The draft na­tional ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy has rad­i­cal re­forms on its agenda. But it will need clear-cut ac­tion to suc­ceed


The draft ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy prom­ises to turn around the In­dian ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. But how fea­si­ble are its rec­om­men­da­tions?

What will hap­pen if the draft New Ed­u­ca­tion Pol­icy 2019, or NEP, sub­mit­ted by the nine-mem­ber K. Kas­turi­ran­gan Com­mit­tee to the Union min­istry for hu­man re­source de­vel­op­ment on May 31, is im­ple­mented in full by 2035, as the pol­icy en­vi­sions?

Let us imag­ine how Ro­han, born 2032, might pro­ceed in life. When he turns three, he will join the for­mal ed­u­ca­tion struc­ture under the 5+3+3+4 frame­work. For the first three years, he will re­ceive pre-school ed­u­ca­tion—in at least three lan­guages—by trained teach­ers. In this time, he will learn the al­pha­bet for each lan­guage, num­bers, colours, shapes, how to draw, do puz­zles, and be ex­posed to drama, pup­petry, mu­sic and move­ment. There will be no text­books, learn­ing will be all play and ex­per­i­men­tal, in school premises with clean toi­lets, spa­cious rooms, IT-en­abled gadgets, enough play­things and a cheer­ful en­vi­ron­ment. From Grades 1 to 5, he will have ded­i­cated reading and math­e­mat­ics hours be­cause by fifth stan­dard he will have to ac­quire fun­da­men­tal

lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy. If Ro­han has any ‘sin­gu­lar in­ter­est’ and/ or ‘tal­ent’—it could be in math­e­mat­ics, sports, paint­ing or act­ing—his teach­ers will iden­tify it and pro­vide ad­di­tional guid­ance and en­cour­age­ment.

Grade 6 on­ward, Ro­han will not have to worry about cur­ric­u­lar or extra-cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­ity as all sub­jects—from math­e­mat­ics to mu­sic to sports to paint­ing—will be part of the cur­ricu­lum. He will opt for the sub­jects he is in­ter­ested in. Of course, there will be some com­pul­sory com­mon sub­jects. At this stage, he will also be in­tro­duced to some vo­ca­tional train­ing so that he can de­cide which vo­ca­tional sub­ject to take up once he reaches Grade 9. Mean­while, in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy tools will reg­u­larly as­sess and record his learn­ing curve to make a cus­tomised plan for him. There will be tests at the end of Grades 3, 5 and 8 to measure his critical think­ing abil­ity as well as lan­guage and math­e­mat­i­cal skills.

From Grade 9, Ro­han will take on­line board ex­am­i­na­tions for three sub­jects in six-monthly semesters. The exam will be de­signed to test his un­der­stand­ing of core con­cepts, not his mem­o­ris­ing skills. He can take board ex­am­i­na­tions twice a year, maybe more of­ten. Once Ro­han com­pletes Grade 12, he can join any col­lege or univer­sity close to home, as quality higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tutes will be set up in every dis­trict of the coun­try. They will of­fer ei­ther a reg­u­lar three-year or four-year de­gree pro­gramme, or vo­ca­tional cour­ses. Al­ter­na­tively, he can have vo­ca­tional train­ing in­te­grated into his de­gree course. It won’t be like the 2020s when you had to choose a stream—all de­grees will be mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary, al­low­ing him to study, for in­stance, physics along with his­tory. If Ro­han wishes to join a pro­fes­sional course, he will be able to go to any univer­sity, as they will all be mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary. So while study­ing for an en­gi­neer­ing or med­i­cal de­gree, Ro­han can also take up so­cial sciences and fig­ure out how his de­gree can positively im­pact his lo­cal and global en­vi­ron­ment.

In the fi­nal year of his de­gree course, Ro­han can opt for re­search, or do a year of re­search af­ter com­plet­ing his three­year de­gree course. He will then be el­i­gi­ble to en­rol in a PhD pro­gramme with­out hav­ing to study for a master’s de­gree first, though he can also opt for a doc­tor­ate af­ter a master’s de­gree. He, or his in­sti­tute, won’t need to worry about funds for his re­search as there will be a Na­tional Re­search Foundation to hand­hold his project if it is geared to­wards solv­ing lo­cal, na­tional or global is­sues. And if Ro­han does not want to re­main so long in aca­demics, he will have mul­ti­ple exit op­tions dur­ing his four-year lib­eral ed­u­ca­tion de­gree that will equip him for the 21st cen­tury knowl­edge econ­omy.


