NEP 2020 should make learning available to all children equally
On Friday Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the National Education Policy 2020 announced by his government is aimed at “sowing the seeds” for starting a new era that would give a new direction to 21st century India. “Our work has just begun,” he said, “the National Education Policy has to be implemented equally and effectively.” The Prime Minister’s rhetorical exhortations apart, the challenges to the implementation of the NEP 2020, which replaces the 1986 policy that was modified in 1992, are very huge. As far as the objectives and the strategies to achieve those objectives are concerned, they are progressive and ground-breaking. Some of the reforms in the field of education NEP 2020 seeks to bring have been pending for a long time. It seeks to achieve 100 percent gross enrolment ratio (GER) in school education by 2030 and 50 percent GER in higher education by 2035.
While India has a very good enrolment rate at the primary level, the dropout regrettably also starts at this stage, with four percent students leaving before completing the level. The dropout rate is highest between class nine and ten during which over 17 percent of students opt out of studies for various reasons. Besides, the GER at the higher education level is over 26 percent. The new strategies are going to aim at improving enrolment in higher education by laying emphasis on making higher education multidisciplinary and holistic by making the curriculum more flexible which would be a positive change. They also envisage creating e-courses in regional languages and adapting to times by advocating increased use of technology.
The Prime Minister’s exhortation to the state governments to implement NEP 2020 effectively will be watched by the states for how much truthfully the central government keeps its commitment to increase public expenditure on education to 6 percent of the Gross Domestic Product from 4.43 percent at the current level. With education being a concurrent subject, it is not clear how the Union ministry of human resource development and the ministries in the states would share the expenditure. Education and healthcare have been the two areas in which public expenditure has not been commensurate with the vast needs. The lack of adequate finance does not only affect the state of the school buildings but also their equipment in terms of classrooms, laboratories and libraries. With the emphasis increasing on technology, a lot of money is needed to equip schools with IT infrastructure both in terms of hardware and software as well as high-speed Internet coverage. We need to see how much adequate the allocation of public expenditure on education is for the implementation of NEP 2020.
As far as language of instruction is concerned, the central government recently tried to promote Hindi in non-Hindi speaking states but had to beat a retreat following opposition in southern states which took it as “imposition of Hindi” on them. Mercifully, NEP 2020 envisages primary education in mother tongue at the primary level, which could be extended till class eight. It has been established that education in the mother tongue is very helpful to children in early stages as they understand the subject easily. Of course, there is another view that knowledge of English is essential as without it learning at a higher level could be difficult. The best course is to leave it to the parents to decide. As NEP 2020 rests on the foundational pillars of ‘access, equity, quality, affordability and accountability’, the stakeholders have their task cut to transform the education system.
The Modi government’s decision on changing the education system is seen by many as an indirect way to privatise the education which would go against the interests of poorer sections of society. The plan to allow foreign universities to set up campuses in the country has also been questioned as a vast majority of Indians will not be able to afford the high fees charged by them. The chief aim of NEP 2020 should be to make education inclusive, not exclusive. A vast majority of children from disadvantaged families, including the dropouts at early school stages, are waiting for the government to enable them to access quality education and improve their economic well-being.