New national policy on education coming

PM's announcement in I-Day address went unnoticed in public focus on corruption

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's announcement on Monday on setting up a commission “to make suggestions for improvements at all levels of education” has largely gone unnoticed amid the public focus on corruption. Even though his Independence Day address did not elaborate on its mandate, sources in the government indicated, the recommendations of the proposed commission should add up to what could be a new National Policy on Education.

According to reliable sources, the commission is expected to be headed by an eminent educationist, assisted by experts from the fields of higher, technical, medical, secondary, elementary, vocational and other sectors of education. It will also have inputs from the reports of the National Knowledge Commission, the Yashpal Committee and the Valiathan Committee.

NPE of 1986

As the existing National Policy on Education, 1986 (NPE) was conceived during Rajiv Gandhi's tenure, it may be politically daunting for the United Progressive Alliance Government to wish away its vital elements. Political instability during the late 1980s led to delays in the launch of the policy, which was reviewed by the Acharya Ramamurty Committee and could be brought into force only after the Congress returned to power in 1991 and gave shape to the Action Plan of 1992 for the NPE. Thus Dr. Singh's announcement is expected to pave the way for a new policy after nearly two decades.

The NPE of 1986 itself has suggested not only periodic reviews of the policy but also a revision in the long-term. It was also a major departure from the national policy adopted on the recommendations of the Education Commission under Professor D.S Kothari, which in 1966 had called for a common school system as well as for a Plus-Two stage of schooling beyond Class X. Strengthening of research in the university system was another major recommendation.

It is a different matter that even the recently enacted Right to Education Act has also shied away from the common school system.

The 1986 policy led to encouragement to emerging sectors like Information Technology, which witnessed an upsurge following the opening up of the technical education sector, particularly in capacity expansion in the private sector. Although the 1986 policy spoke against commercialisation of education, the explosion in the number of private engineering and medical institutions, according to educationists, has only given a further impetus to the menace of capitation fee.

The rapid expansion of private institutions has also, according to the Yashpal Committee, resulted in deterioration in quality. The concerns over quality led the Centre to review all deemed universities. Corruption cases

Several cases of corruption against functionaries of the regulatory authorities such as the All-India Council for Technical Education, the Medical Council of India and the Council of Architecture are under CBI investigation.

It is against this backdrop that the Education Commission, announced by the Prime Minister, is expected to come up with recommendations which could result in a new NEP as well as with directions for the future of all levels of education.

Notwithstanding the recent differences between the Health and Human Resource Development Ministries over the establishment of the overarching regulatory bodies for higher education and research (NCHER) and human resource in health (NCHRH), the proposed commission would address all sectors of education irrespective of the domain interests of Ministries.

With increasing globalisation of education, including the likely passage of the Foreign Education Providers Bill, now before Parliament, it will be interesting to see whether the proposed commission will co-opt foreign experts.

As a matter of fact, the Radhakrishnan Commission on University Education, which gave its report in 1949, had eminent academic leaders from universities in the United Kingdom and the United States among its members.

  • Commission to be set up to suggest improvements at all levels of education
  • 1986 policy, conceived during Rajiv's tenure, itself suggested periodic reviews

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