CHAPTER IV: Need for a New National Policy on Education
4.1 The National Policy on Education, as formulated in 1986 and modified in1992, has been the guiding document of the policies of the Central Government inthe education sector for well over two decades. During this period, significant changes have taken place in India and the world at large. New technologies have transformed the way in which we live, work, and communicate; the corpus of knowledge has vastly expanded and become multi-disciplinary; and research has become far more collaborative. Since the NPE was last reviewed in 1992, there have been momentous changes in the situation in India and worldwide. These need to be taken into account in formulating a new NPE for the coming decades.
4.2 While the earlier policy was robust in conception and orientation, it has not delivered the desired results in terms of acceptable outcomes in the education sector. Despite the stated priority accorded to this sector and the plethora of specific programmes which have been launched, as well as the infusion of massive public outlays over the years, the state of education remains a conspicuous weak spot in the economy, indeed in society at large.
4.3 The earlier NPEs had aimed at a number of overarching objectives, which included ‘development of quality’, ‘pace setting institutions in all stages and all sectors’, ‘setting up of a large number of cluster centres aimed achieving highest international standards’, ‘to promote excellence at levels of the educational pyramid’, ‘a child-centred approach to education recognizing the holistic nature of child development, to accord high priority to Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) with suitable integration with ICDS programmes’, to mention a few. The previous NPE also emphasized need to raise outlays on education to 6% of GDP by1992, and ‘uniformly exceed this figure thereafter’. The Right to Education Act2009 created legal obligations to provide education to every child between ages of6 to 14, as also to sharply improve the infrastructure facilities in schools.
4.4 The earlier policies had laid out clear objectives and goals; however, many of these have not been realized fully or even partially. This has largely been due to absence of a clear workable roadmap and continuing operational guidance being put in place. Even more importantly, heavy politicization at every level of operation of the school system, from the village/block level to state headquarters, as well as increasing corruption, reaching every aspect of school administration have been prominent developments in the past three decades or so. These adverse factors have permeated every aspect of school administration, contributing to the current extremely poor educational conditions at the ground level– negating the noble objectives of the policy of 1986-92.
4.5 The ground reality today is, depressingly, quite different from what was envisaged in the earlier policies. While gross enrolment in schools, as also at higher education institutions, has gone up sharply, these have been accompanied with many undesirable new factors. While the infrastructure facilities in the school system have significantly improved, there has been little corresponding impact on the quality of instruction or learning – on the contrary repeated studies have indicated a worrisome decline in learning outcomes in schools. The perceived failure of the schools in the government system to provide education of minimal quality has triggered entry of a large number of wholly private or aid ed schools, even in rural areas. Concurrently there has been mushroom growth of private colleges and universities, many of them of indifferent quality; leading up to questions about the quality of degrees generally obtained in the system. In short, while there has been some improvement in infrastructure, and significant gains in respect of enrolment and access, new gnawing worries about the quality of education have increasingly bedevilled the education system. These need urgent attention.
4.6 Education and public health are possibly the two most important development vectors in a democracy. While adequate financing alone will not address the needs of the education sector, governments in successive decades also do not appear to have comprehended the imperative need to ensure minimum essential funding to this area, which offers potentially the best investment opportunities for coming generations. This is a critical gap in overall national policy in the past decades.
4.7 As mentioned earlier, the quality of school education has been steadily on the decline. Inadequate stress in early childhood years has severely contributed to poor learning outcomes at successive secondary and higher education periods. Serious gaps in teacher motivation and training, sub-optimal personnel management in the education sector, absence of necessary attention to monitoring and supervision of performance at all levels – in short an overall neglect of management issues in this field have contributed to the current state of affairs. While it is true that there is wide disparity in this regard between states, with some states having displayed encouraging initiatives and innovative management, the overall picture in the country is unsatisfactory. A renewed look at policies in this regard, as also on a framework for implementation has become imperatively urgent.
4.8 While the RTE of 2009 has led to significant increase in enrolment, as also stress on infrastructure, new issues in the implementation phase have arisen which need to be addressed. In particular the ‘no detention policy’ needs to be examined, to ensure that it is optimally and judiciously implemented.
