The Draft National Education Policy 2019 strikes the right notes, but in its final form it must advance a globally relevant framework that encourages Indian educationists.
The Draft National Education Policy (NEP) 2019—released by the Modi Government shortly after winning the national election—will “change the educational landscape” of India, in the words of Dr K. Kasturirangan, Chairman of the Committee for the Draft NEP. It is aimed at “preparing our youth to meet the variety of present and future challenges”. “The Policy is founded on the guiding goals of Access, Equity, Quality, Affordability and Accountability.” The Government has invited feedback on the NEP. Given just how critical it is for us to have a say, I would encourage everyone to send their feedback to National Education Policy 2019 – MyGov Innovation by 31 July 2019.
The last NEP was released in 1986, before the Economic reforms of 1991 made India an integral part of the global economy. Given the socio-economic inequity, cultural and geographic diversity of India, the potential exponential return on investment in education and the disruptive impact of technology on every aspect of our lives, it is not surprising that the drafters of the 2019 NEP took about two years to prepare the document. Add to that, their claim that somehow the urban educated elite have “used English (whether deliberately or inadvertently) to marginalise large sections of society based on language, keeping them out of higher paying jobs and the higher socio economic strata”, and you can see why the NEP, while aiming to meet India’s aspirational goals for the 21st century, decided to refocus education policy on India’s proud history, culture and knowledge systems. The NEP didn’t disappoint on this front. Or did it? It is interesting to note that the NEP is currently available only in English and Hindi, but not the 22 languages recognised in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India, and despite the emphasis on learning multiple languages in the NEP.
Why we need a new National Education Policy
It is imperative for India to have a bold transformational vision for education, backed by a concrete plan of action with defined outcomes, timelines and ownership. This plan needs to take into consideration India’s Constitution, existing laws, public and private school systems, the aspirations, learning needs and mindset(s) of our citizens, the availability of faculty, education leaders and administrators, technology, physical infrastructure, and funding required to deliver on the vision.
For a start, it makes education a national priority and is aimed at meeting the UN’s SDG4: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education; promote lifelong learning for all” by 2030. It commits to doubling the Government’s spend on education by 2030, even while it appreciates the role the private sector plays in meeting the educational aspirations of our citizens.
Most importantly, the NEP recognises the need for India to educate our children for life, rather than just for a test. It takes into consideration that each child learns differently, and at a different pace. The NEP proposes that we cut our syllabus dramatically so students may just learn core concepts (how this will equip students effectively for further education and life is to be established), and invest more time on building cognitive and life skills, identified as key for survival, not just excellence in the 21st century. As an educator who has literally invested blood, sweat and tears over the last 15 years into building a K12 school (Inventure Academy, based in Bangalore with 1,225 students and 200 educators) which excels on doing just that in a rather unsupportive environment, this approach of the NEP is music to my ears.
But the NEP, unlike the RTE, also requires tests in grades 3, 5 and 8 aimed at conducting a “Health Check”, and two sets of board exams per year across grades 9-12. This will be useful to build a national repository of data, and facilitate the design and delivery of targeted initiatives. However, my very real concern would be that the tests in grades 3, 5 and 8 will be considered as board exams, and parents and teachers will start preparing children to take the test. The jury (my students and faculty were appalled at the idea) is out on the eight sets of board exams over four years in high school, irrespective of the stated intention of the drafters in requiring minimal effort in preparing for them. The current mindset on the purpose of going to school is to ace a board exam in order to get into a “dream” college and get a job. It seems to me that this aspect of the NEP contradicts the previous one that is so close to my heart and my life’s investment.
The NEP recognises the importance of all students “being taught by passionate, motivated, highly qualified, professionally trained, and well equipped teachers”, complemented by technology to enable more adaptive and personalised learning. Curiously, in a world which rewards leadership (as evidenced by PM Modi’s landslide win in the recent election) and entrepreneurship, the NEP is largely silent about the role of school management/promoters.
The NEP vision: India-centred rather than world-centred
Our concerns with the suitability and desirability of the NEP, however, start with the vision which says, “The National Education Policy 2019 envisions an India-centred education system that contributes directly to transforming our nation sustainably into an equitable and vibrant knowledge society, by providing high quality education to all.”
