Education policy has been essential to the shaping of India’s development trajectory and economy since its Independence. Originally passed in 1968, the National Education Policy aimed to inform Indian education’s ethos, increase employment for the youth and boost economic development. However, since the 1970s, multiple factors, like severe corruption in the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the inefficiency of the Human Resource Development Ministry (HRD) resulted in poor implementation of the policy. This ultimately led to a revision of the policy in 1968, and the famous 10+2 school education structure was introduced.
The new revision in 2020 proposes to change the 10+2 primary education system to a 5+3+3+4 structure. It stipulates 5 years of “foundational” education followed by 3 years of “preparatory” education, 3 years of “middle” school and 4 years of “secondary” education. The policy also suggests “re-energising” the higher education system with multiple exit points and guaranteed degrees at each of those exit points (section 11.9). For instance, a student can exit college education after completing the first year with a certificate. Likewise, a second-year student will get a diploma and a third-year student will graduate with a Bachelor’s degree.
However, these multiple exit points with a guaranteed certificate overlook many crucial socio-economic problems in the country, which include gender and caste inequalities. This strategy might result in decreasing already low rates of female enrolment in higher education. As a result, reducing female participation in the labour force and increasing unemployment rates. Additionally, the government would also have to ensure employment opportunities for students who have dropped out and have not developed their skills completely. If this step is not done, there is a danger of the unemployment rate decreasing.
The policy also plans to increase “access, equity and inclusion through a range of measures including greater opportunities for outstanding public education; scholarships by private/philanthropic universities for disadvantaged and underprivileged students” (section 9.3). Such aims hint at redistribution of funding to public universities, which attract students from various socio-economic backgrounds. The funding cuts at public universities imply a lack of resources like invested teaching staff and internships to empower an entire generation of underprivileged youth. Consequently, they will be unable to access career development training programs and stimulating education. These factors negatively impact their overall development and employment opportunities. Hence, poor implementation of the NEP will result in further disturbance of the already disparate state of unemployment amongst the youth. In this essay, I will outline two ways through which the NEP might actually decrease employment opportunities in India. Eventually, presenting a grim future for the Indian youth as opposed to the grand illusion the policy attempts to build.
Firstly, the inclusion of the multiple exit point structure risks lower skill development, resulting in lower employment opportunities in an economy that already has a high unemployment rate. According to an independent think tank, Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy Pvt Ltd (CMIE), the unemployment rate in December 2020 was 7.08%. It has been increasing steadily since then and reached 8.03% in December 2022. Economists, Malayaranjan Sahoo et al. posit that the increasing unemployment can be attributed to the lack of jobs and that employment opportunities must be created “urgently” to prevent an economic collapse.
However, the intrinsic link between available employment opportunities and educational qualifications cannot be ignored. Sanat Kaul, in a 2016 paper titled, Higher Education in India: Seizing the Opportunity, states that as India moves towards a knowledge-based economy, it is imperative for Indian education policy to also reinvent itself at the same pace. Specifically, they urge to incorporate a skill-based, hands-on education pedagogy as opposed to the traditional rote learning method. A more recent report, the World Development Report 2019: The Changing Nature of Work, indicates that employment in the future will shift towards two things— 1) automation and technology creating jobs and 2) the informal nature of work, meaning no stable 9-5 work protocols.
Responding to these futuristic claims and anxieties, the NEP proposes modifications that stress creativity and multi-disciplinary thinking. The multiple exit structure with incentives implies that students can choose to leave this renewed teaching and learning pedagogy. This, in turn, cuts short their training in critical thinking, which is crucial to India’s transition as a knowledge economy (WDR 2019 report). This poses a dual problem.
One, institutions, in order to ensure “quality” education, will have to create an equally “enriching” and “challenging” curriculum for students who would like to exit in one or two years or continue for four years. The second and more important is its implications for the Indian economy. It would need to offer jobs to students with a four-year college degree and its equivalent skill set and a second-year college graduate with comparatively limited skills. This is a big ask from an already injured economy. It cannot promise increased employment and a transformative education pedagogy.
Secondly, redistribution of funding within the public education space through increased inclusion of private players suggests decreasing capital for many government scholarships for minority and backward classes. Some of these public scholarships include Post-Matric Scholarship (PMS) for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/STs). This decision has serious consequences in defining the youth demographic in public higher education institutions. If implemented, a whole section of society that has already suffered centuries of caste hegemony and been denied access to education will again be plunged into oppression.
