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Opinion | Glimpses of the much-awaited National Education Policy

Indian education finally has a real road map for improving the fundamentals of this vital sector

On 31 May, the draft National Education Policy (NEP) developed by a committee chaired by K. Kasturirangan was shared by the ministry of human resource development (MHRD) for public comment. A comprehensive education policy for India is on the anvil for the first time since 1986.

Many fundamentals of education are normative or are founded in human psychology. Changes on these are naturally gradual, if at all. But the transformative changes on almost all other matters in India and the world since 1986, and the fact that every aspect of education in India today demands urgent action, call for such a comprehensive national policy as a priority.

I am a member of the drafting committee of the NEP. This piece and a few subsequent ones will offer glimpses of the policy. This article is sort of a teaser or trailer.

There are eight highlights of the NEP below. These are selected to offer a sense of some key aspects of the document. But no such selection can give an adequate picture of the comprehensive and well-integrated document that it is.

One, early childhood care and education: High-quality early childhood care and education will be provided for all children between the ages of 3 and 6 by 2025. This will be done within institutions such as schools and anganwadis, which would have a mandate to take care of the overall well-being of the child—nutritional, health, and education. These institutions will also provide similar support to families for children younger than three years of age—within their homes. The criticality of brain development in the early years has become clear in the past few decades; this policy will result in a massive positive multiplier effect on society.

Two, ensuring foundational literacy and numeracy: Every student will start achieving age-appropriate foundational literacy and numeracy by 2025. A slew of programmes and measures are articulated for this purpose. This is aimed at the basic issue facing our education system today—of students not being able to read, write and do elementary math.

Three, transformed curricular and pedagogical structure for school education: The curriculum and pedagogical structures will be designed anew to be appropriate and effective, based on children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development. The curriculum will be integrated and flexible with equal emphasis on all subjects and fields. There will be no separation of curricular, co-curricular or extra-curricular areas—with all in a single category of equal importance. Vocational and academic streams will be integrated and offered to all students. Examination systems will be radically changed to assess real learning, make them stress-free, and aim for improvement instead of the passing of judgements.

Four, universal access and retention in schools: All Indians between ages 3 and 18 to be in school by 2030. The Right to Education Act will be extended from pre-school to class XII.

Five, teachers at the centre: The profession of teaching, and so teachers, will be at the centre of the education system, focused on the student and educational aims. All schools will be fully resourced with teachers—with working conditions for an energetic work culture. No “temporary" teachers will be allowed; all positions will be filled with competent and qualified teachers. A development-oriented performance management system will be put in place. The teacher education system will be transformed, with rigorous teacher preparation through a four-year integrated stage and subject-specific programmes offered only in multi-disciplinary institutions.

Six, new institutional architecture for higher education: India’s current 800 universities and over 40,000 colleges will be consolidated into about 10,000-15,000 institutions of excellence to drive improvement in quality and expansion of capacity. This architecture will have only large multi-disciplinary institutions, with significant investment. Three types of higher education institutions will be there: Type 1 universities focused on research but also teaching all programmes, undergrad to doctoral; Type 2 universities focused on teaching all programmes while also conducting research and; Type 3 colleges focused on teaching undergrad programmes. All types will grant their own degrees. There will be no system of university affiliations.

Seven, high-quality liberal education: All undergraduate education will be broad-based liberal education that integrates the rigorous study of sciences, arts, humanities, mathematics and vocational and professional fields with choices offered to students. Imaginative and flexible curricula will develop critical thinking, creative abilities and other fundamental capacities. Multiple exit and entry points will be offered, with appropriate certification after one, two, three and four years of study. There will be a four-year undergraduate programme available in addition to three-year programmes.

Eight, there will be a substantial increase in public investment to expand and vitalize public education at all levels.

Vibrant high quality and equitable public education must be the bedrock of Indian society.

Anurag Behar is CEO of Azim Premji Foundation and also leads sustainability initiatives for Wipro Ltd