It can be stated with a lot of confidence, hope, expectation and even pride that few documents are as comprehensive and inclusive, idealistic and pragmatic, broad-based and focused — such binaries are endless — as the National Education Policy 2020. Its title shows a determination to achieve consistency; its contents show its categorical assertion of flexibility and feasibility. The document addresses, systematically, every aspect of India’s education system to consolidate its strengths, and conquer its weaknesses.
Every stakeholder in education is addressed — from the government to administrators to students and teachers to parents. It is a document that draws on the strong points of ancient and modern India, and the local and the international. It promises to revolutionise Indian education, and is surely going to warm the cockles of the hearts of all those interested in Indian education.
Catching ‘em Young
The policy believes in catching learners early, and rightly so. The faculties of the body such as the brain, vocal cords and the like have windows of opportunity, which close forever as age increases. Childhood is the time when the body and mind are imprinted with their future prospects. The government has realised this, and has made nutrition an important part of its educational programme.
Israel, a tiny country, boasts of more Nobel laureates than India, China, and Russia combined. One reason is that the Israeli child is well fed as demanded by the culture, and grows up with a healthy mind. The policy has made the best move possible in this aspect. All nearby schools will combine their resources. Children with special needs are addressed separately.
The aim of 100% literacy is commendable, and achievable. Equally notable are the efforts to vocationalise education. The reclaiming of our ancient heritage in the links to Nalanda and Takhshashila are most welcome. The Buddha encouraged a questioning spirit towards everything, without an exception to his own teachings. Our educational institutions should inculcate this spirit. The Government deserves congratulations on this very liberal step.
Higher education has been given a more comprehensive scope. There will be a single seamless fabric from the higher levels of school to graduation. The autonomy that will be granted to this segment of education will ensure a natural growth with local characteristics. The philosophy is “light but tight” regulation, which is precisely what is needed.
Technical education receives a huge practical boost with a multidisciplinary programme planned for four years. This will develop a sense of dignity of labour that is crucial for an equitable society based on respect and fair reward. It is very important to note here that there will be Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog, a National Education Commission, which will be headed by the Prime Minister personally. The notable point here is that parents also receive support in educating children. The issues of absenteeism and dropouts are focused on.
A digital focus looks at an important aspect of modern education. India’s tolerant culture is evident in this document that embraces the poorest of the poor, and welcomes transgender people with equal affection and care. The attention given to the girl child is a most needed move.
It is an axiomatic that while Indian parents love their children, they have little or no respect for them. Parents should be educated though the mass media in the form of dramas and the like on how to treat children. For example, while children are ordered to do or not do something, no reason is given to them — the parent’s word is enough. This encourages an acquiescent attitude that militates against independent thinking. Parents play a major role in shaping character—a truism that is not followed up in its implications. It would be wonderful if the government addresses this issue in a more comprehensive manner. Another issue that requires a mention here is that of child abuse. Teachers and caregivers should be trained to spot this plague in our society and address it.
An equitable society has geographical implications as well. There will be Special Educational Zones for backward areas, and these will benefit the hitherto neglected sections of our people such as tribals in remote areas.
There is a similar deep focus on a University education that is based on liberal principles, which are also comprehensive. There will be IIT-type of institutes with the name “liberal” included to develop these principles. Research gets a lot of attention as there is lot of autonomy being granted to institutions. There are integrated programmes to ensure consistency in development. This will guard against wastage of resources and prevent rediscoveries of the wheel. The idea of Lok Vidya ensures a broad-based education.
The document lays out with admirable clarity the finances and other support for Indian education. It is no exaggeration to say that this is the Charter of Independence for our educational sector. It is nice that Indian education will receive a boost. There are at every step, measures to insulate education from the influence of politics and vested interests. The UGC will be replaced by Higher Education Grants Council showing the consultative nature of the process that will ensure democracy and a broader view of education. Here is a system that is open to talent, without forgetting the special needs of our weaker sections such as women, children, marginalised castes and tribes. It is apt to remember William Wordsworth’s words, “Bliss was it that dawn to be alive / To be young was very heaven”.
(The author is Vice-Chancellor of The English and Foreign Languages University, a Central University)
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