Time to Change the Indian Education System
by Sangeeta Doraiswami



The National Education Policy (NEP), 2020 has been approved by the Union Cabinet of India on 29th July 2020. NEP 2020 is India’s first education policy of the 21st century, and the first in nearly thirty years. The policy aims to address the many growing developmental imperatives of India. It is aligned by design with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as adopted by the United Nations. In an India-wide context, the NEP is built on the foundational pillars of Access, Equity, Quality, Affordability and Accountability.

NEP 2020 recommends many transformational ideas for school education. It aims to transform India into a vibrant knowledge society and make India a global knowledge superpower by making both school and higher education more wholistic, flexible and multidisciplinary. It is predicated on an effort to bring out the unique capabilities of each student. This policy is also a response to the unfinished education agenda set by the two previous education policies of 1968 and 1986/1992. It aims to nurture institutional environments that are responsive and ensure that high-quality education for all becomes a reality.

The Vision of New Education Policy 2020

The stated objective of the Policy is to establish an education system that is rooted in Indian ethos, and contributes directly to transforming India sustainably into an equitable and vibrant knowledge society, by providing high-quality education to all. The curriculum and pedagogy of our institutions is to be so designed as to help develop in the next generation a deep sense of respect towards fundamental duties and constitutional values, and awareness of the citizen’s roles and responsibilities in a changing world, with the overall aim of instilling a deep-rooted pride in being Indian, while being truly global citizens.

This policy provides a roadmap and action-dimensions for the transformation and rejuvenation of the education system in India, with the goal that by 2040, India has one of the best education systems in the world. Introducing coding and increasing exposure to technology at a young age will go a long way in helping future generations lead the way to a new world of innovation and creativity. The NEP will break through traditional methodologies and systems to provide more wholistic learning for students across the country. It will change the perception of the Indian education system from Early Years education onwards.

In terms of philosophical approach, the Policy is based on the sense that education is a public service. Therefore access to quality education must be considered a basic right of every child. Consequently, there is a need for sustained investment in a strong, vibrant public education system as well as the encouragement of private and community participation in developing education.

Noteworthy Immediate Changes from the NEP in the Indian Education System

Early Years Education – No other previous education policies highlighted early childhood and foundational stage education. The NEP recognizes that it is now time for India to ensure that education during these formative years is guided by a focus on learning how to learn, while enabling children to think for themselves; and for the system to ensure that it meets all the developmental needs and interests of school children. The new plan will focus on high-quality early childhood care and ensuring that education is available for all children, as both quality learning and universality of education are critical to lay a strong foundation for learning and development throughout life.

Rote Learning – While society and education have progressed with time, we have still not been able to move away from rote learning. The other international education systems such as IB schools are changing the education system at their level, it is now time for the government to also take charge and eradicate rote learning from schools at all levels in India. Schools must be encouraged to introduce conceptual learning, critical thinking, values and skills which avoid requiring students to memorize without understanding what they are being taught. While this will help students to understand the concepts better, they will also be able to retain learnings and apply concepts learned.

Assessment System – Marks play an important role in deciding the future of children and the quest for high marks often falls as an intolerable burden upon students. Indeed, evidence shows that excessive focus on getting higher marks often makes students underperform. Instead of focusing evaluation on a three-hour exam, the focus of evaluation should be on continuous assessment through the year, and based on a student’s classroom participation, projects, communication and leadership skills and extracurricular activities. Only then will the students give their best and be assessed more accurately and consistently.

Equal Importance to all Subjects – We continue to suffer a ‘silo-ized’ education system where the science stream tops the hierarchy of preference, and where there are rigid separations between arts and sciences, between curricular and extracurricular activities, and between vocational and academic streams. Students should instead be encouraged to pursue subjects that they like, while the schools break down silos between subjects to create a multidisciplinary environment. In the new system, students will be able to select subjects of their liking across the streams. Vocational education will start in schools from the 6th grade, and will include internships.

