Some hits and the many misses in NEP

J Philip | Updated on September 20, 2020 Published on September 20, 2020

New learnings: Private sector can do a better job in education   -  THE HINDU

The creation of a gargantuan ‘Higher Education Commission’ and failure to address professionalism in teaching are worrisome

The grand vision and the innovations projected through the New Education Policy (NEP) would be welcomed all round, but there are also a few concerns and apprehensions being voiced.

Starting off with the distinct pluses:

A strong vocalisation drive

The four-year under-gaduate system with exit options is comparable to what obtains in the US.

Breaching the silo system between sciences and arts subjects, with interesting combinations in degree courses.

Opening our academic space for good foreign universities. The best of them, however, will look for a level-playing field. That we have always found difficult to provide.

The proposal to do away with the archaic affiliation system.

Universalisation of education

The National Research Foundation is a far-sighted initiative.

Areas of concern

The prospect of a large number of our three-year-old children going to the multi-tasked and inadequately equipped anganwadis for pre-school play and development is hardly reassuring. All the more because most of the anganwadi workers also lack the requisite specialised training to develop these children in their most impressionable years.

Anganwadi workers are seen as key to the NEP’s early education plan, but what is more probable is that the affluent would find alternatives to the anganwadis for their children, while the poorer sections would have no choice. For their children not having to start with an inferiority complex, let there be a choice. It would be best if parents are given a ‘Fee Stamp’ or voucher for any preschool chosen.

Increased vocationalisation is a great idea, but inducting the children into the vocational stream at the early stage of Standard VI is inadvisable. Let them complete at least the Standard VIII and reach some level of maturity before the choice of the vocational line.

The affiliation system was a crutch for many marginal performers. It’s overdue exit bids fair to pave the way for numerous vibrant new universities and degree-granting institutions, resulting in much-needed competition and rise in quality. But certain quarters are bound to oppose it. Hopefully, the government will not yield to such pressures.

Another set of institutions that can be declared universities/degree-granting institutions under the proposed new law are our PGDM institutions. They are already autonomous, most of them successful and have stood the tests of quality and market challenges. The famous British legislation, ‘Further and Higher Education Act of 1992’, which at one stroke had converted all the polytechnics into universities is a worthwhile precedent.

The creation of the gargantuan ‘Higher Education Commission of India’ (HECI) covering all educational institutions must arouse concern.

The UGC and the AICTE are struggling with an unmanageable number of institutions under their jurisdictions. Through HECI, we are not only perpetuating the dysfunctionalities of that system, but even sanctifying it. Now, Yash Pal, in his Report on Higher Education 2009, had defined a university as a place where new ideas germinate, strike roots and grow tall and sturdy. Do that definition and the proposed control system go together? One is all the more worried over the reference to “light but tight” controls in the NEP.

It is such ‘tight’ embrace that has kept our educational system trapped in mediocrity or stasis. Keep our institutions free. Particularly institutions of higher education preparing our students for a knowledge society. Once we moved away from the unmanageable affiliation-based university system, we are going to have agile and creative institutions — more like the IIMs and IITs. These may not need a “National Higher Education Regulatory Council”.

For another, if the Medical Council and Bar Council can remain as regulators, why do away with AICTE which has looked after the engineering education all these years? As a profession-based and manageable authority, it is the largest in the country. Similarly, many from the management education system would plead to bring back AIBMS (All India Board of Management Studies) to look after management education lest this industry-serving domain should become an orphan.

A way to bring order and more effective facilitation of our higher education institutions is to break up the monolithic UGC into four regional UGCs (not just regional offices). This is necessary as we will soon have up to 15,000 universities, and one central body would be unable to meaningfully guide and help them all.

It would be well if NAAC/NBA can also stay. Why create a new body when there are already specialised agencies doing the job?

At a time when decentralisation is the dominant trend, the move for further centralisation and sanctifying a top-down approach would be counterproductive, if not atavistic. In the name ‘National Higher Education Regulatory Council’, one might well see danger signals. Assuredly, we have long passed the controllers of the 1970s and the 1980s?

Key role of teachers

Now, let me come to the key instrumentality to the success of the NEP — the teachers, who are central to the success of any educational institution or system. It is all but certain that the hortatory parts of the Kasturirangan Report on teachers or the rightful recognition of their role are going to make little difference, because some of the basic maladies remain untouched.

There are huge structural problems in the system compounded by entrenched practices, all of which requiring an affirmation of political will to initiate and manage change. We need to create a system under which teachers must truly perform. It is high time there was a new work ethic and performance culture for teaching besides a nation-wide drive for professionalisation in line with best practices.

Now, one major incongruity is that in almost all colleges, teachers are paid by the government, but the Principal has the accountability for performance with very little authority. Surely an unworkable system. In its place, we must reconfigure the powers of institutional leaders as the cornerstone.

The private sector does not appear in the NEP in a measure commensurate with its importance. Much as the business aspect of education has been justly bewailed, the significant contribution by the private sector to the mainstream of education, namely the school system or the arts and science colleges, must be recognised.

Arguably, government the is not a great agency to provide certain services to the people, among which education is notable. A socially, altruistically and professionally driven private sector can do a much better job as the US educational system has shown through the clear evidence that quality learning, scholarship, technology and inventiveness flourish in freedom and autonomy.

The writer is a former Director of IIM Bangalore, and Chairman, XIME Bangalore. Views are personal

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Published on September 20, 2020
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