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NEP: A Step In The Right Direction But Ignores Crucial Issues

Professor M Anandakrishnan is no stranger to drafting education policy and syllabi. In 2018, he concluded the process of overhauling the education system in Tamil Nadu as the chair of a 10-member Curriculum Framework Committee set up by the state government. His recommendations are now unfolding within the school education system in the state.

The soft-spoken former chairman of IIT Kanpur and former Vice Chancellor of Anna University, Professor Anandakrishnan spoke to The Lede about the pros and cons of the new draft National Education Policy that has been made public by the Centre.

“Let us talk about the positives first,” smiled Dr Anandakrishnan. “The policy contains valuable recommendations which, if properly implemented, can revolutionise the education system in India,” he said.

Dr Anandakrishnan commends the recommendation to end the system of affiliation of colleges to universities, calling it “the bane of the higher education system in India.”

“Affiliation of colleges is the main reason for the poor quality of higher education. There are 900 to 1000 affiliated colleges for each university. They hardly do any teaching, they act as tutorial colleges and conduct only exams,” he said.

The recommendation in the new NEP that all colleges will be degree-granting autonomous colleges is also welcome, he said. According to the NEP, all new colleges from 2020 onwards must be autonomous degree-granting colleges. By 2032, the NEP envisages that all existing colleges would either grant degrees themselves or merge with the universities that they are affiliated to.

The demand for removal of the affiliation system has been present since the days of the Kothari Commission set up between 1964 and 1966. Its recommendations were not fully implemented.

The second positive aspect of the NEP, according to Dr Anandakrishnan, is the recommendation that there will be no mono-field higher education institutions, like, for instance, a college for music. “This is a great move because students can then have the option of choosing different electives from a variety of fields and not have to study only a single stream,” he said. “A student who studies music can also study psychology and be exposed to a variety of related streams.”

The abolition of the B Ed degree and ensuring that the teacher system will be part of the university system is also a move that will help create better qualified teachers, he said. “There will be a 4-year integrated B Ed course as per the NEP recommendations, instead of a single year B Ed course,” said Professor Anandakrishnan. “That will do wonders for the teaching system.”

The NEP also replaces multiple regulators of higher education, bringing them all under one single NHERA – the National Higher Education Regulatory Authority. The other regulatory bodies which are currently present – like the AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education), the MCI (Medical Council of India), the Bar Council of India – will be turned into professional standard testing bodies.

“There are 13 regulatory bodies and they are all fragmented,” said Anandakrishnan. “Now all of these will come under one umbrella, which is a good move.”

The states will have a similar SSRA (State School Regulatory Authority) but with the Ministry of Human Resources and Development overseeing this body.

Anandakrishnan also says that the proposed restructuring of the primary education system will help children in the last four years of school spread out their lessons, leading to less stress. “Instead of learning a lot in the 11th and 12th standard, this gives flexibility to enable children to learn in a more leisurely fashion over four years,” he said.

The University Grants Council will be replaced by a Higher Education Grants Council and this will act only as a funding agency, without regulatory powers. “This will have to be passed by an Act of Parliament since the UGC was created by one,” said Anandakrishnan.

“There is a determination in this policy,” said Professor Anandakrishnan. “We have all been talking about these reforms for long but no firm steps have been taken so far,” he said.

The Negatives Of NEP

The key problems with the NEP are that it does not touch upon the methods with which to fight corruption within the education system – the cause for most of the problems afflicting the sector in India today.

“Corruption remains an important element that distorts governance of education. The resolve to root out corruption from our public systems is founded on the conviction that without a foundation of integrity and rectitude, we will not achieve the greatness as a country that is our due. Corruption is not just financial or monetary in its nature. It consists of any force that undermines integrity and honesty in the operation of systems that are important for the public good. Designing systems of governance that guarantee institutional integrity through organisational revival will be pursued as a key priority.”

With this paragraph, the NEP dismisses the issue of corruption without offering solutions.

“Higher education in India has got the most venomous corruption,” said Professor Anandakrishnan. “From appointment of Vice Chancellors, setting of question papers to teacher recruitment – A to Z there is corruption.

In the Central government institutions like the IITs and the NITs the corruption is near zero. But in the state government institutions, it is near 100%. The National Education Policy does not address that at all,” he explained.

Apart from corruption, the issue of too much control on the education sector from the central government is also a negative, he said.

“There is too much of overall Central government control which is not good for education,” said Professor Anandakrishnan. “When you say government control, it is political control. Second there is bound to be corruption. Third there will be interference,” he said.

“There is one more problem with the policy – it does not touch the quality of education in private colleges at all,” he said.

For instance, in Tamil Nadu, a large number of private colleges are owned by either politicians or liquor barons or both. These colleges often offer sub-standard education and students passing out of them are largely unemployable.

With the NEP asking these colleges to become autonomous degree-granting colleges, they will become independent colleges without oversight, regulated by their own governing board. “Private colleges therefore become more powerful with less regulation than there is now,” he said.

On being asked as to whether it is even possible to have a one-size-fits-all policy that caters to a country as diverse as India, Professor Anandakrishnan said it is indeed difficult, if not impossible.

“The social equity question is not addressed adequately,” he pointed out. “There are recommendations for scholarships for students from economically weaker backgrounds but not much else. It is possible that the Committee that drafted the policy thought that since social equity is applicable in all walks of life, other larger policies might take care of this in the education sector too. That could be one reason they did not delve into this in greater detail.”

Another “dangerous precedent” as the Professor calls it, is the move to introduce the American SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) type exams for students in India – a standardised test for all students in the country. “The American system takes weightage of SAT scores and high school marks but the NEP proposes to take only the SAT scores for college. This means the students will ignore 12th standard portions and study only for the SAT exams,” he said.

In the final assessment, the Professor says that the document is a step in the right direction for India. “If you look at the education scenario in the past 30 years, the first 10 years was all about expanding – more colleges were being set up with increased funding from the Centre.

The next 10 years was about regulatory control.

The past decade has been about quality control – ranking of institutions and fixing quality issues.

Now we are embarking into a new domain – revamping the concept of higher education. We are looking at higher education holistically and not in a fragmented manner. And for this we are developing a new framework.

The biggest advantage and disadvantage with the NEP is that it is a whole policy. You cannot implement one part without the other. It is all or none. I am afraid that they will pick and choose what to implement and thereby make the whole policy ineffective,” he concluded.

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