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Unpacking National Education Policy (NEP): The Education Policy’s Prospects And Pitfalls

As India embarks on a new era of educational reform with the implementation of the New Education Policy, there is a mixture of anticipation and scepticism surrounding its prospects and potential pitfalls. Naziya Perveen writes for The Probe

By Naziya Perveen
New Update

NEP 2020
NEP 2020 | Representational Image | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has emerged as a topic of intense debate in India, evoking diverse opinions and perspectives. With its vision of transforming the country's education system, the NEP has sparked discussions on various aspects, including curriculum reforms, language policy, privatisation, and inclusivity.

Lata Vaidyanathan, educationist and Director of Gyan Bharati School talks to the Probe’s Naziya Perveen on NEP. 

Proponents of the NEP argue that the policy introduces significant curriculum reforms, emphasising critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and a multidisciplinary approach. They contend that the NEP promotes a more holistic and practical learning experience, fostering creativity and innovation among students. Advocates assert that the focus on skill development and vocational education will equip learners with employable abilities, aligning education with industry requirements.

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However, critics express concerns about the implementation of these reforms. They argue that the NEP's emphasis on skill development might undervalue foundational knowledge and neglect the importance of a well-rounded education. Furthermore, there are apprehensions about the readiness of the education system to effectively deliver these reforms, including the availability of trained teachers and adequate infrastructure.

Superficial Stakeholder Engagement 

The National Education Policy (NEP) introduced by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in 2020 was touted as a transformative roadmap for education in India. However, the government's failure to adequately consult all stakeholders during the policy's formulation raised significant concerns about its inclusivity, legitimacy, and potential impact on the education system. 

While the consultation process did take place, some critics argue that it was not extensive enough or that certain groups were not adequately represented in the process. While the government claims to have engaged stakeholders, the process can be best described as superficial. The consultation was marred by limited outreach, insufficient time for deliberation, and inadequate representation of marginalized communities, teachers' unions, and student bodies. 

According to Dr Abha Dev Habib, Associate Professor of Miranda House, University of Delhi, the government deliberately bypassed the due process for introducing the education policy in 2020 as it recognised that the policy would face significant opposition. “In 2020, when we were struggling with the pandemic and the schools and colleges were all shutdown, bypassing the Parliament, this education policy was passed through the cabinet. This was supposed to be a very important policy document that would shape the landscape of education but unfortunately it was done in such a unilateral manner that inputs from the states were not taken in the manner it should have been and the stakeholders concerns were shunted out. This itself shows that the government was pretty sure that this policy would not be welcome by people.”

4 Year Undergraduate Programme Feasible?

The four-year undergraduate program proposed in the NEP has received criticism on several fronts as it leads to a mismatch and disruption with the existing three-year UG program. Introducing a 4-year UG program could increase the financial burden on students and their families. An extra year of education would entail additional costs, including tuition fees, accommodation, and living expenses. This could particularly impact students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds who may struggle to afford the additional expenses associated with an extended undergraduate program.

Critics argue that a 4-year UG program would delay students' entry into the workforce compared to the traditional three-year program. “Take the case of Miranda House, where approximately 1300 students are admitted every year. If there is a desire to accommodate a larger number of students, the college would need to increase its capacity. However, it's crucial to consider the implications of such expansion. Assuming a retention rate of 50-60% for the fourth year, the college would require around 700 additional seats, including teachers, infrastructure, and other facilities. Failing to have the necessary capacity in place while raising the number of seats would ultimately impact the quality of education provided. Maintaining an optimal student-teacher ratio is vital for upholding the standards of education. Therefore, any increase in seats should be accompanied by adequate resources to ensure the preservation of quality education,” says Dr Habib.

Language Policy & Marginalisation of Regional Languages

The language controversy surrounding the National Education Policy (NEP) primarily revolves around the policy's emphasis on promoting Hindi and the potential marginalisation of regional languages. The NEP suggests a three-language formula, where Hindi and English are given prominence alongside the mother tongue or regional language. However, concerns have been raised that this formula disproportionately favours Hindi and English, potentially marginalising regional languages and communities that identify with them.

