'NEP will phase out the affiliation system'

Interview/ K. Kasturirangan and Leena Chandran Wadia

102-K-Kasturirangan-and-Leena-Chandran-Wadia K. Kasturirangan and Leena Chandran Wadia

K. Kasturirangan is the head of the drafting committee on the National Education Policy 2020 and Leena Chandran Wadia is a senior fellow, Observer Research Foundation, and member of the technical secretariat to the Kasturirangan Committee and is also a member, drafting committee of the draft NEP 2019. In a joint interaction with THE WEEK, they highlight the significance of NEP, how it compares with other education policies in other countries, how it will transform higher education in India and several other aspects of the NEP.

What major changes will National Education Policy 2020 bring?

Though the policy recognises the centrality of Indianness, it incorporates the best of experiences and practices of other leading countries. If it is implemented in the spirit in which it was created, it will give India an education system that is second to none.
The [new] regulatory framework will help in weeding out institutions that are unable to improve their standards over a period of a decade or more.

NEP 2020 is not about tweaking the educational system, but transforming it. It will change all aspects of education, at all levels. For instance, children between the ages of three and six would be brought into the fold of formal education for the first time. The NEP will also help in achieving foundational literacy and numeracy for all children by the age of eight. The Central government has launched a national mission to achieve the objectives of this policy.

The NEP emphasises the importance of bilingual and multilingual education for all children. Moreover, vocational training will be integrated into school education. Classes from nine to 12 will be combined into a programme during which students will be allowed to make choices across a range of subjects, including science, social science, the arts, vocational education and even sports. The basic degree for a school teacher will become the four-year BEd.

Multidisciplinary education and research universities will be set up. Also, a national research foundation (NRF) will be set up to nurture research in the university system. The higher education system will be restructured into research universities, teaching universities and autonomous degree-granting colleges. The focus will be on providing autonomy, with accountability, to higher education institutions so that they can lead the transformation.

Could you elaborate on the changes specific to higher education?

Higher education will become much more student centric and focus on building 21st century skills. Youth and adults will have the opportunity to keep learning throughout their lives, as and when necessary, to keep pace with a fast-changing world. The steps like the setting up of an Academic Bank of Credits, a liberal undergraduate education and the integration of vocational education will all contribute towards this. The NEP will take higher education away from lecture-based pedagogy.

Higher education will see a completely new regulatory framework that will have four independent verticals—for regulation, accreditation, funding and standard-setting—under the umbrella of the Higher Education Commission of India. The system will grow, but it will also require consolidation since over 65 per cent of the 42,000 plus colleges have less than 500 students at present. Only 4 per cent of the colleges have enrolment greater than 3,000.

It is important to note that higher education in India is largely private (79 per cent of institutions and 66 per cent of enrolment). The NEP has provided encouragement and support to the private sector by treating them on par with government institutions, with regards to regulation and access to research funding. The regulatory framework will help in weeding out institutions that are unable to improve their standards over a period of a decade or more.

It (the new regulatory framework) will also phase out the affiliation system and create autonomous institutions that will be able to innovate in curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. It will help provide mobility to students across streams through the creation of a national higher education qualification framework that will also be interconnected with the national skills qualification framework.

What was the vision with which you drafted the NEP?

The focus of the NEP is captured in one of the statements in it: "Providing universal access to quality education is the key to India's continued ascent and leadership on the global stage in terms of economic growth, social justice and equality, scientific advancement, national integration, and cultural preservation."

Key considerations include emphasis on the full development of human potential as articulated in the declaration of human rights in 1948; an education system that draws upon India’s heritage and value systems; the unfinished agenda of previous policies; the sustainable development goals; seeking to create a flexible yet integrated system of education that facilitates national development, and preparing students to realise their own dreams and aspirations and secure their future and that of their families, and also to contribute to society and the country.

How does the NEP compare with the education policies in western countries?

As you know, we had wide ranging consultations while formulating the NEP. These consultations and the knowledge of the members of the committee meant that we had a comprehensive understanding of the educational systems in [countries like] the US, Europe, South Korea and Israel.

Furthermore, there were the key elements of India's educational system consistent with our culture and ethos that needed to be included. Therefore, though the policy recognises the centrality of Indianness, it incorporates the best of experiences and practices of other leading countries engaged in innovative concepts in education and research. Thus, if the NEP is implemented in the spirit in which it was created, it will give India an education system that is second to none.

What kind of deliberations went in before you drafted the NEP?

It began with the bottom-up consultation started by the then HRD minister Smriti Irani, where inputs were gathered from panchayat level upwards and state governments collated these reports and submitted them to then MHRD. The TSR Subramanian committee report and the MHRD report that followed were based on these. Our committee received inputs from many individuals and groups (listed in the DNEP report). I even travelled to various places to meet important individuals such as the head of the Jain sect. We also sought out many experts on our own to get their inputs and we subjected the draft policy to peer reviews by several independent experts. After our draft, DNEP 2019 was put into the public domain and it received over 2.4 lakh responses which were then considered and incorporated into the document. Last but not the least, the final draft of the document received extensive reviews from Prime Minister Narendra Modi whose thoughtful and valuable suggestions were incorporated into the final policy document.

Initially the students had to study fixed subjects in schools but as per the NEP, there should be flexibility in terms of the courses they choose. How will this help the students?

Most students have multiple interests and abilities. The policy has also adopted holistic and multidisciplinary education as the key thread running across the policy for school as well as higher education. The NEP has, therefore, suggested that students be given a choice of subjects across all the disciplines available at the institution, including vocational education and sports. In this context, we do away with the existing practice of separation between curricular and co-curricular, science and arts, vocational and professional and ensure a truly multi-disciplinary approach including areas like arts, crafts, sports. This move should also make a lot of ICT-related courses in programming, data sciences and so on available to students. Being introduced to such a large canvas of subjects will help the students make more informed choices regarding directions for their careers. A similar strategy is adopted for the undergraduate education which will be more multidisciplinary and holistic. Education will be moving more towards the adoption of integrative and liberal approaches. All these steps will create well rounded individuals capable of playing their rightful roles both in their profession or vocation and also in dealing with social issues and interacting with communities.

You have said that the education system in India needs change and not tuning? What kind of changes were needed on an urgent basis in the country?

As you must have seen, the policy is not about tweaking the existing educational system but transforming it. This is evident at any level of education. A serious reader making a critical assessment of the policy will find an unambiguous answer to your question.

You have stressed that the NEP will make India a knowledge hub. How will that happen?

India must ensure that it is in a position to generate knowledge across disciplines. The students must become active participants in the process of knowledge creation from a young age, beginning at secondary school. The NEP enables this transformation as it reorients the pedagogy from rote learning to learning how to learn and inquiry-driven learning. It provides autonomy to institutions, encourages research and innovation. It also makes provision for research funding across disciplines and levels through the NRF.