Wednesday, July 27, 2016

National Policy on Education 2016: A critical note

Saqib Khan


The National Policy on Education (NPE), first initiated in 1968, remains a key action-plan for education in India and each NPE has provided a framework for the development of education over the next few years in the country.[1] The NPE 2016 [Draft][2] seeks to address both the unfinished agenda and targets of the earlier NPEs and the contemporary educational challenges. Though some provisions of the NPE 2016 have been discussed, few have taken a closer look at its points and recommendations relating to education in general as well as school and higher education. Taking up some of the important among these, this article argues that there seems to be an element of continuity as well as change in the NPE 2016. While the continuity can be seen with regard to the commitment (in terms of policy) to public expenditure on education, the Policy’s ideological moorings as well as the focus of education in general see an important shift. The Policy leaves many unanswered questions with regard to school education, while focusing on quality, a gradual reduction of the role of government and curbing student politics in higher education.

Public expenditure on Education: Reiteration of 6 per cent

The public expenditure on education is one area where there seems to be some continuity between the NPE 2016 and the NPEs of 1986/92 and 1968. The earlier National Education Policies had emphasized the need to raise the outlay on education to at least 6 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).[3] However, this target was never met and actual expenditure on education has remained consistently below 6 per cent. Like the earlier NPEs, the NPE 2016 also recommends that the outlay on education should be raised to at least 6 per cent of GDP. While it says that this should be done with immediate effect, it does not clearly say how it will be done.[4] In the absence of serious political will, this directive of NPE 2016 merely looks like a reiteration of the previous NPEs.

Glorification and an uncritical view of the past

One of the important departures in NPE 2016 from the earlier NPEs is an attempt at glorification of the past and an uncritical view of it.[5] Glorifying the education system in ancient India, the Vedic system and Gurukul tradition, the NPE 2016 says that “science and technology in ancient and medieval India covered all the major branches of human knowledge and activities” (p. 1-2). A strong undercurrent in the whole report is of a ‘golden past’ where India led the world in every sphere of human activity until it lost out. And so, there was a need to catch up now with the developed world educationally and one of the important ways was through the revival of values of that past. Thus, the NPE 2016 takes a completely uncritical view of India’s past and its traditions.[6] For example, a historical analysis of the Gurukul or guru-shishya tradition would tell us that the system was largely confined to the learning of religious scriptures and it was a undemocratic and uncritical set-up where the guru, who was supposed to possess all knowledge and was often looked upon as a god, used to transmit the knowledge of these scriptures to disciples. Also, the NPE 2016 fails to see how several issues facing the contemporary Indian society and its education system were linked to the baggage of traditions carried from the past. Secondly, the NPE 2016 places a lot of emphasis on values and value-based education. In fact, it places “values” before knowledge in the four essential components as the core objectives of education identified by it; these values being Satya (truth), Dharma (righteous conduct), Shanti (peace), Prem (love) and Ahimsa (non-violence).

In contrast, the NPE of 1968 and 1986/92 did not attempt any glorification. Both highlighted the constitutional values as well as pertinent issues facing the Indian social order. Seeing education as vital to national progress and security, the NPE 1968 talked about transforming the education system to relate it more closely to the life of the people and expanding educational opportunity (p. 38). The NPE 1986/92 noted that “India’s political and social life is passing through a phase, which poses the danger of erosion to long-accepted values. The goals of secularism, socialism, democracy and professional ethics are coming under increasing strain” (p. 3). It emphasised designing a national curriculum framework to promote values such as India’s common cultural heritage, egalitarianism, democracy and secularism, equality of sexes, protection of environment, removal of social barriers, observance of the small family norm and inculcation of the scientific temper (p. 5). Even though the NPE 1986/92 had a section on value education, it held that “In our plural society, education should foster universal and eternal values, oriented towards the unity and integration of our people. Such value education should help eliminate obscurantism, religious fanaticism, violence, superstition and fatalism” (p. 27). 

Education: Shift from ‘Access’ and ‘Equity’ to ‘Quality’

The focus of the NPE of 1968 and 1986/92 was largely on access and equity. In the NPE 1968, expansion of education and equity were important components. The Policy held that one of the important principles to promote the development of education in the country was ‘Equalisation of Educational Opportunity’ and strenuous efforts in this direction. It was also suggested to correct regional imbalances in this regard (p. 40-41). Similarly, the NPE 1986/92 devoted a full Part IV of the policy titled ‘Education for Equality’ to equality and suggested removal of educational disparities across social groups.

