Opportunity in decades: What India’s New Education Policy must not miss?

The preparation of Education Policy document is a serious exercise. The past policy recommendations have remained unrealised due to lack of mechanisms being put in place for effective implementation. Let us not repeat this mistake again.

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The past policy recommendations have remained unrealised due to lack of mechanisms being put in place for effective implementation. Let us not repeat this mistake again, writes . (Photo/Agency)

The last National Policy on Education was framed in 1986 and modified through Programme of Action (POA) in 1992. Since then many significant changes have taken place in the society in general and education sector in particular necessitating to frame a New to address these concerns. Accordingly, the Government of India initiated a series of consultations at state, district, block and village levels to elicit public opinion on the subject including taking inputs from citizens online. The government also constituted a drafting committee on December 28, 2015 to help frame the new National which can provides a framework for the development of education in India over the coming few years.

A document titled, ”Some Inputs for Draft National 2016″ has been put in the public domain in order to solicit public opinion.  It has evoked a lot of response by a number of NGOs, Civil Society Forums and Institutions who have organised sessions and consultations. I was invited to some of them. Some pertinent issues were raised and discussed which among others included possibility of linking salary with research; integration vs assimilation; prescribing modalities based on authentic data; institutionalisation of  authenticity of data; need for innovative funding mechanism; need to address unprecedented developments in the information and communication technologies (ICTs) and need for a strategy for application of mid-course corrections. The concerns were also raised about the credibility of educational interventions and need for policy retrospective to learn from the past experiences. Some of them have submitted their recommendations to the Ministry of Human Resource Development ().

The preparation of Education Policy document is a serious exercise which should provide us with an overall framework that governs implementation of education system in India. It has to clearly define purpose of education, objective, methods to be used to attain given objective and instruments to measure quality, success or failure.

The New Education Policy framework

The purpose of education cannot be a given constant. It has to be dynamic, ever evolving symbiotically with the evolution of human society. Among the primitives, the purpose of education was to provide the progeny with life-skills for survival. With the rise of sciences, the purpose of education for the society came to be the study of nature, its components and the surrounding environment. As sciences led to technology, the purpose of education shifted once again— it was to impart skills and know-how in relation to the application of sciences for socio-economic purposes. We now witness that the purpose of education has further diversified significantly involving sustained economic growth, better quality of life, uplifting the needy, push for socio-economic equity, extensive reach, exploration in diverse  realms, global mutual understanding and the like. One cannot deny that the purpose of education is fundamental for policy perspective, therefore, needs to be clearly defined in the New Education Policy framework.

There are a number of key challenges identified in the draft input document circulated for public opinion. These could be broadly classified into following six main categories: accessibility; quality issues; employability; ICT; teaching; and governance & management including funding.

Accessibility

The draft input document talks about the importance of early childhood education & current GER and its current target to be further raised to 30 per cent in 2020-21.  For a while I got confused whether I am going through a policy document or a plan document. Accessibility basically refers to ways in which education system provide equal and equitable opportunities and access to all, regardless of their social class, gender, economic or ethnicity background or physical and mental disabilities. The policy document is expected to provide a framework to achieve this goal rather than setting targets for GER. The Right to Education Act which provides for free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years could be a step towards facilitating access to primary education. Similarly, Open and Distance Education (ODL) as a modality could be instrumental in increasing access to higher and vocational education. The New Education Policy framework is expected to provide a blue print for the same.

Quality Issues

Generally, by tradition the quality of   education has not been in question. For quite some time, we used to talk about education standards than quality per se. There were clearly identifiable factors which were supposed to ensure it—adequate infrastructure, quality faculty, entrance standards, duration of studies, course content, delivery modalities and assessment schema. With the changing times, proliferation of and competition among higher education institutions and the advent of open distance modalities the issue of quality in the educational enterprise came to the fore.

Steadily, other factors relevant to the issue of quality in education started emerging such as systemic factors like curriculum design, course materials, monitoring of educational transactions or learner support services; the philosophic factors like the level of access and equity provided, socio-economic relevance of courses and the like; and pedagogic factors like the respective levels of attention given to cognitive, psychomotor and affective domains. Apart from these factors, a professional view of standards, and so of quality in education, came to be measured in terms of the degree of fitness of a content together with the related educational transactions for the defined purpose of the said content and transaction. All these along with efficient and transparent accreditation mechanism should form an important component of the National Education Policy framework.

