A learning revolution

What will happen if the draft New Education Policy 2019, or NEP, submitted by the nine-member K. Kasturirangan Committee to the Union ministry for human resource development on May 31, is implemented in full by 2035, as the policy envisions?

Let us imagine how Rohan, born 2032, might proceed in life. When he turns three, he will join the formal education structure under the 5+3+3+4 framework. For the first three years, he will receive pre-school education-in at least three languages-by trained teachers. In this time, he will learn the alphabet for each language, numbers, colours, shapes, how to draw, do puzzles, and be exposed to drama, puppetry, music and movement. There will be no textbooks, learning will be all play and experimental, in school premises with clean toilets, spacious rooms, IT-enabled gadgets, enough playthings and a cheerful environment. From Grades 1 to 5, he will have dedicated reading and mathematics hours because by fifth standard he will have to acquire fundamental literacy and numeracy. If Rohan has any ‘singular interest’ and/ or ‘talent’-it could be in mathematics, sports, painting or acting-his teachers will identify it and provide additional guidance and encouragement.

Grade 6 onward, Rohan will not have to worry about curricular or extra-curricular activity as all subjects-from mathematics to music to sports to painting-will be part of the curriculum. He will opt for the subjects he is interested in. Of course, there will be some compulsory common subjects. At this stage, he will also be introduced to some vocational training so that he can decide which vocational subject to take up once he reaches Grade 9. Meanwhile, information technology tools will regularly assess and record his learning curve to make a customised plan for him. There will be tests at the end of Grades 3, 5 and 8 to measure his critical thinking ability as well as language and mathematical skills.

From Grade 9, Rohan will take online board examinations for three subjects in six-monthly semesters. The exam will be designed to test his understanding of core concepts, not his memorising skills. He can take board examinations twice a year, maybe more often.

Once Rohan completes Grade 12, he can join any college or university close to home, as quality higher education institutes will be set up in every district of the country. They will offer either a regular three-year or four-year degree programme, or vocational courses. Alternatively, he can have vocational training integrated into his degree course. It won’t be like the 2020s when you had to choose a stream-all degrees will be multidisciplinary, allowing him to study, for instance, physics along with history. If Rohan wishes to join a professional course, he will be able to go to any university, as they will all be multidisciplinary. So while studying for an engineering or medical degree, Rohan can also take up social sciences and figure out how his degree can positively impact his local and global environment.

In the final year of his degree course, Rohan can opt for research, or do a year of research after completing his three-year degree course. He will then be eligible to enrol in a PhD programme without having to study for a master’s degree first, though he can also opt for a doctorate after a master’s degree. He, or his institute, won’t need to worry about funds for his research as there will be a National Research Foundation to handhold his project if it is geared towards solving local, national or global issues. And if Rohan does not want to remain so long in academics, he will have multiple exit options during his four-year liberal education degree that will equip him for the 21st century knowledge economy.

This is just a preliminary glimpse into how the NEP seeks to radically overhaul the country’s education system by 2035. The 484-page document outlines an elaborate plan that includes pre-school, school, higher, vocational and adult education as well as teacher training and regulation, and suggests some path-breaking reforms such as strengthening early childhood learning programmes in schools, focusing on teacher training programmes, adding vocational courses to school curriculums, boosting research funding in higher education and restructuring and creating apex regulatory bodies for qualitative changes in higher education.

“The NEP has made some bold and welcome recommendations to shift the focus to improving student learning outcomes. If we were to get this one thing right-ensuring all children achieve foundational literacy and numeracy skills-this in itself would have a tremendous impact on the education system,” says Ashish Dhawan, founder and chairman, Central Square Foundation, a non-profit working in the school education sector.

Technology to the fore Students at a classroomin Anganwadi Kendra, Jaipur


The most radical suggestion in NEP 2019 is including pre-school education in the formal education structure. The NEP makes a case for scientific pre-school education citing neuroscience research, which shows that 85 per cent of a child’s brain development takes place prior to age 6. It also refers to a 1992 National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) study on 30,000 children that showed a direct correlation between exposure to pre-school education and retention and attendance rates and, most significantly, learning outcomes in primary school and above.

