Insights into Editorial: Treating education as a public good
Education, for most of us, is a necessary public good central to the task of nation building and, like fresh air, is necessary to make our communities come alive.
It should not be driven solely by market demand for certain skills, or be distracted by the admittedly disruptive impact, for instance, of Artificial Intelligence.
This form of education should be unshackled from the chains of deprivation, and “affordable” education, for instance in JNU, is vital to ensure access to even the most marginalised sections of our country.
The NEP wisely recognises that a comprehensive liberal arts education will help to “develop all capacities of human beings intellectual, aesthetic, social, physical, emotional, and moral in an integrated manner.”
Salient features of NEP 2019:
- The policy aims to universalize the pre-primary education by 2025 and provide foundational literacy/numeracy for all by 2025
- It proposes new Curricular and Pedagogical Structure, with 5+3+3+4 design covering the children in the age group 3-18 years.
- Under this, Pre-Primary & Grades 1-2 is considered as foundational Stage; Grades 3-5 as Preparatory Stage; Grades 6-8 as Middle Stage and Grades 9-12 as Secondary Stage. This is an academic restructuring only; there will be no physical restructuring of schools
- Universal Access & Retention with 100% Gross Enrolment Ratio for all school education by 2030.
- Children learn languages, most quickly between 2-8 years, and multilingualism has great cognitive benefits for students. Therefore, a three-language formula has been proposed.
- It proposes the teaching of other classical languages and literature, including Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Odia, Pali, Persian, and Prakrit in schools
- A new independent State School Regulatory Authority (SSRA) to be created
- It aims to consolidate 800 universities & 40,000 colleges into around 15,000 large, multidisciplinary institutions
- The policy proposes three types of Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs): Research Universities, Teaching Universities and Autonomous degree-granting colleges
- It aims to provide autonomy to all higher education institutions. Higher education institutions to be governed by Independent Boards with complete academic and administrative autonomy
- An autonomous body called the National Research Foundation (NRF) to be set up through an Act of Parliament
- Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog or the National Education Commission – apex body – to be constituted.
- It will be chaired by the Prime Minister and will comprise eminent educationists, researchers, Union Ministers, representation of Chief Ministers of States, eminent professionals from various fields
- MHRD to be re-designated as the Ministry of Education (MoE)
- Increase in public investment by the Central and State Governments to 20% of overall public expenditure over a 10-year period.
However, the concerns are intellectuals like Jiddu Krishnamurti, arguably the greatest Indian thinker on education in the 20th century, does not find a mention in the most recent iteration of the New Education Policy (NEP) 2019.
Krishnamurthi’s ideas on education and freedom learning in a non-competitive and non-hierarchical ecosystem and discovering one’s true passion without any sense of fear may have been too heterodox for a government report.
Nonetheless, there are elements of contemporary global thinking that do inform the NEP en passant the emphasis on creativity and critical thinking and the ability to communicate and collaborate across cultural differences, which are part of the global common sense.
Challenges in implementation of NEP 2019:
- Main concern about the division between research-intensive ‘premier’ universities; teaching universities; and colleges.
- The NEP suggests, “three ‘types’ of institutions are not in any natural way a sharp, exclusionary categorisation, but are along a continuum”.
- But the advantage of these divisions, per se, is neither intuitively nor analytically clear, given that high quality teaching and cutting-edge research comfortably coexist in most universities of excellence.
- Draft NEP recommended doubling of public funding to 6% of the GDP and increasing overall public expenditure on education to 20% from the current 10%.
- This is desirable but does not appear to be feasible in the near future, given that most of the additional funding has to come from the States.
- The report has appealed to philanthropists and companies to route their corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds to supplement government efforts, but it forgets that such funds will not be ideologically neutral.
- Expanding coverage under the RTE Act to include pre-school children is extremely important, but should perhaps be introduced gradually, keeping in mind the quality of infrastructure and teacher vacancies. Amendment of the Act can perhaps wait for a while.
- The idea of setting up the Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog is crucial in order to integrate the approaches and programs of multiple departments.
- However, bringing medical or agricultural or legal education under one umbrella is likely to be met with stiff opposition.
- Language issues have to be handled sensitively in view of their emotional overtones, as witnessed recently.
Suggestions of the Draft National Education Policy will play a critical role in the transformation of the Indian education system.
It is expected to help India in reaping its demographic dividend. However, the Draft National Education Policy has certain sore points that need to be relooked at for the benefit of teachers and students alike.
Education policy, in essence, must aim to produce sensitive, creative and upright citizens who are willing to take the less-travelled path and whose professional “skills” will endure revolutions in thinking and technology.
India’s past, and its unique, culturally diverse matrix provide a rich framework, but delivering on a holistic liberal education programme requires much more than just proclamations.