Draft Natl Ed Policy
By Dhurjati Mukherjee
There is much debate over the recently released new draft National Education Policy, which has come out with some encouraging recommendations. Experts believe that the Policy has been so geared to ensure that institutes act as an incentive to perform. In fact, discussions on the subject have already started among experts and educationists in different parts of the country.
However, the most significant aspect is the proposal of incremental increase in spending in the education sector till it reaches 20 per cent of the total public expenditure in next 10 years. Public expenditure, both of the Centre and States, on education in the country was just 2.7 per cent of GDP in 2017-18, which is about 10 per cent of the total government spending. The NEP panel rightly suggested that Central expenditure on education has to double and the State expenditure will also have to increase significantly to achieve the target.
Another important facet of the new draft lauds the ancient Indian knowledge system and celebrates the contribution of people like Aryabhrata, Bhaskaracharya, Chanakya, Patanjali, Panini etc. in fields as diverse as astronomy, medical science and surgery, civil engineering and architecture, shipbuilding and navigation. It proposes integrating the ancient system of knowledge with modern curricula and aims to phase out single stream higher education institutes by converting them into multi-disciplinary establishments in keeping with traditional Indian literature that talks about kala (crafts), including science, music and dance.
But the most significant of the updated policy has been that all higher education institutions have to offer courses in Open Distance Learning so as to increase higher education enrolment rate among 18 to 24 year olds from the present about 26 per cent to 50 per cent over the next 10 years. The draft also proposes four year undergraduate programmes with the option to exit at the end of each year with graded academic qualifications. Those who opt out at the end of the first year will get a diploma; after two years will receive an advance diploma; after three years will get bachelor’s degree and those who complete the four-year course will be entitled to a bachelor’s degree and be eligible to enrol for research. Students now have to complete their Master’s to join M.Phil programme.
While the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) and National Board of Accreditation (NBA) now assess accredited institutes, the same process will have to be followed by private entities.
The new opportunities that are expected to be thrown up by the new policy was underlined by Dr Krishnaswamy Kasturiangan, chairman, Committee for Draft National Education Policy 2019, who also mentioned that different aspects and suggestions of experts, covering technical, medical and even general areas, were taken into consideration, at a recent programme of the Indian Chamber of Commerce at Kolkata.
The need for training was emphasised in the conference by Dr Bhushan Patwardhan, Vice Chairman, University Grants Commission, who informed that it will start a one month residential training programme for teachers below par from the next academic session. “We are saying that NET/SET and Ph.D qualifications are necessary. But these are basic qualifications. Before you actually go to a classroom, you need to be trained properly on what this profession is and how you should teach”. Those who will train the teachers were recently prepared at the IISER, Pune.
Meanwhile, the debate of NEP comes in the midst of widespread reports of lack of quality teaching in schools and colleges as also the lack of initiative of teachers in most of these institutions. Teacher absenteeism accounts for the loss of one quarter of primary school spending. A World Bank report estimated the loss to be a staggering $2 billion a year in the country, just at the primary level. It needs to be mentioned here that the poor and the impoverished sections suffer the most for such absenteeism in school and colleges as they cannot afford private tuition to compensate the loss of institutional teaching.
One may refer here to a recent study by Niti Aayog and Boston Consulting Group, which found that though 100 per cent enrolment in primary schools has been largely met, the problem remains in qualitative improvement. And while India has three times more schools than China, nearly 4 lakh schools in our country have less than 50 students and a maximum of two teachers. Thus, 1.5-odd crore students study in such unviable schools, according to the study.
There is no denying that India needs a totally new education system that emphasises on academic excellence, world class research and institutions. Unfortunately, no political party has given the requisite priority to academic excellence and most of their focus is on creating more quotas in educational institutions and jobs. Though presently IITs and IIMs are being expanded and a few excellent private institutions such as the Indian School of Business and Ashoka University have come up, these are definitely not enough for a country of 1.3 billion people.
The skill gap is a major area of concern which may be indirectly responsible for the economic gap between China and India. A decade ago, former Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian, stated that while China was well ahead in attracting foreign direct investment, India had overtaken its neighbour in outward FDI, i.e. in acquiring companies abroad. But many of those takeovers turned out to be big mistakes, not game changers. Meanwhile, China managed acquisitions which the US sees as a security threat.
Thus, while there are high expectations over the new education policy, a lot will depend on whether the problem areas will be given the necessary thrust. The first and foremost is the need for more resources, both for school as also for higher education, keeping in view the fact that government’s role is most important as the economically weaker sections and the low income groups cannot afford to send their children to private institutions. The story of the demographic dividend can completely go wrong unless we undertake reforms in education on an urgent footing.
It is expected of the government that it would focus on this sector by prompt action in allocating necessary resources for upgrading education, specially at district and sub-divisional block levels, for dispersal of higher education remains non-existent in most of these places. The government must make a note that unless 100 million children are not technically educated or gain skills training, India, shall not grow into a mature economy.—INFA