The University Education Commission was appointed in November 1948 under the chairmanship of Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan. The Commission examined university education in India and suggested improvements to shape the system. It identified the aims of university education to include maintaining a high standard in professional and vocational education, preserve and develop the culture and civilization of the land, provide leadership in politics, administration, education, industry and commerce, among others.
The Indian Education Commission, popularly known as the Kothari Commission, examined in greater detail all aspects of the education sector in India from 1964 to 1966. Based on the recommendations of the Commission, the first National Policy on Education (NPE) was announced by Indira Gandhi in 1968, which dealt with training and quality of teachers for schools; stress on moral education and inculcation of a sense of social responsibility; equalisation of educational opportunity for all sections of society; introduction of work experience, manual work and social service as integral part of general education and science education and research. The policy envisaged to shape education in a manner where focus was put on learning of regional languages—a three language formula was implemented in secondary education, where learning would take place in English, the official language of a state where the school was located and Hindi. The 1968 Policy resolved to increase the investment in education so as to reach a level of expenditure of 6 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). Interestingly, in 2017 it stood at 2.7 per cent of India’s GDP—a far cry from the target of 6 per cent five decades ago (MHRD, 2018).
Following this, the 1986 National Policy on Education placed a special emphasis on the removal of disparities and sought equalisation of educational opportunity for specific disadvantaged groups. Removal of illiteracy among women, education of Scheduled Castes and Tribes, minorities, the disabled and handicapped through non-formal and adult education programmes were suggested. To provide for an egalitarian system and unrestricted access to education, the policy focused on scholarships, adult education and incentives for poor families to send their children to school. ‘Operation Blackboard’, a centrally sponsored programme was initiated with a view to supply teachers and students studying in primary schools necessary institutional equipment and instructional material to facilitate their education. It also envisaged a common educational structure and a national curricular framework with a common core. The common core was included with other components that were flexible and oriented towards employment specific requirements. History of India’s freedom movement, constitutional obligations and other components essential to nurture identity constituted the common core.
1986 NPE was modified in 1992 following recommendations made by the Committee under the chairmanship of Acharya Ramamurti (1990) and the Reddy Committee (1991) formed at the request of the Central Board of Education. The revised policy of 1992, known as the programme of action, stated that the aim of education is to keep intact the values of secularism, socialism and democracy enshrined in the constitution, promote a scientific temper and independence of mind and spirit.
The TSR Subramanian Committee was constituted in 2015 to provide recommendations for the formulation of the policy. In May 2016, the Committee submitted its report to the government suggesting the institution of an Indian Education Service (IES), raising the outlay on education to a minimum of 6 per cent of GDP, compulsory licensing or certification for teachers in government and private schools, extending the mid-may meal programme to secondary schools, allowing top 200 foreign universities to open campuses in India and provide students with the same degree that is acceptable in the home countries of the respective universities.
The NPE of 2016 drafted in line with the recommendations made by the Subramanian Committee, is yet to be implemented. Salient features of the 2016 Draft Policy include internationalisation of education, where foreign universities will be encouraged to enter into collaboration with Indian universities institution of a quality assurance mechanism for accreditation of universities offering open learning courses and massive online open courses (MOOCs); development of a framework of school standards with various parameters and indicators to measure school quality and professional competence of teachers and the school management. States and union territories if they desire may impart education in the mother tongue up to the fifth class. Moreover, reorienting skill development programmes in schools and higher education and creation of skill schools for improving employment opportunities for secondary school students in special focus districts were added dimensions.
Critics have pointed out that the 1968 and 1986 policies clearly articulated the social purpose of education which was connected with national goals. These national goals were the creation of a prosperous nation that is democratic in nature and culturally rooted. The 1968 NPE focused on development of human resources, but did not put aside the potential of education in creating a democratic society. The 1986 NPE, on the other hand sought to inculcate a feeling of secularism, develop a scientific temper and foster individual independence. The social purpose is absent in the 2016 draft policy, there is a complete absence of critical thinking and its sole aim is the creation of pliable citizens who are merely a cog in the machinery of the ‘knowledge economy’ (Dhankar, 2016).
Ministry of Human Resources (MHRD), 2018, Economic Survey of 2017-18, Available at: https://bit.ly/2DLqHkN
Dhankar R., 2016, Dumbing down a pliable workforce. The Hindu, August 10.