Admissions have begun under the NEP in Karnataka in universities and colleges. But experts have pointed out loopholes in the policy that could become exponential issues in the future.

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news Cooperative Federalism Tuesday, September 21, 2021 - 17:21

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“Education is fundamental for achieving full human potential, developing an equitable and just society, and promoting national development. Providing universal access to quality education is the key to India’s continued ascent, and leadership on the global stage in terms of economic growth, social justice and equality, scientific advancement, national integration, and cultural preservation.”

These are the words with which the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 document begins. The policy was introduced in July 2020, and outlined a vision for a completely new, globalised education system in the country. It came 36 years after the last education policy was approved in 1986, by the Rajiv Gandhi-led government. Since then, technology has drastically changed our world and the way we live, and the NEP 2020 aims to usher India into the 21st century, and bring its education on par with the rest of the world.

For higher education, the NEP has lofty ideas of creating multidisciplinary university “clusters” in every district of the country, on par with ancient institutions such as Takshashila and Nalanda; stressing on more teaching in regional languages, making universities and courses more research oriented, making all university courses four years long, and other such sweeping changes.

"Any policy is only as good as its implementation. Such implementation will require multiple initiatives and actions, which will have to be taken by multiple bodies in a synchronised and systematic manner," the NEP document states. At the time of its introduction, the Union government had said that the deadline for its implementation would be 2030, which would allow states time to counsel students and teachers, build infrastructure in colleges and universities, and prepare new syllabi. However, the Karnataka government in August announced that it will be the first state in India to implement the NEP from the current academic year, leaving colleges a little over a month before beginning admissions, which are currently underway, under the new policy.

This has caused massive confusion among colleges and universities in the state, as the methods of teaching and timetables were thrown off already by the pandemic. Added to this, colleges will have to adjust to a completely new way of functioning.

The key changes that the NEP in Karnataka will bring are doing away with the triple-major system prevalent in the state, creating multiple entry and exit points for students, making degrees four years long instead of three, making Kannada a compulsory language, and introducing a significant research component in the fourth year.

Though the academic year has not yet begun under the policy, critics have found loopholes within the document which might have serious consequences in the long term, especially for students from marginalised and economically poor sections.

One such loophole is the multiple entry and exit options that the NEP provides. As per this provision, students can choose to opt out of their studies at any given point, and receive certifications accordingly. However, while this may seem like a progressive step on paper, as it would allow those who cannot complete four years of education to still graduate with qualifications, it does not provide enough encouragement for the students to come back to the educational fold once they exit. “People are saying that, if the students leave at the end of the second semester, they will ‘at least’ get a certificate. But the language itself is the problem,” a professor at an autonomous college in Bengaluru said, adding that students should not have to strive to be in this ‘at least’ category.

“It gives them a viable option to not return to college, which is not something we want for them. We want them to return to college,” she added.

The policy also has provisions for providing certification for those opting to study vocational and professional courses — “There will be no hard separation of curricular, co-curricular or extra-curricular areas, and integration of vocational and academic streams — each subject will have an equal status,” the document states.

“Pedagogy, modern consciousness, scientific temper, values of democracy and the Constitution and technology which cultivates the personality of human beings — these will be achieved through quality public education. But the NEP discourages that concept of education and says that, ‘If you learn this skill, you will get a job’. You cannot disconnect it from the above qualities and only link it to jobs,” B Sripad Bhat, an activist, said. “If you want to bring in vocational courses, include them in the pedagogy of language, history, etc.,” he added.

Another issue is with the policy’s options for studying language. The current education model has a two language system, with the first language (L1), which is compulsory, being English, and an optional second language (L2) such as Hindi, Kannada, Sanskrit, French, etc. However, the NEP mandates that Kannada become the L1 subject, which the entire student body will have to learn for four semesters. The rest of the languages, including English, will come under the L2 category. This might have an adverse effect on language departments across the state, as students’ demand for L2 languages such as Urdu or Sanskrit might reduce in favour of English. Universities will also have to frame different Kannada syllabi for the same student body, depending on whether the students are already Kannada speakers or not.

“Hindi, Sanskrit, Urdu departments are saying that students may not choose these languages if Kannada is made compulsory. If they are forced to take any one out of four or five (L2) languages, most students would take up English. It will fetch them jobs. So teachers are apprehensive about one language being made compulsory,” an English professor at a university in Shivamogga pointed out.

The other NEP component which has language departments worried, is the significantly low importance given to the study of literature. The policy focuses on teaching English as a subject, and not a language. “The NEP is very categorical about functionality in language teaching. It should be functional and it should be contemporary. But the role of language is not just functional. Students are a heterogeneous group, they come from different backgrounds, their needs are different, their sensibilities are different. So having one syllabus for everybody treats the student community as a homogenous category. The importance is shifted from discourse and literature to functional, skill-based learning,” an English professor at a university in Shivamogga said.

The education policy seems to conflate education and success. “The main objective (of the NEP) is to reestablish holistic and multidisciplinary education to improve the employability of graduates and to develop in them a well-rounded personality,” Dr CN Ashwath Narayan, state Minister for Higher Education, said.

More than a month after the state government announced the implementation of the policy, colleges and universities are now making preparations on the kind of major-minor modules they will be able to execute, as well as expanding their facilities to accommodate two different models of education, as only incoming first-year students will study in the NEP, while the second- and third-year students will continue under the older model.

When the announcement was made, a section of educators were happy about it, as they believe the NEP will bring about a positive change to the education system with its multidisciplinary approach. However, they were left unprepared with the suddenness of it, as they believe that it can succeed only if it is carefully implemented.

However, the state government maintains that the decision was in no way sudden. “The NEP was not implemented in a hurry or suddenly. Immediately after the notification of the NEP in July 2020, the state government started preparing to implement it,” Dr CN Ashwath Narayan, state Minister for Higher Education, said. 

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