A Critical Analysis of the National Education Policy 2020

Prof Sonajharia Minz, Prof Sybil Thomas & Dr Ashish Alexander

Introduction

In its simplest sense, policy refers to a broad statement that reflects future goals and aspirations, and provides guidelines for carrying out those goals. Our National policy of Education is one such public policy based on the perceived educational needs that the country visualises to address through education. It has come up through a process of deliberation that marks a policy-making process.

However, discourses in policy analysis do recognise that the political ideology of the country is the basis on which policy formation takes place as well as the policy is a reflection of the commitment that any country has made to the citizens of the country. Also, in a diverse country like India, we face unique challenges within the society, and they have implications for the domain of policy formation as well. Our problems of illiteracy, unemployment, class and caste divisions, malnutrition, gender issues, etc., require to be addressed through public policy mechanisms.

Our constitution is the basis on which any public policy is formulated and more so with education being a social institution. Therefore, values of Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity will be our frames of reference as we understand the policy. These values of equality, justice, fraternity, liberty and brotherhood are also values that we as Christians need to be concerned about and commit ourselves too. We are challenged in the Scripture to be mindful of the poor, to use principles of equity in our dealings, to work towards harmonious collective development.

As Christian educators, we will provide information and a critical analysis about the new changes that are expected in the system of education due to NEP 2020 as against the already existing structure of education under the following sections:

  • School and Teacher Education
  • Higher Education and
  • Technology Use and Integration
  1. School Education And Teacher Education

A rather significant change that this policy envisions is a restructuring of school education. A long-awaited step to bring pre-school or early childhood education under the formal system of education is a welcome change. The curricular and pedagogical structure and the curricular framework for school education will now be guided by a 5 (Foundational) + 3 (Preparatory)+ 3 (Middle) + 4 (High school) design, corresponding to ages from 3-8, 8-11, 11-14, and 14-18 years, respectively. An option of exiting at Class 10 and re-entering in the next phase. 4.1 of the policy discusses this. These changes are significant and have their bearing on individuals, economy, and sociological structure. Another implication is the re-working of the school infrastructure and human resources for 5 + 3 + 3+4 yrs of schooling. In the sector of early childhood education, efforts will have to be made to strengthen the pay scales and service conditions of these teachers who are brought at par with other sectors. It is hoped that this sector will be given a lot of flexibility where states and regions can make education relevant to the pre-schoolers and teachers alike.

The policy does envisage multiple entry and exit points. This will in many ways open the door for access and opportunity to people from a diverse social stratum that needs to be a part of the formal schooling. Thereby, enabling social justice.  However, it is hoped that retention of students in the formal mainstream education will still be the priority and the emphasis of society at large.  As it is here that they will be exposed to diversity.

Educational Resources

Text Books

In sections 4.8 and 4.9 it says that the emphasis of the text books will be on constructivist oriented rather than rote learning, teachers will have a choice to choose between text books that have requisites of national and local material, and textbook writing will be done by NCERT in conjunction with the SCERTs; additional textbook materials would be funded by public-private partnerships and crowd sourcing that incentivise experts to write such high-quality textbooks at-cost-price. There seems to be space envisioned for public private partnership for additional textbook materials. This space in many ways needs to be guarded, to get people not only grounded in pedagogical knowledge but also content that will promote and uphold democratic values of multiculturalism, secularism, and fraternity. We have seen in the recent past that the public–private partnerships in the space of education have been dominated by business houses. Therefore, there has been much speculations in opening up this domain. Michael Apple, a curriculum theorist, points out that knowledge selection for curriculum is a function of those who wields power.(Apple, M (1993). The Politics of Official Knowledge: Does a National Curriculum make Sense. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education. 14(1). pp: 1-16  DOI: 10.1080/0159630930140101 (Read the section titled “Between Neo conservatism and Neo liberalism”. pp:226-230).) This means that people who are powerful in a given society at a given point in time, decide what is worth teaching for future learners, thereby consolidating their position of power. Do we acknowledge this aspect in the conceptualisation of knowledge and are mindful of the struggles of the marginalised and oppressed section of society?

School Complexes

A highlight of this policy, in the domain of learning resources, is the introduction of school complexes. The objectives of the school complex/cluster will be to build vibrant communities of teachers, sharing of resources, and to develop a critical mass of teachers for more effective functioning, coordination, leadership, governance, and management of schools in the schooling system (7.8).

