The Three NEPs – 1968, 1986 and 2020

July 25, 2022

Palaeontologists, assisted by archeologists, infer that the origin and evolution of Homo Sapiens in Africa, must have taken place two lakh years ago, though the sapiens as a genus is supposed to have evolved two and half million years ago. They say that it took another one hundred thirty thousand years for the cognitive revolution to happen by which time the use of fictive language could have begun. According to them, this also coincided with the spread of Homos who are supposed to have evolved in Africa. It took another fifty to sixty thousand years for the first phenomenal agriculture revolution to happen, especially with the discovery of wheat which resulted in the domestication of plants and animals and it indeed was responsible for humans settling down in different places. It took another five thousand to six thousand years for humans to start with their culture of relating to one another in creative ways which was responsible for the making of social structures resulting in the formation of kingdoms. About four thousand two hundred fifty years ago, the first empire is supposed to have been established which also led to the spread of knowledge.

Ancient India, may be between four thousand five hundred years BCE, had first established learning systems which subsequently became educational systems. These essentially were for religious purposes. Those who were in the lines of knowledge of the ways of gods and the heavenly connections the humans had with them, taught the younger ones whatever they knew about the gods and those ethereal things which were associated with the gods. The very history of the spread of Buddhism, may be two to two and half thousand years BCE, itself is an example of the spread of religious education in the then Indian subcontinent. This continued to be so for several centuries.

Education is essential for human development which would result in greater amounts of cultural progress and establishment of the value of relating to humans every time in better ways. Systems of education are respected all over the world for the role it plays in the progress of the humans as individuals and as collectives. The human collectives formed themselves into societies utilising their potential based on the knowledge they built. Similarly, the building of human capital has been very highly dependent on the type of education that was imparted and the type of changes that were brought into the systems of educating the next generation. It is the educated who were responsible for several discoveries which were beneficial to mankind. No doubt, the stress on certain areas of education for human progress must have been responsible for greater amount of research and discoveries for better living for the humans. The best example for this would be medical education supported by science and technology. The progress made in education, in the last three decades assures humans that in fifty years, the human capital will be much more effective in transforming human’s standards of living. The best example would be the Kill Death Project that is also called Annihilate Death Project, pursued by Bill Maris, Peter Thiel and others, the most powerful technocrats of the world. Bill Maris is on record stating that he not only expects the humans to live for five hundred years in the future after an increase of the initial longevity of a hundred years. In addition to that he thinks that the dead humans may be preserved so that life will come back to them again later through scientific methods.

So, education is supreme so far as social progress is concerned. Education became systematic and several different strategies and methods have been adopted for learning and development. No learning through any system of education will be worth unless it results in the development of humans. Therefore, learning and development are twins who travel together. Any child who joins a kindergarten and moves through graded classes to reach a university and do research in specific areas develops its human resource so as to make use of the earthly capitals that have been constructed from time to time. Thus, education is an unending process. It goes on. Those who got formally educated and got out with flying colours become irrelevant in a short time if they don’t indulge in continuing education.

Modern India, in a period of four centuries, developed its educational systems from time to time. The temple schools which existed in major parts of the country were discouraged by the British who brought in their own systems of education. Lord Macaulay’s ‘Minutes on Education’ of 1935 which emphasised British education system in India destroyed the Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit education that existed in the country. No doubt, it did modernise the educational system in India. Woods Education Dispatch, a year later, confirmed the acceptance of British education in India. Both are supposed to have paved the way for the establishment, in 1957, of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras Universities which became the models of learning for others to follow. In 1944, the Sargent Commission was set up for the development of the education system during the British regime though its recommendations had very short time for its implementation as India became independent.

After India became independent, the Central Advisory Board of Education decided to establish two commissions, one dealing with university education and the other dealing with higher secondary education. The ten member University Education Commission of 1948 was headed by Dr S Radhakrishnan, a revered teacher and who later became the President of India. The Higher Secondary Education Commission was formed in 1952 with Dr A Lakshamanaswamy Mudaliar as the Chairman. Both the commissions suggested uniformity in education across India and suggested diversification of curricula. Sometime later, there was another Indian education commission headed by Dr B S Kothari with a declared responsibility of preparing necessary recommendations to make the national education system effective. The commission recommended the need for policies to be laid down for national education.

