Dhanada K Mishra
he biggest concern that experts have flagged about the new National Education Policy is the challenges of implementation, going by our record on such matters particularly in crucial areas of health and education. In 2009, the state government had formed the Higher Education Taskforce under the chairmanship of eminent academician Prof Trilochan Pradhan to come up with a roadmap for development of the sector. This came on the heels of the Knowledge Commission report by Dr. Sam Pitroda.
Now, the central government has released the final draft of the NEP-2020. Interestingly, the roadmap developed by Odisha State Higher Education Task Force covered a period up to 2022 and it may be pertinent to review how far the state government has implemented it and how the same can be further adapted in line with recommendations of NEP to make Odisha an early adaptor and maximise the benefits from it.
The NEP-2020 is ambitious in its scope as it has its vision set on making India a world leader as a knowledge society or a global knowledge super power by 2040. The policy sets out rather ambitious intermediate milestones such as ensuring foundational numeracy and literacy skills in primary schools by 2025, cent per gross enrolment ratio (GER) up to 12th Class by 2030, and increasing GER in higher education from current 26 per cent to 50 per cent by 2035. Appropriately, the policy calls for increasing expenditure on education to 6 per cent of GDP. Unfortunately, it has remained at about the same 4.43 per cent of the GDP which makes India the 62nd in the world in terms of expenses per capita in public education.
In the meantime, 50 per cent of school-going children are in private schools and 66.4 per cent of college students are in private institutions. With the world going through rapid change driven by technology, the education system here was in need of a major revamp. The UPA government through the Yashpal Committee and the Sam Pitroda-led Knowledge Commission did manage to introduce important legislation like the Right to Education Act in 2009. The reports of these two committees were also quite ambitious, but unfortunately, many good proposals like the four-year college degree programmes, National Innovation University proposal, and opening up for foreign universities became contentious and were left aside. Notably, two of the same proposals figured in NEP-2009.
Out of the 16 major recommendations of Odisha Higher Education Task Force, several have been implemented by the state. Those like integration of +2 in school, setting up of Higher Education Regulation Authority, creation of Odisha State Open University, establishment of several unitary universities, upgrading former prominent autonomous colleges such as Ramadevi University, Khallikote University and VSSUT have been implemented. However, many other recommendations such as filling up all vacant posts, establishment of research centres, setting up of education development fund for infrastructure are yet to be attended to.
The NEP-2020 provides a new opportunity for Odisha to take the lead and implement many of the ideas proposed in it. For example, following the recommendation of the NEP which calls for large multi-disciplinary universities, many of Odisha’s universities can be merged with locally situated other institutions. As proposed in the HE Task Force report, Utkal University may start a medical college by using the Capital Hospital. A similar exercise can be undertaken by merging the Bhubanananda Engineering School with Ravenshaw University and upgrading it into a full-fledged engineering college. The proposal for allowing foreign universities to set up campuses in India offers an opportunity for Odisha too. It may invite reputed charitable organisations with incentives such as land to set up campuses in underdeveloped regions of the state.
In line with the recommendation of increasing funding for education, the state may start planning to re-allocate increased resources. However, the recommendations that do not require much additional funds may be taken up on priority.
Odisha must be a forerunner in adopting the new education policy and bring our education system in line with the proposals in NEP. The state must form the Rajya Shikhya Aayog, comprising the best minds available to update the state education policy taking into account the draft policy recommended by Dr. Trilochan Pradhan Committee.
The writer is a former member of the Odisha Higher Education Task Force.