By Dr Biswa Prasun Chatterji, Professor, Faculty of Science, and Ms Deepali Barthakur, Assistant Director, IQAC, Assam down town University, India
The National Education Policy (NEP) introduced in Indian schools and colleges in 2020 promises a seismic shift in the way students are educated. This change involves dismantling the boundaries between domains and deconstructing specializations to give broad general education more prominence in the curriculum.
The NEP was passed by both houses of Indian legislature and is in the process of implementation. It is going to allow integration of general education, four years undergraduate degree courses and introduction of native languages in higher education. The policy opens the door for people of any age group to join higher education. Its priorities are to introduce more online mediated education as MOOCS, to introduce regional languages and to revamp higher education.
India has always been globally renowned for its specialization, with thousands of students competing each year for a coveted spot in prestigious institutions like Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), the National Institute of Technology (NIT), and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). However, the concept of specialization does not end after graduation. Graduates are often pigeonholed into categories such as science, arts, medicine, engineering, or management. As one progresses through the education ladder, the curriculum becomes increasingly specialized. Pursuing a PhD in science or humanities takes specialization to a whole new level.
Prioritising General Education
The NEP aims to introduce a transformative shift in Indian education, making it more relevant to contemporary needs. One of its key components is the promotion of General Education, which involves breaking down the walls between different fields of study and welcoming a fusion of humanities and sciences, arts, and engineering. This move echoes the sentiments expressed by CP Snow in his landmark Rede lecture, where he emphasized the importance of a general education to add social relevance to the otherwise hardcore domains of engineering and medicine.
Snow noted that most engineers or doctors are seldom exposed to literature or poetry, and often disregard subjects outside of their specialized field as mere “time-wasting.” In their pursuit of attaining specialized knowledge, they tend to overlook the value of humanities. The introduction of General Education under the NEP aims to change this outlook and encourage a more holistic approach to education that acknowledges the interdependence of different fields of study.
Many professionals in the fields of engineering and medicine have a strong desire to pursue knowledge in other fields such as literature, history, arts, and photography. Many in the older generation have lamented not receiving encouragement to pursue nuclear physics or English literature. Similarly, many in the current generation have expressed a desire to study humanities, but the lack of job opportunities in that field prevented them from doing so.
Over the years, we have between us come across several doctors and engineers who are equally interested in literature and other fields beyond their profession. This includes lawyers with exceptional knowledge of medical jurisprudence, and doctors with a keen eye for painting. The likes of Navtej Singh Sarna, Vikram Swarup, and Shashi Tharoor, who hold prestigious positions in government and the UN, are also prolific writers. Doctors such as Banaphool frequently wrote in Bengali, while Shriram Lagoo and Subhendu Chatterjee, both medical professionals, chose to pursue careers in acting. These professionals harbored a passion for fields outside of their primary area of expertise. Migration across different domains is possible.
The value of literature and arts extends beyond their utility in professional courses. They provide a way for individuals to connect with their inner selves, explore their emotions, and express themselves creatively. Literature, for instance, can be a source of comfort, inspiration, and enlightenment. Art, on the other hand, can evoke different emotions and provide a window into different cultures and perspectives. The study of literature and arts can, therefore, enhance the quality of life and contribute to personal growth and self-discovery.
A shift away from coaching institutes.
This move towards a well-rounded education that encompasses cognitive, social, emotional, and physical aspects of learning is partly so as to shift the focus away from coaching institutes, like those in Kota, aiming to reduce the prevailing exam-oriented coaching culture in the country. The policy also aims to lessen the burden of board exams by introducing a new assessment framework that assesses students’ overall development and encourages critical thinking skills. This shift in assessment methods may lead students to perceive school exams as more valuable for college admissions, diminishing their reliance on coaching institutes.
Additionally, NEP 2020 underscores the significance of early childhood education and the development of foundational skills, equipping students with a strong educational base that reduces the need for extensive coaching. The policy’s emphasis on teacher training and professional development aims to enhance the quality of education in schools, ensuring that students receive better instruction and support within the regular school system.
Furthermore, NEP 2020 promotes the integration of technology in education, providing students with access to online learning platforms and digital resources that can supplement their education outside of coaching institutes. By offering flexibility in course selection and encouraging multidisciplinary learning, the policy allows students to pursue their interests and explore a wider range of subjects within the school curriculum. Overall, the successful implementation of NEP 2020, coupled with effective infrastructure, teacher training, and cultural shifts in perceptions of education, could lead to a reduction in the craze for coaching institutes in Kota as students find more value in their school education and develop the necessary skills for competitive exams.
The first batch of a combined liberal arts, science and engineering course has started taking students from 2022 at IIT Bombay. Similarly, IIT Gandhinagar offers program in cognitive science and social study. IIT Guwahati started a Masters in Liberal Arts from 2022-23 batch. IIT mandi started development studies program. Slowly other institutes will integrate arts into technical education and IITs are torchbearer in this regard. The inclination to join technical or medical education is deeply rooted in the Indian psyche; it is not easy to get rid of this mentality overnight. NEP2020 is just beginning to make inroads into general education amalgamated with engineering degrees, but we hope and believe the change is coming.
In conclusion, the NEP move towards a more multidisciplinary approach to learning aims to break down the artificial barriers between different fields of study and encourage a fusion of humanities and sciences, arts and engineering and to enrich the human experience. By integrating literature and arts into sciences and professional courses, the NEP aims to uplift the human spirit, foster creativity and innovation, and develop essential skills such as critical thinking, communication, and empathy and enables individuals to connect with themselves and others on a deeper level. Ultimately, this approach recognizes the importance of a holistic approach to education and aims to shape well-rounded individuals who are equipped to navigate the challenges of the modern world.
In Dead Poets Society, a well-known film from the 1980s, John Keating (Robin Williams) said “We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for”. This is exactly what the National Education Policy hopes to achieve by integrating arts into sciences and literature into medicine or engineering.