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When the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) was launched in 2016 under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, our greatest challenge then was reaching the last woman standing in the queue in remotest recesses of the country with LPG cylinders.

With a dedicated workforce and tremendous political will, the success of PMUY and the significant impact it had on lives of the most vulnerable has given me confidence that we will be able to undertake the challenging task of implementing the new National Education Policy 2020 that envisages sweeping changes in the sector making our students more equipped to face the challenges of 21st century knowledge economy.

India is one of the youngest countries with more than 50 percent population below 30 years. The benefit of a potential demographic dividend is obvious. But this potential will not remain with us forever. And nor is the translation to a dividend an automatic process. It needs concerted efforts and policy interventions. In fact, some experts suggest that India would be an aging society by 2050, with nearly 20 percent population above 60 years.

Assuming this is true, a simple calculation indicates that we have about a little more than two decades to tap fully into the potential of the youth, or what Prime Minister Modi refers to as the Amrit Kaal, the 25-years leading up to the 100 years of independence. Hence, we cannot have an incremental approach but an overhauling of the system to cater to the needs and aspirations of various categories of our youth.

NEP 2020 is one such transformation in our nation’s journey. In the words of Prime Minister Modi, NEP 2020 will serve as the foundation of an Atma Nirbhar Bharat, a self-reliant India. NEP restructures our education ecosystem at all stages from pre-primary to higher education, also reconfiguring it with a skills and research ecosystem. It stands on the four principles of access, quality, equity and affordability.

NEP aims to enhance the gross enrolment ratio in higher education to 50 percent by 2035 from the current level of 27.1 percent instituting the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI)—a single regulatory body in place of the University Grants Commission (UGC). It will ensure that regulation, accreditation, funding, and academic standard-setting are performed by

independent and empowered bodies. Some of the many progressive recommendations that the NEP makes are experiential learning at all stages, innovative and activity-based pedagogies, multiple entry/exit options in higher education, multidisciplinary education and establishing an academic bank of credit. There is also much emphasis on internationalization of education and study in India programs with corresponding policy reforms to accommodate these sweeping changes.

While NEP stands for an aspirational education system of the 21st century, it also recognizes immediate challenges. It calls for urgently ensuring that every student attain foundational literacy and numeracy by Grade 3. The national mission on foundational literacy and numeracy called NIPUN Bharat has been launched so that every child in the country attains foundational literacy and numeracy in Grade 3 by 2026-27.

It calls for governments at all levels to ensure that the medium of instruction upto at least Grade 5 be in the mother tongue/local language for smoothing the process of learning for children. Our government also focuses on local languages in higher education. This is because the Union government considers all languages as national languages. More than 200 technical books in local languages at the undergraduate level and for diploma courses have recently been launched. Government is consciously trying to promote textbooks including in engineering, medical and legal disciplines in local and official languages. Efforts are being made to make entrance examinations also available in all major languages. At present, engineering and medical entrance exams are conducted in 13 languages to ensure that English doesn’t become a hurdle in access to quality education.

Teachers shape the future of our nation. We need to restore the high respect and status of the profession to inspire and motivate our teachers. Our government is focusing on providing opportunities for self-improvement and continuous professional development. Not only in school education, but the faculty of our colleges and universities shall learn about the latest technologies and innovations and different forms of pedagogies. We are building world-class centers of teacher training across the country. The current budget has also made provisions for digital teachers allocating Rs 6 crores for the purpose.

The last two years have been unprecedented owing to a pandemic running into its third year consequently disrupting social life as well as unexpected geopolitical events. However, the only positive part is that such times give birth to innovations. If we look around, the spirit of our youth to innovate has only increased. There are a number of innovative models that came up during the peak of COVID-19 aftermath in our educational institutes. Based on the principle that global-standard technology is a great equalizer and enabler, the Union budget made provisions for 200 new TV channels for education dissemination, allocating about Rs 930 crores in five years.

The world is at the cusp of a fourth industrial revolution. While we may have missed the first two and tried catching up with the third, we need to ensure that we are leading in the fourth one. Emergent technologies like AI, robotics and automation throw up ample opportunities as well as challenges, also because scores of traditional jobs may fade away.

But it will also bring roles more adapted to a new division of labour between humans, machines, and algorithms. Hence, the window of opportunity to reskill and upskill workers has become shorter, and one must act in the here and now, also ensuring that such initiatives are made at scale to train the vast chunk of the youth.

The 21st century is a century of knowledge. India is one of the oldest civilizations and a knowledge society has a natural advantage to become a ‘captain’ in navigating emerging economies towards a prosperous future. I believe after the Constitution, the NEP 2020 is one document which has been shaped after multiple levels of deliberations, discussions, and participatory dialogues across the country. Similar to the Constitution, the NEP 2020 will lead us out of decades of dilemma and doubt and inculcate a deep-rooted pride in being Indian in thought, spirit, intellect, and deeds. It integrates students, teachers, parents and society for holistic development and achieving their full human potential.

Our youth aspires for work as not just job-seekers but job-creators as well. If we can provide them quality knowledge and skills of today, we will be able to bring India as a Vishwa Guru our freedom fighters dreamt of. The NEP 2020 is designed to do just that. This will be our contribution to nation-building as we mark 75 years of our independence.

About the author:
Dharmendra Pradhan

Dharmendra Pradhan Dharmendra Pradhan, is Union Minister of Education and Skill Development and Entrepreneurship. He holds a postgraduate degree in anthropology and was elected to parliament in 14TH Lok Sabha. He now, represents Madhya Pradesh in the upper house of parliament – Rajya Sabha.

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