This is just a pre­lim­i­nary glimpse into how the NEP seeks to rad­i­cally over­haul the coun­try’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem by 2035. The 484-page doc­u­ment outlines an elab­o­rate plan that in­cludes pre-school, school, higher, vo­ca­tional and adult ed­u­ca­tion as well as teacher train­ing and reg­u­la­tion, and sug­gests some path-break­ing re­forms such as strength­en­ing early child­hood learn­ing pro­grammes in schools, fo­cus­ing on teacher train­ing

pro­grammes, adding vo­ca­tional cour­ses to school cur­ricu­lums, boost­ing re­search fund­ing in higher ed­u­ca­tion and re­struc­tur­ing and cre­at­ing apex reg­u­la­tory bod­ies for qual­i­ta­tive changes in higher ed­u­ca­tion.

“The NEP has made some bold and welcome rec­om­men­da­tions to shift the fo­cus to im­prov­ing stu­dent learn­ing out­comes. If we were to get this one thing right—en­sur­ing all chil­dren achieve foun­da­tional lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy skills—this in itself would have a tremen­dous im­pact on the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem,” says Ashish Dhawan, founder and chair­man, Cen­tral Square Foundation, a non-profit work­ing in the school ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor.


The most rad­i­cal sug­ges­tion in NEP 2019 is in­clud­ing pre-school ed­u­ca­tion in the for­mal ed­u­ca­tion struc­ture. The NEP makes a case for sci­en­tific pre-school ed­u­ca­tion cit­ing neu­ro­science re­search, which shows that 85 per cent of a child’s brain de­vel­op­ment takes place prior to age 6. It also refers to a 1992 Na­tional Coun­cil of Ed­u­ca­tional Re­search and Train­ing (NCERT) study on 30,000 chil­dren that showed a di­rect cor­re­la­tion be­tween exposure to preschool ed­u­ca­tion and re­ten­tion and at­ten­dance rates and, most sig­nif­i­cantly, learn­ing out­comes in pri­mary school and above.

Pre-school ed­u­ca­tion has an im­pact even on the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of in­di­vid­u­als and coun­tries. JNU eco­nomics pro­fes­sor San­tosh Mehro­tra cites re­search that shows how the life­time earn­ings of peo­ple who have had an ex­cel­lent child­hood ed­u­ca­tion are much higher than those who were de­prived of it. For every ru­pee in­vested in pre-school ed­u­ca­tion, the coun­try will get a return of Rs 10, the NEP es­ti­mates. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, re­search also in­di­cates that chil­dren below 8 are not ready for text­book learn­ing, which means a large pro­por­tion of our chil­dren are not re­ceiv­ing the ed­u­ca­tion they need. Cur­rently, most early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion is de­liv­ered through an­gan­wadis and pri­vate pre-schools. The an­gan­wadis, run under the aegis of the In­te­grated Child De­vel­op­ment Ser­vices (ICDS), have de­liv­ered in terms of health­care for moth­ers and in­fants but have fal­tered in the ed­u­ca­tion part. Pri­vate pre-schools pro­vide bet­ter in­fra­struc­ture, but the cur­ricu­lum and in­struc­tion meth­ods are not what early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion re­quires.

It’s not sur­pris­ing that a 2017 study by Ambed­kar Univer­sity found that a sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion of chil­dren in In­dia who com­pleted pre-pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion, pub­lic or pri­vate, did not have the com­pe­ten­cies to join pri­mary school. A 2018 An­nual Sta­tus of Ed­u­ca­tion Re­port (ASER) sur­vey found that only 50 per cent stu­dents in Class V could read texts meant for Class II. Con­se­quently, the gross en­rol­ment ra­tio drops from 95 per cent for Grades 1-5 to 79 per cent for Grades 9-10.

This is the rea­son why the NEP’s high­est pri­or­ity is to achieve uni­ver­sal foun­da­tional lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy in pri­mary school and be­yond by 2025. ‘The rest of the pol­icy will be largely ir­rel­e­vant for such a large por­tion of our stu­dents if this most ba­sic learn­ing—reading, writ­ing and arith­metic at the foun­da­tional level—is not first achieved,’ reads the NEP draft. They will also have to en­sure that all stu­dents aged be­tween 3 and 18 are brought within the am­bit

TECH­NOL­OGY TO THE FORE Stu­dents at a class­room in An­gan­wadi Ken­dra, Jaipur

LEARN­ING BY DO­ING Stu­dents at a Mi­randa House Col­lege sci­ence lab

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