Any education policy should have a vision that addresses the current challenges facing the country, including the state of primary, secondary and higher education. A reading of the draft National Education Policy (NEP) 2019 shows that the policy fails to acknowledge and address most of the challenges we face. A reading of the policy also raises questions at the priorities of current policymakers.
First, the draft NEP 2019 was prepared over a period of five years, after multiple delays. Yet, it failed to consider the participation of different states. This is why as soon as the draft of NEP 2019 was released several Southern states, especially Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, opposed the mandatory provision of including Hindi as one the three languages. Soon enough, a revised draft was released and the clause was removed.
This is not the first time that the constitutional status of concurrency for education policy has not been respected by policymakers. NEP1986 also did not have state participation. Though it states: “Education in the Concurrent List, was a far-reaching step whose implications—substantive, financial and administrative—require a new sharing of responsibility between the Union Government and the states in respect of this vital area of national life.” It also stated: “the concurrency in context to legislation on education signifies a partnership, which is at once meaningful and challenging; the National Policy will be oriented towards giving effect to it in letter and spirit.” These lines never became part of our policy formation process for NEP 1986 or the draft NEP 2019.
Even though the educational challenges and priorities of different state governments are diverse, the question is how much are Union and state governments willing to collaborate to create a national policy for education? Apart from the controversy on the three-language formula, why were different state governments silent? These questions are important because most national policies become a guiding reference for state governments and administrative bodies.
The 484-page draft NEP 2019 is the first detailed NEP document. Prior to this, the 1968 NEP was just 8-page long. The 1986 policy was a 46-page report (after revision in 1992) that talked about the role and essence of education, along with a detailed definition of creating a national education system. The NEP 2019 deserves appreciation as it at least attempts to cater to different aspects of education such as early childhood education, technology, research and innovation.
The second discussion point is the draft NEP 2019’s vision. NEP 2019 states its vision as: “An India centred education system that contributes directly to transforming our nation sustainably into an equitable and vibrant knowledge society, by providing high-quality education to all.”
Prior to defining the vision, the committee mentions its preamble. The committee also states its inspiration for this vision. Among others, it draws heavily from India’s heritage and Sustainable Development Goals, but doesn’t clearly who we are as a nation, what are our goals, and what challenges is the draft NEP 2019 trying to address.
This vision needs to be scrutinised further. Firstly, how relevant is this vision to the current problems facing our education system—not only in catering to the extrinsic means of education but also to uphold our constitutional values? Were the problems of the current socio-political life discussed while creating this NEP or does NEP 2019 carve the path to solve problems with a longitudinal vision? Why does NEP 2019 deliberately distance itself from Indian constitutional principles?
The policy emphasises on creating an “equitable, just, and humane society” but does not mention the constitutional principle that is to be inculcated for the same. The distance from the word “secularism” in the national policy is apparent.
While reading Facilitating National Development section of the draft NEP 2019 (page 33), one would think the role of education would include building adherence to constitutional values instead of just focusing on economic growth—but this is not the case. Page 33 begins with the aspiration of becoming the third-largest economy while mentioning Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for 4th Industrial Revolution. Clearly, the nation’s development does not echo the problems we’ve faced in the last decade, especially erosion of values such as fraternity, secularism and equality.
Given the addition of the Prime Minister’s statement, it is evident that the committee did undertake changes as recent as October 2018. Therefore, it becomes all the more difficult to assess why the draft NEP 2019 does not echo the socio-political and constitutional challenges facing the country prior to October 2018.
The policy draft should be appreciated for the nation’s aspiration to sustainably transform into an equitable and vibrant knowledge society. Yet this aspiration becomes limited to a pompous phrase as it does not get elaborated any further. Also, the vision does not state what a “vibrant knowledge society” will mean in India’s context. Nor does it explain how our primary, secondary, higher education institutions will contribute to it. The chapter written after this vision statement does not adhere to this vision. It only states the assumed solution for improving the current status in terms of learning outcomes. For example: from page 113 to 137, a section on teachers is written. Here NPE 2019 mentions its objectives for teachers, suggestions for their recruitment, training etc yet it fails to mention the role of teachers in an “equitable, knowledge society”.
This inconsistency is consistent in other chapters too. First example: Chapter 4 (page 33) on “Curriculum and Pedagogy School” mentions its objective as: “Curriculum and pedagogy are transformed by 2022 in order to minimise rote learning and instead encourage holistic development and 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, creativity, scientific temper, communication, collaboration, multilingualism, problem-solving, ethics, social responsibility, and digital literacy.”
While the objective mentions a range of ideas, it does not come close to aligning to the vision.
The second example is from Part III. The vision should include how our higher education institutions will foster knowledge advancement yet the complacency of policymakers could be seen in just providing a multidisciplinary approach and increasing the Gross Enrolment Ratio. In NEP 2019, the higher education objective is stated as: “Revamp the higher education system, create world-class multidisciplinary higher education institutions across the country – increase Gross Enrolment Ratio to at least 50% by 2035.”
Defining the vision through the draft National Education Policy 2019 is an encouraging step. Vision definition gives a narrative to policy, its interpretation and detailing. But there two questions here: i) How relevant and appropriate is this vision considering the context of our education system and the challenges we face today and in the near future? ii) Why do different parts of the NEP, its chapter do not reflect this vision? Thus, the NEP’s vision seems like a mixed bag of ideas without any common thread connecting its different parts and chapters.
If the draft of NEP 2019 is adopted as the National Education Policy by the current government without substantial changes to include constitutional principles as well as to avoid the inconsistency of its narrative, it is very difficult to imagine its value addition in our messy education system.