“The contradiction between the government's claims of bringing Indian education to global standards while promoting Hindi as an educational language has been a point of criticism. The emphasis on Hindi as a medium of instruction contradicts the principles of multilingualism and the recognition of India's diverse linguistic landscape. A more inclusive and multilingual approach would align better with the country's rich linguistic heritage and the ability of individuals to communicate and express themselves in their mother tongue. We need a language policy that upholds both educational excellence and the cultural diversity of India,” contends Dr Linesh V.V, Assistant Professor in Political Science at Shri Ram College of Commerce

Concept from US not Adapted to India’s Needs 

Many of the ideas and the framework of the NEP resemble educational practices or models implemented in the US. Instead of developing a policy tailored to India's unique needs and context, the NEP seemingly adopts ideas from a different educational system without proper adaptation. NEP's emphasis on standardised testing, vocational education, and multidisciplinary approaches, among other aspects, reflects a Western bias, particularly influenced by the US education system. Such an approach may not adequately consider the diverse educational requirements and cultural nuances of India. While the NEP draws inspiration from American educational models, it fails to sufficiently localise and contextualise these ideas within the Indian educational framework. 

SK Bohidar, Associate Professor of Shri Ram College of Commerce says, “The structure and curriculum of the NEP have been adapted from the United States without proper scrutiny or serious involvement of the teaching community. There is a lack of thorough examination of the syllabus and a departure from the previous practice of rigorous scrutiny. The NEP claims to empower teachers but, in reality, places them at the mercy of employers. The teachers selected by the administrators would be in charge of deciding the curriculum and the syllabus, not the teachers who really know the subject. There is already so much political involvement in education. This undermines the autonomy and professional expertise of educators”.

Privatisation and Commercialisation of Education

The National Education Policy has faced criticism for being perceived as contributing to the privatisation and commercialisation of education. NEP 2020 puts a significant emphasis on the involvement of the private sector in education. The policy encourages the establishment of private schools, colleges, and universities, including for-profit institutions, potentially leading to the exclusion of economically disadvantaged students who may not afford private education.

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The promotion of private educational institutions can lead to increased fees and costs, making education less affordable for many students. The NEP 2020 does not adequately prioritise strengthening and investing in public educational institutions. Public schools and universities, which cater to a significant portion of the population, should receive more attention and resources to ensure equitable access to quality education but the policy focuses disproportionately on promoting private institutions at the expense of public education.

NEP Gives us Hope if Implemented Well

Lata Vaidyanathan, an educationist and Director of Gyan Bharati School, acknowledges that the National Education Policy (NEP) has brought about significant changes. The NEP aims to establish a standard framework that aligns with international standards, departing from the previous 10+2+3 system to the 5+3+3+4 structure.

According to Vaidyanathan, the most significant changes can be observed in the early childhood educational framework, highlighting the importance of focusing on early childhood education for holistic development. However, she acknowledges that any major changes in the education system can generate scepticism among people.

“Education is a state subject, requiring healthy interactions between the central government and the states. Greater consultation should take place to incorporate the best possible changes that benefit children. There is a need for collaboration and open dialogue between different stakeholders, including the central government, state governments, educators, and experts, to ensure that the NEP is implemented effectively and caters to the diverse needs of Indian children,” states Vaidyanathan.

The National Education Policy in India has garnered mixed reactions and critical reviews from various quarters. While the policy aims to bring about transformative changes and improve the education system, it faces significant challenges and shortcomings that need to be addressed for its successful implementation.

One of the key areas of concern is the lack of a well-defined roadmap and implementation strategy for the proposed curriculum reforms. The sudden shift to a new framework without proper training and infrastructure can undermine the quality of education and hinder effective delivery of the intended outcomes. It is essential for the government to allocate adequate resources and invest in capacity building to ensure a smooth transition and effective execution of the curriculum reforms.

The NEP 2020 requires careful consideration, adjustments, and a collaborative approach to address the criticisms and concerns raised. By addressing these challenges and ensuring the active involvement of all stakeholders, including teachers, educators, parents, and policymakers, a robust and inclusive education system can be established in India. This will empower its citizens and prepare them for the demands of the future.