A teacher also plays an important role in enhancing the quality of education. The teacher training, therefore, assumes great significance for any policy framework for education. The draft input document considers the “current teacher education and training facilities grossly inadequate and training programmes inappropriate in terms of equipping the teachers with the competencies required to cope with the new profile and roles expected of teachers and to enable them to carry out their duties in diverse social, economic, cultural and technological environments.”  Any national education policy has to have as a part of its blueprint a clear strategy for institutionalizing capacity building of the teachers, to be achieved in a time bound manner. Apart from addressing the problem of improving quality of teaching, the policy document should also provide scope for inviting outstanding NRI teachers to join the system rather than promoting import of foreign faculty.

Employability

The draft input document states that “India is one of the youngest nations in the world with more than 54 percent of its total population below 25 years of age…. the institutional arrangements to support technical and vocational education programmes remain quite inadequate.”  A recent news report supports this. It stated that, “ as many as 984 graduates and five MPhil degree holders had applied for the five ‘hamal’ (porter) posts in Maharashtra for which  minimum educational qualification was   Class 4 pass.

Again the Kanpur Municipal Corporation (KMC) was flooded with seven lakh applications against its 3,275 vacancies for safai karamcharis. A staggering five lakh of them were graduates and postgraduates. There is something basically wrong with our education system I was hoping against hope that new Education Policy framework will provide a blue print for making Universities Industry- Relevant. It essentially means that curricula for vocational and skill development educational interventions should be such which will deliver “ Work-ready” degree holders, as practiced in Malaysia

ICT in Education

The education in general and higher education in particular is at cross roads today as a result of paradigm shift induced by ICT revolution. ICT is pushing us into the information era and shaping us as a knowledge society. It is important that we perceive and understand the full implications of this latest innovative force manifested through ICT applications and the related motivational thrust (exemplified by OER), both of which are unfolding and driving ahead inexorably, ICT  needs to be harnessed to match the expanding demand for education, to develop new socially relevant and multidisciplinary content.

We can also explore experimenting with what Malaysia is doing “Blending the Traditional and the Modern Educational Technologies”, rather than running blindly after new technologies. It should be clear that the notion of Belnded mode is not a static construct, instead it has to be conceived to be dynamic, as it must go on changing with changes in the national and international socio-economic scenarios, the corresponding needs and content of education, and developments in ICT hardware, software and applications. The NEP document needs to provide us a framework for judicious use of ICT

Governance & Management

It is important that NEP provides a clear framework on management and governance of educational institutions. For example the relation between a university and the government should be as pre-adjudicated. Universities are established under charters, according to bills passed by the parliament or state legislatures, which invariably define and outline the nature of the relationship between the government and the institution to be established. These documents provide a reasonably well defined framework, within which universities are expected to function independently. They should be allowed to do so within the overall National Educational framework to be provided by NEP, without any ad hoc impositions from the government. This expounds the ideal relationship between the government and universities.

In view of changing profile of both teachers and students, reorientation of learners, academics, educational administrators and the providers of student support services has become a compelling necessity. I feel that institutions of higher learning in particular may have to revisit their missions, administrative structures and budgeting processes and reorganise their operations keeping in view the varied applications of technology, human resource requirements and market forces. The New Education Policy framework should facilitate this.

The New Educational Policy framework presupposes serious discussions and consultations. It cannot be done in hurry. It cannot be made to boil down to set of recommendations. It has to be much more than that. It has to be a document which guides the nation to turn India in to a knowledgeable and learning society.

These policies are not frequently framed; therefore there is a need to have a long-term perspective. I personally feel that it is incumbent on all the institutions to join hands together and extend all necessary cooperation and assistance to government to ensure that all pervasive document in the shape of New Education Policy is in place. The government in turn should provide broad guidelines for such consultations and keep a realistic mechanism in place to receive time bound feedback. The draft input document admits, “that past policy recommendations have remained unrealised due to lack of mechanisms being put in place for effective implementation”. If it is so, let us not repeat this mistake again.

The author, Professor M Aslam, is an award winning academician. He recently retired as Vice-Chancellor of Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). Views are personal.

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