Given the world we live in is highly globalised and interdependent, and India will have the largest working population in the world (even as the developed world ages), we have the opportunity to truly make PM Modi’s “Make in India” initiative and goal—to make India a five-trillion-dollar economy by 2024—a reality. As he said, “The goal is challenging but achievable.”
But in order to achieve this we need to have a more confident worldview and engage with the world in order to share our philosophy and establish our standing in it. We need to appreciate that the world is currently more influenced by economists and philosophers such as Adam Smith.
We also need to ramp up our efforts (as the Karnataka Government is doing) to teach English. In the same way that schooling has transformed from being a privilege that the elite enjoyed, to a “Right to Life”, learning English is essential in a globalised world. China has in fact hired a mind-boggling one lakh native English language teachers. According to the British Council, 2 billion people in the world will be studying English by 2020. Controlling the choice of language and fighting the tide for nationalistic objectives diminishes and dilutes the larger objectives of the proposed NEP.
Central to all of this, as the NEP realises, is freedom. Freedom for students to choose subjects, and an environment which caters to their “differing talents, interests, goals and ambitions”. It recognises the importance of “high respect for teachers” and “for the very best to be inspired to enter the profession”. At the same time it says, “teachers are accountable… to the public at large for what they are doing or not doing for education in schools”.
If you ask Inventure students and faculty what they value the most about Inventure, most will tell you: “Freedom.” It is my humble submission therefore that the Government give private school leaders and teachers the freedom to decide what kind of schools they want to establish, when and how they want to teach and assess, what learning materials they use. The policy is very contradictory on this front. It essentially says schools have freedom, as long as they are aligned with what the Government says. Further, it restricts learning, and does not prepare our youth to be world ready by calling for “National textbooks with (only) local content and flavour”, “published at cost of production/printing”. It also impedes the Right to Occupation for school funders (who are very much educators, not just funders) and organisations who create educational institutions and learning resources.
In its effort to get a balance between freedom and accountability, the NEP gives schools the right to a self-declaration, even while making them accountable to school management committees and local panchayats/wards. Absurdly, the NEP does not even see a role for school founders/leaders on the SMC. It makes parents and the general public, rather than the government de-facto regulators.
So in “New India”, school leaders will effectively be franchisees of the Ministry of Education, and be held accountable by the general public and media, who may or may not be experts in education or child development. It also opens up schools to people with vested interests. Educators in Karnataka already face activists and members of political parties entering schools without permission for various reasons. As per newspaper reports from February 2019, one private school educator was kidnapped. Shashi Kumar, General Secretary, Associated Management of Primary and Secondary Schools in Karnataka, states, “Hooligans, under the guise of being activists for the RTE prey on them.” How about child and teacher safety? The NEP, incidentally, is largely silent on the impact of several proposals on child protection such as permitting adults to enter and use school spaces for activities ranging from teaching internships to adult education. Who will take responsibility for the behaviour of the general public and others who will have free access to school campuses, under the NEP?
In an India which so desperately needs our best and our brightest to become educators, the need of the hour is to incentivise educators and innovation in education, both private and public. We need to address the elephant in the room—namely, that it is largely the public school system, controlled by the Government which has failed India. I see diagnosis on what led to that in the NEP but no concrete plan of action to address this.
The NEP, even while being well-intentioned in its desire to have a “light but tight” regulatory regime would benefit from having a wider range of people on the drafting committee, including students, teachers, school leaders, business people and entrepreneurs. We need to include people who have first-hand experience in co-creating and realising a vision, establishing and running an organisation sustainably in India, despite a relatively hostile regulatory environment and “Third World” infrastructure.
We as a nation need to invest significant resources in order to ensure that every human being has the right to a quality education. Based on my calculation, I believe India needs to invest a minimum of 600%-1400% more than what the NEP has committed to, over the next 10 years, particularly if private educators are not motivated to be partners in this journey. We will also need to examine the feasibility of realising the vision of the NEP by 2030, taking into consideration the current laws of the land, and the availability of time, physical infrastructure, technology and faculty required to teach and learn all the additional subjects.
In conclusion we need to have a more enabling and diverse global vision for education, educators and India, in order to ensure that every citizen fulfils their inherent potential, and is socially responsible.
Nooraine Fazal is Managing Trustee, CEO and Co-Founder, Inventure Academy.