The NEP’s laudable ambition should not override the value of continuity

India’s National Education Policy aims to establish a seamless connectivity between humanities and science, says Rup Narayan Das

August 17, 2020
Source: istock

In a country of India’s size, diversity, plurality and uneven development and opportunities, education has always acted like a leveller. Successive governments have seen educational reform as a mark of the seriousness of their intention to effect a socio-economic transformation of the people and the nation.

The current BJP government is no exception. Its new National Education Policy (NEP) was published for consultation last year, and a revised and abridged version was unveiled on 29 July after receiving the cabinet’s approval.

In line with the United Nations’ fourth sustainable development goal, to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”, the NEP aims to provide universal access to quality education while building upon India’s traditions and value system. It proposes the revision and revamping of all aspects of the educational structure, including its regulation and governance.

At the ideational level, the NEP aims to “build character” and enable learners to be “ethical, rational, compassionate and caring, while at the same time prepare them for gainful, fulfilling employment”. This aspiration has traction at a time when the values of honesty, integrity and character appear to be eroding across the world.

A major plank of the NEP is overhauling the present school education system. The policy envisages that the extant 10+2 structure in primary education will be supplemented by a new universal foundational period between the ages of three and six, in recognition of the fact that more than 85 per cent of a child’s cumulative brain development occurs prior to the age of six.

As far as higher education is concerned, the NEP has very ambitious goals. It aims to break the silos within the existing post-secondary edifice and establish a seamless connectivity between arts and humanities streams on the one hand and science and technology on the other. This “holistic and multi-disciplinary education”, it is hoped, will boost students’ creativity, innovation and critical thinking.

It is not that such approaches are non-existent in the present educational system in India. In fact, engineering students are already offered non-credit courses in the liberal arts in many technical institutions in both the public sector (such as the Indian Institutes of Technology) and the private sector (such as the Birla Institute of Technology). The NEP, however, aims to regularise and institutionalise this breadth of provision as a matter of policy because, according to the report, “a holistic and multi-disciplinary education is indeed what is needed for the education in India to lead the country into the 21st century and the fourth industrial revolution”.

In order to implement the seamless connectivity, the structure and length of degree programmes are to be adjusted accordingly. Hence, undergraduate degrees will run for either three or four years, with multiple exit options within this period. A certificate can be awarded after a student completes one year in a programme that includes a vocational course (such as carpentry or pottery) or a professional course (such as engineering or management).

A diploma can be awarded after two years and a bachelor’s degree after three years. The four-year multi-disciplinary bachelor’s programme, meanwhile, allows students to choose from the full range of subjects for their major and minors.

The NEP is a statement of intent: a vision document and a guide for action. Hence, it is rather premature to predict how it will play out. There are grey areas that need more clarity, and the details are to be fine-tuned.

And we should be cautious. For all the imperfections of India’s present educational system and the institutions, they have produced people who have excelled not only within India but in the best universities, institutions and corporations around the world.

Well-intentioned changes are always welcome, but the value of continuity should not be underestimated, either.

Rup Narayan Das is a senior fellow of the Indian Council of Social Science Research at the Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi. These are his personal views.

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Reader's comments (1)

The NEP is a whole lot more than this. It seeks to impose a centralised policy- and syllabus-setting framework, in which elected representatives have a minimal role and the initial set of appointees will secure a stranglehold. Higher education governing bodies are to be, once appointed, self-propagating, without any outside influence possible, again a recipe for the initial appointees to secure a stranglehold over the institutional culture. All research funding will be centralised, under one Fund, which would vet research proposals for relevance, again, making for ideological control of research. To ignore these features that seek and entrench totalitarian control of education in the country, and waffle about the rest, is meaningless