On the other hand, there is an unprecedented focus on quality in the NPE 2016 and not much space is given to access and equity. The Policy talks about decline in the overall quality of education at length and efforts to improve it. This shift in the NPE 2016 seems to have been shaped by improvements in access in school education over last several decades. However, differential access as well as learning outcomes and dropouts across social groups indicates that the questions of access and equity have not altogether disappeared as the NPE 2016 makes out to be. In higher education, though significant progress has been made in terms of access and equity, there is a tremendous scope to improve these across social groups, region, etc.[7]

School education: Unanswered questions

Several decisions of the NPE 2016 with regard to school education evoke questions which remain unanswered. The Policy recommends merging or consolidating small, non-viable schools with low enrolment, inadequate teachers, poor facilities and high per pupil cost for “better academic performance and cost effective management” (p. 65). However, it remains to be seen whether this would go against the notion of easy access as envisioned in the Right to Education (RTE). The Policy also recommends that early childhood education for children from 4 to 5 years of age should be declared a Right and a programme of pre-school education should be implemented. But the question remains whether there is political will to implement this, especially when considering the fact that it took almost six decades after independence for the education of 6-14 years to be made a Right. The suggestion of extending the Mid-Day meal to cover students of secondary schools is a welcome move, but whether it will be implemented and ‘how’ and the mobilization of resources for this are questions that the Policy does not take into account.

Secondly, one of the contentious issues raked up by the NPE 2016 is the review of the No Detention Policy (NDP) under the RTE. It recommends no detention only till Class V, whereas Section 16 of the RTE Act states categorically that “No child admitted in a school shall be held back in any class or expelled from school till the completion of elementary education”. It is learnt that the rise in number of students failing in Class IX in recent times has led many states, schools and policymakers to blame the NDP, and hence it has been reviewed in the NPE 2016. However, attributing the fall in learning outcomes to the NDP unfairly puts the blame on children and ignores the role of schools and government in this regard (Ambast 2016).[8] It has also been argued that the failure of Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) to take off in many states and non-implementation of key provisions of the RTE, for instance, the stipulated pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) were important factors for learning outcomes and the blame should not be thrust upon the NDP (Ambast and Gaur 2015). The assumption in the current review of NDP is that the students can only learn under the threat of failure. This review of NDP in fact seeks to bring back what the RTE and National Curriculum Framework (NCF) had sought to address, i.e. releasing children from fear and trauma of failure and making learning a non-burdensome exercise.[9] The NPE 2016, thus, does not address these concerns with regard to the NDP.

Thirdly, there is a renewed emphasis on yoga for schools in the NPE 2016. It should be noted that there was no mention of yoga in the NPE 1968 which in its section on ‘Games and Sports’ had held that “where playing field and other facilities for developing a nation-wide programme of physical education do not exist, these should be provided on a priority basis” (p. 44). While the NPE 1986/92 had mentioned in one line that efforts would be made to introduce yoga in all schools, the NPE 2016 takes it another level all together. It recommends that every school, both public and private, should be encouraged to make yoga a part of the schooling process and facilitate every child to learn the basics of yoga. It also goes on to say that “Particularly in urban schools, where there is shortage of playground facilities, yoga can play a significant part in the development of a young student” (p. 100-101). So, while the NPE 1968 had asked for the provision of playgrounds and other facilities, the NPE 2016 replaces these with yoga. It is also interesting to note that out of the five paragraphs in its section ‘Sports and Physical Education’, three are devoted to yoga.

Higher education: ‘Quality’, Reducing government’s role and Curbing student politics

The focus of the Policy’s section on ‘Higher Education’ revolves around ‘quality’ and the lack of Indian institutions in international rankings is seen to be a major concern. There is no mention of increasing the access and the question of equity. Though it rues that recruiting ad-hoc and part-time faculty adversely impacts quality of teaching and research, it is silent on the fact that the government and government institutions have also been party to this arrangement (of hiring ad-hoc and part-time faculty) and the way out of this.  

