The education policy of a country, like any other public policy, is very crucial in its social and economic development. Firstly, the education policy has a long-term effect on the human capital of the nation, which is an important factor of production. Secondly, the state of higher education of a country has an impact on its research and technological advancement. And lastly, education is a crucial vehicle for equity and greater social inclusion.
The dismal state of the Indian education system over the past decades itself points out the need for designing a clear and revamped education policy and provide concrete solutions for the specific problems that the sector faces.
In July 2020, the Cabinet chaired by the PM Narendra Modi approved the new educational policy as “National Education Policy (NEP) 2020”. NEP 2020 is envisaged to transform the entire education system of India and is set to replace the 34-year-old education policy of 1986. It is aimed to change the perspective towards education among students and citizens and has many promises of overhauling the entire education system.
However, there are many challenges ahead in its implementation as it requires a considerable amount of money to be spent and also requires the co-operation of states, as education is a concurrent subject, not fully controlled by the central government. Some of the main features of this policy are discussed in the next section.
It seeks to regulate the Higher Education system in India by:
In order to turn these envisaged schemes into reality, it is required that academic institutions all across the nation update the pedagogy regularly and keep the teachers abreast with such changes. National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education (NCFTE) is proposed to improve the teaching pedagogy by providing regular workshops for teachers and improving their skill sets and changing the mindsets of teachers as well to boost the holistic and all-round development of students rather than encouraging rote learning.
The NEP also speaks about spending 6% of GDP on the education sector in order to implement various schemes mentioned under the NEP and to strengthen the education sector in the country, making India an educational hub of the world and attract international students as well. It also plans to improve the enrolment ratio in the country with targets set as
The NEP policy is not without its faults and its major drawback being the focus on “what” will be done rather than “how” it will be done. For instance, the policy does not mention where it is going to procure the funds from for the targeted budget of 6% of the GDP. The budget for education is currently at 1.6% of GDP and to achieve such a target will not be easy for a country like India without external funding or privatisation.
Also, the policy does not lay out a solid and clear framework regarding continuously updating the curriculum. More importantly, concerns relating to the poor infrastructure of educational institutions in rural areas and shortage of teachers are not adequately addressed by this policy.
Many experts also believe that this policy has circumvented parliamentary oversight, discussion and scrutiny and, thus, falls short. The NEP overall tilts towards centralisation, possibly because the policy is not a derivative of consultation with states, and repeatedly talks about “fragmentation in higher education” as a bad thing.
The diversity and plurality of India is a major feature of its social fabric and the centralised system that this policy bargains for can be detrimental. This policy has failed to make specific, time-bound, measurable commitments linked with accountability about funding and expenditure regarding the grand vision. It also does not address and provides space for education subsidies and affirmative action policies for women and marginalised sections of the society.
Indian higher education system has been perennially underfunded and is in desperate need of fiscal stimulus in order to attain our goal of 50% Gross enrollment ratio by 2035. Currently, more than 70% of young people graduating out of schools do not attend colleges, and government funding for higher education has remained at 1.49% of GDP, lower than most developed countries in the world, and has not seen much improvement over the past 12 years.
The funding for research and development activities is roughly one-third of the amount spent on higher education at 0.49% of GDP. Infrastructural constraints and inadequacy of compensation are prompting more and more Indian research scholars and aspirants to migrate to foreign universities. The next section discusses what could have been done to tackle these issues that the Indian Education factor currently faces.
There is no single solution that can make things alright in the Indian education sector. Instead, we require various concrete and decisive steps that further the grand vision that the new policy foresees. We have identified the following measures which can help in the evolution of the Indian educational sector such that it meets the demands of the world’s largest population of youngsters:
In India, one of the major reasons for the existence of the group-based inequalities in terms of education is the fact that we have a hierarchical school system. Such school differentiation system has created various kinds of schools, including government schools, private schools, convent schools, religious schools, international schools, etc. that cater to students from different socio-economic backgrounds.
However, the new policy does not discuss any measures to remove this demarcation and establish a common school system in India. This system has already proved to be an effective system worldwide to impart a uniform quality of school education to its children.
Presently, a 4% health and education cess is charged on the income tax and surcharge of all the individuals and firms. It includes a cess of 2% towards primary education and a 1% Secondary and Higher Education cess which were introduced in 2004 and 2007, respectively. The proceeds from these two are transferred to the Consolidated Fund of India.
Although, the government has set up a dedicated fund for such proceeds called, “Prarambhik Shiksha Kosh” and “Maddhyamik and Uchchatar Shiksha Kosh”, the major portion of these funds is unspent. The government needs to plan a scheme of better utilisation of these proceeds towards its intended purpose. The government needs to redeem its gross neglect of these funds and also publish the accounts relating to how it will be spent.
