An astounding 34 years since it was last revised, India is again at the cusp of glorious and historic reform with the announcement of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. Timely and progressive, it certainly marks a monumental occasion for the country’s education system. In fact, the document iterated over the last few years, is an ode to the ideals of public policy, factoring in voices of every single stakeholder – from the experts to the teachers, right up to the common man, gauging insights from across 2.5 lakh gram panchayats in the country.
While the systemic reform agenda has gained ground in recent years through initiatives such as the NITI Aayog’s School Education Quality Index (SEQI), the Sustainable Action for Transforming Human Capital in Education (SATH-E) and even the Aspirational Districts program, the NEP will drive transformational change in alignment with the system’s need to holistically focus on the most critical tenets of access, equity, infrastructure, governance and learning. Advocating forward-thinking and cogent reform, the NEP 2020 is an amalgamation of need-based policy, cutting-edge research and best practices, paving the path for a New India
First, with an extensive focus on universalizing access from early childhood to higher education, integrating over two crore out of school children, and concerted efforts for socio-economically disadvantaged groups, the policy ensures last mile delivery, embodying ‘antyodaya’. Second, through a convergence of efforts, erasing traditional silos in work flows, Early Childhood Care and Education will be delivered with a new curriculum and play, activity-based joyful learning. Along with a dedicated national mission for foundational literacy and numeracy, NEP2020 will be significant to bolstering the most critical phases of learning, building the strongest foundations of education.
Third, the NEP marks a departure from archaic practices and pedagogy. The dismantling of the rigid distinction between curricular, extra-curricular and co-curricular subjects in school, and the provision of multiple entry and exit options in higher education brings in the much-needed fluidity and flexibility for students to hone their skills and interests. Revamped curriculum, adult education, lifelong learning and the vision to ensure that half our learners have exposure to at least one vocational skill in the next five years is characteristic of the shift from rote to applied learning. Through a skill gap analysis, practice based-curriculum and internships with local vocational experts, NEP 2020’s Lok Vidya, resounds the Prime Minister’s clarion call of being Vocal for Local.
Fourth, with NITI Aayog’s mandate to facilitate evidenced-based policy, there is strong beliefin the fact that what can’t be measured, can’t be improved. Till date, India lacks a comprehensive system for regular, credible and comparable assessments of learning outcomes. It is heartening to see the establishment of a National Assessment Centre called PARAKH (National Center for Performance Assessment, Review and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic development) coming to fruition. Continuous tracking of learning, flexible board exams, conceptual assessments and AI-enabled data systems will be criticalto orienting the entire organization around outcomes (as opposed to the traditional excessive focus on inputs), providing a systems-health check, as well as steering the right reform and requisite course-corrections.
Fifth, teacher education is reimagined with a new comprehensive curricular framework, multidisciplinary programs and stringent action against substandard institutions, bolstering education through bold reform. Propelling SEQI’s vision for teacher adequacy and transparent systems for merit-based selection and deployment, the institution of online systems for teacher transfer and planning will be of essence to ensure the right teachers in the right institutes.
Sixth, the creation of an academic credit bank, the impetus to research, graded autonomy, internationalization and the development of special economic zones are vital to rebranding India as the higher education destination. Further, multi-lingual education and efforts to enhance the knowledge of India, could restore the country’s educational heritage from the glory days of Takshashila and Nalanda. A system that’s modern yet rooted, sitting at the threshold of the old and the new.
Seventh, the NEP marks an overhaul of the governance architecture from overregulation and complex, diverse norms to a simplified and cogent structure. School complexes and clusters will bring about efficient resourcing of delivery structures; common standards and norms will boost the quality of institutes across all levels; a single regulatory body for higher education will serve as a template for minimal, essential regulation and maximum, effective governance. Outcomes-focused accreditation will be critical to leapfrogging India’s journey towards Quality Education, the fourth goal of Sustainable Development.
The NEP 2020 is a welcome step in the right direction, signaling the ‘new normal’ in education with its pivotal focus on critical thinking, experiential learning, interactive classrooms, integrated pedagogyand competency-based education. Inclusive digital education features as a crosscutting component throughout all reform areas, powering India’s journey towards the fourth industrial revolution. It’s truly a multi-faceted policy made in India, by India and for India – the right balance of autonomy and direction. Contextualizing its reform elements will be key.
As with every other policy, the real testwould be its translation from policy to action. Backed by expeditious and effective implementation in sync with its spirit, the NEP will shape the lives of our future generations. Through a robust education system leveraging the full potential of its demographic dividend, India has taken a giant leap towards establishing itself as a true knowledge superpower.
( The author is CEO, NITI Aayog.)