Pre-school education has an impact even on the economic development of individuals and countries. JNU economics professor Santosh Mehrotra cites research that shows how the lifetime earnings of people who have had an excellent childhood education are much higher than those who were deprived of it. For every rupee invested in pre-school education, the country will get a return of Rs 10, the NEP estimates. Simultaneously, research also indicates that children below 8 are not ready for textbook learning, which means a large proportion of our children are not receiving the education they need. Currently, most early childhood education is delivered through anganwadis and private pre-schools. The anganwadis, run under the aegis of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), have delivered in terms of healthcare for mothers and infants but have faltered in the education part. Private pre-schools provide better infrastructure, but the curriculum and instruction methods are not what early childhood education requires.

It’s not surprising that a 2017 study by Ambedkar University found that a significant proportion of children in India who completed pre-primary education, public or private, did not have the competencies to join primary school. A 2018 Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) survey found that only 50 per cent students in Class V could read texts meant for Class II. Consequently, the gross enrolment ratio drops from 95 per cent for Grades 1-5 to 79 per cent for Grades 9-10.

This is the reason why the NEP’s highest priority is to achieve universal foundational literacy and numeracy in primary school and beyond by 2025. ‘The rest of the policy will be largely irrelevant for such a large portion of our students if this most basic learning-reading, writing and arithmetic at the foundational level-is not first achieved,’ reads the NEP draft. They will also have to ensure that all students aged between 3 and 18 are brought within the ambit of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (Amendment) 2019. The NEP recommends that a 5+3+3+4 curricular and pedagogical structure based on the cognitive and socio-emotional developmental stages of children replace the current 10+2 model. It wants the three years of pre-school (ages 3-6) to be clubbed with Grades 1 and 2 (up to age 8) and made into a single pedagogical unit called the ‘Foundational Stage’. Grades 3-5 (ages 8-11) will be called the Preparatory Stage, followed by a Middle Stage of Grades 6-8 (ages 11-14), and finally a Secondary Stage of Grades 9-12 (ages 14-18).

Arguing that children under age 8 learn languages most quickly and learning languages is an extremely important aspect of a child’s cognitive development, the NEP recommends that multiple languages-three at least-be taught at this stage. Educationists disagree. “This is not educationally sound,” says Maya Menon, founder of the Bengaluru-based teacher training organisation, The Teacher Foundation. “Children need to gain proficiency in their home language/ mother tongue, especially with regard to the language skills of reading and writing before they can be ready to formally study another language.”

Carrying forward the landmark 1993 Yashpal Committee report, ‘Learning without Burden’, the NEP seeks to reduce the content and textbook load on students and discourage rote learning. The curriculum framework will, therefore, shift focus from textbook learning to hands-on, experiential and analytical learning. All subjects, including arts, music, crafts, sports, yoga and community service, will be curricular. The curriculum will promote multilingualism, ancient Indian knowledge systems, a scientific temper, ethical reasoning, social responsibility, digital literacy and knowledge of critical issues facing local communities.

Board examinations will no more be life-defining and high-stress exercises. Between Grades 8 and 12, students will be allowed to take board examinations twice a year. Later, when computerised adaptive testing becomes widely available, multiple attempts will be allowed, in at least 24 subjects or, on average, three a semester. The examination will test only core capacities, basic learning, skills and analysis. ‘Students should be able to pass comfortably without coaching and cramming,’ the NEP advocates.

Another concept, drawn from the 1964 Kothari Commission report, is to build school complexes. Government schools will be reorganised into organisational and administrative units called school complexes, which will have one secondary school (covering Grades 9-12) and all other schools in its neighbourhood that offer education from pre-primary to Grade 8. The school complex will have the autonomy to manage the academic and administrative affairs of all schools under it and will function as the lowest rung of school education governance in a state. All schools within the complex will be able to share a common pool of teachers, to compensate for schools with less teaching resources.