4.9 Despite references in the earlier policies to Early Childhood Education, there are no systems firmly in place to ensure this. This gap needs to be addressed effectively and comprehensively, without delay.
4.10 There is no clearly laid out policy in respect of private participation in the education system, both at the school and higher education levels. While there is scope for differential treatment of this issue in different states, the respective roles to be played by private-public players is not currently defined. Issues of regulation, autonomy and fee structure have all been dealt with in an ad-hoc manner, now requiring some baselines to be established. The rapid growth of higher education institutions, many of dubious quality and functioning in grey market, has raised the question of necessary minimal financial conditions to be created to foster institutions of reasonable quality. Issues of transparent quality evaluation of higher education institutions, and revamping the system of affiliation are all issues which need to be currently addressed. The menace of institutions which have sprung up on the philosophy of ‘degrees for cash’ need to be squarely tackled.
4.11 In an aspirational society, it is natural that parents desire their children to obtain ‘good’ education. However formally linking the development of skills in vocational fields, bringing an academic equivalence to vocational accomplishments has not been seriously attempted. This also means that avenues for horizontal and vertical mobility of students have not been provided to an adequate degree. Fostering dignity and social acceptability to high quality vocational training is an important goal that begs attention.
4.12 While all higher educational institutions are not expected to engage in academic research, the overall engagement and accomplishments in the field of research leaves much to be desired. Research and innovation are key to promoting a dynamic and vibrant academic scene, with potential to contribute significantly to the economy. This aspect needs to be seriously addressed for appropriate redressal.
4.13 Despite the disparity in women’s participation in higher education having been enunciated from the 1968 policy, the situation is far from satisfactory although several laudable efforts have been made leading to higher enrolment of women, including in professional courses.
4.14 Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has made rapid strides in the past couple of decades. New technologies are now available for information dissemination, enhancement of skills of all sorts, not yet suitably adopted to the needs of the education sector. The immense potential for inducting ICT to come to the aid of Indian education in myriad innovative ways has not been harnessed. Many experiments have taken place in the country, and a large body of knowledge has accumulated in this regard. ICT now provides a new and potentially highly effective vehicle for advancing the quality of education at all levels; this issue needs to be seriously explored and the alternatives expounded.
4.15 In short, while much has been achieved, there are serious gaps in implementation at the field level, and a worrisome lack of quality in every element of the entire system; it is necessary to recognize the ground conditions, if any major improvement is to be attempted. The issues mentioned above need to be diagnosed properly and addressed effectively.
4.16 The Government of India have launched several social and developmental initiatives such as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Digital India, Skill India, Make in India and Smart Cities. All these initiatives have significant backward and forward linkages with the education sector which need to be taken into account in the new NPE. For example, the induction of ICT also underlines the imperative necessity of providing electricity and connectivity, and making computer hardware, software and technical support available in every school, especially in rural areas. Similarly, Skill India and Make in India require the mainstreaming of vocational education, practical knowledge, hands-on projects and courses oriented towards meeting the needs of industry and employment.
4.17 The rate of change has accelerated. New technologies and disciplines have emerged and new knowledge and insights are being generated at a rapid pace. Social media transmit and disseminate information and opinions almost instantaneously. Individuals, societies, governments and educational and other systems are often behind the curve in keeping pace with these developments.
4.18 Although expenditure on education has languished at well below the 6 per cent of GDP envisaged in the earlier NPE, there have also been pervasive and persistent failures in implementation leading to sub-optimal utilization of the resources provided. The survey of the present situation in the education sector underlines that outside interference, absence of accountability, unregulated commercialization and lack of standards continue to exist and have, indeed, increased substantially during the past two decades. It would not be an exaggeration to say that large segments of the education sector in India face a serious crisis of credibility in terms of the quality of education which they provide, as well as the worth of the degrees which they confer on students.
4.19 While ‘equity’ and ‘access’ have been, rightly stressed in the past as the guiding principles in the education field, the issue of quality has hitherto effectively been relegated to the background. It has now become an imperative necessity to lay major emphasis on improvement of quality across the board, without compromising on equity and access.
4.20 It is now time to undertake a comprehensive review of the educational scene in India as it is currently being administered and implemented, and articulate a new NPE.