Similarly, researchers Jha and Parvati fear that this decision for redistribution and inclusion of private and philanthropic actors might dissolve “safeguards, leaving the students at the mercy of profiteers”. Aithal et al. argue that 20% fee-ship in private universities will lead to the “mobilisation” of “highly intelligent, hardworking and self-motivated youth” to “overcrowded private universities”. Ultimately, this will result in a reduction in the admission rate in public universities. Deepanshu Mohan, an economist, notes that if the government's reliance on private players to make education equitable continues, it will increase the “elitism in its distributional system” leading to “structural equity concerns”.
Mohan and Bhattacharjee, in another study, also discuss the relationship between per capita income and the youth’s choice to study at a public or private university. Citing the National Sample Survey 71st Report from 2014, they argue that youth in higher-income states with investment in private higher educational institutions like Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra enrol in private education institutions. However, youth from lower-income states with low investment in higher education institutes are “largely dependent on public institutions”. Therefore, in addition to destroying existing “safeguards” for underprivileged youth, NEP also pushes further the aspiration of a more egalitarian society.
Although analysing data from nearly a decade ago might not be entirely reliable, the trend still continues to be the same. Given that the government only invests a minuscule proportion of the budget in education, radical transformation within a decade is not possible. Yet, this data demonstrates the extent to which fragile socio-economic conditions of society affect educational opportunities. The fact that the NEP adopts a simplistic view of a deeply rooted sociological problem further dilutes the big promises of employment and equality that it preaches.
Without addressing and taking accountability for wealth inequalities, inherent social hierarchies and unequal footing, NEP cannot truly make a difference in changing employability for Indian youth. It can be argued that the increased number of private universities can guarantee employment to graduates from underprivileged backgrounds. Ultimately, it blurs the lines of privilege. However, that number is extremely low (only 20%). It cannot ensure equal access to education or employment. Therefore, the effect of redistributing wealth outweighs the 20% fee-ship in private universities resulting in increased unemployability.
Education forms the foundation for our nation's development and the well-being of its people. Therefore, it is imperative to reinvent the education policy. The NEP can bolster the economic growth rate at best. However, ambiguous policies like the NEP which fail to address structural problems informing education - caste, region, language, gender and so on, only disillusion the youth about their own constitutional rights and future.
Aithal, P. S., and Shubhrajyotsna Aithal. ‘Analysis of the Indian National Education Policy 2020 towards Achieving Its Objectives’. SSRN Electronic Journal, 2020. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3676074.
Anand, Kusha, and Marie Lall. ‘Education Policy and Politics in India and in Delhi’. Delhi’s Education Revolution: Teachers, Agency and Inclusion., UCL Press, 2022, pp. 24–55.
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Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers Association (JNUTA). ‘A Critical Assessment of the Draft National Education Policy, 2019’. Social Scientist, vol. 47, no. 10, 2019, pp. 27–50.
Jha, Praveen, and Pooja Parvati. ‘National Education Policy, 2020. Long on Rhetoric and Short on Substance’. Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 55, no. 34, Aug. 2020, pp. 14–17.
Kaul, Sanat. ‘Higher Education in India: Seizing the Opportunity’. Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, 2006.
Mehta, Pratap Bhanu. ‘Text of Education Policy Artfully Navigates Several Thickets. Fears about Document Come from Context’. Indian Express, 1 Aug. 2020, https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/new-education-policy-nep-india-6533163/.
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Mohan, Deepanshu. ‘Foreign Universities Regulations Reflect Modi Government’s Indifference To Higher Education’. The Wire, 14 Feb. 2023, https://thewire.in/education/foreign-universities-india-govt-indifference.
Mohan, Deepanshu, and Ayona Bhattacharjee. ‘Improving India’s Higher Education Landscape’. South Asian Voices, 1 Sept. 2017, https://southasianvoices.org/improving-indias-higher-education-landscape/.
Sahoo, Malayaranjan, and Jayantee Sahoo. ‘The Relationship between Unemployment and Some Macroeconomic Variables: Empirical Evidence from India’. Theoretical and Applied Economics, vol. 26, no. 1(618), 2019, pp. 115–28.
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