Dr K Kasturirangan says India’s New Education Policy 2020 provides end-to-end educational roadmap for the country
In July 2020, the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) was approved by the Union Cabinet of India. The future-looking NEP 2020 has replaced the 34-year-old National Policy on Education, which was framed in 1986, and aims to transform India's education system. It offers a comprehensive framework for elementary education to higher education, and includes a whole host of transformatory changes, such as a new 5+3+3+4 structure, introduction of vocational education training at younger levels and calls out the need for furthering a culture of innovation, and a highly skilled workforce.
Dr. K Kasturirangan, an eminent scientist who steered the Indian space programme as chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for nine years, was the Chairman of the Committee for Draft National Education Policy.
At the Bengaluru Tech Summit 2020, Dr. Kasturirangan explained how the policy could bring transformatory changes in India’s education system. He noted that NEP 2020 would align the country’s education system with the needs of the 21st century while remaining rooted to India’s value system.
In his keynote, he briefly outlined the foundational elements of the New Education Policy 2020 encompassing school education, higher education including professional and vocational education.
“India, over the next decade, will have the highest young population in the world, with more than 50 percent of the population below the age of 35 aspiring for high quality education. The demographic dividend has to be taken advantage of. To do so, it calls for a need to enable them to acquire new skills, one that will help them to learn how to learn.”
He noted the changes in the knowledge landscape, especially in science and technology like Big Data, Analytics, Machine Learning, Data Science, Artificial Intelligence, all demand skilled workforce with multi-disciplinary abilities across science and technology, social sciences and humanities.
“The education of the future needs to be reconfigured in order to meet the goals of the global education development agenda - the fourth goal of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals that seek to ensure inclusion and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunity for all.”
NEP 2020 offers an integrated and flexible approach to education and provides an end-to-end educational roadmap for the country, noted Dr. Kasturirangan. He highlighted that NEP lays special emphasis on kindling the innovative potential of each individual, and gives them enough flexibility for students to make choices.
The policy has recommended transformative changes in the way school education needs to be reconfigured, which includes the shift from the 10+2 design to 5+3+3+4 structure. “The new structure is based on our better understanding of the scientific insights on the learning trajectory. Within the age of 3-14, children gradually transition from perceptual learning to conceptual learning, then moving on to prescriptive learning and abstraction. This aligns with the children’s learning abilities. The education is holistic and there is no distinction between curricular, co-curricular or extra-curricular ” He explained that the four-year learning stage, which is the higher secondary education from the age of 15 to 18 is designed to enable students explore their interests and strengths.
“It is at this stage that the policy calls for exposure to vocational education so that students are fully prepared to decide whether they will pursue vocational education or higher education. The policy recommends mastery of at least one vocational subject during this period.” According to him, the policy aims to build a schooling system that respects the natural development phases of children and will prepare them far better for professional or vocational careers.
Dr Kasturirangan highlighted that the policy recognises teachers as the torch-bearers of change. “While we are all aware of the importance of child-centric education, we cannot achieve it without having teachers at the center. The policy takes a comprehensive view to restore teachers to their rightful high stature in society.” He added that the policy calls for a complete overhaul of the teacher education system and recommends making school teacher education a part of higher education. “This can provide school teachers with a knowledge base broad and deep enough to strengthen the schooling system and places the profession at par with other professions.”
In his address, the eminent scientist highlighted how the NEP’s focus on interdisciplinary graduate programmes could be a game-changer for India. He drew attention to the importance of knowledge related to arts, crafts, architecture, and aesthetics as an important part of science and engineering education.
“As a crucial step to lead India into the fourth industrial revolution, multidisciplinary education is vital. Even engineering schools such as IITs will move towards more holistic multidisciplinary education with more arts and humanities; while arts and humanities students will need to learn more science. And this will be compounded with an effort to include more vocational subjects and soft skills.”
Dr Kasturirangan noted that there is a search for well-rounded individuals who can take on complex challenges, and job-seekers have often faced demands that go beyond deep technical expertise in a particular technology. “Thus, the notion of liberal arts is being brought back to Indian education, because it is exactly the kind of education that is required for the 21st century.”
He said that the policy takes these aspects into consideration and provides multiple options at the four-year programme level. “The four-year programme will provide students with opportunities to fully experience the impact of a holistic and multidisciplinary aspect of undergraduate education, thereby enabling them to develop aesthetic, social, physical, emotional and moral capacities and go just beyond intellectual development.” He added that the policy takes a firm view that vocational education must be integrated into the curriculum at the under-graduate as this opens the door to the real world of work.
“So far, we have had a very narrow understanding of vocational education and thus have been undervalued. With advances in technologies such as Augmented Reality, we will see an increased number of hybrid jobs where a human’s vocational skills will complement the capabilities of advanced technology.”
He also pointed to the relevance of promoting a strong research and development (R&D) ecosystem as India continues to grow to become a vibrant economy. “The present inadequacy in this area is very evident in the low number of researchers in India. That’s why the policy highlights the importance to better manage research at all levels - right from applied research, translational research, and research to address specific needs of the industry, social problems, strategic demands and other requirements.”
The NEP 2020 policy thus aims to develop universities into full-fledged research centres of excellence and has thus recommended the creation of National Research Foundation (NRF) to provide adequate funding, mentoring, and careful monitoring for both public and private funded education institutions sans distinction. NRF, he said, will promote research in the area of arts, social sciences,engineering and technology including educational technology among others. He said that research in educational technology could not only play a vital role in furthering the goals of NEP but also improve the resilience to disruptions such as the one we are facing today due to the pandemic. He said the National Education Technology Forum, a new autonomous entity that the policy recommends, could play a key role in facilitating dialogue between the educators and education technology entrepreneurs.
Dr Kasturirangan shared that India has lost 220 languages over the last 50 years since they didn’t receive due attention and care. And that’s why the NEP emphasises the promotion of local languages, and learning and teaching of Indian languages in schools and higher educational institutes.
“The three-language formula outlined in the NEP promotes multi-linguism and recommends more experiential language learning and hiring of local artists.” The policy supports creation of strong programmes and departments in Indian languages such as creative writing, arts, philosophy etc. “The policy encourages more programmes in higher education to use the mother tongue or the local language as a medium of instruction.”
He said while the government has offered to support the implementation of NEP 2020, it calls for individual and collective effort to ensure that India’s journey to re-establish itself as a knowledge power house is smooth and rapid.