An astounding 34 years since its education policy was last revised, India is again at the cusp of a glorious and historic reform with the announcement of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. Timely and progressive, NEP marks a monumental development in the country’s education system. In fact, the document, iterated over the last few years, is an ode to the ideals of public policy, factoring invoices of every stakeholder — from experts to teachers and the common man. It is informed by insights from 2.5 lakh gram panchayats across the country.
While the agenda for systemic reform has gained ground in recent years through initiatives such as the NITI Aayog’s School Education Quality Index (SEQI), the Sustainable Action for Transforming Human Capital in Education (SATH-E), and even the Aspirational Districts program, NEP will drive transformational change in alignment with the system’s need to focus holistically on the critical tenets of access, equity, infrastructure, governance, and learning. Advocating forward-thinking and cogent reform, NEP 2020 is an amalgamation of need-based policy, cutting-edge research, and best practices, paving the way for New India.
First, with an extensive focus on universalizing access from early childhood to higher education, integrating over two crore out-of-school children, and concerted efforts directed at socio-economically disadvantaged groups, the policy ensures last-mile delivery, embodying “antyodaya”. Second, through a convergence of efforts and erasing traditional silos in workflows, early childhood care, and education will be delivered through a new curriculum as well as a play- and activity-based pedagogy. Along with a dedicated national mission for foundational literacy and numeracy, NEP 2020 will be significant for bolstering the most critical phases of learning, building a strong foundation for education.
Third, NEP marks a departure from archaic practices and pedagogy. The dismantling of the rigid distinction between curricular, extra-curricular, and co-curricular subjects in school, and the provision of multiple entries and exit options in higher education gives much-needed flexibility to students to hone their skills and interests. Revamped curriculum, adult education, lifelong learning, and the vision to ensure that half our learners have exposure to at least one vocational skill in the next five years is characteristic of the shift from rote to applied learning. Through a skill gap analysis, practice-based curriculum, and internships with local vocational experts, NEP 2020’s “Lok Vidya”, echoes the Prime Minister’s clarion call of being “Vocal for Local”.
Fourth, with the NITI Aayog’s mandate to facilitate evidence-based policy, there is a strong belief in the fact that what can’t be measured can’t be improved. To date, India lacks a comprehensive system for regular, credible, and comparable assessments of learning outcomes. It is heartening to see the establishment of a National Assessment Centre called PARAKH (National Centre for Performance Assessment, Review, and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic development) coming to fruition. Continuous tracking of learning, flexible board exams, conceptual assessments, and AI-enabled data systems will be critical to orienting the entire organization around outcomes (as opposed to the traditional excessive focus on inputs), providing a systems-health check, as well as steering the right reform and requisite course-corrections.
Fifth, teacher education is reimagined with a comprehensive curricular framework, multidisciplinary programs and stringent action against substandard institutions. Driven by SEQI’s vision for teacher adequacy and transparent systems for merit-based selection and deployment, online systems for teacher transfers and planning will ensure that the right teachers are in the right institutes.
Sixth, the creation of an academic credit bank, the impetus to research, graded autonomy, internationalization, and the development of special economic zones are vital to rebranding India as the higher education destination. Further, multilingual education and efforts to enhance the knowledge of India could restore the country’s educational heritage from the glory days of Takshashila and Nalanda — creating a system that’s modern yet rooted.
Seventh, NEP marks an overhaul of the governance architecture from one based on overregulation and complex and disparate norms to a simplified and cogent structure. School complexes and clusters will bring about efficient resourcing of delivery structures, common standards and norms will boost the quality of institutes across all levels, a single regulatory body for higher education will serve as a template for minimal, essential regulation and maximum, effective governance. Outcomes-focused accreditation will be critical to leapfrogging India’s journey towards quality education — the fourth goal of sustainable development.
NEP 2020 is a step in the right direction, signaling the “new normal” in education with its focus on critical thinking, experiential learning, interactive classrooms, integrated pedagogy, and competency-based education. Inclusive digital education features as a crosscutting component throughout all reform areas, powering India’s journey towards the fourth industrial revolution. It’s truly a multi-faceted policy made in India, by India, and for India — the right balance of autonomy and direction. Contextualizing its reform elements will be key.
As with every policy, the real test of NEP will be translating it to action. Backed by expeditious and effective implementation in sync with its spirit, NEP could shape the lives of our future generations. Through a robust education system, leveraging the full potential of its demographic dividend, India has taken a giant leap towards establishing itself as a knowledge superpower.
The author is CEO, Niti Aayog
This article was originally published in The Indian Express. The views expressed are personal.