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Ralph Ellison said that education is all a matter of building bridges. In a country as diverse as India, it is imperative to build bridges between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. In that vein, one should note that South India looks at National Education Policy 2020 with despair and exasperation while North India is ecstatic about it.

Myriads of entrance and exit exams

The NEP’s fundamental philosophy seems to be, in the words of Dolores Umbridge, “Progress for the sake of progress must be discouraged.” Abolishing the 10+2 system in school education, the government wishes to bring 5+3+2+2. The intent behind this is to eradicate the ‘No fail’ policy till 9th grade of few states. The NEP also introduces public examinations for 5th, 8th, 10th and 12th grades. While TV pundits arguing that there won’t be difficult examinations or massive fails, the education ministry has yet to commit itself on this matter or issue a government order in this regard.

As an educator, what I can predict is that students will have to write multiple entrance exams to join other schools for 7th, 9th and 11th standard in addition to the proposed public exams. If only we could have an entrance examination for politicians so that the ‘untalented’ are weeded out.

‘Jab we met’ courses and misguided autonomy

Another key point of NEP is to establish multi-discipline institutions where engineering courses could meet law courses, medical courses can meet engineering and Arts could collude with coding. While it is true that foreign institutions have such versatile courses, it was not done with a magic wand in a single day. Uber-conservative Indian academia and illiberal society will not accept such bizarre courses. If a course name is M.A. English Studies instead of M.A. English Literature, many state governments will not recognise it. Only after a court battle and campaign will they give them the equivalent status. Hence, I worry that these cocktail courses will face the scorn of various state governments and private companies and society at large.

Another important decision was to phase out all affiliated colleges and making them autonomous. However, the present autonomous colleges can change their syllabus once in four years only. Thus, the autonomy won’t yield any instant quality improvement. So, it has yet to be amended because who would install a mobile app if one would receive updates just once every four years.

A four-year B.Ed. degree for a thankless job

Like the engineering, B.Ed. has been suggested to be made as a four-year course. Many Western countries have the same concept. However, it could create a huge hurdle for socially and economically backward communities. Even if they go through this grueling course, there is no guarantee that there will be a lucrative job market available for them. No private school or college is paying half of the Seventh Pay Commission salary that government teachers enjoy. For such a meager salary, no one would want to spend money on entrance coaching fees, hostel fees, tuition fees, and other expenses for four years. The plan, though well-intentioned, will start a great brain drain in the industry.

Online classes open floodgates of possibilities

The UGC refused to recognise online PhDs from foreign countries at one point of time. Today, AICTE and UGC approve conducting PhD and viva-voce meetings on Zoom and Google Meet. The very idea of higher education today has now changed from ‘a sage on the stage’ professing-style teaching to project-based, skills-oriented, collaborative courses by online giants like Udemy, Udacity, and Skillshare. They know the needs of the market and attract the young minds of Gen Z. There is a real chance that innovation-resistant universities could be killed by these online education giants. Pandemic online classes taught us that virtual classes can’t hold a candle to face-to-face interactions. Instead of trying to put pineapple on pizzas, the NEP should focus on practical, achievable goals without rocking the boat wildly.

What NEP 2020 should have done is looked to attract talents for teaching, come up with innovative solutions to equip teachers, and provided loan-free and stress-free education to students. Establishing a department will ensure at least Sixth Pay Commission salary and vacation in private sector to attract talents. IGNOU could offer PhDs to all teachers employed in India in External in a single stroke of brilliance instead of state- and national-level eligibility tests. Mandatory start-up loan will spur entrepreneurship and jobs. One can only wonder if anything worth knowing can be taught to this inscrutable government.

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