(Photo courtesy of the Indian government)

Will India’s New Education Policy be a Game Changer? 


AUGUST 21, 2020

After 34 years, India has come out with a new National Education Policy (NEP) that can be characterized as not only bold, innovative and imaginative, but also practical and scientific.

This new policy comes after almost three decades and post deliberation of almost six years. This is the third NEP after policies that came in 1968 and 1986. Though the government amended the 1986 policy in 1992, there were no major or significant changes then.

The NEP is futuristic in its orientation and vision and is expected to set the roadmap for the education sector to stay relevant to the employment market. It is also expected to keep pace with societal changes and revolutionize some basic concepts of Indian education that aims to overhaul the country’s education system. 

It aims for universalization of education from pre-school to secondary level with 100 percent Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in school education by 2030 and to raise GER in higher education to 50 per cent by 2025. The policy aims to achieve 100% youth and adult literacy. 

The NEP renames the Ministry of Human Resource Development as the Ministry of Education. The NEP contains several policies that more or less overhaul the current educational system. But the major provisions of the NEP are explained below:

Key Changes from existing 10 +2 

One of the key announcements of NEP 2020 is the break-down of the existing 10+2 structure and introduction of the 5+3+3+4 structure of school education. The underlying objective of this shift is to transform existing pedagogical structure of 10 years + 2 years to a more inclusive ‘foundational to secondary’ stage transition.

Simply put, a student in India at the moment typically enters formal education at the age of 3 through play schools. He/she then moves to a ‘school’ which is a K12 institution –Kindergarten 1 and II, leading to 12 years of secondary education, then leading to higher secondary education. The new structure divides the same structure into cognitive developmental stages of the child –early childhood, school years, and secondary stage. In other words, the new 5+3+3+4 structure which takes note of the ability of the child and attempts to walk through the stages of cognitive development of the student as well as social and physical awareness.

While the actual system would not change the number of years a child spends within the formal education system in the country at school level, the new structure brings into fold the existing play schools within the ambit of ‘formal education’ More importantly, it brings hitherto uncovered age group of three to six years, recognized globally as crucial stage for development of mental faculties, under school curriculum.

Another key aspect of the NEP is the large-scale change in the examination structure and schedule. Under the NEP, instead of just one board, a more modular model is being explored, which is expected to be in place by 2022-23.

Instead of exams being held every year, school students will now sit for only three - at grade 3, 5 and 8 to track the development of the child. Assessment in other years will shift to a regular and formative style that is more competency-based, promotes learning and tests higher-order skills, such as analysis, critical thinking and conceptual clarity.

Board exams will continue to be held for grade 10 and 12, but even these will be re-designed with "holistic development", so that core capabilities are also tested. In other words, these exams will be low stakes and test actual knowledge, instead of rote learning. Standards for this will be established by a new national assessment centre - PARAKH (Performance Assessment, Review, and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development). Knowing that assessment report cards will now be a comprehensive report on skills and capabilities instead of just marks and statements, Indian parents would be greatly relieved of the tension of the numbers.

Changes to Pedagogical Structure

Teaching content is a key aspect of these reforms. The revised mandated content will focus on key concepts, ideas, applications, and problem-solving. Teaching and learning will be conducted in a more interactive manner that will focus on idea, application and problem-solving. With emphasis on experiential learning, there is clear nudge towards hands-on learning; arts-integrated and sports-integrated education and story-telling-based pedagogy. Classroom transactions will shift towards competency-based learning and education.

Curriculum content to be reduced

The mandated content will focus on key concepts, ideas, applications, and problem-solving. Teaching and learning will be conducted in a more interactive manner. Curriculum content will be reduced in each subject to its core essentials, and make space for critical thinking and more holistic, inquiry-based, discovery-based, discussion-based, and analysis-based learning.

No rigid separation between arts and sciences, curricular and extra-curricular activities and between vocational and academic stream

To reduce curriculum load of students and to empower them to become more "multi-disciplinary" and "multi-lingual", the NEP will do away with the strict water tight compartmentalization between academic disciplines. There will be no rigid separation between arts and sciences, curricular and extra-curricular activities and between vocational and academic stream. Students will be given increased flexibility and choice of subjects to study, particularly in secondary school-including subjects in physical education, the arts and crafts, and vocational skills.

