Recently, the New Education Policy was announced by the Union Government in a press conference, held by senior ministers. India got its first National Education Policy in 1968 after twenty-one years of independence as the country could not decide, for more than two decades, about the direction to take as regards educating its population. Finally, in the year 1986, the New Education Policy was put in place which was modified in the year 1992 and a programme of action was announced. After a gap of thirty-four years, the Central Government has now come out with a New Education Policy.
Undoubtedly, during the past three decades, we have witnessed monumental changes in the field of information and communication technology. This has totally transformed our way of living, sharing of knowledge, content creation and its dissemination and what not. Simultaneously, our country’s economy also has changed to become more service oriented with contribution of the services sector to our GDP increasing to more than half. Certainly, the education sector has to transform itself to cope with the requirements of an emerging knowledge economy.
There are many new ideas incorporated in the New Education Policy which are essential to make our education system more holistic and flexible. The idea of a credit-based system is not new but unfortunately earlier attempts made in this regard could not bring the desired results. It is hoped that this time around the government will ensure its implementation at the earliest. Similarly, the universalisation of education from pre-school to secondary level with 100% gross enrolment ratio, making the Bachelor’s programme multidisciplinary in nature and doing away with the rigid separation between arts and sciences was long overdue and is a very welcome step.
One of the most important recommendations made in the new policy is that teaching up to at least grade five is to be in the mother tongue/regional language. There are several arguments being advanced against this recommendation by experts. Some argue that the New Education Policy should have shown the courage to argue for English medium education from primary school onwards. Others argue that this recommendation goes against the apex court’s verdict of 2014, stating that the imposition of the mother tongue as the medium of instruction in primary classes is unconstitutional.
The debate regarding the medium of instruction in our schools have been raging for the past several decades. Mahatma Gandhi had been very insistent from the beginning that the medium of instruction can not be other than vernacular. Gandhiji wrote, “In my opinion this is not a question to be decided by academicians. They cannot decide through what language the boys and girls of a place are to be educated. That question is already decided for them in every free country. Nor can they decide the subjects to be taught. That depends upon the wants of the country to which they belong. There is a privilege of enforcing the nation’s will in the best manner possible. When this country becomes really free, the question of medium will be settled only one way. The academicians will frame the syllabus and prepare text-books accordingly. So long as we the educated classes play with this question, I very much fear we shall not produce the free and healthy India of our dream.”
Do we need any more argument to settle the question? History is witness to the fact that all the developed countries have ensured that the medium of instruction in their countries is in their own native language/mother tongue. It is high time we accept the reality and move on.
Another myth floating around in our country for decades is that it is very difficult to impart higher education in vernacular languages. This logic was busted long back by the father of our nation Gandhi ji, who wrote: “Our language is the reflection of ourselves, and if you tell me that our languages are too poor to express the best thought, then I say that the sooner we are wiped out of existence the better for us. I had the privilege of a close conversation with some professors. They assured me that every Indian youth, because he reached his knowledge through the English language, lost at least six precious years of life. Multiply that by the number of students turned out by our schools and colleges and find out for yourselves how many thousand years have been lost to the nation.”
It is critical now to provide instructions in vernacular without any further delay and ensure that equal and quality education is provided to all. The vocational education system also needs to be strengthened with vigour so that the economy does not suffer from a shortage of skilled manpower and our youth join the economic activity at the peak of their productivity. As Einstein had said, “education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think” and that should be achieved by this policy.
(VS Pandey is a former IAS officer. He retired as secretary, department of fertilisers in the Government of India)