However, Rukmini Banerji, CEO of Pratham, feels that the NEP doesn’t offer clear guidelines on school education after the primary stage. “From the upper primary stage onwards, key elements have been listed but more work needs to be done in knitting these elements together in a cohesive and comprehensive framework.” Adds Kiran Bhatty, senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi: “The NEP sets many lofty goals but is silent on capacity-building at the grassroots level starting with school complexes.”


Despite these structural and curricular changes, the NEP acknowledges that teachers will be the pivot around which this learning revolution can be built. Former NCERT director J.S. Rajput is confident of the success of the policy once teachers are empowered. “Give education and educators their due. Trust the teachers, prepare them professionally and support them in performing their tasks. This will be the first step towards implementing the policy,” he says.

The NEP lays down that all teachers in future earn a mandatory four-year liberal integrated bachelor’s degree in education before they sit for a recruitment test such as the Teacher Eligibility Test (TET). Thousands of substandard standalone teacher education institutions across the country will be shut down and only multidisciplinary higher educational institutions would offer BEd degrees.

Menon, however, deems this inadequate, underlining instead the need to examine flexible modes and alternative routes to acquiring qualified teacher status, especially for mid-career professionals who want to join the teaching force. “A reimagined teacher education policy needs to be far more liberal, without dilution of quality. While university-based multidisciplinary colleges of teacher education could be one avenue, what happens to the District Institutes for Education and Training (DIET)?” she asks.

The policy also aims at providing a better working environment for teachers. They will, for instance, be spared non-teaching government work such as electioneering, cooking of midday meals and other strenuous administrative tasks. Teachers doing outstanding work will be recognised, promoted and given salary raises; they will be mostly appointed in their home towns; given adequate support in terms of working environment, resource material and training; periodic performance appraisal will be done to maintain their accountability. Critics, though, say the policy still leaves a big gap in terms of fixing accountability for teachers. “Teacher absenteeism is a menace. The policy proposes no ground reality-based monitoring mechanism for teachers,” says Mehrotra.


For the higher education sector, the NEP has some lofty goals such as a gross enrolment ratio of 50 per cent by 2035 (up from 25 per cent now), autonomy to all higher education institutes (HEIs) and one quality university in every district of India. To achieve these goals, the NEP harks back to the ancient Indian universities of Takshashila and Nalanda, which had thousands of students from India and abroad studying in vibrant multidisciplinary environments. It proposes that by 2030, all HEIs become one of three types of institutions-research universities, teaching universities and colleges. A university will signify a multidisciplinary HEI offering graduate and postgraduate programmes, with quality teaching, research and services. There will be no one-discipline university; all universities, including professional ones, will be multidisciplinary.

Kasturirangan believes this multidisciplinary approach will prepare Indian students for the job markets of the future. “Consider how much better prepared they will be for a world where jobs can change drastically or disappear altogether because of technological advances such as Artificial Intelligence. AI is increasingly capable of taking over sophisticated domain-specific tasks, so integrating vocational education and providing multidisciplinary exposure is the best way to prepare students to use their full human capacities in such a world,” he says.

It will also be interesting to see if the BJP-led Union government will accept the proposal to introduce a four-year multi-disciplinary bachelor’s degree in liberal education with multiple exit options and appropriate certification. It will be on the lines of what former Delhi University vice-chancellor Dinesh Singh had implemented briefly but was forced to withdraw due to opposition from the then HRD minister Smriti Irani and the Left-leaning faculty members. The NEP, however, allows the three-year traditional undergraduate degrees to continue.

The NEP also recognises how there is no research in most universities and colleges and the lack of transparent, competitive peer-reviewed research funding across disciplines. A National Research Foundation (NRF) will be set up to grant competitive funding to outstanding research proposals. It will also aim to seed, grow and facilitate research at academic institutions where research is currently at a nascent stage. The NRF will be given an annual grant of Rs 20,000 crore. While this move has been widely appreciated, experts have panned the NEP for its “lack of attention” to technical and professional education. “One serious problem the country faces is the growing unemployability of graduates and the absence of proper linkages between education and skills. Though the NEP talks about it, the guidelines are not clear,” says A.K. Sengupta, founder of the advocacy group, Higher Education Forum.

