The National Education Policy (NEP) seeks to overhaul the existing education system in what is a necessary, long awaited, and revolutionary reform. While the cabinet approval of the NEP signals strategic intent on the part of the Modi government in its commitment to reform Indian education, one must not lose sight of the fact that the NEP, like most policies, is a proposal and merely provides a roadmap. Despite the cabinet approval of the NEP, the road to education reforms is still a long one.
The devil is in the details
The NEP will take several steps--and possibly several years—to become operational. Hence, any celebration after a mere cabinet approval of the policy is premature.
Per the NEP, the policy “requires long term vision, and that the policy initiatives be implemented in a phased manner, as each policy point has several steps with each requiring the previous step to be implemented successfully”.
Further that “comprehensiveness in implementation will be key; as this policy is interconnected and holistic”.
A piecemeal approach does not work with the NEP as the NEP is not merely a few action points which can be drawn up as a single legislation and then passed. It requires multiple legislative amendments by the Central and State governments, creation of various bodies, development of new teaching methods and curricula, and a whole host of other action points and commitments on behalf of individuals and organisations.
It is sufficient to say that the NEP as it stands will require consistent commitment. This of course places an immense amount of faith in the fact that the present government will either remain in power for few more terms, or that the Opposition in power will also wholeheartedly implement this policy with equal rigour.
Capacity is another issue with the NEP. The NEP lays out multiple action steps without factoring in availability of resources and capacity on the part of organisations and individuals.
For example, the NEP prescribes more than a dozen action points just for the National Center for Education Research and Training (NCERT) related to creating new frameworks, curricula, organisations, and processes. Similarly, it asks of institutions, teachers, and States to undertake tasks for which they may not necessarily have the capacity and bandwidth.
The NEP lays out some incredible and under-appreciated ideas like setting up an international office in every higher education institute that receives foreign students, focusing on foundational and vocational education, and providing a much-needed shift towards developing regional language abilities and basic universal numeracy. However, its prescriptions and proposals are often visionary at the expense of being unrealistic. The biggest hurdles for this policy however lie in its financing and implementation.
Financing the NEP
The policy envisions an increase in the present education budget spending from 4.6 per cent to at least six percent of GDP. Covid-19 induced unplanned spending and the related economic slowdown have created enough pressures on the government’s fiscal management, making the bump in education spending difficult for the foreseeable future.
Besides government financing, the NEP also expects private philanthropies to pitch in. The policy recognises gaps in disbursal of public funds for education and hopes to streamline processes to ensure they reach the end users.
NEP hopes to create a new regulatory regime where “the provisions of GFR, PFMS and ‘Just in Time’ release to implementing agencies will be followed for efficient use of government resources, avoiding parking of funds”.
NEP also seeks to create a performance-based funding to States/higher education institutes. Realisation of all these lofty goals will certainly take time.
A roadmap for policy implementation
The NEP notes that the policy’s effectiveness depends on its implementation. Yet, the NEP itself does not provide a clear roadmap for implementing the policy beyond stating that a “remodeled and rejuvenated Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) shall be responsible for developing, articulating, evaluating, and revising the vision of education in the country.”
The policy states its implementation will require “multiple initiatives and actions, which will have to be taken by multiple bodies in a synchronised way”. With the policy implementation necessitating legislations by both, the Centre and State governments, and creation of various bodies, a roadmap towards implementation will not be an easy one. Neither will be building consensus as the policy will be led by various bodies including the CABE, Union and State governments, education-related ministries and departments, and other stakeholders like boards, educational institutions and training agencies.
The policy is bound to face tough opposition from a range of interest groups and it will likely be a mammoth task to get all the stakeholders to agree to an implementable plan.
An implementation plan and a success story will be crucial in making the NEP a reality. A more realistic way the policy can be implemented is by first introducing and implementing the NEP successfully in a State where the policy is less likely to be met with opposition and then creating a model State whose success story can inspire and convince others to come on board with this new policy.
The central government also needs to create a firm implementation roadmap with well-defined timelines that are followed and tied to measurable outputs, holding ministries and individuals accountable.
The NEP ushers in an era of long awaited and necessary education reforms. But the passing of the policy is not in itself a reform – rather it is merely the beginning of the reform process. Reforms only occur once a policy is implemented—over years or decades sometimes. But, in the immortal words of Caecilus Statius, “We plant trees not for ourselves but for future generations.”
Kriti Upadhyaya is a research associate for the Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington D.C. USA. In her role, she focuses on U.S.-India economic ties and Indian federal economic reforms.
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