On July 30, the government of India came out with the long-awaited National Education Policy-2020 after a long gap of 34 years. The policy aims to pave the way for transformational reforms in the country’s school and higher education systems. There is a debate that NEP 2020 has ideas to revamp education, teaching, and assessment systems in schools, colleges as well as teacher’s professional-level training.
NEP has made major changes to education at the school-level.
The major highlight of the new policy is the shift from the 10+2 format to 5+3+3+4, which shifts focus away from inputs to outcomes, and junks rote learning in favor of critical thinking, conceptual and creative skills. The policy has the target of universalization of school education from 3 to class 10 by 2030 and ensuring literacy and numeracy skills by 2025. The policy has the objective of making a new curriculum to include 21st-century skills like coding and vocational integration from class 6 and board exams to be easier and redesigned.
For higher education, this policy envisages the biggest changes, a new structure of flexible, multi-disciplinary higher learning in the form of four-year graduation with a provision for multiple-exit options, a credit transfer system, and a one-year masters’ programme to meet global aspirations, and the abolition of the MPhil programme.
A new umbrella regulator has been proposed with separate verticals for regulation, standard-setting, and accreditation and funding. Implementation will be done in phases, based on time, region, and types of institutions with Institutes of Eminence (IoEs) and Central Universities taking the lead, and the College affiliation system to be phased out in the 15 years.
The covid-19 pandemic has brought innumerable challenges to students and educators, which it is important to discuss how this human-made tragedy could bring about change in higher education. On the announcement of NEP 2020, July 30, 2020, Impact and Policy Research Institute and University of Idaho organized a Web Policy Talk on Evolving Paradigm of Higher Education Amidst Coronavirus Pandemic with eminent education experts from India as well foreign universities on higher education.
The experts included Prof Manisha Priyam, Professor, National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA), New Delhi; Prof Cliff Zintgraff, Chief Learning Officer, San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology, USA; Prof Sydney Freeman Jr., Associate Professor, University of Idaho; Prof Pankaj Mittal, Secretary-General, Association of Universities; Dr. Abdulla Rasheed Ahmed, Minister of Education, Republic of Maldives; Prof Saumen Chattopadhyay, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; Prof Pankaj Mittal, Secretary-General, Association of Universities; Prof Sachidanand Sinha, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University; Dr. Arjun Kumar, Director, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI); and Dr Khalid Khan, Professor, Indian Institute of Dalit Studies (IIDS), New Delhi.
Prof Manisha remarked that societies continue with very weak structural tendencies with respect to higher education because first, the institutions take a long time to set up and take an even longer time for weaker sections to access these institutions and reforms take years.
For instance, Institutions in the USA which ranked highest in the world today are the oldest institutions established hundreds of years back. What constitutes the critical juncture for India during the pandemic in higher education is that institutions have gone beyond geographies and education is still continuing, where technology is playing a key role. The government’s steps to invite the world’s top universities for opening their campuses in India is a welcoming step with a four-year degree programme at par with global peers.
Prof Cliff, also quoted “It is easy to see what people lost and it’s hard to see what you gain” and stated that how the pandemic has given us new opportunities for remote learning, which will be continued even after the pandemic. Prof Freeman highlighted the divide in higher education due to race particularly African-Americans in a developed nation like the USA. He stated that not only students but African-American educators also face discrimination as often overqualified to their positions but underpaid in comparison to their counterparts.
Prof Mittal stated how the NEP 2020 gave a prominent place to the internationalization of higher education. Every year about 7.5 lakhs students go abroad to study but only 40,000 students come back. There is a need to attract not only foreign universities but also foreign students to India.
However, there are many infrastructural constraints like hostel facilities and outdated curriculum not viable to international students. She stated that this pandemic can be harnessed as an opportunity to develop internationalization online which is cost-effective and time-efficient. People used to feel apprehensive of online education but new everyone is embracing the technology.
She hailed the promotion of National Credit Bank where students can deposit credits as mentioned in NEP2020. Prof Abdulla also confirms the statement made by other panelists but said today two-thirds of classroom teaching is replaced by online learning but they face some challenges such as access to technical infrastructure, competencies, and pedagogies for distance learning and requirements of a specific field of study. But Covid-19 provides an opportunity to rethink higher education and redesign global education with the provision of adequate social and human capital.
Online education as an option may be in use even after the pandemic is over.
Prof Suman unfolded the other important issue of financing of higher education. He said due to the prevalence of pandemic, the budgetary allocation for higher education has declined in both developed and developing countries. Online teaching is being promoted by the government and it will push more and transcend the national boundaries.
But he has also highlighted the issue of quality of education as the quality of teachers and students can’t be reproduced in offline mode but online teaching makes the quality reproducible since videos can be made available online. The public and private may collaborate for online education programs for some profit where private players such as tech companies have the capacity to provide good technology and they together can evolve the concept of online universities.
He also expresses his concern and said that overdependence on online education will snatch the experience of on-campus education since teaching goes beyond the classroom and student interactions enrich the learning and left many underprivileged children and youth out of the higher education system. Similarly, Prof Sinha, also concerned about safeguarding the interests of marginalized students. In universities, it is being seen that positions remain vacant for years, and courses are left in between due to the non-availability of the required resources.
Even there have been cuts on scholarships, regional colleges, etc. Covid-19 can be seen as an opportunity to effectively introduce two layers of education: affordable education and universities should get the funding instead of pushing them into the scenario of taking loans. Other speakers also highlighted the digital divide and exclusion of marginalized people from higher education.
Finally, Dr. Arjun, stated that there is a need for technology grants for updating IT systems for online interactions. By making universities and institutions self-dependent on technology India will take a step towards AtmaNirbhar Bharat. He opined that new India should emerge as Vishwa Guru, that is, being a leader in the world of knowledge by having universities and infrastructural capacities that can compete at the global level and be remain inclusive for locals.
He also said that the NEP2020 is a futuristic policy for higher education with a target of 50 percent gross enrolment ratio in higher education by 2035, and a target of public spending on the education sector at 6 percent of GDP. But such a proposal was also made earlier but could not be achieved for the last half-century. Other big challenges are the digital divide, and social exclusion, for more participation in higher education.
Here not only public institutions but the private sector also has to play an important role for more enrolment in higher education with a greater focus on an inclusive approach, particularly for marginalized groups.
By Dr. Simi Mehta, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI)