation and research in these fields. Furthermore, influence of technology on human endeavours is expected to erode the silos between technical education and other disciplines too. Engineering will, thus, also aim to be offered within multidisciplinary educational institutions and programmes and have a renewed focus on opportunities to engage deeply with other disciplines. India must also take the lead in preparing professionals in cutting-edge areas that are fast gaining prominence, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), 3-D machining, big data analysis, and machine learning, in addition to genomic studies, biotechnology, nanotechnology, neuroscience, with important applications to health, environment, and sustainable living that will be woven into undergraduate education for enhancing the employability of the youth. Top-rated global universities will be facilitated to come to India. Similarly, top Indian institutions will be encouraged to go global and top notch private Indian colleges can also compete with IITs. The government invests Rs 6 lakh per engineering student per year in public institutions. But the Justice Krishna committee had set the fee limit at Rs 1.5 lakh for private colleges. One hopes there is a level-playing field between government, private and foreign universities by subjecting them to same rules and regulations.

The future of work promises to be much more nebulous and fast-changing than the world we inhabit today, with a much larger gig economy. It shall, therefore, need an agile workforce, which can quickly adapt to changing labour force requirements. The NEP has done well to recognise this shift and provide for it, by putting flexibility at the core of its vision for education. The policy’s focus on conceptual rather than rote learning and the concurrent emphasis on soft skills like communication, leadership and teamwork will transform India into a global knowledge superpower.