Half-baked reforms

Toeing the line set by the rest of the world, India has seen the massification of higher education in the new millennium. The NEP-2020 is posed to transform India with the sole objective of making education holistic and multidisciplinary.

Half-baked reforms

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Toeing the line set by the rest of the world, India has seen the massification of higher education in the new millennium. The NEP-2020 is posed to transform India with the sole objective of making education holistic and multidisciplinary.

The NEP has tied this goal to one specific reform of the Four-Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP) with multiple exit/entry systems (MEES), which, it is feared, would produce qualified professionals who will not be able to meet market demands. Since publicfunded institutions are highly sought after mostly by citybased students, it is likely to create a higher education crisis even bigger than in 2014 when the idea was mooted.

In fact, in Europe and the UK, the three-year format is preferred for holistic and multidisciplinary education. Modalities like credit transfer, originated in Europe and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); they were promoted by multilateral agreements like the Bologna Process and the Lisbon and Incheon Declarations. They were, in fact, designed to solve the European problem of excess capacity in higher education and expansion to ensure their viability.


The Indian education system has radically different issues. The widening of access to higher education in our country has failed to reduce inequality. It seems unfeasible to design a single curriculum such as the first and second years fulfilling vocational requirements, the third addressing general education needs and the fourth year taking responsibility for those in pursuit of higher studies. In the US, there are separate institutions ~ called community colleges ~ to offer one and two year degrees whereas the universities offer four-year courses.

MEES may not be able to address the issues common to India of financial constraints. Instead, it would help to rename dropouts as certificate or diploma holders. Short-term credentials would help families to withdraw their wards from educational institutions as the present state of higher education in India shows a high rate of dropouts because those from marginalized sections of society want to finish learning and start earning to support their families. The former syllabi are force fitted into FYUP format, so the most likely outcomes are bound to be diluted long courses, lopsided short courses or both.

The quality of undergraduate studies is sure to be severely impaired by this breathless tinkering. The curriculum will certainly militate against gaining knowledge in depth. The new format envisages a marked emphasis on general rather than specified learning.The common courses, which range from environmental science to sports and fitness, have raised hackles even at the level of academics.

The Honours subject, a discipline that is reinforced at the postgraduate level, would be accorded a minor rating in the overall construct. Does it not seem irrational? Also, it is unlikely that the resources required for an expansion of infrastructure to accommodate a fourth year within the institution would be properly released given the massive resource crunch in the education sector. It is generally believed that while education has expanded as an instrument of upward social mobility, there is something seriously wrong with the system.

The more common refrain is that of stagnation and the gap between educational expansion and the needs of society, the economy and the polity. The theoretical content of education has been overloaded with the result that everyone is bewildered about the real purpose.

We are told that the objective of education is to impart reading and writing skills, and to train the analytical faculties of a child; to equip him mentally so that he can make independent judgements about problems and issues; to learn techniques of sophisticated analysis; to prepare youth to be strong in a competitive world; to be a good citizen; to preserve and enrich the Indian tradition; to absorb the challenges of the modern world; to contribute to economic development; to generate a sense of social commitment; to imbibe those values which the education system thinks worth pursuing, and to help the country find a respectable place in the world map.

The NEP-2020 lays strong emphasis on foundational literacy and numeracy. The NIPUN Bharat Mission 2021 aims to ensure that all students in grades up to 3 across the country have fundamental literary by 2026-27. To accomplish this objective, any knowledge or skill deficiencies among teachers must be addressed. Education can be work-oriented in two aspects. When a student is taught the skill and dexterity necessary for a certain profession, his education or training is in a certain sense job-oriented.

But education can be workoriented in a distinctly different sense. One can feel that our education, particularly higher education, is marked by abstractions, that it ignores training of the senses to a greater extent than is good for the all-round development of the personality, and further, that it does not take enough care to acquaint students with concrete social problems. Work education may be one of the methods to address these deficiencies.

