Context: The union cabinet recently approved the new National Education Policy, making way for large scale, transformational reforms in both school and higher education sectors.

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  • The policy marks the fourth major policy initiative in education since Independence and is the first education policy of the 21st century and replaces the 34-year-old National Policy on Education (NPE), 1986.
  • In June 2017 a ‘Committee for the Draft National Education Policy’  was constituted under the Chairmanship of Dr. K. Kasturirangan, which submitted the Draft National Education Policy, 2019.

Background: Evolution of education system in India

  • Historically, the system of education evolved in the provinces. 
    • During British period, the Central Advisory Board of Education was created to coordinate regional responses to common issues. 
    • The ‘advisory’ character of this administrative mechanism meant that the Board served mainly as a discussion forum. 
  • University Education Commission (1948-49): After independence, the first significant step taken by the Government of India in the field of education was the appointment of the University Education Commission in 1948 under the Chairmanship of Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan.
  • Secondary Education Commission (1952-53): The  Government  of  India  set  up the  Secondary  Education  Commission  in  1952,  under  the Chairmanship  of  Dr.  A.  Lakshmanaswami  Mudaliar.
  • 42nd Constitutional Amendment, 1976- Education in Concurrent List
    • The Indian constitution in its original enactment defined education as a state subject. 
    • But unlike some other federal countries, India chose to have a Ministry of Education at the Centre. The Centre was expected to articulate aims and standards.
    • Under Article 42 of the constitution, an amendment was added in 1976 and education became a concurrent list subject which enables the central government to legislate it in the manner suited to it.
  • Education Commission (1964-66) under Dr. D. S. Kothari
    • The Commission had submitted its Report on 29 June 1966; its recommendations were accommodated in India's first National Policy on Education in 1968.
  • 1968 NPE:
    • Compulsory education for all children up to the age of 14, as specified by the Constitution of India.
    • Better training and qualification of teachers.
    • Pay more attention on learning of regional languages, outlining the “three language formula” to be applied in secondary education and that was:
      • Hindi
      • English
      • Regional language
  • National Policy on Education (NPE), 1986
    • It emphasised national concerns and perspective without specifically referring to provincial practices that indicated strong divergence. 
    • Engagement with the States remained a function of the Planning Commission. 
  • Programme of Action (PoA) 1992, under the National Policy on Education (NPE), 1986:
    • Under this Government of India has laid down a Three – Exam Scheme For admission to Engineering and Architecture/Planning programmes:
  • Rise of private sector: After liberalisation in 1991,a burgeoning private sector had begun to push public policy. 
    • The rapidly expanding and globalising urban middle class had already begun to secede from the public system, posing the awkward question of why education cannot be sold if there are willing buyers. 
  • Three systems: India now has three systems. 
    • There is a Central system, running an exam board that has an all-India reach through affiliation with English-medium private schools catering to regional elites. 
      • The Central system also includes advanced professional institutes and universities.
    • State system: Institutes run by the States belong to the second system. It also features provincial secondary boards affiliating schools teaching in State languages. 
    • Private system: The third system is based on purely private investment. Internationally accredited school boards and globally connected private universities are part of this third system. These institutions represent a new level of freedom from state norms.
  • Right to Education Act- a bridge between public and private systems:
    • An explicit attempt was made under the Right to Education (RTE) Act to bridge the first two systems. 
    • The Constitution (Eighty-sixth) Amendment Act has now  inserted Article 21A in the Constitution which makes education a Fundamental Right for Children in the age group of 6-14 years.
    • The Act mandates that even private educational institutions have to reserve 25 per cent seats for children from weaker sections.


  • Centre’s dominating  role: 
    • The NPE, 2020 didn’t fully acknowledge the variety prevailing in states and the legacies those practices are rooted in. 
    • For education to fulfil its social role, it must respond to the specific milieu in which the young are growing up. 
  • States’ old ways: States have their own social worlds to deal with, and they often prefer to carry on with the ways they became familiar with in colonial days. 
    • A prime example is the continuation of intermediate or junior colleges in several States more than half a century after the report by Kothari Commission.
  • Social justice: Inequalities have become sharper with the rise in overall prosperity.In higher education, an RTE like attempt to balance private autonomy with an obligation to provide social justice is yet to be made. 
  • Coordination: The new policy document underestimates the problem of reconciling the three systems. 
    • Accreditation norms and recognition procedures create a semblance of public accountability. 
    • Coordination among the three systems has proved unmanageable, even in purely functional terms. 
  • Top down approach: In higher education, NPE, 2020 proposes nationally codified and administered measures to oversee institutional transformation across State capitals and district towns. 
    • The idea of a monolithic regulatory architecture to control a system that is privatising at a rapid pace is impulsive. Functional uniformity is unlikely to offer any real solution. 
  • Economic policy favours greater private enterprise in higher education. How to reconcile this push with the necessity of equitable public education is a nagging question. 
  • Autonomy: It cannot be interpreted in financial terms alone. The many different ways in which the States have maintained their colleges and universities cannot all be regarded as signs of a dysfunctional or failing system. 
    • If failure is the criterion for choice of remedy, gradations of failure will have to be determined first and their causes studied before remedial steps are contemplated. 
  • At the school level too, the new policy proposes a post-RTE structural shift, ignoring the fact that the RTE itself has not yet been fully implemented. 

Way forward: The government should accept that one size does not fit all.

  • Defining aim and vision: We must ask what kind of human being and society we want before we draft a policy in education. 
    • We also need a systemic vision: both for recovery from institutional decay and for future progress. 
  • Coordination between different systems: There should be a reliable mechanism to reconcile the marking standards of different Boards and universities. 
    • Coordination is required in adherence to social responsibilities in a period of rapid economic change. 
  • Social vision: Education must mediate between different social strata divided by caste and economic status. 

    • Further progress of this role called for continued financial support for the implementation of RTE and policy guidance for the proper use of this support so that regional disparities diminish.
    • The recent attempt made by Tamil Nadu to create a modest quota in NEET for students who attended government schools points towards an endemic problem exacerbated by centralisation.

Image source: ToI