Senior BJP leader and Union education minister RAMESH POKHRIYAL started his career as a teacher in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-affiliated Saraswati Shishu Mandir. He is also a poet, and had published his first collection of poems in 1983. He is an MP from the Haridwar Lok Sabha constituency.

In an interview with ABHIJEET ANAND, Pokhriyal shares his thoughts on various aspects of the new National Education Policy cleared by the Narendra Modi Cabinet.

Q.What are the guiding principles of the New Education Policy, and how is it different from the old policy?

A. The New Education Policy takes into account the significant changes that have taken place in our country, society, economy and the world at large. New technologies have transformed how we live, work, and communicate with each other with an easy flow of information and knowledge within the country and across the world. The corpus of knowledge has vastly expanded, and research has become multi-disciplinary, and far more collaborative. The education sector needs to gear itself towards the demands of the 21st century and the needs of the people and the country. Quality, innovation and research are the pillars on which India has to build its position in the global knowledge system while maintaining and developing its traditional knowledge systems. The National Education Policy lays particular emphasis on the development of the creative potential of each individual. It is based on the principle that education must develop not only cognitive capacities — both the foundational capacities of literacy and numeracy and higherorder cognitive capacities, such as critical thinking and problem-solving – but also social, ethical, and emotional capabilities and dispositions.

Q. Some observers feel that higher education needs to be liberalised further.What’s your opinion on this?

A. The NEP fosters liberalisation on the critical aspects of regulation, academics and research. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentions, the New Education Policy has adopted a middle path between autonomy and regulations. At every stage autonomy and accountability will be there, with transparency. The change has already begun through the IIMs. Thus, the new regulatory system envisioned by this policy will foster this overall culture of empowerment and autonomy to innovate, including by gradually phasing out the system of ‘affiliated colleges’ over fifteen years through a system of graded autonomy. Each existing affiliating university will be responsible for mentoring its affiliated colleges so that they can develop their capabilities and achieve minimum benchmarks in academic and curricular matters, teaching and assessment, governance reforms, financial robustness and administrative efficiency. All colleges currently affiliated to a university shall attain the required benchmarks over time to secure the prescribed accreditation benchmarks and eventually become autonomous degree-granting colleges. This will be achieved through a concerted national effort including suitable mentoring and governmental support for the same. Further, the NEP advocates that an imaginative and flexible curricular structure will be imbibed in higher education which will enable creative combinations of disciplines for study, and would offer multiple entries and exit points, thus removing currently prevalent rigid boundaries and creating new possibilities for life-long learning. Similarly, to enable a culture of research to permeate through our universities, National Research Foundation will be established. This will help to develop a culture of research in the country through appropriate incentives for and recognition of outstanding research, and by undertaking significant initiatives to seed and grow research at state universities and other public institutions where research capability is currently limited.

Q. How do you counter the argument that having an overarching body to regulate higher education will be undemocratic and may prevent the flow of new ideas?

A. More than ever, the New Education Policy embellishes the principle of democracy through both letter and spirit. As mentioned in the policy, the regulatory system of higher education will ensure that the distinct functions of regulation, accreditation, funding and academic standard setting will be performed by different, independent, and empowered bodies.Not an overarching body but a body of four structures will be set up as four separate verticals within one umbrella institution, the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI).The first vertical of HECI will be the National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC). It will function as the common, single point regulator for the higher education sector, including teacher education and excluding medical and legal education. The second vertical of HECI will be metaaccrediting body called the National Accreditation Council (NAC). The third vertical of HECI will be the Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC), which will carry out funding and financing of higher education based on a transparent criterion. The fourth vertical of HECI will be the General Education Council (GEC), which will frame expected learning outcomes for higher education programmes, also referred to as graduate attributes. The GEC will formulate a National Higher Education Qualification Framework (NHEQF). The functioning of all the independent verticals and the overarching autonomous umbrella body (HECI) itself will be based on transparent public disclosure and technology will be extensive to reduce the human interface to ensure efficiency and transparency in their work. The separation of functions would mean that each vertical within HECI would take on a new, single role which is relevant, meaningful, and essential in the new regulatory scheme, re-energising the higher education system. The re-energised system will enable the democratic flow of ideas.