Former Union HRD minister M.M. Pallam Raju, too, rues the absence of features in the NEP that might strengthen academia-industry linkages and recommendations to facilitate the lateral movement of faculty to industry and vice-versa. “Also, the ITIs and polytechnics are the backbone of any industrial nation and recommendations to strengthen these are missing,” he says.

Others, however, feel that by bringing all streams under a single regulator-the National Higher Education Regulatory Authority or NHERA-the NEP has, in fact, facilitated the ease of doing business in expanding professional education. “The world will need 80 million healthcare professionals by 2030. India needs to teach a major chunk of them global standards so that they can be available to the global market. The policy provisions for such training,” says Dr Devi Shetty, chairman and founder of Narayana Health.

Rajwant Rawat


Only five per cent of the Indian workforce in the 19-24 age group has formal vocational education, compared to 52 per cent in the US, 75 per cent in Germany and 96 per cent in South Korea. The NEP seeks to provide vocational education access to at least 50 per cent of all learners by 2025. As a first step, apart from offering separate vocational degrees, vocational education will be integrated into regular curriculums at school, college and university levels. Students will be introduced to practical training in vocational courses as early as in Grade 5. “Earlier attempts to emphasise working with hands and generate interest in acquiring vocational skills, particularly at the secondary stage, did not succeed. It remains a major drawback in our school education,” says Rajput. “The current proposal not to have any hard separation between vocational and academic streams is a refreshing and bold step.”

To strengthen the skill development programmes already promoted by the Narendra Modi government, the curriculum for vocational education will be in sync with the National Skills Qualifications Framework of the ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship. A separate National Committee for the Integration of Vocational Education (NCIVE) will also be set up to review the long-term goals and to work out the steps to achieve them.


For the national supervision of education, the NEP proposes to set up a Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog (RSA), or a national education commission, a long-standing demand of educationists. The RSA will implement the country’s education vision on a continuous and sustained basis. The prime minister will head the RSA and the HRD minister will be his deputy. While 50 per cent of its members will be from the political establishment, the rest will be eminent people from the education sector. States too will have state education commissions headed by the respective chief ministers.

However, the strong political representation in the RSA and the fact that it will be under the prime minister has made many experts doubt its autonomy. “All this points to a more centralised control of education. This has been a deep-seated problem with Indian school education for decades, where the government has traditionally been both regulator and administrator and not an enabler of innovation, quality and standards,” says Menon. “The NEP has suggested so many new structures parallel to existing ones. The committee seems to have learned no lessons from such experiments in the past,” says Bhatty.

The NEP is also getting flak for its vagueness on regulating private sector education and its somewhat naïve assumption that private educational enterprises will be driven by non-profit motives. What has earned praise, however, is the NEP’s proposal to regulate public and private schools on the same criteria and benchmarks. “We can debate the details, but this move is a step in the right direction, especially given that nearly 40 per cent of children are studying in private schools in India,” says Dhawan.


By and large, educationists agree that the NEP has diagnosed the ailments that afflict the Indian education system and offers remedial measures-especially in school education-but the challenge lies in implementation. India has a rich history of policy objectives but these have seldom resulted in significant changes on the ground.

“The toughest challenge in implementation will be the inadequate and ill-prepared people infrastructure,” says Menon. “The biggest investment of time and resources will need to be in capacity-building and getting the support of the people on the ground-district- and block-level officials and teachers-along with rigorous monitoring.”

Aware of the challenges, the NEP admits its success will depend on “careful planning and a well-thought-out implementation strategy, consistent with pragmatism and ground realities”. It identifies corruption as an “important element that distorts governance of education” but offers no concrete mechanism to deal with it.

Raju seeks speedy action from the government on the recommendations. But, as Banerji says, it may be easier said than done, as executing the policy will require synchronised cooperation between the multiple wings of government, other stakeholders and the public at every step. “To successfully implement the objectives of the Foundational Stage, there will need to be a lot of coordination between the women and child development (which is responsible for the anganwadis) and HRD ministries. They have not worked very closely in the past,” says Banerji.

