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A Look at India’s ‘Global Knowledge Superpower’ Policy

Article by: Kinjal Baug

“Education is not the learning of facts, but a training of the mind to think”– Albert Einstein[1]The role of education is indispensable for human beings to participate freely in society. In the 21st century, the role of education is picking up significance and higher education, especially, is given the paramount significance in reshaping the fate of our society. The role played by Higher Education is inevitable in any country’s development, and the Higher Education Institutions are viewed as one of the basic assets in the society.India positions third in the world higher education system as regards to size and diversity and the largest in the world as regards to the number of educational institutions.[2] However, India’s higher education system is positioned 26th in the world in QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings 2018.[3] It lingers behind others in numerous components such as low GER, no valuation, inapt infrastructure, deficiency of faculty, low quality of education, obsolete curriculum, accentuation on rote learning, accreditation issues, administrative issues, inadequate fund allocation for research, and so on.National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 contemplates a total upgrade and revives the higher education system to defeat these difficulties to furnish a better quality higher education system with equity, consideration, and better access. The policy imagines a holistic development of the people to accomplish a “more vibrant, socially engaged, cooperative community and a happier, cohesive, cultured, productive, innovative, progressive, and prosperous nation.”[4] Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed that the new education policy will transform millions of lives by making India a knowledge hub in an era where learning, research, and innovation holds significance.[5]The NEP 2020, which proposes far-reaching developments, has caused quite the buzz since its presentation. The policy is supposed to address seven key issues concerning to education sector namely easy access for the students, ease of participation, quality of courses offered, equity, system efficiency, governance and management, research and development facilities, and financial commitment to education development.[6] But does NEP 2020 really fulfil these criteria?

Hits of the policy

The new policy puts forward a single regulator for higher education institutions, multiple entry and exit alternatives in degree courses, discontinuation of MPhil programs, low stakes board exams, and common entrance exams for universities.[7] It additionally intends to universalize access to school education at all levels, pre-primary to secondary level with a 100 percent Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in school education by 2030 and supply foundational literacy and numeracy for all.[8]The school curriculum structure, which is currently 10+2, will be supplanted with a “5+3+3+4” structure; accordingly ensuring the inclusion of children of all ages (3-18 years) within the ambit of formal schooling in a huge move from the 1986 approach. This new policy likewise seeks to ensure that no student is at a disadvantage because they belong to a Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Group (SEDG) and for this motive, Gender Inclusion Fund and Special Education Zones will be established.It is likewise proposed in the policy that until at least grade 5, the medium of education should optionally be in the regional language, mother tongue or local language.[9] Sanskrit, an Indic language of the ancient Indian subcontinent will be “mainstreamed” in schools as one of the language options in the current threelanguage formula as well as in higher education.[10] Indian Sign Language (ISL) will also be standardized across the nation and a fresh curriculum will be developed for students with hearing impairment.[11]The new policy proposes a shift from an assessment that depends on the outcome of a program to an all year-round assessment structure. This warrants reduction of curricular content and rote learning and highlights the importance of conceptual learning, practical application of knowledge, experimentation, and critical thinking. The aim is for this era of Indian students to get a holistic model of learning, well equipped with cutting edge skills required to get in tune with the needs of the 21stcentury society.Moreover, rigid demarcation of streams or subjects will be removed. The students will now have the flexibility to choose from interests within arts and sciences, vocational and academic streams as well as curricular and extracurricular activities. Vocational education will start from grade 6 and will incorporate ‘Bag less days’ or internships.[12]This will give a fresh perspective to what is around them which will enable them to tap into their interests with grit and determination and inculcate sundry skills at an early age.Adding coding as a subject from grade 6 onward is another new plume in the new policy. In this inexorably technological era, coding may turn into the language of the future. Furthermore, being well equipped in this will guarantee no hindrances to innovation and creativity while promoting analytical and logical thinking. This new structure won’t simply be beneficial to school children but also will be “in tune with the best global practices for the advancement of the mental faculties of a child”.[13]

