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Miles to go

NEP 2020 is a glorious vision for the future of the nation but requires comprehensive efforts to include the states to ensure that it has the intended impact

Miles to go
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The New Education Policy redefines the purpose of education as 'to develop good human beings capable of rational thought and action, possessing compassion and empathy, courage and resilience, scientific temper and creative imagination, with sound ethical moorings and values.' Building an equitable, inclusive, and plural society as envisaged by our Constitution, is the motto. If this is the preamble, the policy deserves unquestionable respect. However, though all Government policies contain ideals and goals we often experience a wide gap between the intent and the impact when they come into force. Hopefully, the new policy will make a difference through the problems endemic to the system and do not promise smooth sailing either.

With the replacement of 10+2+3 pattern by 5+3+3+4, schooling will not be the same hackneyed drill for children anymore. Children from 3 to 6 in the 'foundational stage' will be ensured free, safe, and high-quality ECCE (early childhood care and education) at 'anganwadis', preschools, and 'balvatikas' as a precursor to class one. But can our anganwadis meet the expectation? Poor supplementary nutrition, inadequate enrolment drive and lack of coordination with departments of health, drinking water, and sanitation leave much to be desired in anganwadis. Anganwadi workers and helpers are preoccupied with cooking for and feeding the kids. Imparting six-month diploma training to the workers as contemplated by the policy may not make wonders. Strengthening and restructuring of the existing ICDS with adequate funds is necessary to provide the required infrastructure with trained personnel.

The 'Preparatory Stage' (Grade 3 to 5) which introduces play, discovery, and activity-based interactive classroom learning, different from today's rot learning, demands specially trained teaching staff. For 'Middle stage' (grade 6 to 8) experiential learning in the sciences, mathematics, arts, social sciences, and humanities necessitates proper infrastructure like workshops, laboratories and paraphernalia. Though six per cent of GDP is promised for the sector, assured resources are sine qua non. Substandard school buildings and the acute shortage of teachers are formidable challenges to the policy. Around nine lakh vacancies of teachers are yet to be filled. Worse is, even the existing teachers perform quite often, several non-teaching jobs from census collection to conduct of elections which drain their energy and time. It discourages the up-gradation of professional skills and knowledge. Besides, delivery and accountability fall victims. It would be too ambitious to expect our teachers to deliver results in the 'secondary stage' (9 to 12) which focuses on multidisciplinary study, greater critical thinking, flexibility and student choice of subjects. The policy contemplates on pooling in teachers through merit scholarships in B.Ed., incentives to work in rural areas, banning transfers, strengthening teacher eligibility tests(TET), hiring of master teachers in the vicinity, provision of teacher houses near school etc. These will prove to be fertile ideas if formulated into action.

Concerning higher education, the 'National Testing Agency' designated to conduct common college entrance exams twice a year is a productive intervention for it ensures equitable opportunity for students across the country to access best colleges as against the 'toppers' of percentage race in class 12. Similarly, a four-year bachelor course is the best avenue for it imparts optimum knowledge that enables one to pursue Ph. D immediately. Nevertheless, the provision for dropping out after first or second year securing a certificate or a diploma is a blemish since it is the antithesis to the very concept of a four year degree; and what job prospects await a drop out is anybody's guess. In the same breath, we must appreciate the multidisciplinary approach with science and arts together. It's an advanced system of learning typical of western countries which shape the holistic development of a student. Inter alia, promotion of Indian arts and culture, and facilitating world universities to operate in India are welcome initiatives.

However, some pertinent issues were yet to find a place in the paper. Research, internationalisation, and better perception haven't received due encouragement for decades. Investment in R&D in developed countries is not just limited to public funding alone; the private sector too has spent generously and as a result of universities and industries out there, grows together with a symbiotic relationship. Gross Domestic Expenditure on research and Development (GERD) as a percentage of GDP shows that countries like the USA (2.74 per cent), Japan (3.14 per cent) and China (2.11 per cent) invested far more than what we did (0.62 per cent). The private sector cannot be allowed to remain in 'splendid isolation'. Development of knowledge-based areas like pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, healthcare, IT, is pathetically neglected in India. In the last ten years, (2007-2017) investment in higher education has declined as a percentage of GDP from 1.14 per cent to 0.71 per cent, much less than the world average of 4.81 per cent. We need to intensify and expand research-oriented higher education towards building a knowledge-based economy.

Despite having 993 universities and 37,643 colleges, we couldn't yet address the appalling dearth of teaching staff; 6,600 posts of professors are vacant in central universities, a shortfall of 33 per cent, while there are 35 per cent and 38 per cent posts vacant in IITs and state universities respectively. As institutions enjoy the freedom of choice for accreditation; only 39 per cent of all universities and 20 per cent of eligible colleges have been accredited so far by NAAC and NBA.

The policy would certainly operate efficiently for government-run schools, colleges and universities as they are not profit-making institutions. But the same cannot be true for the private sector governed by 'laissez-faire' which never hesitates to strike paydirt with business models. It must not escape our sight that even so the governments spend enormous allocations for education, the tuition industry and private schools and colleges continue to make huge profits operating under the same syllabus and rules of state boards and CBSE. Film stars market their products in national media. As per the NSSO report (2016), spending on education in private unaided institutions was 22 times that of government institutions. Government schools and institutions are now preferred only by those who can't 'pay to learn'. The policy must also address the phenomena of 'haves and have nots' in education. The new policy, of course, proposes independent four verticals: for Regulation (NHERC), for Accreditation (NAC), for Funding (HEGC), and for Academic Standard Setting (GEC) under the overarching autonomous umbrella body (HECI). Multiple mechanisms with checks and balances are expected to 'combat' commercialisation education. All education institutions will be subject to audit and disclosure as a 'not for profit' entity and surpluses will be reinvested in the educational sector; a convincing arrangement but equally a big challenge. More effective measures need to be incorporated into the policy.

The policy aspires for the creation of 'productive, engaged and contributing citizens' but employment-oriented education has not received much importance as pedagogic content and learning did. A dream that vocational education would reach 50 per cent by 2025, is not good enough to tackle the problem that only 3.2 per cent of the 'educated workforce' is skilled in our country compared to 68 per cent in the UK, 75 per cent in Germany, 52 per cent in the USA, 80 per cent in Japan and 96 per cent in South Korea. The policy can be enriched by devising a strategy to encourage VTE from the secondary stage.

The new education policy contains a glorious vision for India of the 21st century. However, there is a need for developing a comprehensive programme by taking the states on board to facilitate a smooth transition from old to the new by devising workable strategies and clear road maps.

The writer is a former Additional Chief Secretary of Chhattisgarh. Views expressed are personal

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