The FICCI webinar on NEP: The way forward held on August 17 invited key Govt officials Mr. Amit Khare, Secretary-HE, Ministry of Education, GoI, Dr. D P Singh, Chairman, University Grants Commission, GoI and Dr. K Kasturirangan, Chairman- Drafting Committee of NEP2020 along with key higher functionaries of FICCI. The webinar registered more than 2100 participants from 26 countries and 16 states of India.

NEP discussed a raft of measures outlined in the vision document. The document came in the public domain after having gone through the largest consultation done from over 2 lakh responses received from different stakeholders. NEP is a commendable and promising exercise not only to spell out the destination while raising expectations of the many. What about the journey? The challenge of developing effective implementation strategies calls for maintaining the delicate balance between the aims of achieving global citizenship, universal access to quality holistic and sustainable education, and the need-based nationally important and globally significant education. Dr. K Kasturirangan, Chairman- Drafting Committee of NEP2020 stressed how this document is relevant to multidisciplinary, holistic, natural development, and lifelong learning.

He explained how fields like ‘ ‘clean energy’, ‘Advanced Materials’, and ‘Sustainability’ work on the choice of subjects from Science, social science and liberal studies, and other fields of knowledge. The implementation measures are undoubtedly a massive challenge in terms of exercising various options for integrating vocational education and teacher education within Higher Education. Dr. DP Singh says NEP 2020 brings vocational education at par with mainstream education and it will not affect the student’s choices. At the same time setting up of National Research Foundation (NRF) with a view to encouraging a wide range of research in addition to the Higher Education Council is a welcome move.

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The priorities set out in the document, says Mr. Amit Khare, Secretary-HE, Ministry of Education is ‘on the universalization of school education where learning outcomes will be directed to produce good quality employable skilled manpower’. The idea is schooling is never the same as learning. The idea is not to teach but to learn and re-learn also in terms of providers of technology-enabled education. Further to mitigate the issue of the digital divide, the internet Connectivity infrastructure and augmentation of digital learning devices will see a massive expansion and upgradation in rural or in deprived areas.

How best capacity building programs can yield significant results for raising the learning levels based on activity, inquiry, analysis, and discovery-oriented and problem-solving methods depends on commitments and specific coordinated action plans from both state and central governments? Dr. Singh emphasized the significance of nationally reputed HRDC centers, in addition to online and ODL mode capacity building programs available in the country. Mr. Khare highlighted certain strategies that are supposed to bring a major shift from teaching to learning while developing digital resources such as MOOC, Swayam, Gyan, and Diksha. Citing various Govt

and NGO reports he said that higher grade learners in school cannot perform the lower grade simple reading, writing, and arithmetic operations at the elementary level. Another major strategy would be to see a transformation from the rigid compartmentalization of disciplines such as education of Science, Maths, Humanities, Social sciences into a multidisciplinary course structure aiming at holistic education. But this needs a strong foothold on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) wherein a large segment of elementary school population almost over 5 crores are reeling under learning crisis.

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The challenge to get them out of this crisis needs a strong will for implementation as much as political will. NEP mentions that the National Mission on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy will be set up under the Ministry of Education. The roadmap for this implementation requires a much-concerted effort. Unless the socio-economically disadvantaged sections of our society are brought into the fold of mainstream education, we will not be able to see that the good intents of NEP translatable. Universal access to high-quality Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) needs to be prioritized by expanding Anganwadis. He further emphasized the idea is not to develop the users of knowledge but creators of knowledge. Developing patents and new innovative researches are needed most whereas there has to be a shift from job seekers to job providers.

Keeping this in view Mr. Khare said these policies will be implemented in sequence and this will be in as early as in 2021. The 4-year undergraduate program can be rolled out gradually phasing out the existing three-year one ensuring curricular restructuring at the level of 5+3+3+4. Students will definitely benefit from academic credit banks as this flexibility was long-awaited. The new Common Entrance Exam (CEE) will also be enforced as early as in 2021. Foreign Universities will be invited to set up their campuses in India whereas Indian Universities will open campuses abroad.

Moreover, it was also mentioned that Universities whether central or state willing to offer programs that can come forward with their proposals. It is in this sense Dr. K Kasturirangan mentioned that regulations are light but tight. Graded autonomy to colleges can work on the quality of accreditation levels. The Govt. intends to bring out 150 Action points for its roadmap by the end of this month.

But how flexible are the roads to implementation strategies for diverse socially disadvantaged economic groups and marginalized sections of our country? India’s education landscape is extremely unequal even after the year’s measures initiated by the Government. Are they enough in terms of eradicating these inequalities? These inequalities manifest at the bottom of our of the socio-economic scale and require an introspection as to why we still find worrying reports of literacy rate of the marginalized groups going down.

Recently The Times of India cited data the National Statistical Office that literacy reports of Muslims are worse than SC/ST. This becomes a crucial indicator of academic, social, and economic marginalization and at the same time economically and socially deprived sections too other than Muslims suffer. They feel deprived or excluded and are incapable of taking the advantages of equity issues raised in the document.

The picture of this deprivation reflects on the vast population of Madarsa Learners failing to utilize opportunities for access, social and economic mobility with the only exception of a small percentage of this group moving up the ladder. The issue of Foundational literacy and numeracy affects the marginalized communities and that is precisely the reason why the proposed reforms merit more attention on capacity building, research, and access to equity and mainstreaming issues so that they are not left behind in the nation-building process.

Finally, if we analyze the implications of these reforms in a broad perspective the overall human index indicators can augur well with the global parameters of access to mainstream education and equity measures. This is really a big task at the implementation level.

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Raashid Nehal
Studied MA, M.Phil, PGDTE, and Ph.D. Professor Department of English at Aligarh Muslim University, India. Contributor to The Eastern Herald.