As an idea, ‘sharing of resources’ sounds good. However, sharing of teachers and physical resources requires a lot of deliberations and negotiations; especially, when this is going to be under the public domain. Managements of most of the private, grant-in-aid institutions have invested a lot into infrastructure and the human resources. Managements of the schools are not mentioned in this document and more so with regard to school complexes. It is hoped that a significant role would be given to managements as they are the major stake holders when it comes to resources. Another apprehension of this concept of school complex is that this could lead to further apathy on the part of the governments to invest in strengthening the school’s resources that exists and are run by the governments. Teacher’s work load, accountability and multiple skills to reach children from diverse groups are also some grave concerns.

Teacher

The teacher, in the policy, is envisioned to be the crucial link in the educational system. Section 0.8 of NEP 2020 says that the teacher and the teacher’s condition will be at the centre of all changes.Teachers will be empowered and helped to do their job as effectively as possible. The policy expresses the need to recruit the very best and brightest to enter the teaching profession at all levels. The empowerment that the policy talks about is at the level of organizational and community empowerment. Opportunities will be provided for teachers to be involved in the governance and community, whereby they can experience agency. However, the psychological empowerment aspect of self-confidence, efficacy etc. is left to the teachers own efforts. As Christian educators, this personal empowerment would come from a deep engagement with ourselves and God. Where we see our role as being instruments to help human beings to reflect God to the rest of creation. We should strive to see that all the created world exists in relationship with one another. Therefore, all the information, knowledge, and skills that we acquire is to bring back the world and humankind to God’s original plans for creation seen in the first chapter of Genesis.

Key feature in envisioning teachers are accountability, regular professional upgradation courses (emphasis on online faculty development programs) and incentivisation of performance of schoolteachers. Common entrance examination to teacher training courses, run by National Testing Agency and the teacher eligibility test to be mandatory for teaching at all levels right from pre-primary to higher secondary is another key feature of the policy. These recommendations itself may not be problematic, however, centralisation of procedures for education, can distance education from socio-cultural realities. We see that even at a state level, it becomes so difficult to see that syllabus is relevant and equal opportunities are provided to diverse peoples, how much more challenging for a centralised system to balance equity and quality. With the expansion of formal education, we have experienced the advantages of the decentralisation not only for administration but also for catering to local, regional diversity and creatively reaching out to people. The core of our concern in a country struggling with issues of access, equity and marginalisation should be finding ways to reach education to the marginalised. The policy does talk of establishing universities, schools and giving incentives to teachers who will opt to teach in rural areas. However, what is further required is how are we going to consciously address issues of Knowledge and power. Is our curriculum going to reflect stories of the marginalised, issues of gender discrimination and class, caste struggles? 

  Learning Outcomes

Sections 3.5 and 3.6 discusses ways in which the policy envisions to facilitate learning for all students, with special emphasis on Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Groups in society (SEDGs). The policy states that the scope of school education will be broadened to facilitate multiple pathways to learning involving formal and non-formal education modes and alternative models of education. The focus will be to have less emphasis on input and greater emphasis on output potential concerning desired learning outcomes. These diverse approaches to reach out to the SDGs is necessary to ensure that they are not left out of the formal schooling. Over the past decades, the whole approach to education has been moving towards outcome-based education. Outcomes are reduced to quantitative measures of achievements. This has been ratified and seen in this policy too. There are two questions that I would like to raise. One, can everything in education be measured? Two, can outcomes be discussed without the processes and input of education strengthened? As a society at large and the government, the need is to strengthen the inputs and processes in order to get desired outcomes. Over emphasis on outcomes does not look at the ‘becoming’ of an individual, hence neglecting the individual’s contributory role in a society based on justice and equality. Therefore, education for equity and quality are debates that we need to constantly engage with. We all have seen how outcomes reduced to academic achievement have been so important in education that the worth and value of a child is determined by their academic achievements alone. This is so contrary to what we believe. God created humankind in His own image and in His own likeness (Gen 1: 26). Man was created with abilities of “head, heart and hand”. Cognitive abilities to think and reason, Affective abilities to experience emotions and psychomotor abilities to work with his hands and limbs. Each one is uniquely created by God. Education should be a process of recognising, appreciating and encouraging the uniqueness of individuals who are created in the image of God. Another neglected section in education is dealing with students with special needs. It was hoped that after the RTE and RPWD Act 2016 and growing concern, this would have been a sector to receive a reimagining. However, it remains a neglected section in this policy too. 

