National Education Policy: An exercise in inclusiveness
Abhishek Dayal, Director, PIB Imphal
The National Education Policy announced this year is very specific in its goals: it aims to make the Indian education system inclusive and accessible to all. It seeks to unleash the true potential of the nation’s human resource by raising the literacy levels, cutting across class and regions. It directly addresses the critical issues that are plaguing a system that ignores the unique requirements of our country. It seeks to take the competency, skill and knowledge levels of the students to global standards so that the larger vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat (Self-reliant India) is achieved within a generation.
The idea of inclusiveness has been inherent in the beliefs of Mahatma Gandhi and was central to our nation building process. However, the specific ground realities have so far prevented this vision to get fully translated into reality. The people of the poorest strata of society, of economically backward regions, of rural hinterland and of tribal regions have not got the same educational opportunities as the people living in bigger cities and having the financial means to access better quality schools and colleges. This policy is a direct answer to these concerns. Let us take a look at some of the major themes in the policy related to these issues.
The idea of inclusiveness and equity is not only acknowledged as a goal in the National Education Policy of 2020, it is also backed by specific recommendations. As per the vision of the policy, it sets a very ambitious target of 100% Gross Enrolment Ratio in Pre-School to Secondary Level by 2030 and 50% Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education by 2035. This will no doubt need greater social investment in the sector and therefore the policy recommends that Public Investment in Education to reach 6% of GDP at the earliest. This level of investment has never been achieved in the last 70 years of independent India.
But mere opening of schools is not the complete solution. The next set of ideas relate to the fundamental questions of what the education at primary and secondary level will be like. A very far reaching and important decision has been to announce that the Medium of Instruction till at least Grade 5, and preferably till Grade 8 and beyond, will be in Home Language or Mother tongue or Regional Language. This is critical in taking the education to the poorest people whose children are often first generation literates. These children are not able to cope up with education in a language that is foreign to them and in which their parents and neighbours are not able to assist them.
The second implication of stress of mother tongue at primary and secondary levels is the far greater ability of the children to absorb what is being taught. The children can relate to the studies and perform much better. This boosts the confidence of their parents and encourages them to decide on continuing with the studies of their children even if they have financial issues in supporting their education. The children are also more motivated to study if they understand what is being taught and are performing well. The entire idea of education shifts from rote learning and passing of exams to better understanding and developing competence. And this leads us to the next set of recommendations related to the content.
The policy says that Board Examination will be “Low Stakes and Based on Knowledge Application” and that education will focus on a 360 degree “Holistic Progress of the Child”. It reduces curriculum to Core Concepts and integrates vocational and skill training from Class 6 onwards. This not only reduces the unnecessary load on the students but guides them towards knowledge that is relevant and necessary to meet the needs and requirements of 21st century. A meaningful and useful education is more likely to be valued and pursued by the poorest families who have to face the tough choice of earmarking a large proportion of their meagre resources to fund the education of their children.
The financial aspect of reality faced by the millions of poor families are addressed in several ways. As mentioned above, a higher public investment in education means more schools, more scholarships, more assistance to learning at more reasonable costs. The recommendations of fee fixation within a Regulatory Framework and the idea of Private Philanthropic Partnership are contextual. These seek to multiply the efforts put in by the government by using all socially available resources for the betterment of the people. It recognises the fact that an unchecked private sector education has only partially carried out its social responsibility of caring for the poor and this needs to change.
There are several sub themes assisting the overall idea of inclusiveness in primary and secondary education, like adult and continuing education, curriculum and pedagogy promoting enjoyable learning, foundational Literacy and Numeracy, teachers’ training and creation of school clusters to effectively utilise government resources.
The idea of inclusiveness continues into the sphere of higher education, as it should. The policy lays stress on “increased access, equity, and inclusion through a range of measures, including greater opportunities for outstanding public education; scholarships by private/philanthropic universities for disadvantaged and underprivileged students; online education, and Open Distance Learning (ODL); and all infrastructure and learning materials accessible and available to learners with disabilities.”
The reality of higher education today is that only a small fraction of the students have access to it, and out of these, only a fraction get the education that leads to their getting useful employment and earning opportunities. By allowing students to re-join and continue with their courses (without losing academic years already completed) if there is a break in their education due to any reason is a step that will give relief to the poorest sections of population. Developing skills in chosen vocations, linking industries with the system, ensuing a uniformity in educational standards across the country, skilling the teachers to assist the students and improving professional education system will transform the landscape of higher education for the underprivileged.
Greater use of technology is expectedly central to cost reduction and inclusion in two major ways. The policy rightly seeks to end the digital divide on the one side and to use the power of technology to reach out to the farthest corners of the country on the other. It recognises that this has to be done consciously and in a targeted manner.
The pace and manner in which the state governments are now partnering with the central government in putting in place the structures to implement the National Education Policy, it seems that the transition will be smooth and the ambitious goals of the policy will be achieved as per targeted schedule.