On July 29, 2020 the Union Cabinet approved the National Education Policy 2020 ("NEP") that replaces the 34 years old National Policy of Education, 1986 to transform the school and higher educational systems in India.1 The NEP is based on the report submitted by the 'Committee for the Draft National Education Policy' under the chairmanship of the eminent scientist Dr. K. Kasturirangan.
Being part of the central government's election manifesto in 2014, the consultation process for educational reforms was initiated as early as January 2015. The formulation of the NEP witnessed unprecedented collaborative, multi-stakeholder, and multi-pronged (online, grassroot and national level thematic) deliberations that involved over 2 lakh suggestions.2
The NEP recognizes that the pedagogy adopted in the Indian education system must evolve to make education more experiential, holistic, integrated, inquiry-driven, discovery-oriented, learner-centred, discussion-based, flexible, and at the same time, enjoyable in order to bring out unique capabilities of each student. As opposed to the previous policy which focused largely on issues of access and equity, the NEP is built on the principles of accessibility, accountability, quality, affordability, and equity, among others, and is also aligned to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by India along with all United Nations Member States in 2015.
The objective of the NEP is to transform the country into a flourishing knowledge society as well as a global knowledge superpower by transforming the school and higher educational systems into a system that includes humanitarian and constitutional values, creativity and critical thinking, use of technology, and philanthropic private and community participation, while still recognizing education as a public service.
2. KEY CHANGES
The NEP suggests various changes, starting with the re-designation of the Ministry of Human Resource Development ("MHRD") as the Ministry of Education ("MoE"). We discuss below the various objectives of the NEP:
2.1. PRE-PRIMARY TO SECONDARY EDUCATION
2.1.1. New Academic Structure
The existing mainstream academic structure of 10+2 consisting of the age groups of 6-16 and 16-18 years will now be revamped to a 5+3+3+4 model, that is, (i) 5 years of "Foundational Stage", ranging from 3 years pre-primary education to classes 1 - 2; (ii) 3 years of "Preparatory Stage", ranging from classes 3-5; (iii) 3 years of "Middle Stage", ranging from classes 6- 8; and (iv) 4 years of "Secondary Stage", ranging from classes 9 - 12.
The Foundational Stage will involve flexible, multilevel, play-based, activity-based, and discovery-based learning, continuously incorporating the latest research and the various time-tested Indian traditions for cognitive and emotional stimulation of children. The Preparatory Stage will involve all activities of the Foundational Stage, but also gradually beginning to incorporate textbooks and aspects of more formal classroom learning. The Middle Stage will comprise of building on more formal pedagogical and curricular style of the Foundational Stage, but will see the introduction of subject teachers for learning and discussion of the more abstract concepts in each subject that students will be ready for at this stage across sciences, mathematics, arts, social sciences, and humanities. The Secondary Stage will comprise of multidisciplinary study, and will build on the subject-oriented pedagogical and curricular style of the Middle Stage, but with greater depth, greater critical thinking, greater attention to life aspirations, and greater flexibility and student choice.
With the objectives of overall learning, development, and well-being of children, 'early childhood care and education' is also included in the new academic structure, wherein the policy aims to achieve universal provisioning of quality early childhood development, care, and education by the year 2030. The planning and implementation of early childhood education is proposed to be carried out jointly by the MHRD, the Ministry of Women and Child Development ("MWCD"), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare ("MHFW"), and Ministry of Tribal Affairs. A special joint task force will be constituted for continuous guidance of the integration.
2.1.2. Foundational Literacy and Numeracy
The NEP intends to achieve universal foundational literacy and numeracy, that is, ability to read and comprehend basic text and the ability to carry out basic addition and subtraction with Indian numerals at the foundational level in primary school and beyond, by 2025.
Considering that education is a subject matter under the concurrent list of the Constitution of India, individual states and union territories have been tasked with the implementation of this objective, along with closely tracking and monitoring the progress of the same. It is also proposed that (i) teacher education, and the early grade school curriculum be redesigned to this end, and (ii) with a focus on nutrition, an energising breakfast in addition to midday meals be provided. The need for introduction of well-trained social workers and counsellors to continuously work with students and their parents has been stressed, for the wellbeing of children.
2.1.3. Curtailing Dropout Rates and Ensuring Universal Access to Education at All Levels
With data indicating high dropouts from class 6 onwards, the NEP intends to reduce the rate of dropout and introduce changes to bring back the children who have dropped out to complete their education. aiming to achieve 100% gross enrolment ratio in preschool through secondary school by 2035 with concerted national effort by both the central and state governments.
The NEP envisages two primary initiatives in this regard, being (i) building and fortifying the infrastructural facilities which are effective, sufficient, and accessible to the students and (ii) achieving universal participation in school by carefully tracking students and their learning levels, to ensure that the children are enrolled in and attending school, and in case they have fallen behind or dropped out, to have opportunities to catch up and re-enter school.
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