To that end, the policy also proposes that higher education institutions like the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), move towards "holistic education" by 2040 with greater inclusion of arts and humanities subjects for students studying science subjects, and vice versa.

There will be multiple entry and exit options for those who wish to leave the course in the middle. Their credits will be transferred through Academic Bank of Credits (ABC) which will digitally store the academic credits earned by students.

Common Entrance Exam

The National Testing Agency (NTA) will offer a high-quality common aptitude test, as well as specialized common subject exams in the sciences, humanities, languages, arts, and vocational subjects, at least twice every year for university entrance exams.

Introduction of 4-Year Undergraduate Program

The policy proposes a 4-year undergraduate program with multiple exit options to give students flexibility. A multi-disciplinary bachelor's degree will be awarded after completing four years of study. Students exiting after two years will get a diploma and those leaving after 12 months will be have studied a vocational/professional course. The Master of Philosophy (M. Phil.) courses are to be discontinued.

Focus on vocational studies from school-level

There is more focus on vocational studies from the school-level. Under this policy, a student is expected to learn at least one vocational craft, such as carpentry, electric work, metal work, gardening, pottery making, etc. as decided by States during grades 6-8.

The objective is that by 2025, at least 50 percent of learners would have gain useful exposure to vocational education. Another proposal is a 10-day bagless period sometime during Grades 6-8 to intern with local vocational experts such as carpenters, gardeners, potters, artists, etc. Vocational courses through online mode will also be made available.

Flexibility in choosing medium of instruction

The NEP recommends the mother tongue or local or regional language to be the medium of instruction in all schools up to Class 5 (preferably till Class 8 and beyond), according to the policy. Under the NEP 2020, Sanskrit will be offered at all levels and foreign languages from the secondary school level. 

However, the policy also says "no language will be imposed on any student". The emphasis on mother tongue as medium of instruction is to ensure that children learn and grasp non-trivial concepts more quickly in their mother tongue. There will e-content as in regional languages apart from English and Hindi.

New academic standard for teachers

The policy has prescribed the formulation of a new comprehensive National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education, NCFTE 2021. By 2030, the minimum degree qualification for teaching will be a four-year integrated B.Ed. degree, a move aimed at increasing the quality of teachers and teaching methods.

Common regulatory body for entire higher education

Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) will be set up as a single overarching common umbrella body for entire higher education, excluding medical and legal education. HECI to have four independent verticals - National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC) for regulation, General Education Council (GEC ) for standard setting, Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC) for funding, and National Accreditation Council( NAC) for accreditation. The focus will be on institutions that have 3,000 or more students. Among its goals is to increase gross enrolment ratio from 26.3 per cent (2018) to 50 per cent by 2035.

Dedicated unit for digital and online learning

The new policy envisages the establishment of a dedicated digital infrastructure to take into account the proposed new digital content and capacity building online programs. Such a digital infrastructure will be created to look after the e-education needs of both school and higher education. A comprehensive set of recommendations for promoting online education consequent to the recent rise in epidemics and pandemics to ensure a measure of preparedness to handle alternative modes of quality education, has been included.

India a global knowledge superpower

The NEP also aims at promoting India as a global study destination providing premium education at affordable costs. An International Students Office at each institution hosting foreign students will be set up. High performing Indian universities will be encouraged to set up campuses in other countries. Similarly, selected universities like those from among the top 100 universities in the world will be facilitated to operate in India.

Implementation in phased manner

The NEP aims to revive aspects of Indian education system and create a reformed system that is aligned with 21st century education goals, while keeping intact India’s traditions and value systems. The changes proposed are transformational in nature and not incremental.

The NEP only provides a broad guideline and lays down a philosophy. In India, since education is a concurrent subject (both the central government and the state can make laws on it), the reforms proposed can only be implemented collaboratively by the central government and the states.

For starters, the government will set up subject-wise committees with members from relevant ministries at both the central and state levels to develop implementation plans for each aspect of the NEP. The plans will list out actions to be taken by multiple bodies, including the Education Ministry, state education departments, school boards and other educational entities. Planning will be followed by a yearly joint review of progress against targets set.

The government has set a target of 2040 to implement the NEP in its entirety Continuous and sufficient funding are a crucial aspect in its implementation.

Raghu Gururaj is the Consul General of India to Sumatra living in Medan. He can be reached at rgururaj@yahoo.com.