Misses of the policy

In India, education is a worthwhile field for politicians as it gives them political and ideological mileage for quite a long time. While crucial changes are required in the education sector, aspects such as widening the availability of scholarships, strengthening infrastructure for open and distance learning, online education and increasing the usage of technology are reflected in the new policy, it is also a political document which can be apprehended from remarks of political and ideological associations.The policy’s reasons for concern are being bantered on all over social media with “#RejectNEP2020” trending on Twitter. As indicated by the Indian constitution, regulations of several sectors of society are outlined by three different lists – the Union list, the State list, and Concurrent list. When laws are to be made with respect to any of the matters enumerated in the concurrent list, it is first set up as a draft for a threshold period. This threshold period is to stimulate suggestions and discourse from the states or eminent personalities. Education is a subject mentioned in the concurrent list. However, the NEP 2020 Bill was passed in the parliament without taking the states into confidence and thereby violating the above code of conduct.[14]Could this be a drive to substitute a generally broken system of education with a centralized, communalized and commercialized system of education?The English language is not just a fundamental incentive for worldwide outreach; however, it is additionally basic in associating and communicating with people from different states within India. Career building, outsourcing technical support and skills are dominated by western conglomerates where English has extreme significance. English will only be offered from the secondary level in this new scheme.[15]Discontinuing English as the main medium might make fluency in English dependent on whether you can bear the cost of private tutors. In this manner, the lower caste population will be at disadvantage. Children from families who cannot afford to polish their child’s English competence will miss out on opportunities and students from the middle and elite classes will enjoy the benefits of English medium and continue to have an edge over students from government schools. Mainstreaming Sanskrit in India would be synonymous to the west mainstreaming Latin. Biblical Latin is a well-known dead language[16], similarly, only about 1% of the Indian population speak Sanskrit today.[17]Mainstreaming this ancient language would only be seen as a retrogressive step. At the time of the 2001 census on bilingualism and trilingualism in India, the number of English speakers in India was at 125 million and this number should have expanded since then.[18] The English language plays a significant role in giving India an edge over a majority of South-East Asia. Even the Chinese government, who as of not long ago only advanced and promoted the Chinese medium, is bringing in changes and introducing the English language in their education system.[19]Under this new policy, private and self-governed colleges will gain more autonomy.[20]Corporatism will follow when these colleges issue certifications unchecked. This slow-burn privatisation will, nevertheless, have a prompt and detrimental effect on student fees, the ratio of student–teacher, the nature of management and decision-making, and the content and quality of new courses and degree programmes that these institutions will offer. Organizations and institutions when vested with educational structure and financial autonomy will be empowered to offer additional courses and departments. However, without subsidies from government bodies, institutions will naturally rely on the students. The tuition fee will considerably increase, not only for students in that specific department, but for all the students attending that institution. This combined with another component offered by the NEP, i.e., multiple exit options at universities will escalate the dropout rates. Under the ‘multiple exit and entry option’, if a student chooses to leave mid-course, he/she will get fitting certification for credits procured until that point which will be digitally stored in an Academic Bank of Credits (ABC).[21] A ‘vocational certificate’, an ‘advanced diploma’, a ‘Bachelor’s degree’ and ‘Bachelor’s Degree with Research’ respectively will be awarded for each year of a four-year course. With financial autonomy resulting in financial burden on students and availability of certification each year, will give rise to dropout rates. This makes a huge discrepancy between financially capable and debilitated students. Students with good financial background will gain higher chances for studies and be able to acquire better opportunities. This would effect to attenuation of the Right to Education Act.A centralized system of education will amount to a stepping stone to social alienation and attenuation of the Right to Education Act. The government expressed that the policy is proposed to improve the quality and autonomy of higher education, notwithstanding, in a totally reverse move, it is knocking down the University Grants Commission (UGC) which was a core structural and regulatory body for higher education.[22] This will only expedite the commodification and centralization of education, which is risky. Earlier, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government had also tried to bring in similar reforms[23] but was met with strong opposition. The present education reforms have survived only because it was passed through the backdoor without the assent of the parliament.The government has launched vocational and polytechnic education for school students under the title ‘Reimagining vocational education’through this new policy, which directs to remove the hard disjunction between academic and vocational streams. Vocational subjects will be set in motion as early as grade 6, inclusive of internship opportunities from grades 6 to 12. This still takes no notice of the importance of ensuring basic mainstream education to all students till at least grade 10. Students opting for such courses will certainly not have a privileged background. Children who are from economically backward background and belong to lower castes who struggle in English, coding, etc. would end up taking predominantly vocational groups. Introducing this at an early age will manifest a barricade for first-generation learners and those from disadvantaged backgrounds to access higher education.[24]

Conclusion

While NEP 2020 focuses on some truly necessary positive changes, the backdoor passing of the bill and the chance of enhancing existing separation points in Indian culture should be looked into.The policy will apparently build the economic gap in a nation that is already partitioned by religion, caste, gender, and wealth. It makes it almost outlandish for impeded classes to scale the social stepping stool.The NEP evidently imagines decolonizing young Indian mind; nonetheless, in reality, could that mean the saffronisation of education? Recently critical topics for students, for example, democratic rights, challenges to democracy, citizenship, food security, gender, religion, caste, and secularism were dropped from the syllabus. Are these moves venturing stones to accomplish saffronisation? In this situation holistic, interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, overall learning might be a front to cover all the above viewpoints. It will take a very long time before the policy goes into going all out and only at that time will these complexities become apparent. The technique of implementation will decide its victories and disappointments. The imperfections in this policy should be tended to with deliberation through a legitimate code of conduct to diminish the current deficiencies.