The Policy highlights dismal state of research and innovation in Indian universities. But it has nothing to say about the government funding for the same together with cuts in higher education. Government funding to research remains low in India as compared to many developing countries. To add to this, the government last year asked research labs to start ‘self-financing projects’ and thus fund research on their own.[10] Overall, higher education budget has also witnessed cuts in recent years. The Union Budget for 2015-16 reduced funds for higher education to the tune of Rs.3,900 crore in its revised budget estimates for the financial year 2014-15; the government revised the figure to Rs.13,000 crore, as against Rs.16,900 crore for the plan allocation. The overall education budget of 2015-16 came down from Rs.82,771 crore to Rs.69,074 crore.[11] Thus, expressing dismay about research and innovation in India without considering the above facts is missing the point completely.

The Policy sees a reduced role of government in management of institutions, including fees. It links up fees/funding with autonomy and tries to argue that for government universities to be truly autonomous they should have assured sources of funding. However, it sees a gradual decreased role of the government in this regard. It says: “While government will have to be a major source of funding for many years, universities must be incentivised to raise additional resources by starting new programs on cost recovery basis, employment of part-time and contractual staff on market-determined salaries, optimum use of buildings and other assets, and regular increase in fees without Government approval” (p. 129). The Policy also gives a fillip to foreign universities to be set up in India. It sees the migration of a huge number of Indian students (about 3 lakh) to other countries for higher education and the corresponding expenses (Rs. 60,000 crore per year) as a ‘concern’ and suggests encouragement to selected foreign universities to establish their presence in India through collaborations. The issue of allowing foreign universities in India has been much debated. A pet Congress project during United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime, it has found support among the ruling BJP government at the Centre now.[12] However, concerns of cost, access and equity, and regulatory system remain quite important in this regard.  

One of the points of the Policy that has attracted attention of students is “restricting political and other distractions in University and College Campuses” (Chapter V, p. 51). Taking a completely narrow view of student politics, it recommends “restricting those activities of student unions which could potentially disrupt academic activities of the universities” and “non-recognition of groups based on caste/community”. Student upsurge in universities and campuses across the country in recent times, especially Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), University of Hyderabad (UoH) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) seems to have been on the minds of committee members while framing this particular directive.[13] Not only this, the Policy also sees long stay of student in campuses/hostels as a concern. It can be debated whether it is befitting for a committee designed to frame the country’s education policy to highlight this issue as a major concern. Besides putting the onus on students for overstaying, it does not see administrative delays for this.   


This article looked at some of the important points and recommendations of the NPE 2016. It argues that the NPE 2016 shows an element of continuity as well as change from the earlier NPEs. With regard to public expenditure on education, the Policy, like the earlier NPEs, merely reiterates raising the outlay on education to 6 per cent of the GDP. It is with regard to glorification and an uncritical view of the past and its traditions that the NPE 2016 stands out from the previous NPEs. Besides, the Policy puts emphasis on values which are quite distinct from the Constitutional ones emphasised by the previous NPEs. While the focus of the earlier NPEs was largely on ‘access’ and ‘equity’, the NPE 2016 puts an unprecedented focus on ‘quality’ of education. Regarding school education, while the suggestion of merging of small and non-viable schools might go against the provisions of RTE, it remains to be seen whether programmes like starting pre-school education and extension of mid-day meal will actually be implemented and how. Reviewing the No Detention Policy, the NPE 2016 recommends no detention only till Class V. It squarely puts the onus of the fall in learning outcomes in some states on students and ignores structural reasons for it, including the role of government and school. It seems to believe that ‘fear’ will improve outcomes- a point which the RTE and NCF had earlier contested. There is also a renewed emphasis on yoga in the Policy without exploring other options of games and sports for students. 

In higher education, the focus of NPE 2016 is largely around ‘quality’. While it highlights the poor state of research and innovation in India, it does not take into account the low government spending on this as well as cuts in higher education budget in recent years. It sees a reduced role of government in the management of institutions including fees and gives a push for the setting up of foreign universities in the country. Recent student upsurge in universities across the country and a one-sided view seem to have led the Policy to come up with a recommendation to restrict student politics in campuses. In sum, the NPE 2016 is a reflection of the current political-economic order and seems to sail in the ideological as well as neo-liberal boats of this order.


