The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, approved by the Union Cabinet, has conceptualized a new paradigm of higher education in India. This paradigm shift has been propelled by the need to remove some of the existing anomalies in the Indian Education system that functioned as an impediment for quality research and innovation.
India has not been able to capitalize on the huge potential and struggled to have a global impact on the intellectual sphere in proportion to the Human Resource available to it. Only a few students go for higher studies and fewer engage in academic research. This scenario is far from satisfactory for an aspiring power like India. The quality of the research also calls for a radical change in order to keep pace with the ever-changing intellectual domain, and thereby redefining the trajectory of India’s progress. The Research infrastructure and encouragement to students for pursuing higher education have also been insufficient. The number of world-class Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) have also been very limited.
The inadequate mechanism for merit-based career management and ineffective regulatory system for higher education has proved to be inimical to the national objectives. The pedagogical and knowledge creation system of ancient India has not been sufficiently incorporated in our education system so far. The set of challenges mentioned above was provocative to the Indian mind for working out a new paradigm. As the notable pragmatic educationist, John Dewey mentioned in one of his highly influential books, How We Think, that the individual thinks only when there is good and sufficient reason for thinking.
The National Education Policy (2020) is a product of that thought process and promises to dissolve these existing anomalies by constructing an ecosystem conducive to intellectual growth and open up an altogether new dimension of higher education in India in order to make it a power to be reckoned with in the 21st Century.
The policy has sought to overhaul the whole spectrum of Indian Education System by restructuring the contours of higher education. The main thrust of the policy is to end the fragmentation and segmentation of higher education by transforming nodal institutions of higher studies into large multidisciplinary universities, colleges and Higher Education Institution (HEI) clusters, each of which will endeavour to train and educate at least 3000 students. The idea inherent to this step is to build a vibrant community of scholars and researchers working in the conducive milieu for producing quality results to address the multifarious challenges of national import.
India has displayed in the past, unprecedented prowess of establishing institutions of intellection. For instance, the ancient Indian universities Takshashila, Nalanda, Vikramshila, Udvantpuri and Nagarjuna Vidyapeeth had thousands of students from India and the several parts of the world staying and studying in a vibrant multidisciplinary environment, amply demonstrated the success of such archetype of education and left a lasting legacy of intellectual accomplishments. India urgently needs to capitalize on the ancient tradition to create a constellation of scholars deeply devoted to further the frontiers of knowledge.
Another remarkable aspect of the policy is the vision of widening the numerical base of scholars and researchers of eminence by expanding the institutional capacities under the most expedient educational infrastructure. One of the prominent objectives of the policy is to increase the Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in higher education including vocational training from 26.3% (2018) to 50% by 2035.
In order to achieve this, more HEIs are to be established and developed in various regions to ensure full access, equity and inclusion. One grand multidisciplinary HEI has been planned to be instituted in or near every district in addition to consolidating and substantially expanding and improving already existing HEIs. It is an ambitious project and holds the key to unlock the latent potential to make India excel in higher education and have a positive global impact.
The policy has also prioritized the need to impart vocational education to a greater number of students for fostering the idea of self-reliance. Several studies show that skilling the youth and equipping them with vocational education have been indispensable factors of growth for developed nations. The 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-2017) estimated that only a very small percentage of the Indian workforce in the age group of 19-24 (less than 5%) received formal vocational education whereas in countries such as the USA the number is 52%, in Germany 75%, and in South Korea, it is as high as 96%.
These numbers only underline the urgency of the need to expedite the spread of vocational education in India. India has woken up to this reality and intends to make it a priority to provide vocational education and necessary professional skills to students. It is proposed in the National Education Policy that at least 50% of learners shall have exposure to vocational studies by 2025.
Despite the critical immediacy of the need, the investment in research and innovation in India is, at present, only 0.69% of GDP as compared to 2.8% in the United States of America, 3.26% in Japan, 4.2% in South Korea and 4.3% in Israel. The policy highlights the need to augment the critical mass of research in challenging areas by encouraging students to pursue higher studies and keep India abreast with the pace of educational transformation the world is going through.
The students from all social sectors have to come forward and join higher studies and therefore the policy has laid much emphasis on equitable and inclusionary higher education. If demography is the final determinant of history then it will serve us better to have an educated and efficient demographic capital.
Small nations such as South Korea, Japan and Israel have emerged as powerful nations by advancing their research and innovation despite staggering challenges in terms of human and natural resources. The policy has also kept in mind the needs of students with extraordinary capabilities and extends all possible support to nurture their innate talent so that they can apply themselves as per their calling and make seminal contributions.
The policy makes provision for a holistic and multidisciplinary approach to higher education which will introduce a paradigm characterized by a departure from the Macaulian influence. This approach will decolonize the prospective Indian intelligentsia and enable it to view the reality in its unadulterated form. It is not to eschew the learning from around the world but to blindly pursue and imitate the Western educational archetype which has proved to be inefficacious and inimical to critical and creative thinking.
The policy encourages the process of assimilating the external educational advances in Indian pedagogical structure. It has also made provisions for the internationalization of education in which the leading educational institutions from India shall open their campuses outside and foreign universities of excellence, placed in top 100, can open their campuses in India.
Holistic and multidisciplinary education is the sine qua non for sharpening the perceptive ability of a scholar and cultivating a wholesome personality. It has become all the more essential as the structure of the global academia is increasingly becoming complex with each passing day and boundaries of disciplines are fast diminishing. The fragmented ecosystem of higher education is no longer relevant and an integrated approach seems more conducive to further the frontiers of knowledge.
The idea of technological determinism should be in sync with the axiological aspects of education. Advocates of technological determinism claim that technological advance functions as the crucial determinant of the order of the world. The progress in science and technology has always helped humanity catapult into a new paradigm, and thereby changed the world for better.
This policy proposes to accomplish the same without neglecting the axiological aspects of education, which deals with the ethical and aesthetic faculties of human beings. The quintessence of holistic approach is well summarized by J. H. Pestalozzi, one of the greatest educationists of all times, who asserts that the education is not meant to produce an automaton but an individual with a balanced hand, heart and mind. The new Policy has envisaged a fine balance between these two apparently divergent aspects.
The National Education Policy (2020) is not a modified form of the previous policies. It is a revolutionary vision which includes the necessary aspects of the previous policies and also attempts to remove hitherto existing anomalies in them. It has opened a new paradigm of higher education that will catalyze the intellectual impulse and transform India into a fountainhead of ground-breaking research and epistemological exploration. It envisions an exemplar of education system rooted in Indian ethos that contributes to transforming India sustainably into an equitable, inclusive and vibrant knowledge society by extending education to everyone and thereby making India into a global knowledge superpower.
It proposes to build institutions and support researchers to gain a competitive edge and transform the intellectual landscape of India by cultivating excellence in all relevant fields. It may well be said that the policy presents a comprehensive vision with robust plans of execution which has filled the heart and mind of people with renewed expectations. The ongoing decade is likely to define the locus of Indian education and its evolution in future.
(Assistant Professor, Centre for Japanese Studies, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)