Over the last 75 years, India’s education system has seen a momentous upturn, not just in terms of policy formation and implementation of various schemes, but also in terms of pedagogy, vocational training and modernization of the education sector.
India’s literacy rate was abysmally low at 19.3% in 1951, but with the new policies and schemes in place, the literacy rate touched 65.4% in 2001 and 74.04% in 2011. The enrolment ratio of children in the age group of 6-11 was 43% in 1951; however, in 2001 India saw 100% enrolment, driven mainly by the various Government schemes and campaigns.
The Kothari Commission (1964-66) was the first attempt by the Central Government to create a uniform and forward-looking vision for the Indian education system. It brought together 20 education sector experts for their suggestions on the future of the Indian education system.
The National Education Policy (NEP) of 1968 was set up as per the Commission’s recommendations. The policy was an important initiative in the Indian education sector as it put forward a ‘National School System’ which encouraged access to education irrespective of students’ caste and sex. It supported a common education structure (10+2+3) and encouraged teaching of regional languages in secondary schools.
The NEP of 1986 (updated in 1992) had a long-lasting impact on the sector as it focussed on teacher’s education, early childhood care, adult literacy and women empowerment. Additionally, it focussed on the modernisation of education and introduced information technology to the education sector. Several Government schemes, such as the Mid-Day Meal scheme, were introduced under the policy. The schemes and programmes created a quality education system, with a special focus on marginalized students.
The right to quality education is one of the basic rights, as an educated demography acts as a great leveller and is the best tool for achieving economic growth that is inclusive and sustainable. The Constitution (Eighty-sixth Amendment) Act, 2002 inserted Article 21-A in the Constitution with an aim to provide free and compulsory education to children in the age group of 6-14 years as a Fundamental Right.
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, which signified the consequential legislation envisaged under Article 21-A, denoted that ‘every child has a right to full time elementary education of satisfactory and equitable quality in a formal school which satisfies certain essential norms and standards.’
The New Education Policy of 2020 has brought in a range of changes in the sector. Instead of the earlier structure of 10+2+3, the new policy has suggested the 5+3+3+4 structure. It has brought early childhood education under the scope of formal schooling and suggested that students should be taught in regional language/mother tongue till class 5. The policy aims to universalize education from pre-school to secondary level with 100% Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) and bring in more than 20 million students into the mainstream. Through the policy, the Government aims to make India a ‘global knowledge superpower’.
As India completes 75 years of Independence and lays the roadmap to a new India@100, it’s important to look at education as one of the imperatives, as it will play a key role in nation building and lead the country towards a better and a brighter future.