Right through the policy we see options for those who want to drop out to those who cannot cope with the system of education to move into the trajectory of Open schooling which is limited in many ways. Limited in the type of social group that they are socialising with, in terms of the investments made by society, in terms of resources, methods of teaching, curricula and opportunities for career advancement. This alternative schooling may be required to be envisioned, but we need to envision strengthening of these systems. Therefore, it should be the last resort for the students and teachers. When not understood in perspective, it gives the teachers and the system of education at large an easy way out by asking students to move to these streams, rather than really helping them cope and giving them an equal chance to grow in integrated schools.

Minority Status

Many commentators have observed that the status of minority institutions have not been mentioned, let alone discussed in the policy document.  Article 30 is a constitutional provision for minority institutions in India to establish and administer educational institutions does not figure out anywhere with regard to kind of institutions as well as an acknowledgment of their contribution to the system of education in India. In an attempt to centralise and homogenise education, this removal of the status will be a major setback to minority communities in the country. In many ways this will raise questions on equity and justice issues. Idea of secularism has been removed completely from the values that education should be fostering, and we have moved from multiculturalism to pluralism. Though many of the issues raised here, need not be areas that we will get clarity at the policy level, however, the policy that reflects the vision will be the basis of much of the operational procedures.

2. HIGHER EDUCATION

With regard to higher education, the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 articulates its vision in no uncertain terms: “Moving to large multidisciplinary universities and HEI clusters is thus the highest recommendation of this policy regarding the structure of higher education” (10.2).

Multidisciplinary Approach

This recommendation fits well with the emphasis the policy lays on an integrated hands-on approach even for the school education. Education at all levels must contribute in developing a well-rounded personality of the student and NEP 2020 seeks to dismantle the “severely fragmentary higher education ecosystem”, which is not conducive to that end. It is a forward-looking move as it has been felt for a long time that technical education, for instance, has severed itself from multidisciplinary engagement to its own peril. A corrective is thus sought: “Furthermore, influence of technology on human endeavours is expected to erode the silos between technical education and other disciplines too. Technical education will, thus, also aim to be offered within multidisciplinary education institutions and programmes and have a renewed focus on opportunities to engage deeply with other disciplines” (20.6). A world with heightened engagement with technology, the policy rightly assumes, needs a professional workforce that has had an opportunity to grapple with cultural and human aspects of technological innovations.

Simple Classification

The policy thus aims at simpler structure for higher education, where there are minimum subcategories and maximum autonomy. For example, Section 10.14 says that “University, worldwide, means a multidisciplinary institution of higher learning that offers undergraduate, graduate, and Ph.D. programmes, and engages in high-quality teaching and research.”(In an earlier version of the policy, it is worded more emphatically thus: “A university has only one definition worldwide, namely, a multidisciplinary institution of higher learning that offers undergraduate, graduate, and PhD programmes, and engages in high-quality teaching and research.” A 60-page “final” document that was first uploaded on the ministry Web site, which was replaced by another 66-page document later. Some minor and not-so-minor changes are made in the new document.) The only differentiation that is envisaged in the structure of higher education is in terms of pedagogical and research emphasis. Any university may develop itself into a Research-intensive University (RU) or a Teaching-intensive University (TU). Colleges will become Autonomous degree-granting Colleges (AC). “It must be clearly stated that these three broad types of institutions are not in any natural way a rigid, exclusionary categorization, but are along a continuum. HEIs will have the autonomy and freedom to move gradually from one category to another, based on their plans, actions, and effectiveness” (10.5).

National Research Foundation

Another major concern that NEP 2020 focuses on is the low-quality research in the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), and it envisions a “robust ecosystem of research” by way of establishing National Research Foundation(NRF). It does notice that, India is spending far less on research, “only 0.69% of GDP as compared to 2.8% in the United States of America, 4.3% in Israel and 4.2% in South Korea” (17.3). This admission is important. One of the stated “primary activities” of NRF would be to “seed, grow, and facilitate research at academic institutions, particularly at universities and colleges where research is currently in a nascent stage, through mentoring of such institutions” (17.11), something to be welcomed and even cheered.

