National Education Policy 2020: Key Takeaways

On 29 July 2020, the Union Cabinet of India under the Prime Ministership of Shri. Narendra Modi cleared the third National Education Policy (NEP) of India. The Policy envisages India to have an education system of global acclaim by 2040 through the creation of a “new system that is aligned with the aspirational goals of 21st century education, including SDG4” [1], the 4th goal of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015 at the United Nations Summit in New York [2].

The NEP intends to achieve its goal by ensuring that education, in addition to developing the cognitive capacities of the learner, should also nurture the “social, ethical, and emotional capacities and dispositions… to develop good human beings capable of rational thought and action, possessing compassion and empathy, courage and resilience, scientific temper and creative imagination, with sound ethical moorings and values” [1]. Principled on such time-tested values, the NEP imposes and proposes numerous measures to revamp and restructure of the existing educational system towards achieving its goal. From the learned prescriptions thus laid by the NEP, the ensuing parts of this article outline the key measures that shall define the progressive course of future education in India.

The Four Stages of Schooling Education

The aspect of the policy that draws immediate attention is its mission to implement a “new pedagogical and curricular structure of 5+3+3+4 that covers ages 3-18” [1]. The 5+3+3+4 design corresponds to the age ranges of 3-8, 8-11, 11-14, and 14-18 years, respectively, and constitutes of the following stages:

1. Foundational Stage (5 years) covers ages 3 to 8 and has two parts – 3 years of Anganwadi/pre-school, and 2 years of primary school (Grades 1-2).

This stage will consist of flexible, multilevel, play/activity-based learning, and the curriculum and pedagogy of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE).

The NEP insists on the reach of its ECCE scheme to the children of all sects, especially the children from Socio-economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDG) of the nation before the year 2030, so that all students entering Grade 1 by then are school-ready.

2. Preparatory Stage (3 years) covers ages 8 to 11 and Grades 3-5

This stage, while building on the play, discovery, and activity-based education of the Foundational Stage, is devised to begin incorporating some light textbooks and a more formal but interactive classroom learning to lay a solid groundwork across subjects, reading, writing, speaking, physical education, art, languages, science, and mathematics.

3. Middle Stage (3 years) covers ages 11 to 14 and Grades 6-8.

This stage shall edify the pedagogical and curricular style of the Preparatory Stage, and will introduce subject teachers for learning and discussion of the more abstract concepts across the sciences, mathematics, arts, social sciences, and humanities. Further, “Experiential learning within each subject, and explorations of relations among different subjects, will be encouraged and emphasized despite the introduction of more specialized subjects and subject teachers” [1].

4. Secondary Stage (4 years) covers ages 14 to 18 and Grades 9-12 in two phases – 2 Years spanning Grades 9 & 10 and 2 years spanning Grades 11 & 12.

The Secondary Stage will comprise of four years of multidisciplinary study, and is designed to build on the pedagogical and curricular style of the Middle Stage, but with “greater depth, greater critical thinking, greater attention to life aspirations, and greater flexibility and student choice of subjects” [1].


Experiential Learning

In all these stages, the key method for imparting knowledge mandated  by the policy is “Experiential Learning,  - including hands-on learning, arts-integrated and sports-integrated education, story-telling-based pedagogy, among others” [1]. In this manner, the policy strives to empower the learners to effectively absorb and gain knowledge from the standard pedagogy within each subject, while also enabling them to explore the relations among different subjects.

First Priority in Implementing

The NEP infers that the entire 5+3+3+4 pedagogical and curricular structure shall attain relevance only if this most basic learning requirement of reading, writing, and arithmetic is achieved by Grade 3 on a national level by 2025. For realizing the same, the NEP prioritizes the filling up of teacher vacancies to ensure a pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) of under 30:1 at the level of each school. The policy envisions to equip the teachers thus employed with a “national repository of high-quality resources on foundational literacy and numeracy that will be made available on the Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing (DIKSHA)” [1] for efficiently expediting the process. Further, technological interventions are also to be piloted and implemented to help the teachers bridge any language barriers that may exist between them and the students.

Medium of Instruction and the Three-Language Formula

Talking about language, for both public and private schools, the NEP asserts that “the medium of instruction until at least Grade 5, but preferably till Grade 8 and beyond, will be the home language/mother-tongue/local language/regional language” [1]. Towards effectively implementing such medium of instruction, the NEP proposes the introduction of high-quality textbooks in home languages/mother tongue for all subjects including science.

The NEP proceeds to assert that “the three-language formula will continue to be implemented while keeping in mind the Constitutional provisions, aspirations of the people, regions, and the Union, and the need to promote multilingualism as well as promote national unity” [1]. However, it offers “greater flexibility in the three-language formula”, and assures that “no language will be imposed on any State” [1]. The three languages learned by children will be the choices of States, regions, and the students themselves, so long as at least two of the three languages are native to India.

