National Education Policy (NEP-2020) was announced in July 2020. The present Government had taken six years to finalise it. It is now in the process of being implemented. As per an official estimate there are more than 150 action plans that are required to be prepared and executed for its successful implementation. The Government has reportedly constituted a number of Task Forces to suggest measures to give effect to NEP-2020. The Task Forces have just started working and may take some time to prepare their reports which will then be analysed before action is initiated to implement those. In the meanwhile, more than one year has passed since NEP-2020 was promulgated and not much progress has been made. While referring to our bureaucratic approach a senior US academician once remarked, “India is an expensive talking shop!” He may not be very much off the mark.
A peep into recent history of our higher education system could be revealing. Radhakrishnan Committee that was set up in 1948 gave its report in 1949. Interestingly, its major recommendations were in congruence with those that have been spelt out in NEP-2020. Later National Education Policy 1966 was formulated based on the recommendations of Kothari Commission (1964). Faulty implementation of policy resulted in continuation of poor quality of education being provided in Indian higher education institutions (HEIs). Thereafter, National Policy on Education (NPE-1986) was formulated. It took the Government six years to decide on the mode of its implementation and that was specified in Plan of Action, 1992. However, even NPE-1986 failed to achieve its objectives and, thus, the country is saddled with a dysfunctional higher education system that is churning out unemployable graduates and Indian HEIs figure very low in international rankings. Most of the recommendations to improve the quality of education in Indian HEIs have been repeated ad infinitum by various committees and Policies. But the country has not been able to benefit from those.
It would be prudent for the Policy planners to find out the reasons for the failure of successive governments to implement the earlier Policies. That would help focus efforts to remove the lacunae in the policy implementation process. Otherwise, there are chances that the old mistakes might be repeated. Somehow, our policy planners don’t seem to be keen to learn from history.
A major challenge is that the desired change in the higher education system involves training the faculty and that cannot be done overnight. They have to unlearn what they have learnt while growing up in a teacher-and-examination-centric environment and have to re-learn the nuances of a student-centric approach that relies on knowledge acquisition and imbibe requisite skills to transform their pedagogical practices. That takes time especially in view of the fact that the best talent in the country does not opt for teaching profession.
The Government needs to accord priority to the education sector. The mere fact that it took more than six years to formulate NEP-2020 and subsequent slow-paced measures to implement it are indications that the desired changes may not come about soon.
Education sector has not received much attention during the current pandemic. Most of the schools, colleges and universities have been closed for prolonged periods creating innumerable problems for the students and managements of HEIs. Government has announced stimulus packages amounting to more that Rs 20 lakh crores to bail out various sectors but the education sector has been left out in the cold. Countries in Europe and the USA have instituted measures to help their respective education sectors. USA has provided a stimulus package of US $ 14 billion as financial assistance to its educational institutions and has also instituted numerous student support and other legislative measures. Indian Government would do well to recognise the challenges faced by the education sector and provide necessary help to mitigate those.
NEP-2020 has recommended that our HEIs should switch over to a system of liberal education. It involves introducing major changes in curriculum development concepts and shift in pedagogy with emphasis on experiential learning, problem solving and critical thinking skills. Today, many of our faculty members, including senior academic leaders, are not familiar with the nuances of liberal education. Thus, they are unable to conceive relevant curricula, adopt suitable pedagogies and guide junior faculty members to get adapted to the new system. No national level campaign has been conceived and launched to ensure capacity building of faculty.
Our national discourse on NEP-2020 does not indicate any sense of urgency to revamp the higher education landscape in the country. Time is running out. We do not have the luxury to adopt policies involving a gradual change. We need to go in for a transformation that is akin to a surgical action. A moot question that begs an answer is, “Are we really serious about bringing about the desired changes in our higher education system?”
Brig (Dr) R S Grewal, VSM is author of the book entitled ‘Envisioning Indian Higher Education’