Event ReportsPublished on Oct 04, 2019
The NEP panel report has both advantages and disadvantages — balancing them in the final policy statement is only one aspect of it.
Care needed in ‘balancing’ NEP panel report: Former IIT chairman
Former chairman of IIT Kanpur and educationist, Dr. M. Anandakrishnan, has bemoaned the absence of leading educationists in the Centre’s panel, headed by former ISRO chairman S. Kasturirangan, for studying the draft New Education Policy (NEP). Initiating an interaction on New Education Policy at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai, he pointed out that in the past, such committees and commissions, starting with for president of India, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, had non-political educationists of repute on them. Dr. Anandakrishnan said if this was a weak start-point for the committee, the suggestion of the panel to re-club lower-education classes, starting off the child at three to go to school and pick up multiple languages as s/he went by, may be the main thorn. As he pointed out, elsewhere in the world, whom we wanted to ape, nations and governments had already begun starting off a child in school at the age of five or six, or even beyond — which used to be the case in India, too, in the none-too-distant past. The question of identifying and training language teachers to adopt a ‘three-language formula’ across the nation, too, is also unworkable through the short and medium-term, leaving aside the regional and political criticisms that have already been flagged. In particular, he referred to the committee recommendation to have one Sanskrit teacher in every school across the country, and said it was an ‘impossible task’, for a variety of reasons, including non-availability of bi-lingual teachers, proficient in a local language to teach in schools — especially in southern and eastern India. Dr. Anandakrishnan said that creating a single-slab from ninth to 12th standards, and introducing semester scheme for them was unwise and equally unworkable. In contrast, the panel, which was expected to come up with updating and revising syllabi across the board, has not done much on this score, he said. The NEP panel has recommended introduction of breakfast and mid-day meals for school children across the country. While it is a desirable idea, as it is found to have encouraged school admissions, and discouraged drop-outs in States like Tamil Nadu, which had pioneered the scheme, the required infrastructure should not cut into the ‘teaching time’ of the academic staff in anyway. But the benefits of such schemes would not serve the larger purpose if the Government did not re-think on forcing children into learning three languages, all at the same time, and made evaluation of their standards through periodic examination of whatever kind, strict. They could lead, instead, to swifter and higher dropouts, he cautioned. Dr. Anandakrishnan said that the NEP committee had talked extensively about discouraging private players in the education sector and at the same time, but at the same time has made several recommendations for rapid privatisation of collegiate/higher education than already. By proposing to do away with ‘affiliation universities and affiliated colleges,’ the committee has said that licensed colleges should have full freedom, in terms of syllabi, admissions, recruitments and fee-structure. Thus, rather than discouraging private players, the report has ended up giving encouragement to private players. The policy ended up neither being controlled by the government nor by the market, and everything about this part of the report sounded an ‘oxymoron’.

Desirable aspects

According to Dr. Anandakrishnan, the NEP has proposed the end of affiliation system, and saying ‘no’ to single-specialisaton higher education universities like those exclusive for sports and music, which are nothing but a college in effect, but are yet empowered by law to award degrees on their own. The legacy of the three-year BEd programme for prospective teaching professionals to be upgraded into a four-year course and the ‘Right to Education’ being re-capped from 16 years to 18, are two of the desirable aspects of the recommendations. Dr. Anandakrishnan also explained on how the NEP recommendations focused on having only three types of Higher Education Institutes (HEI). They were respectively categorised as research university (like Harvard), Teaching University (like Maryland, also in the US) and autonomous colleges with degree-granting powers. He was ‘baffled’ by the number of universities and the affiliated colleges under each of them. The end of the existing scheme could also mean an end to periodic yet casual production of syllabi at the level of the universities and mechanical form of teaching in those affiliated colleges. The end of affiliation system will curb this issue. At the same time, allowing open learning education without accreditation of any kind could create an imbalance, he said.

Future generations

The NEP committee has proposed to create a National Research Foundation. Dr. Anadakrishnan feels the need to increase the R&D investment in the country, which is 0.069 percent of the GDP in India against 2.8 percent in the US, 2.1 percent in China and 4.2 percent in South Korea. The country needed to increase investments in R&D to be able to become worldclass. He also expressed displeasure over the societal practice of investing too much on food, clothes and trivia, as against investing more on teachers and academic infrastructure, including physical infrastructure like new and more school buildings. “If my child goes to school today, what will be the outcome when he/she graduates by 2030?” is what the question parents and the policy makers should be addressing, Dr. Anandakrishnan mused. More emphasis on allocation of funds towards education can propel the country towards better education standards. Bhutan has allocated seven percent of the GDP for education whereas a big country like India hasn't even touched the generally-recommended six percent goal, he bemoaned. Dr. Anandakrishnan concluded that the NEP panel report, which he pointed out was not even a draft in the strict sense, leave alone the final policy, has both advantages and disadvantages. Balancing them in the final policy statement is only one aspect of it. He wanted the governments at the Centre and in the States, academic community, educationists, schools and parents to prepare the future generation for the upcoming ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ where the advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, 3D-printing are at a surpassing level. “We must better equip the future generation to reap the benefits and also stay relevant,” he added.
This report was written by Arvind Venkatesh, Research Associate at ORF Chennai.
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