Kothari Commission report is a precursor to the three National Education Policies; the National Education Policy of 1968, the National Education Policy of 1986 and the National Education Policy of 2020. It is worthwhile to know how these education policies shaped the education systems in the country.

The National Education Policy 1968 concentrated on development of regional languages and also the adoption of three language formula for secondary education. It also promoted Hindi, Sanskrit and English as languages to be taught at higher education. Ten plus two plus three as standard process of education was emphasised as the most important policy of education in the country. There was a definite focus on the development of agriculture and industrial sectors by producing graduates specialised in these areas. This policy also gave guidelines for national integration and also for providing education opportunities to all the young. More than anything else, the most important stress was on compulsory and free education for all children up to the age of fourteen and recommendations to institutions to make sure that those who had enrolled completed the prescribed course.

National Education Policy 1986 based itself on the policies adopted by the National Education Policy 1968. However, an important feature of that policy was the idea of early childhood care and education through a child-centred approach. Simultaneously, it stressed the need for women empowerment and adult literacy. Though not in plenty, it also encouraged autonomous colleges and universities. It stressed the need for the development of different areas of human resource and this policy was responsible for the establishment of the Ministry of Human Resource Development instead of the Ministry of Education. A more interesting phenomena in this policy was the creation of scholarships, incentive schemes and other facilities for SC and ST students and that includes also special incentives for girl students. With a stress on the increasing importance of technical and management systems, newer curricula in both were organised in different universities. This new policy aimed at making radical changes in the field of education. Towards this purpose, mid-day meal scheme was introduced, and Navodaya and Kendriya Vidyalayas were also started. Alongside, institutions of national importance like UGC, AICTE, NCERT and NIEPA were also established.

National Education Policy 2020 stressed on the need for education from the age of three towards achieving overall learning and development. It promoted open school systems at the national level to help the disadvantaged and socio-economically weak youth. It also aimed at restructuring curricula and reducing its contents. It planned to offer multi-stream concept which would have more flexibility and allow students the choice of subjects across different streams. It promoted local language teaching as medium up to class eight and introduced Sanskrit as an option in the three language system. A major change was in the plan to offer board exams twice a year. It did propose the creation of a National Testing Agency to conduct entrance tests twice a year to get admission to higher education institutions. It proposed bachelor degree courses for three or four years with a facility for colleges to offer the degrees independently. Higher education institutions could offer master’s degree with a second year associated with research. Colleges could also offer possibilities of joining an additional degree course with the main one that a student opted for.

NEP 2020 is at the start of its implementation. However, there are doubts in the minds of some of the academics.

Primarily, in the levels of higher education, the doubt is about the permission for students to join two degrees together or opt for a three year degree or a four year degree. The more than thousand universities in the country are finding it difficult to teach, test and declare results on time with only one three year degree course being offered. There are plenty of lapses, errors and mistakes in the pursuit of a single degree. If so, what would be the case when two degrees or a degree with three or four years of courses are conducted? Similarly, the financial issues involved are disadvantageous to rural and poor students. Most of them find it difficult to find financial support to pursue a single course and where will they get the necessary funds to pursue the double degrees together. More importantly, the affluent students who make use of the new facilities will stand foremost in any selection process for employment.

Educationists who critically examine the three education policies lament one serious matter. This is about the question of the contents and the strategies and methods used for their delivery. What matters most in any education policy is the making of the content to deliver and developing competencies in the teachers to deliver them. Both are overlooked by all three National Education Policies, indeed by the third one more, considering that it could have learned from the lapses of the previous ones.

By Sunney Tharappan
Prof Sunney Tharappan, is Director of College for Leadership and HRD, Mangaluru. He trains and writes and lives in Mangaluru.
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