This, however, is very different from training a student for a job. Here the aim is to correct an excessive one-sidedness in general education. In fact, work education and joboriented training are two very different disciplines. Our education policy risks being miscarried unless this is kept clearly on view. In India, there is a rush for higher education. By diverting students from general education to vocational during the school years, the new education policy may be able to ensure general welfare. It can benefit both the vocation and higher education as well. It is not the proper function of universities to prepare students for jobs.

Those who graduate with medicine and engineering degrees may indeed be eligible for jobs corresponding to their expertise. A Master’s degree may carry some weight in teaching and research. For most other jobs, there is no rational ground for preference to a university degree holder. This should be the implication of delinking jobs from degrees. Shorn of the verbiage emanating from the NCERT and its mentors in the Centre, “10+2+3” intends to change the baby-oriented system handed down unthinkingly since the day of Macaulay and gear it to the country’s present requirements.

The objective of this was two-fold: to give students a broad-based education up to class X, to vocationalise education after this stage in order to meet the needs of our overcrowded universities so that what passes as higher education may become a bit less farcical. In theory, the scheme is unexceptionable and deserves sympathy as the first genuine attempt to reform the education system.

In practice, unfortunately, what is attempted to be done is ill-conceived when account is taken of the severe limitation on the facilities available and the deep-rooted socio-economic values that pervade our society. Back in 1997, Morarji Desaai told the Education Conference, ”I do not know how it (10+2+3) is going to give any benefit. It has only disturbed the whole thing for the worse. This kind of change in education is not change.

It only misguides the people into believing that we are making something better.” The then Union Education Minister, PC Chunder’s earlier criticism of the system made people think that it would be given short shrift. The state education ministers too found little good in it. But after having done the duty of condemning the system, the powers-that-be decided to continue with it. That means it was intended to be a uniform system all over the country.

It is doublethink to say that the FYUP format would be at once a great change. It seems that our educational policy makers have reached a dead end ~ they have condemned the old system times without number and they have not shown any remarkable inventiveness in devising a novel system which would be widely welcomed.

The new system has come not as a brand new thing; the format was in fact tried and scrapped in 2014, following a spat between Delhi University and the UGC. Notwithstanding DU’s retreat to the traditional three-year programme from the ambitious FYUP, the UGC again goofed up. Admittedly, the recent rise in enrollment in colleges has already created a tremendous pressure on the quality of the teaching-learning process.

With an additional year there would be difficulty in accommodating extra numbers. It is also being argued that by adopting FYUP our higher education system is in the process of aping the American system of majors and minors without preparing a climate for it. It is feared that the move is aimed at fulfilling some vested interests such as pushing foreign educational institutions collaborating with Indian partners to set up shop in India.

The report of the National Knowledge Commission with its recommendations made over a period of three years (2007-09), points at a scenario where educational institutions should ultimately transform into selfgenerating entities. The new format will make it easier for foreign universities to become stakeholders in Indian institutions.

The new format may facilitate smooth transition of Indian students to graduate schools in the US without the requirement of an additional bridging year to conform to the US system of FYUP. It is the United States which pioneered the publicly funded school education system in the West and did a lot to curb illiteracy among the masses.

Also, the fact remains that American students are more innovative than those of other countries, and when they become part of the university system, they, in fact, need to get an extra year for their resources to exploit. This is a luxury that only a developed country can afford. The shocker is that with all these drawbacks, the scheme has been enacted at public expense, the executors being the custodians of public good. A new education policy is likely to be more effective if it is based on actual recognition of merit.

The shift to a new framework without proper infrastructure may undermine the quality of education and effective delivery of the intended outcomes. It would be appreciated if adequate resources were allocated and invested in capacity building to ensure a smooth transition and effective execution of curriculum reforms.

(The writer, a former Associate Professor, Department of English, Gurudas College, is presently with Rabindra Bharati University)