The government’s new education policy overhauls the way education is currently being administered across the country. Major changes have been made in the policy by the government. The ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) will be rechristened as the Ministry of Education. Regarding the change in the usage of languages in the schools, as we recall, a draft was released last year in May which basically said that “Hindi” would be taught compulsorily in all schools and a lot of States, especially the Southern parts of the country had protested against it. This final version of the draft no longer imposes ‘Hindi’ as a primary language in the educational institutions. It pronounces precisely that no language will be imposed on any State whatsoever. It also said that there would be greater flexibility in the ‘three languages’ formula – Three languages will be learnt based on the choices of the States and two out of it needs to be Indian languages; Sanskrit to be made available in all schools and all levels. This was the point that sparked a lot of debate amongst the literate mass. The actual texts said, “Whenever possible, Medium of Instruction up to 5th Grade will be in Mother Tongue or Regional Languages”. Whereas, the press release put out by the PIB said that everybody would be instructed the mother tongue compulsorily post 5th standard and that caused a lot of confusion amongst the people. But it turns out that it would again depend on the State governments and the Schools in question whether that sort of instruction would be possible or not. Also there will be a regulator for all schools, private and public, that will regulate fees – a move that has been demanded by the parents for a while now. There will be one regulator for all colleges, for higher education, excluding Medical and Legal. Right to Education will now extend from age 3 to 18. It also allows students, in High School and College, to mix and match subjects – students could mix two science subjects with one arts subject or vice versa. That is interesting but I wonder how colleges are going to provide that services with equal efficiency and for how long! M.Phil. course has been abolished; in its place a 4-year undergraduate course has been placed. This also perhaps look out for the dropouts – you study for one year, you get a certificate, 2-year a diploma, 3 years a bachelor certificate and 4 years you get to do research which is effectively an equivalent of M.Phil., alongside many smaller to larger reforms.
But how much of this will solve India’s real problems with Education so far?
I am extremely delighted to witness that the Ministry of Education has finally understood that early childhood development is absolutely fundamental. The biggest point about school education that has constantly bedevilled our school education and learning levels is teacher absenteeism. Nationwide surveys by both the government and independent bodies across the country since 2004 have demonstrated, without a shadow of doubt, that teacher absenteeism is prominent in strangulating the already worsened education system in the country. Itis the worst in the rural areas, in Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and less in Tamil Nadu. “If you don’t get your teachers to school, you are not going to achieve anything”, Prof Santosh Mehrotra, JNU said. Substituting actual teachers who have been taught and trained with contractual, non-trained teachers have degraded the system even more. The goal of higher education by the government, gross enrolment ratio (GER), is 50 percent by 2030 which is 10 years from now. We already are witnessing the disastrous impact on our education system as we augmented from 11 percent GER in 2006 to 26 percent in 2017 and now the government is doubling it to 50 percent. It is not as though our higher education system has been great; in 2006it precipitously fell from disastrous levels when the government massified higher education.
“The government mustn’t go to 50% higher education enrolment because it needs to increase enrolment in Vocational Education, it needs to start streaming the 10th graders towardVocational Education”, Prof Mehrotra, Professor, Economic, JNU said.
Merely 2.4 percent of the country’s workforce have formally acquired vocational training despite the‘Skill India Mission’.
“This goal in Vocational Education that by 2025, 50 percent of our schools and students will get exposure to vocational education simply doesn’t match up with the finances that will be required and in any case we must not go for 50% GRE in higher education”, Prof Mehrotra said.
The way higher education reform has been envisaged, it intends a massive overhauling of the system; it is the reconfiguration of the entire system. One of the challenges is the policy prescription about the governance reform. According to the policy, each and every Universities would have a Board of Governance and has to design an institutional development plan which has to be submitted to the higher education grounds council. This means that every University has to revisit the governance structure followed bythe question of affiliationconcerningit. The entire system has been designed in such a way that the teachers and the institutions will have the autonomy and the four pillars – the Higher Education Grounds Council, the National Higher Education Regulation Commission, the National Accreditation Council and General Education Council – have to coordinate among each other and undergo massive governance change.
