Simi Mehta

On July 30, the government of India has come out with the long-awaited National Education Policy-2020 after a long gap of 34 years. The policy aims to pave the way for transformational reforms in the country’s school and higher education systems. There is a debate that NEP 2020, ideas to revamp education, teaching and assessment systems in schools, colleges as well as teacher’s professional level training.

The major highlight of the new policy is the shift from the 10+2 format to 5+3+3+4, which shifts focus away from inputs to outcomes, and junks rote learning in favour of critical thinking, conceptual and creative skills. The policy has the target of universalisation of school education from 3 to class 10 by 2030 and ensure literacy and numeracy skills by 2025. The policy has objective of new curriculum to include 21st century skills like coding and vocational integration from class 6 and board exams to be easier and redesigned.

For higher education, this policy envisages the biggest changes, a new structure of flexible, multi-displinary higher learning in the form of four-year graduation with a provision for multiple-exit options, a credit transfer system, and a one-year masters’ programme to meet the global aspirations, and the abolition of the MPhil programme.

A new umbrella regulator has been proposed with separateverticals for regulation, standard setting, and accreditation and funding. Implementation will be done in phases, based on time, region and types of institutions with Institutes of Eminence (IoEs) and Central Universities taking the lead, and College affiliation system to be phased out in the 15 years.

The covid-19 pandemic has brought innumerable challenges to students and educators, which it is important to discuss how this human made tragedy could bring about change in higher education. On the occasion of announcement of NEP 2020, July 30, 2020, Impact and Policy Research Institute and University of Idaho organized a Web Policy Talk on Evolving Paradigm of Higher Education Amidst Coronavirus Pandemic with eminent education experts from India as well foreign universities on higher education.

The experts includes, Prof Manisha Priyam, Professor, National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA), New Delhi; Prof Cliff Zintgraff, Chief Learning Officer, San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology, USA; Prof Sydney Freeman Jr., Associate Professor, University of Idaho; Prof Pankaj Mittal, Secretary General, Association of Universities; Dr Abdulla Rasheed Ahmed, Minister of Education, Republic of Maldives; Prof Saumen Chattopadhyay, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; Prof Pankaj Mittal, Secretary General, Association of Universities; Prof Sachidanand Sinha, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University; Dr. Arjun Kumar, Director, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI); and Dr Khalid Khan, Professor, Indian Institute of Dalit Studies (IIDS), New Delhi.

Higher Education

Prof Manisha remarked that societies continue with very weak structural tendencies with respect to higher education because first the institutions take a long to set up and take even longer time for weaker sections to access these institutions and reforms take years.

For instance, Institutions in USA which ranked highest in the world today are the oldest institutions established hundreds of years back. What constitutes the critical juncture for India during pandemic in higher education is that institutions have gone beyond geographies and education is still continuing, where the technology is playing a key role. The government steps to invite world top universities for opening their campuses in India is a welcoming step with four-year degree programme at par with global peers.

Prof Cliff, also quoted “It is easy to see what people lost and its hard to see what you gain” and stated that how the pandemic has given as new opportunities of remote learning, which will be going to continue even after pandemic. Prof Freeman, highlighted about the divide in higher education due to race particularly blacks in developed nation like USA. He stated that not only students but black educators also face discrimination as often overqualified to their positions but underpaid in comparison to their counterparts.

Prof Mittal, stated how the NEP 2020 gave prominent place to internationalization of higher education. Every year about 7.5 lakhs students go abroad to study but only 40,000 students come back. There is need to attract not only foreign universities but also foreign students to India.

However, there are many infrastructural constraints like hostel facilities and not upto date curriculum not viable to international students. She stated that this pandemic can be harness as an opportunity to develop the internationalization online which is cost effective and time efficient. People used to feel apprehensive of online education but new everyone is embracing the technology.

She hailed that promotion of National Credit Bank where students can deposit credits as mentioned in NEP2020. Prof Abdulla also confirm the statement made by other panellist but said todaytwo-third of classroom teaching is replaced by online learning but they face some challenges such as access to technical infrastructure, competencies and pedagogies for distance learning and requirements of specific field of study. But Covid-19 providing opportunity to rethink about higher education and redesign the global education with provision of adequate social and human capital.

Prof Suman, unfolded the other important issue of financing of higher education. He said due to the prevalence of pandemic, the budgetary allocation for higher education has declined in both developed and developing countries. Online teaching is being promoted by government and it will push more and transcend the national boundaries.

But he has also highlighted the issue of quality of education as quality of teachers and students can’t be reproduced in offline mode but online teaching make the quality reproducible since videos can be made available online. The public and private may collaborate for online education program for some profit where private players such A-Tech companies have capacity to provide the good technology and they together can evolve the concept of online universities.

He also express his concern and said that  overdependence on online education will snatch the experience of on campus education since teaching goes beyond classroom and student interactions enrich the learning and left many underprivileged children and youth  out of higher education system . Similarly, Prof Sinha, also concerned about safeguarding the interests marginalised students.  In universities it is being seen that positions remain vacant for years and courses are left in between due to non-availability of required resource person.

Even there have been cuts on scholarships, regional colleges etc. Covid-19 can be seen as opportunity to effectively introduce two layers of education: affordable education and universities should get the funding instead of pushing them into scenario of taking loans. Other speakers also highlighted about digital divide, and exclusion of marginalised people from higher education.

Finally, the Dr Arjun, stated that there is a need to for technology grants for updating IT system for online interactions. By making universities and institutions self-dependent in technology will a step towards Atam Nirbhar Bharat.  He opined that new India should emerge as Vishwa Guru, that is, being a leader in the world of knowledge by having universities and infrastructural capacities which can compete at global level and be remain inclusive for local.

He also said that the NEP2020 is a futuristic policy for higher education with target of 50 per cent gross enrolment ratio in higher education by 2035, and target of public spending on education sector at 6 per cent of GDP. But such proposal was also made earlier but could not be achieved for the last half-century. Other big challenges are digital divide, and social exclusion, for more participation in higher education.

Here not only public institutions but private sector also has to play a important role for more enrolment in higher education with greater focus on inclusive approach particularly for marginalised groups.

YouTube video for Evolving Paradigm of Higher Education Amidst Coronavirus Pandemic

Picture Courtesy: Indian Express