India’s education system gets an overhaul after 34 years

India’s education system gets an overhaul after 34 years

The Union cabinet on Wednesday announced sweeping changes in the national education policy, a move that should go a long way in aligning education to the requirements of the times. While the pandemic induced lockdown has sped up the process of bringing in technology into education, the policy goes far beyond simply providing an alternate platform to the chalk and talk system in prevalence. 

The 10 +2 system of school education will get reworded into the 5+3+3+4 system, where five are the formative early education years, and the 4 is from IX to XII. The 3+3 are the middle school years. Elaborating on the changes, secretary, school education, Anita Karwal, said that the aim is to reach a universaliation of early childhoold care and education to secondary education by 2030, in sync with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as to aim for a 100 per cent gross enrolment ratio in preschool to secondary school level by 2030. “We have to bring two crore out of school children back to the classroom,” she said. 

While early school will be activity and play based, students will ease into “subjects” as they enter middle school. However, even these will be multidisciplinary, and not strait jacketed, a concept that will continue right upto the XII standard. The snob value for certain subjects will go, with arts, sciences, and subjects like music and physical education, which were slotted into the extra and co-curricular activities, all being now treated on par. 

This multidisciplinary approach will continue even at the college level, with students getting options of majoring in a particular subject, while taking other subjects of interest as minor papers. So you can have the option of an engineering major with a minor in music. No longer the fixed worlds of PCBs and PCMs. 

The premium on “English-medium” should also ease a bit, with the government encouraging early learning in the mother tongue or regional language. In fact, Karwal said that if the regional language could be used upto the middle school and even higher, it would be encouraged. 

Syncing education with practical knowledge and the needs of the times, the policy recommends that from the sixth standard onward, students be taught coding in school. Instilling mathematical thinking and a scientific temper are among the other aims of the policy, which is largely based on the recommendations of the K. Kasturirangan Committee, 2019. Focussing on the need for inclusion of all kinds, the policy not only has recommendations on bringing back outliers into the system, but also identifying the gifted children early on. The multidisciplinary approach also aims to ensure that at the time of leaving school, each student is qualified in a particular vocational skill. 

Another much needed change will be the attempt to lower the importance of the board examination, the cause of many teenage mental troubles. Karwal said the focus will shift to knowledge applications and not rote learning. In fact, there is the suggestion that school can opt for the National Testing Agency common entrance exam, the marks of which will be used for getting admission into college. Though this entrance test is not made compulsory, it will certainly reduce the pressure of school boards to outperform each other, and in the bargain, to give students ridiculous marks like 99.9 per cent. In fact, the National Assessment Centre will issue guidelines so that the 60 recognised school boards in the country can reach a certain bench mark. 

At the higher education level, flexibility is a guiding mantra. The policy recommends a multiple entry and exit system, which allows students to leave a course mid way and still get a qualification certificate. For instance, at the end of the first year, the student gets a certificate, at the end of the second, a diploma and at the end of the third, the degree. This system has already been adopted by several institutes, the policy aims to make it the norm. Similarly, it allows for students to gather credits, so that if they have a break in studies, they can resume from that point itself later, using the credits accumulated in the past. These credits will automatically be stored in the DigiLocker. 

Amit Khare, secretary, higher education, said that the government aimed at a gross enrolment ratio of 50 per cent in higher education by 2035, while emphasising the need for technology. The guiding rule is technology’s use with equity, so that the outliers aren’t left behind. The use of technology in education would be spread to every aspect, from teaching and learning to assessment. For this, the policy recommends developing e-content in regional languages, a minimum of eight regional languages to begin with. Virtual laboratories, being developed by IIT Madras, too, will be popularised across institutions. The policy also recommends that special initiatives be taken to ensure that the physically challenged students were not left out of the teching up process. 

At the administration level, the policy recommends graded autonomy for institutes, and phasing out affiliations over the next 15 years, depending on the grading of that institute. Khare mentioned that some universities had so many colleges affiliated to them that they did little more than conduct exams and declare results. The policy also recommends that stand alone institutes evolve into multidisciplinary ones.

The policy recommends a fee cap within a broad regulatory framework for institutions, and aims for a six per cent spend of the GDP in education. At present, it is a little over four per cent. There is a clear eyed focus on internationlising Indian education, to attract foreign students and to have good ties ups between Indian and foreign institutes. The Institutes of Excellence, a scheme that was launched a couple of years ago, is already underway. It aims at making 20 institutions—ten each from public and private sectors—into world class centres. 

Khare said that the consultations for this policy were wide and thorough. The government reached out to 2.5 lakh gram panchayats through the platform for inputs. The Kasturirangan Committee report was translated into 22 languages. The HRD parliamentary standing committee met in 2019 to deliberate upon the policy.

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