Ambast, Shruti. 2016. ‘India will grossly fail its children if it revokes the no-detention policy’,, June 06 (available at, accessed on July 7, 2016)
Ambast, Shruti and Akriti Gaur. 2015. ‘Don’t Make the No-detention Policy a Scapegoat for Poor Learning Outcomes’, The Wire, August 15 (available on, accessed on July 7, 2016)
Chopra, Ritika. 2016. ‘Allow foreign university campuses, says Niti Aayog’, Indian Express, April 2016
Hasan, Zoya. 2015. ‘No acche din for higher education’, The Hindu, May 20
Khan, Saqib. 2014. ‘Higher Education and Student Politics in Contemporary India: A Note’, VIKALP, November 20
Krishnan, Vidya and Dinakar Peri. 2015. ‘Govt. tells labs: fund research by yourself’, The Hindu, October 28
National Policy on Education 1968 (available at, accessed on July 4, 2016)
National Policy on Education 1986 (as modified in 1992), Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India (available at, accessed on July 4, 2016)
National Policy on Education 2016: Report of the Committee for Evolution of the New Education Policy, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India (available at, accessed July 4, 2016)
Sharma, Gunjan. 2016. ‘Reversing the Twin Ideals of Right to Education: No Detention and Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation’, Economic and Political Weekly, 51 (9): 85-89

[1] The first NPE was formulated in 1968, while the second one in 1986 which was modified in 1992. 
[2] ‘Report of the Committee for Evolution of the New Education Policy’, Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), Government of India; referred in this article as NPE 2016.  
[3] The NPE 1986/92 saw the consequences of inadequate investment in education as very serious.
[4] See its section ‘Public Expenditure on Education’, p. 57.
[5] See its Chapter I ‘Empowering India through Quality Education’, p. 1 onwards.
[6] This stand of NPE 2016 is in some ways not surprising as one of the members of the committee J. S. Rajput was at the forefront of what has been widely termed as the ‘saffronization’ of education and textbooks during the NDA regime from 1999 to 2004. 
[7] For a discussion on enrolment in higher education, see Saqib Khan, ‘Higher Education and Student Politics in Contemporary India: A Note’, VIKALP, November 20, 2014 (available at, accessed on November 20, 2014)
[8] Many also seem to have confused ‘No Detention’ with ‘No Assessment’. The RTE, however, mandates continuous and comprehensive evaluation and assessment aimed to shift the focus away from ‘examination-centric’ views of assessment and learning.
[9] For a detailed discussion on the No Detention Policy, see Sharma (2016) in which the author cautions against diluting the provision of NDP.
[10] See  Vidya Krishnan and Dinakar Peri, ‘Govt. tells labs: fund research by yourself’, The Hindu, October 28, 2015 (available at, accessed on July 8, 2016)
[11] See Zoya Hasan, ‘No acche din for higher education’, The Hindu, May 20, 2015 (available at, accessed on July 8, 2016)
[12] In April this year, the NITI Aayog submitted a report to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) in favour of inviting foreign universities to set up campuses in India and three routes for their entry. See Ritika Chopra, ‘Allow foreign university campuses, says Niti Aayog’, Indian Express, April 2016 (available at, accessed on July 8, 2016).
[13] In this regard, there also seems to be some link between the push towards privatization and curbs on student politics in higher education, as seen in recommendations of earlier committees and reports. The idea that organized student politics is problematic and needs to be done away with was best put forward by the Birla-Ambani report of 2000. The report while arguing for privatization of higher education recommended to “ban any form of political activity on campuses of universities and educational institutions”. See Saqib Khan, ‘Higher Education and Student Politics in Contemporary India: A Note’, VIKALP, November 20, 2014

The author is a PhD student at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai

1 comment:

  1. A brilliant and suggestive input Saqib on the NEP draft 2016. As it is noted that the emphasis is of course on quality with no proper roadmap undermining both equity and equality, I am of the opinion that the NEP framework should be such that there should be equity in the process and equality in the outcome. The conscious negligence of developing sporting activity and replacing it with Yoga is a grave issue which I believe in the coming days will be debatable issue and must be debated and taken to each section of the society. This draft does not recognize that sports is an integral part of our society and has a greater role in development of youth in our country. Hoping the suggestions been sent to the MHRD sees the light of the day.


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