The committee set up to draft a new education policy initiated by the current government saw four extensions since its inception and was to be placed in Parliament in October. Inputs were sought from stakeholders from time to time. It possibly is time for a new policy a first since 1992, to meet the changing dynamics of education that depends on quality, innovation and research. In a knowledge economy the leadership position in education cannot be ceded to anyone. This necessitates equipping its students with adequate skills and knowledge that addresses the shortage of manpower in science, technology, academics and industry. The draft policy is expected to reduce the academic load, create more time for sports, promote languages and mathematics in schools, and strengthen our public institutions of higher education.
All are creditable and credible ideas but delay and procrastination kills the intent. Former Indian Space Research Organisation chief K. Kasturirangan did submit a draft report with a 20-year vision yet to be tabled in Parliament. This came after former cabinet secretary T.S.R. Subramanian submitted a draft policy, which also did not pass muster. As such it must be a cause of worry for all concerned.
The thrust on expansion has raised the gross enrolment ratio (GER) of around 18 a decade ago to more than 24 today. The role of the private sector cannot be discounted in this purple patch. Policies need to raise this to at least 50 by the end of the next decade. Lack of infrastructure facilities, lack of qualified teachers, insufficient teachers, and lack of adequate funding have dogged the system. All primary schools need to be upgraded to secondary so that the 64 GER at the secondary level swings upwards, providing education for several girls who drop out because of lack of facilities.
The new policy needs to be student centric and should allow everyone to pursue higher education and not be restrictive. Competency-based education with “competency-based credentialing" should receive attention from the government as more schools and colleges dip a toe into these new waters.
Skills as an alternate mode of education have to be institutionalised. Skills without adequate employment opportunities can degenerate and wither. The current policy of skilling people without adequate checks and balances can also lead to chaos. Employment markets must evolve to the new realities and the policies must encourage new businesses and opportunities for growth. Make in India and Start Up India are moves in the right direction, though the passion of the top echelons must be seen to have percolated to the bottom.
Accreditation has become the “cure all" for education administrators. Mandating accreditation may prove counterproductive if not supported by adequate funding. Assessment has become a major concern for higher education. The policy must mandate adaptive based learning models.
Online and blended education is gaining ground for various reasons, with cost of education and flexibility being the major ones. This must be promoted actively. Initiatives such as the creation of knowledge centres in a few institutions of merit must be created with a network that has a cross connection between institutions and top research labs run by CSIR and DRDO. The university system must be remodelled on Max Planck and Fraunhofer archetypes that convert basic research to applied research with productisation as the main theme. Innovation needs to be the driver for the new universities.
Whatever the interventions, it’s time the new policy sees light of day. We hope the current policy focuses on clear outcomes and puts measurable evaluation metrics in place.
S.S. Mantha is a former chairman of AICTE.