Areas needing greater focus and need to be considered during implementation
National Educational Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) is a well drafted document with a clear focus and vision. It is a compact document running into 65 pages unlike previous policies which ran into hundreds of pages. The aim is to develop a conscious citizenry which is not just in tune with modern times, technological developments, a globally competitive environment, timeless values but also make students aware of India’s rich cultural traditions, timeless heritage, civilizational achievements, inventions and long tradition of knowledge seeking and creation.
The policy touches almost every part of education that it is difficult to find gaps in but like all the good policies with rich vision, huge challenges will lie in implementing it in manner true to its vision. It will need a solid foundation structure, a committed cadre of people and deep thinking to start with in terms of seeding and developing institutional structures and processes. Apart from pedagogical perspective, deep and widespread use of technology will be critical to its roll out. Raising public investments to 6% of budget may not just be challenging but possibly inadequate hence it will be very important to define a model to attract financial resources in education sector or for philanthropic investments into school and higher education sectors. This needs more detailing than current reference in policy. A key challenge will be budgetary planning and roadmap for providing effective and sufficient physical and digital infrastructure in schools for increasing and maintaining gross enrolment ratio.
A big challenge will be to establish, reinforce and evolve many new institutional structures with right leaderships, frameworks and processes. Leadership play a significant role in important institutions as it is said that Institutions are lengthened shadows of men. These include National Educational Technology Forum, National Assessment Centre, PARAKH ( Performance Assessment, Review and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development ), National Research Foundation, National Mission for Mentoring in higher education, National Committee for Integration of Vocational Education, State School Standards Authority and SCERT, National Councils for Higher Educational Regulations, Accreditation, Higher Education Grants, General Education among others. This also includes National Curriculum Frameworks for Teacher Education, Adult Education, Pedagogical Framework for Early Childhood Care and Education, National Higher Education Qualification etc. Framework, Guidelines will have to be made for Board of Governors for Higher Education Institutions, school complexes and peer tutoring and many other institution and frameworks.
Certain areas in which technology could be intensively leveraged include assessment methods to be transformed to be regular and formative and driving key goals by using technology judiciously including AI and data architectures as this could have enormous lasting significance. It also includes mechanisms to track learning progress and keep records for maintaining gross enrolment ratio and bringing deviations back on track. Apart from touring schools across India to further Ek Bharat Shrestha Bharat, adequate focus needs to be given to encourage and nurture digitally networked communities of school students for exchange of ideas and best practices among others.
Addressing digital divide will be a key factor to access education with affordable devices and internet connectivity needing far deeper thought. It needs greater focus than mentioned in policy document including inter-ministerial coordination. A key emphasis needs to be on Bharatnet project which has expanded to 2.5 lacs gram panchayats but has not been able to make desired effect on ground. On 15th August, Prime Minister announced expansion of Bharatnet project to 6 Lac Gram Panchayats over 1000 days but the current design, program structure, engineering methods, last mile connectivity and services model will have to be intensely and immediately reviewed to make it effective. Bharatnet project if effectively executed, has great potential to transform the digital connectivity landscape of rural and semi-rural India.
Digital contents will have to be planned not just as e-versions as referred in policy and lacking standardization but shall be fully leveraging digital content management principles. The proliferation of digital content will need to be regulated. Other usage of technology shall include teacher requirements planning forecasting exercise, school administration thru ICT including for School Complexes and usage in general administration across multiple functions and institutions defined in policy.
There are some areas in the National Education Policy which deserve greater focus during implementation to complement lesser reference in policy document. These include Implementation of more effective tracking mechanism for government school teachers’ performance, absenteeism etc in government schools which is one of the big challenges today. This is one of the reasons for even poor and middle-class citizens enrolling their children in private schools of even questionable quality by paying more fees than govt school fees. The recent trend of shift of enrolment to government schools is more driven by severe financial constraints due to Covid 19 rather than a voluntary response. Teachers in government schools are paid substantial and secure salaries compared to rather poor salaries of teachers in most private schools including schools sincerely imparting education. This definitely merits focus if not in policy but certainly in implementation plans.
School education policy emphasizes on holistic development of learners and away from rote learning, inspiring students for participating in Ek Bharat Shresth Bharat mission, formation of topic and project based clubs and circles etc. This will require large scale transformation in teachers’ approach, worldview and attitude in a certain timeframe. Teachers are identified as fulcrum to national education policy but an effective intervention towards this transformation will need to be implemented during execution. Greater focus on subjects like Artificial Intelligence, Design Thinking, Global Citizenship education needs to be made at earlier levels and certainly not later than 6th grade. This should be done by using effective alliances with large private organizations and digital learning companies etc rather than current internal mechanisms. School complexes should not just include government schools but also small private schools too which are in substantial numbers in small cities and small towns.
Greater emphasis is needed on holistic development of school principals or head of institution which require a different approach in terms of training, skills development and motivation. Leadership quality of principal in a school has very high influence on success of that school. Teacher is not the only key fulcrum as referred in policy but school principal too has critical impact requiring inspiring leadership mindset and endeavour to develop a structured high growth cadre. There is substantial emphasis in NEP to develop multi-disciplinary educational institutions. However, there is a conscious and nuanced effort globally by institutions to build deep excellence in certain disciplines which also helps institutes develop unique identities. A quantitative and qualitative drive for expanding Phd programs is also needed during implementation. Greater drive is required to develop external, global and outside in perspective in higher education institutions which is key to gaining excellence over time.
The target of 50% of learners in school and higher education to be exposed to vocational education by 2025 is highly ambitious and will require intensely focused institutional efforts. NEP 2020 is a structured and compact policy document which shall shape Indian education for decades so greater emphasis on institutional development, developing cadre and leadership at multiple levels, a holistic approach for excellence, cohesion with large private schools network and greater use of technology and digital among other factors will play a great role to ensure success of policy.
(Author is a former member of National Committee of Electronics and Computer Software Export Promotion Council and has led pioneering efforts in digital education)