The impact of the pandemic on education has been huge. It will severely impact the future of our youth and our country, unless immediate effective measures are taken. In the absence of proper learning and testing, most stakeholders are dissatisfied. No one is satisfied whatever measures are taken. There are the issues of digitally disadvantaged students. Whatever support system is in place, it will not be able to meet their requirements. I am not talking about the staggering number of students affected by the pandemic. The problems are always huge. The picture in rural India is grimmer; only four per cent households have access to digital mode of education. A 2017-18 survey by the Ministry of Rural Development indicated that more than 36 per cent of schools in our country operated without electricity. For a level-playing field, obviously, huge resources are required. India is doing its bit. To address the digital divide, a Parliamentary Committee Report in December 2020 recommends provision of financial assistance and subsidised smart phones and computers to students. The pandemic situation has given us enough experience to run a digital technology-based teaching and learning process. Many simple technologies are evolving to bring down the costs for imparting on-line education. Novel EdTech systems are helping both the teachers and the students. Personalised learning solutions are getting due consideration. It is good to know that India is emerging as the second biggest market for massive open online courses (MMOC) in the world, after the US.
A national policy on education was first promulgated in the year 1968, in response to the recommendations of the Kothari Commission. It was renewed in 1986 and 1992 to lay down the principles governing the education system. The National Education Policy (NEP), 2020, based on Kasturirangan Committee report, aims to revamp the educational framework, by shifting focus from rote learning to holistic education, and promising equitable access to all. The NEP promises to make education multi-disciplinary, well-rounded and discovery-oriented. It promises to remove the compartmentalisation of streams by allowing students greater flexibility in choosing their subjects. The NEP’s emphasis is to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio, and put a brake to the spiralling drop-out rate. It provides exit options for the undergraduate degree.
Providing education costs money. We also know that inputs are needed for outputs. For this balance equation of input-output to be sufficiently effective, we need to put in place the methods and practices to minimise losses. We need to optimise inputs and losses to obtain optimum products. The inputs are, besides financial, many other resources. We need good and committed teachers. We have to understand that the downtrodden are more than vote banks. Utopian aspirations are possible only when similar supporting system are in place. The policy encourages operationalisation of foreign universities, public-private partnerships (PPP), and public-spirited private schools. Such commitments are not easy to build. There is always a fear of education sliding towards commercialization. Discrimination on the basis of status of various kinds are a real issue. The policy document talks about the common entrance exam for admissions to all universities and colleges for undergraduate degrees. This is likely to be problematic, due to an uneven and diverse education that exists in our country. Obviously, much homework is expected to be completed before the implementation of the policy. One will have to take several steps to move forward with the spirit of positivity. The success of any policy of this nature and magnitude needs a clear understanding between the Centre and the States in the spirit of cooperation. What we have seen in the case of vaccines, we don’t want to see in the case of dissemination of education.
The policy aspires to combine traditional knowledge with modern thinking. It emphasizes on EdTech to transform education planning, teaching and learning assessment. Teacher’s assessment needs to be relooked for better credibility. Filling the vacancies is not enough. The education of a girl child is a necessity, and should be our priority. The recognition of merit should take the top slot. The future of NEP-2020 will depend on the political will and governance.
The learning crisis is not a new phenomenon. Pandemic exacerbated the crisis. In this context, the NEP-2020 is a very welcome step taken by the government. It is an attempt to weave technology in every fabric of instruction. It is good that the government has envisioned establishing a Forum to provide strategic thrust for the deployment and use of technology. The policy appreciates that technology is a tool, and it is not a substitute for schools or teachers. Technology is viewed as a support system for good teaching, and to personalize education.
Is India preparing itself for the launch of NEP-2020? According to Amitabh Kant, the Indian ed-tech ecosystem has a lot of potential for innovation. “With over 4,500 start-ups and a current valuation of around $700 million, the market is geared for exponential growth — estimates project an astounding market size of $30 billion in the next 10 years.” It needs convergence across schemes (education, skills, digital governance, and finance), integration of solutions through public-private partnerships, and bolster cooperative federalism across all levels of government. Kant concludes, “The journey from a holistic strategy to its successful application will, no doubt, be a long one. It requires careful planning, sustained implementation, and calculated course corrections. With NEP 2020 having set the ball rolling, a transformative ed-tech policy architecture is the need of the hour to effectively maximise student learning.”