Guarded Optimism

However, some experts have already expressed their scepticism regarding the policy. (Pratap Bhanu Mehta, “Text of education policy artfully navigates several thickets. Fears about document come from context”, Indian Express, https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/new-education-policy-nep-india-6533163/ 1 Aug 2020. Yogendra Yadav, “Yogendra Yadav Explained New Education Policy (NEP) 2020” YouTube. https://youtu.be/XzrFWqDVvWo, 4 Aug 2020. Shyam Menon, “NEP 2020: What is needed is a new kind of thinking”, Indian Express, https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/new-national-education-policy-nep-2020-6544824/ 8 Aug 2020.) Pratap Bhanu Mehta, former Vice-Chancellor of Asoka University, agrees that it is “for the most part admirable” but also asks a question “What are the conditions that will make some of its most promising ideas work?” Yogendra Yadav, academician and political activist, categorically states that “Normally, education policy says some admirable things. But the policy that is implemented in practical terms, doesn’t have anything to do with this education policy.” He expressed his reservations about changes in higher education. Shyam Menon, former Vice-Chancellor of Delhi’s Ambedkar University, speaks clearly about the reason for prevailing scepticism: “The problem, as I see it, is that much of the mediocrity in the system that the policy rightly identifies stems out of a culture of mistrust and control, the seeds of which are in the very DNA of our larger system, not confined to higher education.” He uses the word trust quite a few times in his column—Mehta too invokes the word—signifying non-policy socio-cultural factors that govern the educational enterprise in the country. Trust and academic freedom, these commentators implicitly agree, are matters of culture and underlying social dynamics (“larger system”), but these are under severe stress under the current political environment. This simply means that the larger context of political culture may hinder any real breakthrough.

Challenge of Imaginaries

As the policy does not address the larger realities of the nation within which the education system works, it turns out to be a study in persistent mythological structuring of our national ambitions. Take for example the calculated appeals to ancient Indian “universities” like Nalanda, Takshashila, et al. Our visionary multidisciplinary universities are supposed to derive their inspiration from such ancient international centres of learning, though information about their curricula, their faculty and their research and innovations is at best scanty. It is hard to imagine how they can serve as models for the universities that are evolving to meet unprecedented challenges of the twenty-first century.

In the earlier version of the policy, a reference was also made to the modern universities such as the Ivy League Universities in the United States that provide the rationale for establishing large multidisciplinary research universities. In the latest version, this reference has been omitted. Why?  Due to the pressure of the “nationalists” who do not want to be seen as following a foreign model or a hubris that we do not need to learn from foreign institutions of eminence and excellence?

This also then brings to mind the fact that the evolution of higher education in the modern times in India itself is completely absent from this policy. The founding of Hindu College in 1817, of Sermapore College in 1818, of Bishop’s college in 1820 (The college is celebrating its bicentenary this year) finds no mention. The first two have since then grown into universities. Most tragically, the founding of the three modern universities in 1858, in Calcutta, Madras and Bombay, is not acknowledged. An awareness of history of these institutions over the last two hundred years is the best guide to formulate a convincing policy. As we are envisioning a Brave New Academic World, this unwillingness to take a realistic view of the living history of modern education, will hamper any effort towards self-understanding or an effective diagnosis of what blights our larger systems.    

3. TECHNOLOGY USE AND INTEGRATION

The history of tools, techniques and technology is marked with significant mile stones in history of humans and humanity. The history of technology in education has been traced back to the use of hornbook and pointer in early school. The topics Technology in Education, Educational Technology, Education and Technology have contributed in terms of tools, methods, and methodology in the domain of education. The NEP 2020 appears to bear the foreshadow of the role of ICT in education as technology has turned out to be increasingly pervasive since the turn of the 21st century.

The journey from Sandbox in early 20th century to the use of Computer Assisted Instructions (CAI) in the 1960s is a phenomenal one. Thus the use and integration of technology conforming to a classrooms and laboratories in assisting the teacher or an instructor at a venue of the instruction has turned out to be a necessity rather than a choice. However, given the ratio of the scale of the need of education for the population such as that in India, and the educational institutions, the facilities to meet this demand, Distance Education was considered to be one of the solution which also served the purpose of continuing education, capacity building etc. To meet the need of demand verses supply, besides the instructions by correspondences, institutions such as IGNOU resorted to technology as an innovative step. The dedicated television channels to telecast the lessons/lectures are the testimony of use and integration of technology in and for education. 

While such technological advancements with one-way communication have assisted in the reach of instructional part of education reach the extents of population that have access to the technology, we need to realise that access, equity and excellence being the parameters of effectiveness of education, technological advancements cannot replace human teachers. Therefore dependence on technology to meet the quantitative as well as qualitative requirement is a subject of prudent and judicious decision. The statement of Alan Turing (Alan Turing is one person whose troubleshooting capabilities yielded the breakthrough in the mathematical model, the basis of modern computers.); “we can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty that needs to be done” not only captures the longevity of the designs he presented for “computing” but his insight of the competitive environment generated by the needs. Turing stated this early enough when his conceptual models was only getting realized as physical devices as though he was almost able to foresee the durability of each electronics based solution. If the use and integration of technology in education as presented in NEP 2020 be viewed as the continuum of the ongoing trend rather than an intentional choice then it calls for a number of diligent responses from experts in technology as well as the non-experts.

