Six years after the Centre scrapped the four-year undergraduate programme introduced by Delhi University, the New Education Policy has made out a strong case for its reinstatement at the national level. However, even though the four-year course would bring Indian universities at par with many of the premier foreign universities, yet prior to its implementation, the issue needs greater clarity and understanding.
Former Delhi University Vice Chancellor, Prof Dinesh Singh, is gratified that his project has finally obtained the required approval, and has thus welcomed the move. Significantly, the proposal of an additional year needs to be comprehensively explained before it is adopted. The policy is directionless, on what would be the future options for those desirous of pursuing a post graduate degree, on the completion of the four-year undergraduate course. There is a provision for students to be enrolled for a PhD programme, but would the post graduate (MA degree), be of one-year duration, as it is in some international universities, or would it also entail a two-year curriculum?
The new plan delves at great length on the Academic Credit Bank, that would enable students to earn credits from various institutions. This alien concept indeed is revolutionary, but would require a memorandum of understanding to be signed amongst Indian universities to honour and accept each other’s credit gradations. It is a known fact that there are academic variations so far as our universities are concerned. For instance, Delhi University cannot, in any manner, even by a far stretch of imagination, be compared to any non-descript obscure university.
The point raised is that would Delhi University award its degree to a student who, in need of 130 credit points, acquires 80, from the Delhi University, and 50 from some other institution? Would it not compromise the standards of the final degree to be conferred? The matter would become contentious, since universities enjoy an autonomous character, and each decision regarding parity would have to be passed through both the Executive Council and Academic Councils or their equivalent in various universities.
So far as school education is concerned, the new policy seeks to introduce universalisation without making any Constitutional commitment to the topic. The need of the hour is to extend the Right to Education Act via proper legislation, so that the existing provision, which covered students enrolled till the 8th standard, should go beyond that, to also bring in pupils enrolled up to the 12th standard under its charter. Therefore, extensive homework is required by the bureaucracy, which would handle the task of making things workable, after going through reams of pages containing recommendations of the panel, headed by noted scientist, K. Kasturirangan.
Strangely, the Kasturirangan panel, comprising eminent professionals, did not have a single member with adequate experience of enunciating an education policy. This could prove to be a major hurdle when the recommendations are subjected to a critical appraisal by experts, both at the Centre and in the States. It is imperative to point out here that the recommendations are not implemented overnight, as is the erroneous impression being projected by many on social media, but require a thorough understanding of the issues involved. Right to Education itself was feebly implemented seven years after it was adopted.
There is also a huge question mark on the future of public schools imparting education in English medium. Building on the recommendations of earlier reports, the panel has suggested that education should be imparted till the fifth standard in one’s mother tongue, and wherever possible, till the eighth standard. It also speaks about education in the regional languages, laying special emphasis on Sanskrit. Therefore, what needs further explanation is whether the government would impose its will on these private English medium institutions.
Paradoxically, the policy does not underline any procedure by which Hindi could be promoted as a national language. Fearing a backlash from many of the southern states, that had in the past opposed imposition of Hindi on them, the recommendations do not furnish any clear-cut answers regarding, in any manner, the strengthening of the national language. Thus, it may be an uphill task to make Hindi the national language in the future as well.
Similarly, there is also confusion so far as medical and engineering courses are concerned. These streams require that the subjects that are taught, complement each other and support the learning process. As an illustration, Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics have a definite linkage that always form the latent concept in the overall absorption. Therefore, the recommendation that offers a candidate to appear twice for the school boards would not be conducive to those who opt for subjects, if delinked, could curtail comprehension, unless concurrently cleared.
Finally, there is a straight-forward attempt to centralise education by having the Prime Minister to be the formal head of the proposed Higher Education Commission of India, with four demarcated verticals functioning directly under it. This would put his position at odds with several state governments that may have their own interpretation of the education policy. Why should anything of this nature be executed that puts the office of the Prime Minister in any controversy?
The situation necessitates the recalling of the famous lines by T.S. Eliot. “Where is the life we have lost in living, where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge and where is the knowledge that we have lost in information”.
Education is an extremely important subject impacting the future and needs to be handled in an objective and ideologically neutral way. Between us.