[1] German born physicist.
[2] ‘Destination Guides, Study in India’ (Top Universities), available at: https://www.topuniversities.com/where-to-study/asia/india/guide#:~:text=India’s%20higher%20education%20system%20was,Bangalore%20and%20the%20prestigious%20Indian
[3]Ibid.
[4] ‘National Education Policy, 2020’,Government of India pg. 33, para 9.1.3, available at: https://www.mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/NEP_Final_English_0.pdf (Visited on Dec 8, 2020).
[5] “New education policy will make India a knowledge hub, says PM Modi”, Times of India, Jul. 30, 2020.
[6] Padmapriya Govindarajan, “India’s New Education Policy: What Are The Priorities?”, The Diplomat, Jul. 29, 2016.
[7] “NEP: Here’s all you need to know about India’s new Education Policy”, India TV, Jul. 29, 2020, https://www.indiatvnews.com/education/news-new-education-policy-unveiled-all-you-should-know-638044
[8] Vicky Nanjappa, “Union Cabinet approves new education policy: What is NEP 2020”, OneIndia, Jul. 29, 2020, https://www.oneindia.com/india/union-cabinet-approves-new-education-policy-what-is-nep-2020-3126712.htmluh
[9] Ritika Chopra, “Explained: What’s new in India’s National Education Policy?”, The Indian Express, Dec. 9, 2020.
[10] Amandeep Shukla, “New Education Policy 2020: Focus on Sanskrit, Indian languages in NEP; Institute of Translation to be set up”, Hindustan Times, Jul. 29, 2020.
[11] Ambika Pandit, “Sign language will be standardized across India”, Times Of India, Jul. 30, 2020.
[12] Anurag Gupta & Rajeev Tiwari, “New Education Policy 2020: The change of perception in the Indian Education System from the schooling level”, Financial Express, Aug, 1, 2020.
[13] “National Education Policy 2020 will transform India into vibrant knowledge hub: PM Narendra Modi”, Times Now Digital, Jul. 29, 2020, https://www.timesnownews.com/india/article/national-education-policy-2020-will-transform-india-into-vibrant-knowledge-hub-pm-narendra-modi/629117
[14] Press Trust of India, “NEP Not Passed In Parliament, States Not Taken Into Confidence: Bengal Minister”, NDTV Education, Aug. 1, 2020, https://www.ndtv.com/education/nep-not-passed-in-parliament-states-not-taken-confidence-bengal-minister
[15] Jahnavi Reddy, “Mother tongue vs English: NEP’s recommendation on medium of instruction revives debate”, The News Minute, Aug. 1, 2020, https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/mother-tongue-vs-english-nep-s-recommendation-medium-instruction-revives-debate-129841
[16] MadelineWahl, “If Latin Is a “Dead” Language, Why Is It Still Taught in Schools?”, Reader’s Digest, Apr. 5, 2020, https://www.rd.com/article/latin-dead-language-why-taught-schools/
[17] Sarah-Claire Jordan, “Sanskrit: Three Reasons It Is Important”, Alpha Omega Translations, Feb. 2, 2016, https://alphaomegatranslations.com/foreign-language/sanskrit-three-reasons-it-is-important/
[18] “Indiaspeak: English is our 2nd language”, Times of India, Mar. 14, 2010.
[19] Grace Yue Qi, “The importance of English in primary school education in China: perceptions of students”, Multilingual Education, Jan. 26, 2016, https://multilingualeducation.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s13616-016-0026-0
[20] “Autonomy to colleges good, but will require monitoring of standards: Educationists on NEP”, Times of India, Aug. 2, 2020.
[21] Roshini Muthukumar, “NEP 2020 Makes College Degrees ‘Flexible’: How Multiple Exit Options Will Work”, Jul. 30, 2020, https://www.thebetterindia.com/234189/national-education-policy-pdf-new-flexible-undergrad-courses-multiple-entry-exit-degree-certificate-ros174/
[22] “Bye Bye UGC, AICTE, hello HECI! The single regulator in NEP which will revolutionise education”, Times Now Digital, Jul. 30, 2020, https://www.timesnownews.com/education/article/bye-bye-ugc-aicte-hello-heci-the-single-regulator-in-nep-which-will-revolutionise-education/629554
[23] “Meet J.S. Rajput, whose books are launched by Modi & Bhagwat”, Outlook, Feb. 17, 2020, https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/meet-js-rajput-whose-books-are-launched-by-modi-amp-bhagwat/1736512
[24] Pon Vasanth B.A., “Vocational courses may distract poor students”, The Hindu, Jul. 31, 2020.