Training of Educators – Teachers play the most important role in schools. Therefore it is logical that they should be given the best training. The new policy emphasises and lays importance to teacher preparation and education programmes, continuous professional development and creating a positive working environment. This is a huge step towards teachers and their training in a manner that allows them to upskill and also adapt to new methods of communicating, so as to create an empathetic, congenial and inclusive classroom environment.

Introduction of Technology – We are living in the era of geometric evolution of technology; as such, it is neither desirable nor possible for technology and education to be kept apart. Students must be made familiar with technological inputs right from the early years so that students are prepared to be self-reliant and in-sync with continuously changing technological systems. Thus Indian schools must embrace technology and education with an open mind and propagate the same to the students for their future. The NEP provides for such an environment too.

Personalize Education – The Indian education system needs to reflect the fact that one size does not fit all. Hence, teaching methods also cannot remain the same for every student in a classroom. Some students learn at a faster pace than others. Teachers must be trained to develop a keen eye to observe each of their students. Since it is not possible for a single teacher to observe and pay attention to every student, schools must consider the use of technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain and chatbots to help the teachers as well as students. The NEP recognizes the need for personalization, although it would be upto the schools to creatively use technology to facilitate personalization of education delivery.

Realizing the Purpose of Education – The Indian education system still reflects and follows systems introduced by colonial educators, for a purpose that served their needs. Obviously, education for India’s current needs must be all-inclusive. Students must also be encouraged to develop a moral compass and inculcate the right values, through consistent and well-tailored interventions at all levels. The Indian education system has started taking these points into serious consideration in order to attain the level of the best education system in the world. It is time now that India aims to be regarded as a country offering education at a higher level, and to perceive education from a wholistic approach.

Higher Education through New Lens – Undergraduate degrees will now graduate out of the current 3 year programme to a 3 or 4-year duration, with multiple exit options within this period. This will be done by adopting integrative, broad-based wholistic education from the beginning of high school education onwards. One of the remarkable new innovations is the proposal to establish an Academic Bank of Credit for digitally-storing academic credits earned from different higher education institutions that will be transferred and counted towards the final degree earned.

Challenges in Implementing the New Policy

While recognizing the many innovative and important new interventions and proposals of the NEP, there are still several issues that require further consideration as India moves to implement the New Education Policy.
1. Funding is a big challenge in the Covid era – as lockdown has weakened the economy, the government needs to incentivise private sectors and individual investment into the education sector
2. Current focus on healthcare and economic recovery to lower the execution speed – though the NEP is a 20-year journey, the important needs of healthcare and economic recovery is priority now
3. The numbers are daunting in reforms to our school system – to bring twenty million children who are currently not in schools back into the school system will be a Herculean task; accomplishing this over 15 years requires to set up roughly 50 schools every week!
4. Opening universities every week is an uphill task – Today India has around 1,000 universities across the country. Doubling the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education by 2035, which is one of the stated goals of the policy, will mean that we must open one new university every week, for the next 15 years. This is again a task that will strain both human and financial resources.
5. Need a large pool of trained teachers – the policy envisages a sweeping structural re-design of the curriculum. There is no clarity on whether the NEP proposes financing of 6% of GDP to come from public funds or private investments. Many of the curriculum changes require substantial mindset shifts on the part of teachers, as well as parents. It is not clear from the policy who will lead this effort, or how such change will be affected.
6. Interdisciplinary higher education demands for a cultural shift – While this is a great idea and a very welcome step, bearing in mind the fact that Universities in India have for decades been very silo-ized, this change also requires a cultural shift in the entire higher education ecosystem, over the next 15-20 years. Again, this would be very difficult; somewhat akin to repairing an aircraft while it is in flight.

We should be careful that we do not force-fit the NEP around existing structures; changes will need to be systematically introduced and executed. The New Education Policy must act as a stepping stone to help India reclaim its past glory, as a country with thinkers, philosophers, mathematicians, scientists and innovators.