Without any doubt, like it or not, the National Education Policy, NEP-2020, will come into full force sooner than later. There are many commendable features in this new policy, especially in school education. This is true even in the higher education sector though there are some big hitches too which probably called for a thorough prior discussions with stakeholders to resolve them. The fundamental stated approach of NEP-2020 is to align the nation’s all important education enterprise at all levels to the changing international trends in modern, scientific pedagogy and to give them at the same time a distinct Indian character.
It would be helpful to begin an analysis of such a large and important enterprise by first making a distinction between the objective of the enterprise, and the method envisaged to achieve the objective. For indeed, even if the objective is honourable, the method can be where the shadow falls to either put hurdles or else jeopardise the enterprise itself. As I see it, if the growing voices of disenchantment and concern building up in the backdrop are any indication, it is the method which is likely to create heartburns in many circles, and with it, trouble. In the school sector, this problem may not be too prominent, if at all, but in the higher education sector, it is not difficult to foresee resistance.
In the school sector, the approach is more about streamlining what are already in existence, with no radical structural changes. In the college, or Higher Education Institutes, HEI, sector, much more than the call for streamlining, radical structural changes are proposed. The NEP-2020 premises the necessity for this in the introductory section of this sector saying that in India today there are over 50,000 HEIs of which a good proportion have less than 100 students enrolled in them. The NEP-2020 wants this completely overhauled. Among others, each HEI will be mandated be multidisciplinary and also to have not less than 3000 students each.
Depending on the specialisation of the subjects, NEP-2020 also prescribes a teacher to students ratio ranging from 10:1 to 20:1. It is also proposed that colleges which cannot have 3000 students enrolled will be clustered to make them meet the new criteria of 3000 enrolment and offering multi-disciplinary subjects.
The moot point is, where would Manipur’s HEIs (colleges) stand in this new scenario. How many colleges in the state have enrolment anywhere close to the stipulated 3000 students? According to information available a majority have between 100 and 500 students enrolled. Would this mean many of the state’s colleges would come to be clustered to function as one? Again, if the students to teacher ratio in non-technical subjects is to be 20:1, it would mean a college with 100 students enrolled can have only five teachers, or those with 500 students can have 25 teachers only. Even those which have been managing 3000 students will be able to keep only 150 teaching staff.
According to information available, there are several colleges in the state with only about 100 students but still employing 30 to 50 teachers. What would now happen to the excess number of teachers in this new order of things? Would they end up retrenched or else utilised elsewhere in other government departments? Yet again, to take an extreme example, if there are many colleges in Manipur with only about 100 students each, to meet the NEP-2020 standard, 30 such colleges would have to be clustered into one to have the required students enrolment of 3000, and between all of them, there would only be 150 teaching staff. In such a scenario, how many independent HEIs would be left in Manipur?
There is little doubt that shaking up this rather unsavoury status quo in Manipur is going to run in to immense problems. But if the central government pushes it, again there is little doubt that the state government would have no gall to protest. But come to think of it, if a college of 100 students has 50 teachers, it works out to one teacher for every two students. Is this reasonable, especially considering the rather substantial salaries of teachers are coming from taxpayers’ money? In a private organisation, this would have starved and doomed the organisation to death, therefore never have been allowed.
The question that follows is, who is, or are, responsible for bringing things to such a sorry pass. If the government is sincere about bringing the mess in the state’s education department back to order, accountability for this enormous wasteful anomaly must be fixed and punitive measures contemplated. Absolutely no one, even if ministers are found complicit, should be allowed to play around with the future of education, therefore the hopes and careers of the younger generation.
NEP-2020 also clearly states that the distinction between different subjects in both the science and arts streams, as well as between the two streams themselves, would be made more flexible. In particular it states that early segregation of students into these streams will no longer be the case. In other words, in schools especially, students would be allowed to overlap their choices between different subjects, and even between arts and science. This makes sense, for there can be no dispute for instance that a student who studies history cannot excel without knowledge of political science or economics, just as a student of literature cannot do without an understanding of psychology or philosophy, and a student of economics cannot anymore be unfamiliar with integral and differential calculus for a fuller grasp of the subject.
On the other proposal of making all HEIs multidisciplinary, the NEP-2020 text may already have the answer. Those HEIs which have the capability to become multidisciplinary by introducing varied courses such as law, business management, performing arts etc., besides the regular science and arts streams, it is well and good. However those which do not have the same resources probably are expected to make it up with vocational courses. The NEP-2020 spells it out quite unambiguously that the distinction between curricular, extra-curricular and co-curricular subjects will be narrowed down, and that practical lessons that involve affiliation of students to industries will be made a norm. This initiative is already underway and vocational courses are very much already part of college curricula in collaboration with industry partners.
Overall, the NEP-2020 has formulated the curricular framework in the pattern of 5 + 3 + 3 + 4. This consists of Foundational three years of Preschool and then Grades 1 and 2 of lower primary school. A major bulk of the three years of preschool will be in Anganwadi centres, but private accredited preschool institutions will also be allowed to handle this responsibility. Anganwadi as well as these private preschool centres can either be autonomous or else affiliated to schools. After the three year preschool education, students will qualify to be in Grade 1. After Grade 2, they will enter Preparatory school, which will be Grades 3, 4 and 5. Then it will be Middle school or Grades 6, 7 and 8. Then it will be High school (Grades 9, 10, 11 and 12 in two phases, i.e. 9 and 10 in the first and 11 and 12 in the second) stages respectively, with an option of exiting at Class 10 and re-entering in the next phase.
In the HEI (college) sector it will again be four years. A student can clear first year and exit with a diploma. The student can also exit after clearing second year with a higher diploma. If the student continues on and clears the third year as well, he or she will get a degree and can exit. Those who wish to enter academic research fields, can stay on to do the fourth year as well, and from there to enter research programmes.
None of these changes should cause any trauma to the education system in Manipur, except the requirement of HEIs to have 3000 students enrolled or else get clustered together. It also remains to be seen how requirement of students-teachers ratio in colleges to be 10:1 to 20:1 depending on subject specialisation, will be accommodated in the state without the need to retrench or relocate already employed teaching staff, given the fact that most colleges in Manipur have much less students than the required 3000.
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author