National Education Policy: Getting it right on implementation

August 20, 2020 4:30 AM

The implementation strategy of the NEP must aim at providing a virtual university environment wherein all universities in India become collaborators.

A ‘centralised by function versus relatively decentralised by courses and regions’ approach will prove durable, largely because the evolution of education is incremental.

By SS Mantha

The National Education Policy (NEP) aims to transform both the intent and the content of the education sector, the prime minister has said. There is nothing to fault on the intent. However, the content needs implementation, and that is the real challenge. Here, we can learn from the corporate sector.

In the modern business history, most corporations have matched their structures to their strategies. While in the 19th century the initial focus of companies was on mass production by centralising key functions such as operations, sales and finance, these firms then diversified offerings and moved into new regions a few decades later.

Corporations such as General Motors and DuPont created business units structured around products and geographic markets. Smaller business units sacrificed turnovers for flexibility and adaptability. Similar models have emerged in education as well.

How can the NEP help? A ‘centralised by function versus relatively decentralised by courses and regions’ approach will prove durable, largely because the evolution of education is incremental. A conventional, straitjacketed education structure has remained the dominant model for almost 70 years. It did push the GER to upwards of 25, but fell short of meeting the growing aspirations of a country on the move. As competition intensified in the recent years, problems with dominant models in both education and business became apparent, as both searched for new ways to organise themselves to unlock value. Innovative thinking and execution are needed if a GER of 50 is to be reached.

A strong business process reengineering is must to meet the objectives of the NEP. We have been hearing about ‘virtual’ and ‘networked’ institutions operating across traditional boundaries. What we need are ‘Velcro institutions’ in spirit—capable of being pulled apart and reassembled in new ways to respond to changing opportunities. Setting up online/blended and virtual universities would add meat to the NEP and the ‘50 GER’ goal. Massification of the National Skills Qualification Framework (NSQF) and institutionalising it within the education system will provide competency-based skills to the young. Virtual laboratories and simulations add value, but cannot replace the real.

The opportunities and challenges that globalisation affords must make us revisit assumptions about the control and management of both the student learning paradigms and the structures in which they happen. A computer company, for example, can manufacture components in China, assemble these in Mexico, ship these to Europe, and service the purchasers from call centres in India. This dispersal creates demands for new learning models to align internal and outsourced credits within our institutions and those around the world. A credit bank concept provides hitherto unthinkable opportunities for not only making education reach people in the remotest areas, but even allow them to build corporatised degrees.

Imagine the following personalised learning pursuit: A physics course from Panjab University, mathematics from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, chemistry from the Indian Institute of Science, astronomy from the Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences, and a course in artificial intelligence from IIT Hyderabad—all leading to a career in astrophysics enabled by a virtual university.

Or imagine improving business skills with a course in agile management from Martin Kropp University, a leadership primer from Texas Tech University or our very own IIM Kozhikode, or improving technical skills with courses in data structures and algorithms from the University of California, or learning digital skills with courses in Python, machine learning and big data from IITs. The implementation strategy of the NEP must aim at providing a virtual university environment wherein all universities in India become collaborators, creating their own content or sourcing content from Coursera or EdX or Udemy-like providers. Like the prime minister said, the NEP can ensure that students become global citizens while remaining connected to their roots.

The new (3+2)+3+3+4 school system replacing the existing 10+2 system can lessen the burden of the school bag and lead to real learning. However, this necessitates a change in curriculum outcomes, shifting the focus from ‘what to think’ to ‘how to think’. Traditional learning must transform from memory skills to thinking skills. Experiential learning and flipped classroom models must be seamlessly built into the curriculum. Speaking about schools, it is imperative to convert all primary schools to the secondary level and improve their infrastructure. Examination systems must transform from end-semester/end-year to continuous evaluation.

The NEP envisages empowerment of higher education institutions through autonomy. Today, institutions have to work under a multitude of regulations and regulators, and have no autonomy. That both will give way to a single agency may be welcome, though the individual needs of technical education and others must not be sacrificed at the altar. Also, the autonomy to decide the admission procedure, fee structure and curriculum must not promote commercialisation.

Is complete autonomy a myth? If the vice-chancellor is a towering personality and a leader par excellence, he creates his own space and leads from the front, and then autonomy thrives. Even the faculty will need to be trained differently, and this calls for new-age skills training. But is it really feasible to provide autonomy to, say, 500 institutions in each of the states and ensure a standard set of “dos and don’ts”? Their performance must strictly be subject to a quality assurance metric. The current provision of a university alone conferring a degree or a diploma must be modified to include all autonomous colleges for this.

Our universities must be modelled on the Max Planck and Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft institutes for basic and applied research with a focus on productisation. The focus must shift from merely publishing papers. That alone can make ‘Start-up’ and ‘Make in India’ initiatives come alive with new markets and employment opportunities.

The future universities must be places that coexist with industry and become large multiproduct, multiprocess and multifunctional businesses. Industry, too, must be allowed to set up institutions under section 25. Apart from a share in GDP, they would share important perspective as well. They must collaborate on projects that solve real-world problems. The NEP can make us atmanirbhar, provided we let it do that.

(The author is former chairman, AICTE;

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