New Education Policy 2020: Transforming India into a knowledge society

M Venkaiah Naidu

File photo: Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu

File photo: Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu

Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu’s article on New Education Policy 2020 as published in dtnext.in

The policy places a welcome emphasis on a holistic, learner-centred, flexible system that seeks to transform India into a vibrant knowledge society. It rightfully balances the rootedness and pride in India as well as acceptance of the best ideas and practices of learning from across the globe. Its vision is truly global and at the same time Indian.

Education in India has its foundations in the colonial times. Our basic policy of education had been instituted by the British with the intent of educating an elite group of people and producing English-educated workers who would help the British administer India. Our basic policy of education has remained more or less static for several decades. The New Education Policy comes at an opportune moment in history when demand for introspection and an overall reboot of the education system has gained great strength and momentum. The problems that plague our education system, including that of educated unemployment in India have made many consider if there was something fundamentally wrong with how the institution of education and learning was structured in our country.

Making higher education of any value for the needs of India of the 21st century would also involve making changes at the root of our higher education system. This system was created in 1857, and since then, it has undergone only minor, incremental tweaks. What was needed was a major change in the way education is conceived of and delivered.

One of the New Education Policy’s loftier goals is to bring two crore out-of-school children into the mainstream and integration of vocational education. Reduction in the burdensome syllabus, focus on the environmental aspect, value and ethics based resources and fair access to education are crucial aspects of education that are well covered by NEP. In several ways, NEP is liberating to students. They will be much more empowered and have the opportunity to choose the subjects they wish to learn.

Another welcome step is an attempt to make higher education focused and research-oriented by bringing in a single regulator to look after all institutions barring medical and law colleges. The policy gives a fillip to holistic education by envisioning the convergence of science and arts streams. NEP 2020’s sharp focus on research, multidisciplinary approaches and use of technology as well as professional upgradation of teachers’ competence has the potential to transform the education landscape.

The focus on ethics and human and Constitutional values will go a long way in the creation of an enlightened citizenship essential for deepening our democratic roots. The policy also expands the scope of foundational education, increasing the school-going years from 3 to 18 instead of the prevalent 6 to 14. This will bring the hitherto ignored age group of 3-6 years under the school curriculum. This age is globally considered to be a crucial stage of human development. Overall, skill-based learning is the name of the game. A much-discussed stipulation in the new education policy stresses the medium of instruction until at least fifth grade (preferably eight grade) will be in a regional language that is recognised as being native to India.

Setting up a National Mission on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy is a much needed, timely step to improve the quality of education at the primary education level. This, together with youth and adult literacy programmes, will undoubtedly create a more literate India. The policy also brings in a performance-linked funding pattern that would encourage competitive scholarship. While NEP aims to increase public investment in education from the current 4.3% to 6% of GDP, we must have a time frame for this to be implemented. I must commend the TSR Subramanian Committee in 2016 and the K Kasturirangan Committee for having done a stellar job. NEP 2020 recognises the importance of nutrition to the all-round development of children and has therefore included a provision for an energy-filled breakfast, in addition to the nutritious mid-day meal, to help children achieve better learning outcomes.

Extension of the Right to Education (RTE) to all children up to the age of 18 is also a welcome step. The NEP has highlighted India’s digital divide and aspires to bridge it in a time bound manner. The suggestion in NEP that one’s mother tongue should be the medium of instruction till at least class 5 is welcome. A paper brought out by UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report in 2016 states that 40% of the global population does not access education in a language they understand. Mother tongue plays a highly critical role in the overall development of the child through acquisition of literacy and other skills. Mother tongue, which a child hears right from the moment he or she is born, provides personal identity, connects with culture and is crucial for cognitive development—the way a child thinks, explores, reasons, remembers; develops critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Learning in mother tongue will enhance creativity and imaginative thinking of the child. It plays an important role in emotional and mental growth of child and facilitates faster learning of other languages. It is apparent that mother-tongue based education lays a strong foundation and creates the necessary environment for the child to transit from the known to the unknown — from the primary native language to learning additional languages. Mother tongue is the springboard to acquire multi-lingual skills. Several studies have indicated that children who were imparted education in their mother tongue in the early schooling fared better than those whose medium of instruction was not in their home language.

Learning various subjects in mother tongue also creates confidence and promotes self-esteem among children. It enables the child to express freely without the fear of committing mistakes. Human emotions can be better expressed in one’s mother tongue. It is also believed that children are able to understand and learn better in mathematics and science when the medium of instruction is their mother tongue.

As a study has shown, over 98 per cent of the Nobel laureates till 2017 were from countries that had an education system in which the medium of instruction was the learners’ mother tongue. Also, in 90 per cent of the top 50 countries ranked as per the Bloomberg Innovation Index and Global Innovation Index , mother tongue was the medium of instruction. In 28 out of the top 30 richest countries, mother tongue was the medium of instruction.

We must recall that Gandhiji and Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore also felt that mother tongue was best suited as medium of instruction. Education in mother tongues will also help children develop an interest in regional literature and culture and help them understand better the customs and traditions that are indigenous to a particular region. The policy also places great emphasis on classical languages of India.

India is a large and diverse country with a cornucopia of languages, dialects and mother tongues. A number of developed countries in the world educate their children in mother tongues. When world leaders call on me, they prefer to speak in their mother tongues even though they are proficient in English. Great scholars prefer to write and speak in their mother tongues. There is a certain pride associated with speaking one’s mother tongue and we must inculcate this sense of pride in our children.

In spite of the stress laid on regional languages, the policy states clearly and unequivocally that there would be no imposition of any language and no opposition to any language. This is indeed a welcome move. This Education policy was long overdue. Now focus needs to shift to its efficient and effective implementation, doing justice to its letter and spirit. The states and the Union government together have to work together to make the change happen in the classrooms. I am confident that if implemented well, this policy is the way forward to make India a thriving knowledge hub.

I hope that all the states will lend their whole hearted support in the effective implementation of this policy.

(written by M Venkaiah Naidu as published in dtnext.in)