“I am very happy with the overall plan; unless the public funding is raised it is not going to be very fruitful. The challenge will be the implementation and construction of the four pillars, it requires quite an effort to get a meaningful higher education reform”, said bySaumen Chattopadhyaya, Professor, Zakir Husain Centre for Educational Studies, JNU
In regard to the scrapping of the MPhil. course from the Universities, Prof Chattopadhyaya said, “Right now what we have in JNU is 2-years of MPhil. followed by 4 years of PhD where many students seldom submits within 6 years, they take an extension under Clause 9b. The training at the Masters level is so poor that very often pursuing an MPhil degree does help the student to write the PhD thesis but it ends up consuming one more year. In that case, the first year of training that we impart to the students who are admitted to the MPhil, PhD programme has to be taken very seriously”.
The students have to be extremely serious and pro-active in completing the PhD degree in the span of 3-4 years. When the students would write the research paper in the 4th year of the Undergraduate programme, possibly the kind of MPhil training as expected from the students would be somewhat achieved. According to me it is definitely a good direction because we spend up 6 to 7 years to get a PhD degree and the students need to wait pretty long to enter the job market. Let the students complete the thesis at a reasonable time period which is internationally comparable.
The purpose of a policy document is to enunciate a vision. The policy requires an education system that is ambitious, equitable, that delivers for everybody, that allows the real aims of education to be fulfilled. It is certain that the implementation of the policy will be a challenge. One of the biggest challenges we have had in the past 70 years, in the Indian Education System is that in 1966 a commission set up on a national policy said that at least 6 percent of the GDP should be invested in education and it was very clear that it had to be government invested money. It is a tragedy that we have never crossed more than 4.2 percent of the GDP, mostly we were at 3 percent, half the amount as required. The policy has clearly recommended that there shouldn’t be public investments made on it. The governments have been talking about 6 percent GDP since the Kothari Commission, 1966.
In the words of Prof Mehrotra, “This government is bankrupt, it is not even putting money into people’s hands, we need an increase in aggregate demand. If you don’t increase aggregate demand, your economy won’t grow, the government won’t have revenues, you can forget about 6% of GDP”.
Intentions might be great but can we afford the implementation of this policy? Do we have the money to actually witness this coming into play?
An interesting point here is that the Anganwadis have now been included in Nursery schooling which means that whatever has been taught to the children in Nursery schools, the equivalent of that should also be taught to the children in Anganwadi by Anganwadi workers. It predominantly means that to train them is utmost important and before trainingthem it would be nice if the government pays them for the amount of work they have been engaged in so far.Empowering the teachers, training them is primarily important, followed by strategic management of the infrastructure across all levels of education.
This is obviously, for the common mass, a complex document; it’s going to take a few days before everybody figures out the entire extent of what it means. It’s going to need a lot of clarification from the government as well. While it is promising and it seems to impart us vision and direction in the right track, don’t let it keep you up at night with eyes wide open for the time being, at least. Kindly read it, write out if any objections, do communicate it with the government, that is what a citizen’s responsibility is. But we do hope that this will solve a couple of problems, the problems of feeding midday meals to very small children from the Anganwadis, feeding and preparing them better for the world. The second problem of exams causing so much pressures – India has the highest instance of suicides among students in the world. The fact that the largest cause of death for young women between the ages of 15 and 30 is suicide is extremely alarming. That is because we put that kind of pressure on our students when they are taking up their exams. And because the Government has written on paper that Education deserves more funding from government, one hopes that the next time they are writing a State of Central budget, ‘education’ will receive more funding. Education and Healthcare are the Silver Bullets – if we feed our children (the poorest children) in our country properly from the age of 0 to 5 and give them proper education – where the teachers show up and they are well versed with what they are teaching – we will create a Superpower.