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What the National Education Policy Gets Wrong

There is no doubt that the Indian Educational System is incredibly inefficient in the current scenario. Just like any other sector, there is a constant need for innovation and change. This change can surely be brought on small scale levels, as noticed by the works of various education based NGOs and local governmental initiatives. However, to bring about substantial change the national outlook needs to evolve with the change in times. There has always been a need for a comprehensive framework to guide the development of education in our country. This national level policy was first introduced in 1968, followed by the second in 1986. The third and the latest one came into existence under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in 2020.

The National Education Policy 2020, which was approved by the Union Cabinet of India on 29 July 2020, is a revolutionary move that has the potential to entirely transform the Indian Educational system. It gets a lot of things right, which excites all those who have been demanding to see these positive changes in the system. For instance, some of the things it does get right are: schooling from age three, 5+3+3+4 education structure, no rigid separations between Science, Arts and Commerce, and Internships and vocational education from Class 6 amongst others.

However, No policy is perfect. The National Educational Policy calls for a large-scale execution of a magnitude that has never been attempted anywhere in the world before, especially since there are around 350 million Indians today in school-going or college-going age groups. This presents substantial implementation challenges, both on quantitative and qualitative levels.

Lack of fund allocation for educational spending

The National Educational Policy lays down norms about increasing the education spend from 3.1% to 6% of GDP. However, due to the pronounced move towards digitization and e-learning in COVID years and thereafter, a higher spend seems to be required for establishing the required technology and digital infrastructure. According to the Education at a Glance report, published by The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, developed countries allocate up to 11 per cent of their GDP on education. It is high time that India, the country with the highest population of young adults in the world, also ramps up its spending in order to succeed in its mission of bringing the education sector at par with its global counterparts.

However, given the current situation of the economy, this solution seems really unrealistic. This is where private players come in. Getting private sector funding to meet these developmental goals does not seem like a bad idea. In fact, there is precedence in countries like the Netherlands and Macau. The government should start evaluating Public Private Partnership models for getting the private sector to collaborate, contribute, and collectively utilise their expertise for speeding up the transformation of education in India.

Quantitative issues with ramping up the higher education infrastructure

The education enrollment of any country is calculated in terms of its Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER). Presently for India’s higher education, the GER is only 27.1% for the 18-23 age group. Today, India has around 1,000 universities across the country. Increasing the Gross Enrolment Ratio for higher education and doubling its current capacity by 2035, as the national education policy promises, will require opening at least one new university every week, for the next 15 years. Building new infrastructure is a herculean task that requires massive investments along with longer time than envisaged to truly be implemented. Hence, to meet the challenge of the under-supply of quality higher education institutions in India, existing government structures could be repurposed and rebuilt into modern higher education facilities, instead of building new infrastructure. These conversions could be expedited through Public Private Partnership collaborations, especially under the build-operate-transfer (BOT) infrastructure scheme (Under this an entity—usually a government—grants a concession to a private company to finance, build and operate a project. The company operates the project for a period of time, perhaps 20 or 30 years with the goal of recouping its investment, then transfers control of the project to the government).

Lack of digital infrastructure development

During the period of nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus, Educational technology, popularly known as Ed-tech, has proven its invincibility for students. However, this technology has not blessed everyone equally. Education was seen to be one of the areas where digital disparity was most prominent during the lockdown when many students, especially those living in the rural sides, did not have the means or access to continue their education through the online mode. The absence of digital infrastructure has led to the segregation of the marginalized and the disadvantaged, creating a “digital divide” that will grow stronger due to the limited or even absent internet connectivity and access to technology in rural areas.

Since remote learning and technology-backed education seems to have become the ‘new normal’ in a post-coronavirus world, huge investments are needed for developing digital infrastructure including digital classrooms, remote teaching models, artificial reality/ virtual reality tools to bridge gaps and creating digital laboratory infrastructure.

Making the required software, hardware, network equipment available, and providing connectivity are the keys to bridging the digital divide in India. Digital infrastructure development in higher education institutes and schools also needs to be fast tracked through the private sector funding, especially since the government is opening up to private investments in infrastructure sectors such as power, telecom and transport. Private players should be brought in to help develop the digital infrastructure in government educational institutions.

Enforcing a standardized implementation plan

While the National Educational Policy gets a lot right in ideation, it still has miles to go when it comes to execution. There is a lack of a fixed roadmap to follow for the execution of the new education policy and hence, The States and Union territories are announcing their own deadlines. However, such an unsystematic and asynchronous implementation defeats the very purpose of the national education policy which is to provide equal opportunities and access to high quality standardized education to each and every person from every part of the country.

Fixed guidelines from the centre to the states along with a fixed deadline will make the implementation process of the national educational policy seamless, smoother and more synchronised throughout the country.

In conclusion, The National Education Policy 2020 is an ambitious reinvention plan for the current education system of India to evolve into a progressive, modern, and impartial one. However, to effectively realize the dreams it contains, we must overcome substantial implementation challenges in a sustained manner for the decades to come.

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