Monday, 6 December, 2021

National Education Policy: A Comparative Analysis

Kushal Pokharel


National Education Policy (NEP) in Nepal received less appreciation and much criticism. The crux of the criticism lies in the inability to provide a strategic direction to the education sector in the changed political context. Some pertinent questions that remain unanswered are: What is the policy focus of our education? How does the new policy intend to materialise the slogan of educated, civilised, healthy and competent human resources?
At this juncture, a comparative analysis of the process of policy making in India and Nepal clearly indicates that the recently endorsed National Education Policy 2019 by the Government of Nepal has involved inadequate stakeholder consultations failing to provide accommodative space to public suggestions and comments. The question of transparency also surfaced when the report of High-level National Education Commission, a government-formed body mandated to suggest new policy reforms, was not made public by the government. Furthermore, the intent to keep political leadership in policy management by envisaging a higher education council under the chairmanship of the PM has raised suspicion among the education experts as well as the general public.
The endorsement of National Education Policy by India’s Modi government has caught media headlines recently. Winning huge accolades might also be an opportune moment for the BJP government to restore the waning public faith. The new NEP replaces the 34-year-old education policy by incorporating transformative provisions. On the school education, provision of learning in mother tongue or regional language, vocational education and internships from the sixth grade, deemphasising the Board exam among others appear groundbreaking, heralding a new era in the Indian education system. More appreciable is the focus on early childhood care and education even in public schools and attaining the universal foundational literacy and numeracy by Grade 3.
Likewise, the university level education has also been restructured with an emphasis on an interdisciplinary approach to learning. Arrangement of a common university entrance testing system compatible to SAT-- an international renowned standardised test to measure student’s abilities-- has been included as a part of tertiary education reform. What is fascinating in the policy is that the students at undergraduate level have multiple entry and exit options. This is to say that they get certain degree of recognition on a yearly basis on their education instead of an aggregated certificate. Flexible curricula and creative composition of subjects lie at the heart of the university education reform. Equally crucial is the annulment of M.Phil degree as a requirement to enroll in PhD.
The Indian NEP process offers some useful lessons. Four years of intensive deliberation began from May 2016 when a committee for evolution of the new education policy submitted its report to the Human Resource Development Ministry. Based on this, the ministry prepared a document named Some Inputs for Draft NEP. A panel led by Kasturirangan submitted the draft which was made accessible to the public seeking their feedback. Overwhelmed by the government’s gesture, the public poured in their feedbacks which were recorded over an excess of 200,000. Hence, there seems to be no problem of ownership in case of NEP.
In the context of Nepal, even the good provisions in the policy appear vague and ambiguous. For instance, what do you mean by ‘free education’? Does the policy intend to make basic and secondary education free of cost in both private and public schools? In the absence of exact answers, the impressive slogan of free education has not come into full action. In fact, there are a plenty of confusions and debates going around this issue. Instead of strategic action as provisioned in the Indian policy, Nepal’s document is full of tall promises which look attractive only on paper. Neither the policy categorically lays out the new structure of our education from school to university level nor does it consist of immediate and medium run programmes that help in translating the vision of national prosperity. Hence, the slogan of making Nepal an educational hub for specific subjects seems detached from the ground reality.
Having said that, some commonalities in the two policy documents can also be identified. Promotion of learning in mother tongue, technical and vocational education, among others, are the priority areas of the policy though they have been formulated in different socio-economic and political context. More importantly, the value of education in attaining development and prosperity has been embraced.
The Indian case is indicative of the significance of intensive deliberations and multi-layer engagements in formulating commonly acceptable policy. Divorcing education from political manipulation will produce a better policy document reflecting the voices of the various groups of people, including professionals.

(Pokharel is a Social Science and Research faculty and an independent researcher.)