The draft NEP envisages a roadmap for improving the fundamentals of undergraduate education. But will the final policy keep to such a holistic approach?
The draft National Higher Education Policy (NEP 2019) report submitted by the Kasturirangan Committee covers almost all aspects of an over-arching national education policy. There can be no gainsaying that education helps promote sustainable livelihoods, economic development and plays a catalytic role in improving the overall well-being of humans. It also helps develop a just, socially conscious, cultured and humane society — one that ensures liberty, equality, fraternity and justice for all.
As India moves towards becoming a “true knowledge society” and with the onset of the fourth industrial revolution, more and more young Indians are aspiring for higher education. With regard to the requirements of the 21st century, the aim of a “quality university” or college education must be to develop good, well-rounded and creative individuals. It must enable an individual to specialise in one or more specific areas of interest at a deeper level, while at the same time help build character, ethical and Constitutional values, intellectual curiosity, spirit of service and 21st century capabilities across a range of disciplines, including social sciences, arts, humanities as well as professional, technical and vocational crafts.
To attain these goals, higher education must provide the students with broad-based multi-disciplinary education, while also developing specialised knowledge with true disciplinary rigour. Instead of mechanistic rote learning — a scourge for students — colleges and universities must encourage active learners to develop abilities of independent, logical and scientific thinking, creativity and problem solving, and decision-making.
The 10+2+3 structure in the extant NPE 1986/1992 is in for a change in the Draft NEP 2019, which proposes a 5+3+3+4 structure at the school level and a four-year flexible undergraduate programme. The lofty objective espoused in the draft NEP, 2019 is to move towards a more imaginative and broad-based liberal education system as a foundation for holistic development of all students, with rigorous specialisation in chosen disciplines and fields.
Accordingly, it proposes that all undergraduate programmes be characterised by a liberal education approach as the foundation for holistic development, through imaginative and flexible curricular structures, creative combinations of disciplines of study and multiple exit and entry points within integrated programmes, offering rigorous specialisation in chosen disciplines and fields.
Liberal education with broad multi-disciplinary exposure, intended to develop Constitutional values, will be the basis of higher education. This will help develop important life capacities, rigorous disciplinary understanding and an ethic for social-moral engagement. This will be the approach at the undergraduate level across all disciplines, programmes and fields, including professional and vocational fields. The Centre will set up, if the recommendation is accepted, 10 Indian Institutes of Liberal Arts/Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities on the model and standards of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs).
Imaginative and flexible curricular structures will enable creative combinations of disciplines of study and offer multiple useful exit and entry points for students, thus demolishing the current prevalent rigid boundaries. Thus, it will create possibilities for life-long learning. Graduate (master’s and doctoral) level education will provide rigorous research-based specialisation.
A liberal education approach will be the basis for undergraduate education in all fields/disciplines, including professional education. The notion of “streaming”, where science, arts and vocational students are separated, based on their academic performance, majors, interests, or any other such criteria, will come to an end.
The existing undergraduate programmes will be re-structured to a four-year Bachelor of Liberal Arts (BLA) or Bachelor of Liberal Education (BLE) degree (or BLA / BLE with Research) and can be offered by those institutions, which are currently ready to run such programmes. However, since the existing higher education institutions are not ready both in infrastructural and academic terms, the draft NPE has proposed that the traditional/existing three-year traditional BA, BSc as well as BVoc degrees will continue for those institutions who wish to go ahead with them.
Over a period of time, it is expected that all bachelor’s degrees will move towards a more comprehensive, liberal educational approach. The undergraduate programmes shall be interdisciplinary with the curricula designed to develop broadly useful capacities and important dispositions, while offering rigorous education in specialisations.
To enable this transformation in undergraduate education, the curriculum will have two parts: First, a common core curriculum for all students to develop broad capacities and important dispositions. This will include critical thinking; communication skills; aesthetic sensibilities; scientific temper and scientific method; and an understanding of the Indian context and challenges along with Constitutional values and their practice, social, moral and ethical reasoning; an adequate exposure to multiple disciplines/fields, including arts, humanities, sports and science related to society and environment. The second, one or two area(s) of specialisation.
The four-year programme will provide for greater rigour in a full Liberal Arts Science Education (LASE) education and experience and also conduct research optionally. Students will graduate with a four-year LASE degree with honours, or may graduate with a BSc, BA, BCom or BVoc after completing three years with a suitable subject credit. Students will graduate in an appropriate vocational subject after completing two years with a diploma or a certificate after completing one year.
In view of the change of structure at undergraduate levels, the post-graduate structure will also undergo changes. Accordingly, there will be three options to pursue a masters programme: First, will be two-year masters for those completing three years degree; second one-year masters for those completing four-year degree and the third, a five-year integrated masters programme. Eligibility for PhD shall be based on either a master’s degree or a four-year undergraduate degree with research. Another significant departure is that the draft NEP 2019 proposes that all professional education, including technical education and single-field institutions, will develop into full-fledged liberal education programmes.
A National Higher Education Qualifications Framework (NHEQF) will be formulated by a new body called the General Education Council (GEC) to outline learning outcomes associated with degree/diploma/certification for curricula across all disciplines and fields, which do not have individual Professional Standard Setting Bodies (PSSBs). In vocational subjects, National Skills Qualifications Framework (NSQF) and the NHEQF shall be aligned for equivalence and mobility. The NHEQF shall permit flexibility — a system of credit transfer shall be put in place, making student mobility possible in many ways: Changes across streams of study (for example, from arts to science or from vocational to science), choice across combinations of areas of study (for example, music and chemistry), flexible entry into and exit from programmes and transfers across institutions and programmes.
Finally, awarding of specific degrees, diplomas and certificates will require specific combinations and number of courses to be completed successfully, which will be appropriately detailed within the NHEQF by each institution. Such a radical transformation of the undergraduate education is expected to break the current stratification of qualifications as that of preferred programmes, such as one witnessing in engineering and medicine, giving a secondary status to other programmes of study. This will break the shackles of hard silos among disciplines and pave way for students to experience varied flavours of multiple knowledge domains. Let’s wait and watch whether the final policy retains such a holistic and liberal focus or gets soaked in by the popular colour of the day.
(The writer is a former Additional Secretary, Lok Sabha and an author)
Writer: Devender Singh
Courtesy: The Pioneer