A Supply-side Analysis of the New Education Policy, 2020
India boasts a rich history of a diverse and multidisciplinary education system. The pursuit of knowledge (Jnana), wisdom (Pragya), and truth (Satya) was always considered as the ultimate goal. Ancient India has been home to world-class institutions such as Takshashila, Nalanda, Vikramshila, Vallabhi, which set the highest standards of multidisciplinary teaching and research.
The present system of education was introduced by the British in the 20th century. Post-independence, India focused on education through committees such as the Radhakrishnan Commission, Kothari Commission, etc. In 2020, the Union Cabinet approved the new National Education Policy (NEP) which aims at making “India a global knowledge superpower”. This article critically analyses the NEP, 2020 from a supply perspective.
The NEP 2020 focuses on holistic educational development of an individual. It envisages major changes to the educational framework from primary education to college education. This section discusses salient features of the policy.
- Achieve 100% Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in schools by 2030. The current GER for classes 6th-8th, 9th-10th, and 11th-12th is 90.9%, 79.3%, and 56.6% respectively– indicating a substantial number of dropouts after completing elementary education.
- Transform the present academic structure of 10+2 to a 5+3+3+4 structure, with an emphasis on early childhood care and education starting from age three.
- Native language is to be the medium of instruction, at least till Grade 5, accepting the three-language formula.
- The board examination for Class 10 and 12 would be held twice a year but would test core competencies and not memorization capacity.
- The policy proposes to set-up PARAKH (Performance Assessment, Review, and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development), a national assessment centre, as a standard-setting body under MHRD for all recognized school boards of India. The following figure outlines other salient features of the NEP 2020.
The policy aims to raise GER from 26.3% to 50% by 2035. This requires creating additional 3.5 crore seats in higher education.
- Interdisciplinary undergraduate education with a flexible curriculum, can be of 3 or 4 years with multiple exit options and appropriate certification within this period.
- Multidisciplinary education and research universities, at par with IITs and IIMs, to be set up as models of multidisciplinary education of global standards in the country.
- Phase out college affiliation in 15 years and establish a stage-wise mechanism for granting graded autonomy to colleges.
All higher education institutions will be governed by the same set of norms for regulation, accreditation, and academic standards.
- Increase the expenditure on education to 6% of GDP. Currently, India spends around 4.6 % of its total GDP on education.
Challenges of the NEP 2020:
Before analysing the NEP 2020 vis-à-vis the needs of the Indian education system, let us look at some challenges grappling with the Indian schools.
- Poor learning outcomes.
- 85% of schools in India are in rural areas. India has a total of 15 lakh schools (government and private) and only 15% of them are in urban areas. This percentage share has been constant between 2013-2018. 71% of enrolment in the country is concentrated in rural locations.
- Lack of qualified teachers in schools.
- Exam-oriented teaching.
While NEP 2020 will revamp the educational framework, it is only strengthening the demand-side factors in education and is silent about the supply side. From the supply perspective, given our teachers, curriculum, and pedagogy, is India equipped to achieve what the NEP 2020 aims to achieve?
The indicator we are trying to improve is the Gross Enrolment Ratio. But merely improving GER is not going to impact the learning outcomes and employability. A comprehensive survey conducted by the NGO Pratham called ‘The Annual Status of Education Report’ (ASER) has put forth the following interesting statistics:
This implies that the policy that encourages enrolment in schools/colleges might not promote effective learning. As contended by Nobel laureates Banerjee and Duflo, many interventions which increase school participation and inputs such as teaching aids, textbooks, additional teachers, etc. do not improve test scores of the average student. However, one cannot completely negate the importance of these in effective teaching-learning.
Another unaddressed issue is teachers’ qualifications. Indian standards to hire a schoolteacher are abysmal. To teach till secondary grades, it is only required for a teacher to be a graduate and hold a degree/diploma in education. Post-graduation is required only for teaching higher secondary classes. Moreover, the course structure of all teacher training programmes is common. Consequently, most of the teachers do not have the expertise to teach the classes allotted to them. So, the teacher training courses need an overhaul to make them relevant to real-time practices. We need to hire teachers equipped with sound knowledge, training, and understanding of the various facets of development at various stages. For example, teachers hired for early childhood care and education should possess different skills as compared to those teaching primary and secondary grades.
NEP also seeks to eliminate the coaching-class culture by reducing the pressure of board examinations and focusing on core competencies and conducting examinations twice a year. However, this is easier said than done. The teaching-learning process in schools is purely exam-oriented. It does not focus on acquisition of concepts or lifelong learning. Rather, it focuses on syllabus completion commensurate with the examination requirements. The focus should be on learning concepts, analysing, and synthesising information and not just scoring a centum. An unfortunate outcome of this exam-oriented approach is that teaching has become a business transaction, one that is not in favour of the poor. This has given rise to ed-tech companies and the private tuition industry. India’s private tuition industry is worth $20 million with a CAGR of around 15%. Teachers often resort to private tuitions because they are highly underpaid. It is a failure of the entire system. Based on Periodic Labour Force Survey data, UNESCO released its 2021 State of the Education Report for India wherein the average salary of private school teachers in the country is Rs 13,564 per month, with rural private school teachers earning Rs. 11,584. The numbers differ for government school teachers. As per the 7th Pay Commission, a teacher’s starting grade pay for primary classes is Rs. 35,370 per month. The figures improve considerably for trained graduate teachers (secondary) and postgraduate trained teachers (higher secondary) with a salary ranging between Rs. 44,900 to Rs. 1,50,000 per month. The national average comes out to be around Rs 66,000 per month.
On the international scene, Luxembourg ranks first where the top scale salary is $139,335.52. Not only does India rank far below the OECD average of $64,853.48, but even below Brazil, which is last, paying an average of $13,630.64 to its lower secondary teachers. Furthermore, there is a significant deficit of over one million teachers in schools as per the UNESCO’s ‘2021 State of the Education Report for India’.
Elephant in the room: Lack of Funds?
The implementation of NEP 2020 would require extensive capacity building and expansion of infrastructure to bring about two crore school dropouts under the ambit of education. Further, doubling the GER in higher education by 2035 would mean opening one new university every week, for the next 15 years which is ambitious. Lowering the pupil-teacher ratio to 30:1 would require increasing the number of sections and teachers, whilst ensuring quality of education, in schools which would put a financial burden. Additionally, the policy also proposes to introduce breakfast in addition to midday meal schemes which would further aggravate the financial burden. With the current Tax-to-GDP ratio (11.7%), the proposed spending of 6% of GDP to achieve all the targets is tenuous.
In a nutshell, to impart world class education, we need to invest in our teachers and reform our curriculum. The teacher training courses, including bachelor’s in education need to be diverse and specialised in their course structure, i.e., courses should offer specialisation in early childhood education, special education, remedial education, primary and secondary, and higher secondary education since the learning needs and development differ at each stage. This would have a domino effect on the quality of education.
Our curriculum needs to align with the global standards of learning, which focuses on imparting essential skills of the 21st century. Moreover, if we are to do away with the coaching-classes culture, we need to ensure that the teachers are paid decent wages. We need better teachers for a better tomorrow- for leveraging India’s demographic dividend and realising the target of a $5 trillion economy, both in quantitative and qualitative dimensions.