This year, India expects a new education policy in place. An ambitious process of nationwide consultations launched in May 2015 invited inputs from one and all, from panchayats to national institutions. The inputs were studied, analysed and consolidated in the HRD ministry. The task of ‘Evolution of the New Education Policy’ was entrusted to a five-member committee in November 2015. Its composition did raise eyebrows—four retired bureaucrats and only one academic member. All along, the widespread question remained unanswered: why this huge dependence on bureaucracy? The committee went ahead with its task with élan, getting full support from all well-intentioned quarters. In about five months, it studied diverse inputs received, and invited experts and organisations for interaction and presentations. It also undertook visits to the states for assessment of prevailing conditions. The committee, chaired by a former cabinet secretary, submitted its 217-page report in May 2016 to the HRD ministry. Subsequently, the ministry put up a 43-page document, ‘Some Inputs for Draft National Education Policy 2016’, on its website and, once again, sought suggestions, the deadline for which has been extended to August 15.
Apparently, the report, instead of becoming the basic document for deliberations and approval at appropriate levels, has become just another input in the process of consultation. The most pertinent concern before the policy formulators is: what shall be the basic philosophy and approach to the new education policy, which would respond to the aspirations of the youth and contribute to the process of national development? It is not an easy task to harmonise ideological compulsions and evolve a policy framework acceptable to all. It is generally acknowledged that a thorough understanding of the process of knowledge creation and utilisation that developed over a couple of millennia in India could provide a sound base on which the new edifice could be constructed with confidence and hope.
Major concerns have emerged prominently. Those entrusted with the finalisation of the policy document must respond to the deterioration in the work culture in schools and institutions maintained through public funds. Revamping the kitty and procedures to update the infrastructure, cutting red tape and restoring focus on the goals deserve priority consideration. A joyful learning environment is still a dream for most schoolchildren. They deserve curriculum load reduction and better models of comprehensive assessment. Non-availability of pre-school education vastly dilutes the goal of equality of opportunity. The issue of a mother tongue as a medium needs professional handling. The seeds of skill orientation are to be sown from the initial stages. Poor or absentee institutional leadership results in enormous quality deterioration. The system of governance and management remains change-resistant and unresponsive.
The formulation and implementation of the new education policy can’t be delayed further. A pragmatic plan of action must respond to the concerns of equality of access and success, learner attainments, skill acquisition, new pedagogy and ICT, employability, assessment procedures, teacher preparation and recruitment, institutional development and networking, upgradation of research facilities, and exodus abroad of the talented. Every precaution should be in place to ensure that the system is energised to achieve the targets in time. Corruption corrodes initiatives, and the education system suffers its onslaught at every stage. It must be confronted with determination.
Former director of the NCERT