Moreover, public spending on education has never attained the target of 6 per cent of GDP, first envisaged in the 1968 policy, and currently hovers at around 3 per cent of GDP or 10 per cent of public expenditure, as the NEP calculates. The policy expects the costs on education to rise to 20 per cent of public expenditure in the next 10 years. This should be aided by the rapid growth of the Indian economy and the recent boost in the tax-to-GDP ratio. Many policy observers are uncomfortable with the idea of calculating education spend as a percentage of public expenditure rather than as a percentage of GDP. “There is no assurance that higher economic growth or an increased tax-to-GDP ratio will induce higher spending on education, even if these result in higher government spending. Doubling the share of the education budget in the next 10 years is not possible without compromising spending on other sectors. Besides, GDP growth rate is higher than the growth in public expenditure. In absolute terms also, delinking expenditure on education from GDP will result in loss of funds,” says Protiva Kundu of the New Delhi-based think-tank Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability.

Dhawan recommends finding ways to allocate the current budget more efficiently. “Given the financial constraints, the Centre will need to prioritise among the wider policy recommendations,” he says.

Before it sees the light of day, the draft NEP report will see at least two rounds of review. Till June 30, the general public and institutions can send suggestions on the policy; the HRD ministry has so far received nearly 100,000 suggestions. The Union government will start consultations with the states from June 22. Cabinet approval may be sought by end-July. While on paper, the NEP exhibits the potential for fundamental changes in the Indian education system, execution on the ground is what will determine the validity of the exercise. As former school education secretary Anil Swarup puts it, what we need is not a policy so much as a clear-cut and well-defined action plan.

Build the future Mechanical engineering students at Manav Rachna University

How school education will change

Early Childhood Care and Education will become an integral part of school education; three years of pre-school (ages 3-6) will be clubbed with Grade 1 and 2 (till age 8); the Right to Education Act 2009 will be extended to cover children aged 3-18

A 5+3+3+4 curriculum and pedagogical structure based on cognitive and socio-emotional developmental stages of children will replace the current 10+2 model; the first five years will be the foundational stage (ages 3-8), followed by the preparatory stage from Grades 3-5 (ages 8-11), leading to the middle stage, from Grades 6-8 (ages 11-14), ending with the secondary stage from Grades 9-12 (ages 14-18). The focus will be on multilingual and interdisciplinary education

To reduce content load and rote learning, the focus will shift from textbook learning to hands-on, experiential and analytical learning. While there will be essential common subjects for all, no hard separation will be made between curricular and co-curricular or extra-curricular areas. The curriculum will promote multilingualism, ancient Indian knowledge systems, scientific temper, ethical reasoning, social responsibility, digital literacy and knowledge of critical issues local communities face

While the draft recommends continuing with the three-language formula, it has proposed flexibility in the choice of languages, as long as students can show proficiency in any three. Hindi and English are no longer stipulated languages from Grade 6 onward

Board examinations between Grades 9 and 12 will test core capacities, basic learning skills and analysis. Students will be allowed to take board examinations up to twice a year. When computerised adaptive testing becomes widely available, multiple attempts will be allowed. Board examinations will be required in at least 24 subjects (three per semester)

Government schools will be reorganised into units called school complexes, which will consist of one secondary school (Grades 9-12) and all other nearby schools that offer education from pre-primary till Grade 8. All schools in the complex will share the pool of teachers

How higher education will change

By 2030, all higher education institutions will develop into one of three types-research universities, teaching universities and colleges. There will be no single-discipline universities; even professional institutions will have to be multidisciplinary

By 2032, all three types of higher education institutes will be able to grant their own degrees; colleges will no longer be affiliated to universities

Mission Nalanda will ensure that, by 2030, there are at least 100 research and 500 teaching universities equitably distributed across all regions. Mission Takshashila will ensure at least one high-quality higher education institute is established in or close to every district in India

A four-year bachelor’s degree in liberal education with a multidisciplinary approach will be launched; the traditional three-year undergraduate degrees will remain, but will also move toward a liberal education approach. There will be multiple entry and exit options during the course of the degree

Students will be allowed to choose subject combinations across streams, including professional and vocational options-for instance, a student will be able to opt for physics along with history