Q. English may be a colonial legacy, but it is globally recognised as an international language. Shouldn’t the education policy remember this?

A. As Prime Minister Modi highlighted in the ‘School education for 21st century’ conclave that whatever language a child can learn easily, the same should be the language of instruction. He emphasised that countries with top ranking in PISA 2018 such as Estonia, Ireland, Finland, Japan, South Korea, Poland impart primary education in their respective mother tongues. Young children learn and grasp non-trivial concepts more quickly in their home language/mother tongue. Home language is usually the same language as the mother tongue or that which is spoken by local communities. Aligned with the same, the New Education Policy states that wherever possible, the medium of instruction until at least Grade 5, but preferably till Grade 8 and beyond, will be the home language/mother-tongue/local language/regional language. The policy presents greater flexibility in the three-language formula, and thereby no language will be imposed on any State. The three languages learned by children will be the choices of States, regions, and of course, the students themselves, so long as at least two of the three languages are native to India. Further, teachers will be encouraged to use a bilingual approach, including bilingual teaching-learning materials, with those students whose home language may be different from the medium of instruction. All efforts will be made in preparing high-quality bilingual textbooks and teaching-learning materials. Thus, nowhere the policy talks about shedding the English language or its role; instead, it emphasises the importance of multilingualism which has a tremendous cognitive benefit for young children. Through the NEP, the children will be provided to learn international languages other than English while preserving their regional language, making learning an easy process.

Q. There are over two dozen Boards apart from the CBSE. Some Boards are considered more lenient. Don’t you feel that having more than one Board is not good for school education?

A. To reverse the harmful effects of the current assessment system and the adversities of multiple Boards, the New Education Policy proposes to set up a National Assessment Centre, PARAKH (Performance Assessment, Review, and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development), as a standardsetting body under MHRD that fulfils the primary objectives of setting norms, standards, and guidelines for student assessment and evaluation for all recognised school Boards of India, guiding the State Achievement Survey (SAS) and undertaking the National Achievement Survey (NAS), monitoring achievement of learning outcomes in the country, and encouraging and helping school Boards to shift their assessment patterns towards meeting the skill requirements of the 21st century. This Centre will also advise school Boards regarding new assessment patterns and latest researches and promote collaborations between school Boards. It will also become an instrument for the sharing of best practices among school Boards, and for ensuring equivalence of academic standards among learners across all school Boards.

Q. What mechanism will be adopted to make college faculty accountable?

A. The New Education Policy epitomises that the most critical factor in the success of higher education institutions is the quality and engagement of its faculty. Acknowledging the criticality of faculty in achieving the goals of higher education, various initiatives have been introduced in the past several years to systemise recruitment and career progression, and to ensure equitable representation from multiple groups in the hiring of faculty. Through the NEP, excellence will be further incentivised through appropriate rewards, promotions, recognitions, and movement into institutional leadership. Faculty not delivering on basic norms will be held accountable.

Q. How will the new policy improve the quality of government and government-aided schools?

A. The public education system is the foundation of a vibrant democratic society, and the way it is run must be transformed and invigorated to achieve the highest levels of educational outcomes for the nation, as stated in the New Education Policy. Stating that the main thrust of the policy is on improving the quality of school education, many curricular, pedagogical, assessment and learning outcome-based reforms have been proposed. There will be greater emphasis on early childhood care and education, the 10+2 structure of school curricula is to be replaced by a 5+3+3+4 curricular design. The curricula will aim for the holistic development of learners, equipping them with the critical 21st-century skills, reduction in curricular content to enhance essential learning and critical thinking and a greater focus on experiential learning