High-hanging fruits of NEP: Excessive stress on outcomes deprives focus on inputs

By Archit Taluka*

Education is the thin yet important line that stands between ignorance and confidence, between an uncertain and painful life and a promising one. Unarguably, education has been unanimously viewed as a basic necessity for one to lead a dignified life and hence, has been rightfully held as a fundamental right in the Indian constitution for decades now.

Given the interest that almost the entire country invests in the subject matter of education, a natural outcome is that all related policy decisions and changes are closely scrutinised. Similar was the case with new National Education Policy 2020. Like almost all other policy decisions, it managed to polarise masses and sparked a debate about the stated merits of the policy. Nonetheless, one common theme mutually agreed to be everyone is that the NEP attempts to revamp the entire education paradigm of our country. While a few have vociferously put forth how the NEP reimagines the vocational education for the better, others have questioned its mandate against the larger and more trusted vision of the Right to Education Act.

The proponents of the NEP are wowed by the multi-disciplinary approach of the policy and how it empowers the students to make choices at an increased number of junctures. The NEP has gone a tad too ahead in its pursuit of providing choices to the students as indicated by its integrative approach to dismantle the contemporary specializations across Science, Commerce and Arts. Inherently, the policy claims to be centered around students, giving them more flexibility to design their educational journey, with more options with respect to the medium of instruction, subjects and even the duration of the degree.

The policy gives an impression of wanting to usher in a system where the formative years of schooling are focussed on enhancing the experiences of the students, thereby reducing the stress levels the students must otherwise go through. Multiple opportunities in board examinations and application-based assessments are the markers of the attempts to address the correct set of educational objectives for the children.

Undoubtedly, all of these are goals that a progressive education should strive for. These are ambitions that have the potential to culminate into a utopian schooling landscape. However, at the same time, it is also imperative to distinguish between “What should be achieved?” and “What can be achieved?” and have ambitions that can be viewed with the lens of realism.

Although the NEP indisputably puts forth desirable goals, there are more core issues which have ben left unaddressed by the policy. A recent Annual Status of Education Report (published by education non-profit Pratham) concludes that only 16% of the children surveyed in Standard I can read at the level expected from that grade. This clearly indicates the lacunae plaguing the primary educational facilities at the schools presently. In this context, heavy terms like “social and emotional skills” and “multidisciplinary education” do little to solve the more fundamental issues the educations sector is struggling with.

In addition, it is not difficult to put into perspective the meagre investment in education by the government. According to a report by IMD, India stands at 62nd position in terms of aggregate public expenditure on education per student. Against this backdrop, investments in expanding the usage of Indian languages might seem superfluous when more pressing issues of inadequate infrastructure, poor quality of teacher training are considered. Thus, the priority list of the NEP to institutionalise a multi-faceted choice-based education system seems questionable when a substantial chunk of the population is still struggling to realise their fundamental right to education.

The fight for a universal right to education gets tough as soon as one taints the educational aspirations of a policy with some political favours. The NEP also concedes to the pressure. Without even mentioning the dubious way in which the policy bypassed Parliament and blatantly overlooked discussion with the states, its zealousness to centralise the regulatory authority is alarming. Constituting a single central regulatory body for higher education robs the states of any autonomy to intervene in this area despite education enjoying a concurrent status in the Constitution.

Let’s not even get started on how unclear the future roadmap is with respect to implementing the said policy. With no directives and timelines, the execution of the ambition-ridden NEP hangs in the air. The oft-repeated promise of increasing public investment in education to 6% of GDP does not find any mention in the policy, furthering a neglect of the more fundamental issues in the pursuit of lofty goals.

Needless to say, the NEP presents an amazing recipe for the transformation of the education sector and seems to inch closer towards the ideal. However, the recipe seems too difficult to be cooked as our country has a lot of other more critical challenges to address in the education system. The excessive focus on outcomes deprives of the opportunity to discuss the inputs. It would not hurt for the policymakers to put the wings of ambition with legs rooted in reality.

*Final year MBA student at IIM Ahmedabad

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