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A Year Of Hope For Education

With schools reopening, NEP 2020 finally being embraced and major restructuring within the edtech space, will 2023 prove to be the year of recovery?

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The pandemic that gripped the world in 2020 put the education sector in India on a rollercoaster ride. The new education policy was launched after a 34-year wait, only to be stymied by the sudden shutdown of schools. Schools, colleges and higher learning institutes (HEI) bounced back quickly however, using technology for remote learning strategies.

The unprecedented crisis also allowed decision-makers to step back and re-evaluate the role education should play and the impact it should create. The large-scale acceptance of technology in classrooms and online courses, along with the urgency for skilling, actually transformed the education sector. As institutions reopen, 2023 will usher in a new normal – and one that is here to stay.

*National Education Policy 2020

After nearly two years of debate and discussion, there finally seems to be a plan to begin the proper implementation of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. In May 2022, Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a meeting to review the implementation process and to elicit detailed plans from education leaders for achieving the goals set out in the policy.

In the wake of this meeting, in August 2022, B. C. Nagesh, Primary and Secondary Education Minister of the state governement of Karnataka announced its decision to implement the NEP 2020 policy from the 2023-24 academic year. The states of Assam,

Goa and Uttarakhand have made similar annoncements for the upcoming academic year, apart from many higher education institutes across the nation.

This is perhaps, the first time that an education policy mandated by the Union government has been so overwhelmingly embraced across the country. Education, it may be recalled, is in the Concurrent List of the Constitution of India, enabling both the Union and state governments to legislate on the subject. The nitty gritties of implementing NEP 2020 have been ironed out over the last two years and even though some states have expressed reservations about it, 2023 should finally witness the unfurling of a uniform education system across most of India.

“Not only has NEP 2020 been notified but a lot of work has also been done under it. From an awareness perspective, the government’s efforts and branding have really helped us,” says Ved Mani Tiwari, CEO, National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC). Tiwari points out that skilling has been brought into every domain of education and that it will transform the way opportunities are available for different sections of society.

*A complete curriculum shift

The implementation of the new education policy may differ from state to state and between institutes, but the key objectives remain the same. With former chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) K. Kasturirangan designing the National Curriculum Framework (NCF), major changes seem to be in the offing at the primary and higher education level. The NEP will do away with the 10+2 framework in K12 education, adopting instead, learning in four stages: foundation, preparatory, middle and secondary, effectively creating a 5+4+3+4 curricular framework. This is the first time that the education policy has designed a curriculum at a foundational level. Creating a roadmap for early childhood education before entering schools will ensure that students are on the same level when beginning formal education and skill training.

The Four Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP) was first implemented in the 2012-13 academic year by Delhi University, but rolled back in 2014. One of the most ambitious reforms in higher education at the time, the system turned controversial because of its sudden implementation, lack of proper planning and absence of administrative support to the colleges. This time around, with ample time to settle the complexities involved in changing course design and with the expectations met of both students and faculty, institutes of higher learning are embracing the programme. Many have already formed partnerships with foreign universities.

In June 2022, 48 foreign universities responded to the UGC’s new guidelines and regulations for joint degrees and dual degree programmes. As Marvin Krislov, President of Pace University, New York said during his visit to India in November 2022, “We are excited by what we understand is a very welcome approach to internationalising higher education in India”. Similar sentiments have been expressed by foreign universities in the light of the credit system and the flexibility that the FYUP will provide.

*National Institutional Ranking Framework

The National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) has quickly become the authority for recognising high performing HEIs. The early criticism it received for not verifying data submitted by institutes and instances when institutes ranking high on the list had lacked basic hygiene, infrastructure and diversity, etc., has died down significantly over the years.

The NIRF has gradually expanded, increasing its categories every year to better evaluate institutes. The framework is continuously evolving. Last year, ‘Research Institution’ was added to the framework. This year, the addition of ‘Innovation & Entrepreneurship’ for Atal Ranking of Institutions on Innovation Achievement has been announced. The year 2022 saw the participation of 7,254 institutes, a significant increase from 6,272 institutes the year before.

“We will be focussing extensively on how quality and procedure in each institution will be refined (and) developed so that they may reach the top ranks in the near future," said K. Sanjay Murthy, Secretary, Union Ministry of Education, announcing the 2022 rankings. The NIRF is also the most cited ranking framework by institutes when determining their scholastic aptitude. The minister of education has announced plans of including school ranking in NIRF. Details, however are yet to be shared.

*Churning in Edtech

Amidst the turbulence that the edtech industry witnessed this year, the K12 and online tutoring platforms seem to have been hit the hardest. Edtech platforms like BYJU’s, Unacademy and Vedantu among others, have cumulatively been responsible for nearly 7,000 layoffs in 2022, accounting for almost 45 per cent of all firing in the startup ecosystem, according to media reports.

The funding winter in the startup ecosystem also saw four edtech startups, Lido Learning, Crejo.Fun, Udayy and SuperLearn, down their shutters. Ironically, amidst the layoffs and shutdowns, upGrad, an edtech in the professional education space, announced that it would be hiring 1,400 new employees.

As schools and coaching centres open up, the demand in the K12 market has shifted significantly, especially for business-to-consumer operations. In the coming year, the sector will likely see some stabilisation. As education continues to find the role of edtech in and beyond the classroom, the major challenge for edtech companies will be to rebuild and maintain customer trust and plan for long-term sustainable solutions.

*Looking ahead

The year gone by has been the first real step toward recovering from the learning losses during the pandemic. Bringing 100 per cent of students and staff back to institutions will be a major area of focus in the year ahead. Resuming schools and

finding the role of edtech in and outside of the classroom is another balancing act that must be handled with care.

Examination dates and admissions through the Common University Entrance Test (CUET) were delayed significantly in the first year of implementation. Private universities in particular, faced difficulty as the examination results came out in September, after courses had already begun. This was one of many disruptions in examination schedules since the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020. The Union ministry of education is already working on a calendar for coming academic year.

The year 2022 has had many lessons on policy implementation, learnings for edtech and prioritising on building a strong foundation for education, apart from balancing skilling with textbook knowledge. The lessons learnt in 2022 are bound to bear fruit for the education sector in 2023.

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Magazine 31 December 2022 education Year ahead 2023