Admission to all undergraduate programmes at public universities and colleges will be through a computer-based, common modular entrance examination, conducted by the National Testing Agency, held multiple times a year in various languages

A National Research Foundation will be set up to grant funding for outstanding research

Focus on skilling them early

All school students will receive vocational education in at least one vocation during Grades 9 to 12. They will receive exposure to vocations in more than one sector during Grades 6 to 8

All colleges will offer certificate, diploma and degree courses in vocational education; they will also offer vocational courses that are integrated into undergraduate education programmes

A national committee for the integration of vocational education will be set up to ensure that enrolment in these courses increases from 10 per cent to 50 per cent of total enrolment by 2025

The architecture of education regulation

A new apex body, the Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog (RSA), will be responsible for developing, implementing, evaluating and revising the education policy in India. Budgets and their utili­sa­tion by all state agencies related to education will be reviewed by the RSA

The prime minister will be the chairperson of the RSA, with the education minister as its vice-chairperson. 50 per cent of RSA members will be eminent educationists, researchers and leading professionals

The executive director of the RSA will be a person with a reputation in education

Similar to the RSA, a Rajya Shiksha Aayog will be constituted in all states with the chief minister as chairperson and education minister as vice-chairperson

Higher education

The National Higher Education Regulatory Authority will be the sole regulatory authority for such institutes

The regulatory role of more than 17 professional councils will be changed to professional standard-setting bodies

A General Education Council will be constituted to formulate the national higher education qualifications frame-work, outlining learning outcomes required for all certifications

The Higher Education Grants Commission, the new form of the University Grants Council, will be responsible for disbursing grants and fellowships to all institutions

The National Assessment and Accreditation Council will develop a revamped accreditation process

School education

A Directorate of School Education (DSE) will handle educational operations and service provisions for the public schooling system of each state

An independent, statewide regulatory body called the State School Regulatory Authority (SSRA) will be created for each state

The State Council of Educational Research and Training will create a school quality assessment and accreditation framework, which the SSRA will use for the regulation of schools

State governments will create District Education Councils as an intermediary between school complexes and the DSE; school complexes will be semi-autonomous units with the administrative, financial and academic authority to oversee the development of all schools within the complex

Boards of Certification and Examination in each state will handle certification of competencies of students at the school-leaving stage

The NEP’s Timeline

The Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog is established; the Ministry of Human Resource Development is re-designated as Ministry of Education

A Rajya Shiksha Aayog is constituted in each state, as well as a State School Regulatory Authority

A National Higher Education Regulatory Authority (NHERA) is set up; the University Grants Council and other regulatory bodies are converted into Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC) and Professional Standard Setting Bodies (PSSBs). A General Education Council is constituted

Early childhood education is integrated with school education; the RTE Act is extended to cover children between ages 3 and 18

A National Research Foundation (NRF) is established; an autonomous National Educational Technology Forum (NETF) is set up to facilitate reviews of initiatives related to technology in education; a National Repository of Educational Data is also set up

The National Council of Educational Research and Training develops a national curricular framework for all stages of school

State Councils of Educational Research and Training develop state curricular frameworks aligned with the national curriculum framework. A new assessment paradigm is established

A comprehensive plan for the development of infrastructure and delivery of early childhood education in each state is developed by 2022 and fully implemented by 2028

Processes for teacher recruitment/ management change; a school quality ass­essment and accreditation system is formulated

School complexes are formed; certificate examinations of central and state boards redesigned

All academic and non-academic posts in universities and colleges filled

A national higher education qualifications framework outlining the learning outcomes associated with certification is developed

All undergraduate programmes, including professional and vocational ones, redesigned to offer liberal education programmes with specialisation through a multidisciplinary approach

The complete rollout of four-year BEd courses, available only in multidisciplinary institutes, overhauls teachers’ education entirely

At least one high-quality higher education institute is set up in each district

All accredited colleges and universities have complete administrative, academic and financial autonomy

NAAC builds a comprehensive accreditation system

A significant number of high quality higher education institutes are distributed equitably across the country, with special emphasis on disadvantaged districts, to achieve an enrolment rate of 50 per cent.