The scope of National Educational Technology Forum (NETF) with its premise of Digital India with digitally empowered society, NEP 2020 does indicate a gamut of computer-based options which promise efficiency but raise concerns of their feasibility. The scalability of some of the aspired solutions may not be feasible not only due to the disparity in access to technology but also the controls in the application of the technology itself. One concern that has also been touched upon in the policy is that of disruptive technology. To estimate the impact, to draft safety valves, and to respond to such issues, there have been initiatives such as Ethical Artificial Intelligence emanating from Science-Ethics dialogue.

The dualism resulting from the policies such as NPE or NEP at present moment is caused by the processes of implementation and the short-life of the technology itself. Therefore, the dependence of education on technology based on a futuristic or a predicted experiment in one part of the world need not promise success based on the trends of promising results in another part. While Christian response and reality check may be desirable, but for doing so the questions need to be identified and understood well.

Some questions that I would like us to reflect is: Since the limitations of technology is as inescapable as the finiteness of the resources put to use, can unquestionable dependence on technology meet the objectives of education? If dependence on technology is imperative to meet the quantitative need, will the paradigm shift with discourse on autonomy also contribute to the commodification of education to the extent that the category of human instructor based education would become a commodity of the rich? This question may also lead to the next question in the chain, what is the kind of a generation we are building up; one educated by ICT based technology driven education and research and the privileged class of educated who receive education by human teachers? Would the task of keeping up with the technological advancement due to the short-life of ICT technology be a liability rather than letting technology be an aid in education? Likewise the application of artificial intelligence and related technologies for effective education must open a pertinent discourse.   

CONCLUSION

Any policy is rooted in one or the other ideological framework that always forces you to read between the lines and thus analyzing it is challenging. The policy discussions need further critical analysis on the excessive centralization and homogeneity it endorses. This goes against the provisions the Constitution of India to exercise freedom and creative resourcefulness of the diverse community we belong to. The concern for the poor and the marginalized needs to be at the heart of policy making for a developing country like India which has so many social issues related to equality, equity and social justice.  The increase of technology in the educational spaces without emphasizing the need for digital literacy, pedagogical intervention and relating this to access and equity could further contribute to marginalization. Related to this would also be the issue of multiple exit points and alternate education structures which if not critically looked at can again reinforce the disadvantages that the socially disadvantaged groups experience. We do agree that we need to plan for excellence and advancement of society in all its domains, but only by balancing excellence with equity. If education is to be an institution to fulfill constitutional guarantees, we need to look at policy and practice from the lens of social justice. This then makes it imperative for all stakeholders and educationist to primarily ask; what are we investing into the system of education in terms of, our vision, resources and processes that will guarantee men and women alike an equal chance to be free from want, fear and ignorance. Finally, to conclude, the question we need to ask ourselves is can we be contented with our past and present system of Education, when millions of our fellowmen and women continue to live in poverty, disease and ignorance?

        

Prof. Sonajharia MinzSonajharia Minz is the Vice-Chancellor of Sido Kanhu Murmu University (SKMU), Dumka.  She is a Professor of School of Computer and Systems Sciences in Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi (now on deputation as VC). Sonajharia Minz has done MSc. in Mathematics from Madras Christian College, Tambaram, Chennai, TN. She did her M.Phil and Ph.D. in the area of Artificial Intelligence from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She has supervised a number of Ph.D. and M.Tech. research in Machine Learning algorithms for Data Mining and Data Analytics. Her research papers are published in reputed international journals.
Prof. Sybil Thomas  Sybil Thomas is professor with the Department of Education, University of Mumbai. She has been in the field of teacher education for many years .  She is passionate about seeing how teacher education evolves to fulfill the objectives of higher education. Using a mixed method approach to research, she would like to see how teachers and students alike take part in the process of knowledge generation for the service and transformation of society. Her Doctor in Philosophy was on the Study of Attitudes of Students Towards Educated and Working  Women in Relation to Some Variables.
Dr Ashish Alexander  Dr Ashish Alexander is the Dean, School of Filim and Mass Communication and Head of the English department in SHUATS, Allahabad. He did his Ph.D. from Panjab University, Chandigarh, during which time he freelanced for Indian Express and worked in the editorial team of Dainik Bhaskar. He also wrote for newspapers like The Tribune, Daily Post and Caravan magazine. He later edited a magazine published from Delhi, which focused on the issues related to marginalized communities of India.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *