The National Education Policy 2020 – Education for the 21st Century
By Portia Conrad


The foundation of any successful policy reform lies in designing an adaptive architecture, which is in tune with the requirements of a changing demography. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which was recently approved by the Union Cabinet, introduced the country to a new education paradigm for the 21st century.

The real achievement of the policy has been its focus on removing the vestiges of policy inertia which has plagued the education sector, partly also because the last proper National Policy on Education was released in 1986. The NEP 2020 is transformative as it sets in motion reforms across the pedagogical and curriculum, expanding focus on Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE), foundational numeracy and literacy, multilingualism, experiential learning and holistic development of learners and effective standards for monitoring and evolution of the same.



Winds of Change

The extant 10+2 structure in school education will be modified with a new pedagogical and curricular restructuring of 5+3+3+4 covering ages 3-18, laying down a strong base on ECCE between the age of 3-8 years. The inclusion of hands-on learning, arts-integrated and sports-integrated education, story-telling-based pedagogy, among others, as standard pedagogy shall accompany a shift in classroom transactions towards competency-based learning and education.

There has been a fantastic expansion of choice for learners as per the NEP, where students will be given increased flexibility and choice of subjects to study, particularly in secondary school – including subjects in physical education, the arts and crafts, and vocational skills. Their progress card will be redesigned and a holistic, 360-degree, multidimensional report is envisaged that reflects the progress and the uniqueness of each learner in the cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains.

The NEP also relies on proven strategies to promote foundational learning as it also provides for, wherever possible, the medium of instruction until at least Grade 5 to be the mother tongue or the local language, but preferably even till Grade 8 and beyond.

A national assessment centre, Performance Assessment, Review, and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development (PARAKH) will be a welcome step, for a sector mired by vested interests and duplicitous standards.

In the same vein, the NCERT has been tasked with designing a National Curricular and Pedagogical Framework for Early Childhood Care and Education (NCPF-ECCE) for children up to the age of 8. It will also undertake the formulation of a new and comprehensive National Curricular Framework for School Education, NCFSE 2020-21.

Successive ASER reports as well as the National Assessment Surveys (NAS) have highlighted the lacunae in school education, particularly realising the quality of education. In this context, the NEP provides for setting up a National Mission on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy on priority by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (now, Ministry of Education), and all States/UTs to prepare an implementation plan for attaining universal foundational literacy and numeracy in all primary schools for all learners by Grade 3 to be achieved by 2025.

The higher-education sector will also see major reforms, with the NEP introducing the same idea of flexibility and multidisciplinary education across UG/PG programmes. The granting of graded autonomy – academic, administrative, and financial – shall facilitate the evolution of institutional excellence in a simplified regulatory environment. The National Testing Agency (NTA) will offer a high-quality common aptitude test, as well as specialized common subject exams in the sciences, humanities, languages, arts, and vocational subjects, at least twice every year for university entrance exams.


Headwinds of Inertia

The planning and implementation of early childhood care and education curriculum will be carried out jointly by the Ministries of HRD, Women and Child Development, Health and Family Welfare, and Tribal Affairs, as per the NEP. This has been a recipe for bureaucratic buck-passing, with many children falling through the gaps of ministerial oversight.

Further, the offering of flexible, multi-disciplinary education has its own challenges in terms of providing trained educators, teachers and counsellors. No hard separation among ‘curricular’, ‘extracurricular’, or ‘co-curricular’, among ‘arts’, ‘humanities’, and ‘sciences’, or between ‘vocational’ or ‘academic’ streams can stress existing social and physical infrastructure, limiting the provision of truly inclusive education and creating an illusion of choice. While the flexible offerings do tempt the comparison with comparable international systems, the resistance to modify curriculum or expand courses may prove to be a challenge.

Speaking of teachers, the NEP talks about strengthening Teacher Eligibility Tests (TETs) and extension of the same to cover pre-primary to grade 12 teachers, in both public and private schools. It also speaks of a common guiding set of National Professional Standards for Teachers (NPST) to be developed by 2022, by the NCTE.

However, there is an acute shortage of teachers despite there being nearly 17,000-odd Teacher Education Institutes (TEIs) that are responsible for preparing teachers through programmes such as the Bachelor of Education (B.Ed), and Diploma in Elementary Education (D.El.Ed). Not only are these TEIs generating a surplus supply of teachers, they are also producing poor-quality teachers. Besides it being reflected in the dismal state of learning across schools, the pass-percentage in central teacher eligibility tests that stipulate eligibility for appointments as teachers has not exceeded 25 per cent in recent years.

In higher education, while the simplified regulatory regime may rejuvenate the sector, merging of UGC, AICTE and other higher education regulators may prove to be a challenge due to the complex nature of subject-specific higher education requirements. In fact, this was one of the reasons which had necessitated the separation of NTA from CBSE. The new higher education regulator, HECI, may just be paper-based reform rather than true merging.

And finally, education as a matter of the concurrent list, participation of the States in the new reform agenda, their willingness to adapt and participate in the NEP processes and assessments, in whole or in part, shall remain a question of political as well as institutional capacity.

The NEP 2020 focuses on building competencies, integration of subjects with an emphasis on digital learning, effective governance of the sector through standard setting and improving the quality and achievement of learning outcomes, moving away from rote learning. Ultimately, NEP moves the country towards universalisation of access and ensuring the equity and inclusiveness of our education system, moving towards the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals and thereby ensuring ‘wholistic learning’.