Time and again, the central government has failed to achieve the target set for the education budget. It is time that the central government takes a leaf out of the book of the Delhi government which was able to revamp its government schools through adequate and devoted budget allocations.
Before building new schools, the government should seek to spend on providing electricity, toilets and other basic amenities to existing government schools. The participation of the state governments in this initiative is necessary. It would require the centre to work in conjunction with the states to come up with an “Infrastructure Improvement Plan” and a budgetary requirement for each state.
Mere improvement of the school’s infrastructure would not induce the desired learning outcomes. Various studies have indicated the need for improvement of the poor quality of teaching in government schools through improving their salary and training. The government should set aside a corpus to fund the salaries and a teacher’s training program to improve the quality of primary education.
One of the major differences between the education system of India and Finland (which has one of the best education systems in the world) is that in Finland the school education is a collective endeavour which focuses on making each child capable.
However, in India, a lot more emphasis is laid on the competition. Therefore, the central government needs to come up with projects with a sole focus on the weakest students of the class to improve the dropout rates in schools. These projects can include special mentorship programs to a portion of students that need extra help, peer study groups which involve bright students helping out the struggling students of the class.
Although the NEP 2020 seeks to set up a National Research Foundation (NRF) as a central authority that would co-ordinate funding of research in various disciplines at both national and state level. However, instead of replacing the existing institutions that provide research grant, it is going to complement them. This conflicts with the proposed integrated funding approach under the NRF.
We would propose establishing State research funds for each state or group of states since an overwhelming majority of Indian students study in colleges affiliated to State universities, but budget limitations of state governments and the central government’s apathy have caused educational standards in many of these state universities to go down.
Also, endowments and grants mostly are picked up by central universities and centres of national eminence that there are very little external contributions that go into these universities.
Setting up of such research funds will help identify quality research done across disciplines in India, irrespective of where the study is done. This will advocate decentralisation of research spending so that better quality research can be promoted and financial aid be made available to scholars on different parts of India based on the relevance of their research.
The possible oppositions could come from the central universities which could see a dip in the grant accorded to them, but this can be tackled by building an integrated research ecosystem where select scholars are allowed to get assistance and guidance from the universities of their choice and most preferred universities getting a lump sum grant in each academic year.
Many experts believe that the new education policy will lead to the introduction of foreign capital in the school education system, thus, increasing the school fees. This “commodification of education” may further the deprivation of quality education to the marginalised sections of the society. Therefore, the government should put a cap on the fees of private schools at the central level, since only a few states have legislation relating such regulation of fees in place.
The government may also try to streamline the underlying costs of such schools by regulating the plethora of taxes and regulations that they have to deal with.
India has a three-tier entrance examination system for entry into its various publicly funded engineering institutes and a unified entrance exam to take in students to undergraduate medical programs. These were envisaged as tools to find the best minds in the country but have now turned into obstacles that often prevent aspirants from underprivileged backgrounds admission into these public-funded colleges.
There are many controversies regarding NEET (centralised undergraduate medical entrance exam) from various parts of the country that it denies many deserved candidates an opportunity to study medicine. The proliferation of entrance oriented coaching institutes concentrated in certain cities has made it difficult for rural Indian students to do well in these exams and get into colleges of their choice.
There could be some parity in admissions only if the role of entrance exams as the sole entry point to these institutes are changed. The colleges must have a more comprehensive admission strategy, focused on the performance of the students in their school exams after normalisation across school boards as it provides a more level ground for students from across India.
There should also be a diversity board in colleges to ensure that the admissions in higher education are not limited to hegemonic classes of India.
At this stage, a complete repeal of entrance examinations may not be practical; the gradual repulsion can happen by starting with a 10% allocation of seats for students by means other than the entrance exam, which can be gradually brought up along with the revamp of secondary school syllabus and exams which will be more effective in finding and nurturing the scientific aptitude in students.
This move could face stiff opposition from coaching institutes across India which prepare students for these entrance examinations. Such institutes have grown to be worth $100 billion industry in India, but the fact that this will be a gradual change would help allay their concerns as it gives them enough time to restructure and move forward according to the changing times.
NEP 2020 should have considered linking the Right to Education (RTE) to the goal of universalisation of education at the pre-primary, middle and secondary level. Without this legal backing, the NEPs target will remain unmet. Various private schools already do not fulfil the mandatory 25% reservation for disadvantaged sections of the society under the provisions of this Act.
The absence of RTE in the nation’s education policy will fail to enforce education as a legal right and, therefore, such mistake must be rectified.