On 29th July, India’s government unveiled a new National Education Policy, the first of its kind for thirty-four years. Naturally the policy has drawn both plaudits and criticism. Amongst the criticisms are the vast gaps in the Policy that would seemingly make the Policy incredibly difficult to implement, alongside concerns that it would be used to serve an exclusionary agenda. Whilst amongst the plaudits, is the view that the Policy is finally bringing India’s education system into the modern day.
In an op-ed, Professor Rajendra Gupta, one of the authors of the policy highlights where he thinks the policy brings positive change. Gupta argues that by moving away from a marks-orientated examination based assessment to a skills and competence based assessment system, the culture practices and objectives of education will change. He goes onto argue that in this new system, students will acquire a vocation in middle school, which would ensure that the education system brings relevance to what is being taught to students in terms of skills enhancement and capacity building for various sectors. Gupta also hints that in the future, this may expand into a ‘earn whilst you learn’ policy, once students have gained a skill.
Furthermore, Gupta goes on to argue that Policy has given more leeway to institutes and academics in terms of curriculum design and delivery. Teachers will have the freedom to define the way they teach, with a discovery based approach, experienced based learning and blended learning tools being brought into via the policy. All of this will help ensure that education is made more participative and that knowledge transfer occurs rather than the current tradition of sifting through pages and memorizing content.
However, as previously mentioned, some have highlighted the issues with the National Education Policy. One of the main concerns with the Policy is its sidestepping of the implementation of said policy with vague recommendations for parallel non state structures to implement it (a system that has existed for some time already). This policy which would rest mainly on volunteers raises the thorny issue of accountability, as it is not clear within the proposal just who would answer to who and what role the civil government would play in ensuring its Policy goals are carried out.
Then there are the internal contradictions that exist in the document, foremost amongst them the strict norms and standards for teacher education, which appear alongside relaxation of norms for schools. Home schooling is being encouraged as a result, whilst teachers are supposed to be trained in a highly standardised manner. This raises the question of whether teachers will be able to teach in the different types of schools mentioned within the policy, and how different learning standards will be assessed in different models of schooling and how home schooled pupils will manage compared to their school taught peers.
On the point of teachers, whilst much of the responsibility for learning is put on teachers, there is some confusion as to how vacancies will be filled. There does not seem to be a one teacher per grade system proposed within the policy which leaves the single and double teacher system in schools, which has already left the quality of learning at a severe deficit.
Then there is concern that the Policy, which wishes to encourage foreign universities to set up camp in India could poach teachers from local universities, due to offering better salaries and benefits, which would lead to a shortage in the public sector, potentially undermining some of the Policy’s other stated goals.
Finally, there is concern that the Policy’s forceful claim of being ‘India-centred’ could lead to a system which ignores India’s diverse history and traditions, especially with statements littered throughout the policy that talk of ‘bringing change in an Indian manner and style’ and ‘using ancient Indian knowledge as a guiding light of policy.’ Whilst providing no clear definition of what is meant by ‘Indian’ in this context, and could inadvertently end up playing to the gallery of bigots.
Ultimately, the policy has some good and some bad points, how it is brought into being and how effective it is in shaping the future of India’s educational set up will determine whether it is ultimately successful.