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India’s National Education Policy 2019 Carries Ideas of Lokmanya Tilak

With the release of the Draft of National Education Policy 2019 (NEP) in May 2019, India’s education system has become a point of issue due to its falling standards over the years. In 2017, a little more than a quarter of India’s population (roughly 35 crore) were children. If India is to leverage its abundant labour in the future, it needs to ameliorate the quality of education.

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), 2018 analyzed the foundational skills of children in the 5 to 16 age group in reading and arithmetic. Results clearly show that despite improving quantitatively, we still lag qualitatively.

In 2009, India participated in OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test and did rather poorly; it ranked 72nd among 74 participating countries and did not participate again. The poor performance reflects the poor standard of mathematics and science in the Indian education system, subjects that are going to be prerequisites for jobs in the future.

The deterioration of education, brain drain, and therefore, slow growth leading to slow progress in the education sector – this is a vicious circle. To break it, India needs to improve the standard of education and the NEP is one of the steps taken by the government. The new policy aims at providing education of uniform quality across India. It suggests various changes in school education, teacher management, higher education, data, and research, vocational education, and educational governance.

The roots of the NEP can be found in the ideas and thoughts of India’s great freedom fighter and educator Lokmanya Tilak. He envisioned education as a basic yet powerful instrument for the socio-economic transformation of India. His views on national education expressed more than a century ago, are relevant today as well.

Lokmanya Tilak championed education in vernacular languages, vocational education, and a focus on traditional Indian knowledge with the aim of changing people’s mindset, and creating good citizenry that would work for the betterment of India.

The NEP too underlines the importance of providing education in our vernacular languages. According to the Draft, the medium of instruction must either be the home language/mother-tongue/local language till grade five, preferably till grade eight wherever possible. It has been observed that a large number of students fall behind since classes in schools are being conducted in a language they do not understand. It also proposed that the Commission for Scientific and Technical Terminology be expanded to include all fields and disciplines to strengthen vocabulary in Indian languages.

Vocational education is necessary to foster the growth of industries was another significant point made by Lokmanya Tilak. As per NEP recommendations on vocational education, all school students must receive education in at least one vocation in grades 9-12. The Draft Policy aims to offer vocational education to up to 50 percent of the total enrolment in higher education institutions by 2025, up from the present level of enrolment of well below 10 percent in these institutions.

Lokmanya Tilak was of the view that schools should also impart India’s traditional and rich knowledge. The British government of the time provided an education that suited its needs, which resulted in a lack of self-dependence, and a growing drain of intellect and wealth drain from India. These issues continue to persist even today, after 72 years of Independence. To overcome these challenges, the NEP aims to introduce India’s traditional knowledge, culture, and heritage in our textbooks.

As a reformer, Lokmanya Tilak struck balance between traditional Indian knowledge and globally required knowledge. He strongly believed in education in vernacular languages, but also understood and accepted the importance of learning English, then for India’s political movement. The NEP too has a similar aim, of inculcating global standards, encouraging scientific temper and maintaining traditional knowledge at the same time in the changed curriculum.

The NEP also looks to strike a balance between the education systems of two countries viz., Japan and the USA. Japan follows a ‘one nation, one education’ policy to maintain the quality of education throughout the country. Japan’s education system created a responsible citizenry as well as a skilled workforce which propelled its economic growth after World War II. The education system in the USA does not follow a single education policy but mirrors the USA’s federal structure. State boards set state-wide curriculum while local governments can set primary and secondary school level curricula. In India, education belongs to the Concurrent list and thus has a structure similar to the USA, but now, as per the NEP, it will be following the ‘one nation, one education’ policy of Japan.

Another way through which the NEP seeks to maintain balance is by dividing responsibilities through a single policy instead of multiple policies across Central, State, and Local levels, yet focusing on joint planning, monitoring, and cohesive implementation. For example, the NEP has assigned different responsibilities to the Ministry of Education, State Ministries and Departments, National/State Council of Educational Research and Training (N/SCERT). By following the ideas of Lokmanya Tilak, the NEP 2019 will help India create a skilled and educated workforce. However, in order to retain this workforce and reduce brain drain, India needs opportunities and environments which adhere to global standards.

(Article was first published by The Tilak Chronicle on August 22, 2019.)

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