January 25, 2022

The ‘Right’ turn in Indian Education

The National Education Policy 2020 aims to infuse learnings from India’s ancient knowledge systems into the education system for a New India.
Keywords: National Education Policy | Indian civilisation | Multi-disciplinary | Entrepreneurial | Vishwaguru | Sanskrit | Decolonising | Vernacular languages
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On 29th July 2020, Union Government of India approved the National Education Policy which proposed significant changes to school education and higher education at the university level. National Education Policy 2020 (hereafter NEP) is, undoubtedly, a comprehensive outline suggesting significant developments for the education sector. An old truism is: “the present is entrenched in the past”. The legacy of ancient India, while enlightening the present, makes her future even more enthralling. 

J. P. Nayak, in his profound research on higher education- The Education Commission and After argued that “radical reconstruction of education and socio-economic transformation have to go together”. 

Since millennia, in India’s history, education has been of vital importance for the development of the potentialities of the individual and the society. Education has been aptly earmarked as a significant variable, specifically in developing countries, to assess the growth and development of society in economic, social, and technological terms. Education can be viewed as the mirror in which the civilization of a nation is best reflected. 

NEP, unlike past education policies, declares education to be fundamental for unfolding the human potential, developing an equitable and just society, and thus building a strong and happy nation.  J. P. Nayak, in his profound research on higher education- The Education Commission and After argued that “radical reconstruction of education and socio-economic transformation have to go together”. Perhaps by the end of 2040, India will have the highest population of young minds in the entire world. To meet the needs of future, the policy intends to make educational institutions multidisciplinary by 2040. 

NEP introduces multiple changes in the education system; it is aspirational and visionary right from the school to university level.  India, i.e. Bharat was famous not only for its rich culture and civilizational history but also for its wide-ranging and comprehensive tradition of learning that led to the idea of India being a Vishwaguru. It is in this context that the NEP ensures to restore the country to the status of ‘Vishwaguru’ which it lost in the many centuries of foreign rule and also due to the unimaginative practices of the past several decades. 

The underlying motivation is to reduce the stress attached to the examination system and to discourage the rote learning process. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi said: “this education system obsessively stresses on creating ‘job creators’ instead of ‘job seekers’, i.e. an ardent attempt to bring the progressive reform in our mindset, in our approach”.

NEP has also created flexibility in the educational system for willing participation by individuals as there is no restriction on how to enter or re-enter it since it is a lifelong learning process. The underlying motivation is to reduce the stress attached to the examination system and to discourage the rote learning process. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi said: “this education system obsessively stresses on creating ‘job creators’ instead of ‘job seekers’, i.e. an ardent attempt to bring the progressive reform in our mindset, in our approach”. Thus, education is to act as a catalyst in social transformation and material advancement of the people simultaneously creating a pleasant environment for the survival and smooth functioning of democracy as a form of government and as a way of life which in turn facilitates the promotion of international peace and understanding. 

In designing a new curriculum and pedagogical framework, the NEP draws practical experience from the past educational policies post-1968. It also seeks guidance from the considerable virtues of the ancient Indian native educational methods and seeks to adapt to the present needs. The ‘Oriental Knowledge System’ intentionally ignored or dismissed by the heirs of Macaulay combined Macaulayean-Marxist ideology fostering both fear of and contempt for India’s indigenous knowledge. 

For instance, Sanskrit is not only a language.  It is in itself a symbol of a living tradition and a standard of its value. India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru argued that “the greatest treasure which India possessed and her finest heritage is Sanskrit”. 

Likewise, the Sanskrit Commission (1958), in a report titled ‘Sanskrit and the Aspirations of Independent India’ highlights the significance of Sanskrit in contributing to “The Intellectual Renaissance of Free India”. One sentence from the report reads: “it was only Sanskrit that could play the role of unifying the entire nation”. Yet the teaching of the language was long ignored in post-independence India. While giving due importance to Sanskrit, the NEP has not a single provision that demeans any other languages or reduces their use in education as the education is to be preferably provided first in the vernacular. 

Colonial academic training was practised almost as a covertly executed ‘civilizing mission’according to elitist policies copied from foreign models; it induced pupils into self-denigration. Thus, a self-deprecating, defeatist attitude became part of the credentials of a ‘sophisticated’ cosmopolitan intellectual. This educational reform has the ability to decolonize minds by giving the indigenous knowledge system its due. 

The NEP including best practices of both local and global education cultures should help to make India more Atma-Nirbhar, i.e. self-reliant.

NEP further endorses a competency-based structure for pedagogical careers and stresses on the professional growth of teachers. The introduction of multidisciplinary education will inevitably shift Indian students from the old system of learning by rote to the practice of creative and critical thinking. PM Modi has explained his 3-point mantra: learn, question, and solve, for the 21st century, which is an era of knowledge, learning, and innovation. He further clarified that the idea of ‘public’ enshrines the goal of providing maximum welfare to all. NEP, being reformist by nature allocates 6 percent of the nation’s GDP to education and training. It firmly rejects the earlier concept of human beings merely as a ‘resource’, which is alien to the cultural ethos of the nation and it declares that individuals should be ‘independent, ethical, progressive free from colonised mindsets and devoid of ‘Samskaras’.

The NEP will strengthen the fundamentals of moral and primary education and provide students with abundant opportunities for equitable and qualitative growth. To build a just society, it will facilitate an inclusive, holistic approach, participatory by nature which was not envisaged in the prior education policies. The NEP including best practices of both local and global education cultures should help to make India more Atma-Nirbhar, i.e. self-reliant. Indian education will thus express the nation’s cultural and intellectual legacy.

2 comments

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  • NEP reform is courageous step. It will wipe out colonial mindset. Our major failure is poor expression of thoughts due to language barrier. In NEP regional need based teaching will perfectly cordinate to Atam Nirbhar Bharat.

  • N.E.P is good, but genuine and knowledgeable persons should be appointed to supervise the educational institutions, so that the key elements if this policy must be implemented.

Prashant Barthwal

Prashant Barthwal teaches Political Science in Sri Aurobindo College (M), University of Delhi.

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