The Importance Laid on Mathematics

The NEP 2020 recognizes mathematics and mathematical thinking to be very important for India’s future. So, it advocates an increased emphasis on mathematics in all the stages of its pedagogical and curricular structure through a variety of engaging and innovative methods. The Policy is certain that this would play a vital part in establishing “India’s leadership role in the numerous upcoming fields and professions that will involve artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science, etc.” [1]. To this effect, the policy also warrants the introduction of contemporary subjects such as Artificial Intelligence, Design Thinking, Holistic Health, Organic Living, Environmental Education, Global Citizenship Education (GCED), etc. at relevant stages.

‘Bagless’ Days

Bagless days proposed by the NEP 2020 breathes fresh air into the policy, whereby every student will take a fun course, during Grades 6-8, to survey and gain “hands-on

experience of a sampling of important vocational crafts, such as carpentry, electric work, metalwork, gardening, pottery making, etc.” [1]. This, once again, is set to take shape as per the decision of “States and local communities and as mapped by local skilling needs” [1]. All students during their tenure from Grades 6 to 8 will thus participate in 10 such bagless days, wherein they will intern with local vocational experts like carpenters, gardeners, potters, artists, etc. Similar internship opportunities shall also be available for the students from Grade 6 to 12 during holiday periods.

Ensuring Moral Values and Constitutional Awareness

True to its vision to instil “among the learners… the dispositions that support responsible commitment to human rights, sustainable development & living, and globalwell-being” [1], the policy mandates courses that register the importance of “doing what's right”. Towards achieving this feat, children will have the opportunity to read and learn from the original stories of the Panchatantra, Jataka, Hitopadesh, and other fun fables and inspiring tales from the Indian tradition and learn about their influences on global literature. Besides, excerpts from the Indian Constitution will be considered essential reading for all students. Further, basic training in health, including preventive health, mental health, good nutrition, personal and public hygiene, disaster response, and first-aid will be included in the curriculum. The students will also be enlightened on the scientific explanations of the detrimental and damaging effects of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.

Examination and Assessment

Coming to the assessment part of the education system, the NEP retains the Board exams for Grades 10 and 12. But, it purports to redesign the board exams to enable the students to choose the subjects of their interest towards appearing for the Board Exams. Most importantly, NEP 2020 mandates the elimination of coaching classes by making the Board Exams ‘easier’, in the sense that they will test primarily core capacities/competencies rather than months of coaching and memorization; any student who has been going to and making a basic effort in a school class will be able to pass and do well in the corresponding subject Board Exam without much additional effort” [1].

Empowering Teachers

NEP 2020 emphasizes that the teacher must be at the centre of the fundamental reforms in the education system.  It deems the teachers to be the architects who truly shape our next generation of citizens. Hence, the Policy is in absolute favour of helping teachers to re-establish themselves as the most respected and essential members of our society. So, the NEP insists that the teachers doing outstanding work must be recognized and promoted, and given salary raises, to incentivize all teachers to do their best work. For this, a robust merit-based “common guiding set of National Professional Standards for Teachers (NPST) will be developed by 2022, by the National Council for Teacher Education in its restructured new form as a Professional Standard Setting Body (PSSB) under the General Education Council (GEC)” [1].

Ensuring Quality of Teachers While Addressing Shortage

The NEP strives to ensure that only outstanding students enter the teaching profession. Special stress will be laid on students from rural areas by encouraging them with scholarships that also include preferential employment in their local areas upon successful completion of their B.Ed. programmes. This is meant to enable the aspirants to serve as local-area role models and as highly qualified teachers who speak the local language. Further, incentives will be provided for teachers to take up teaching jobs in rural areas, especially in areas that are currently facing an acute shortage of quality teachers.

Further, recognizing that the teachers will require training in high-quality content as well as pedagogy, teacher education will gradually be moved by 2030 into multidisciplinary colleges and universities. By 2030, these multidisciplinary colleges and universities shall thus house outstanding education departments that offer B.Ed., M.Ed., and Ph.D. degrees in education. Moreover, the Policy insists on the strengthening of TETs to inculcate better test material, both in terms of content and pedagogy for the teachers across all stages of school education. In addition, “to gauge passion and motivation for teaching, a classroom demonstration or interview will become an integral part of teacher hiring at schools and school complexes” [1].

The Structure and Research-Orientation of UG Courses

The NEP’s new and forward-looking vision for India’s higher education envisages a quality education system that would enable the undergraduates to realize personal accomplishment and enlightenment, constructive public engagement, productive contribution to the society, and economic independence. Towards achieving this vision, the policy mandates the establishment of at least one large multidisciplinary Higher Education Institution (HEI) in or near every district.

As per NEP 2020, “the undergraduate degree will be of either three and four-year duration, with multiple exit options. Students will be eligible to get a certificate after completing one year; diploma after two years, and a Bachelor’s degree after completing three years. The four-year multidisciplinary bachelor's programme will be the preferred option” [3]. Further, the NEP states that the curricula of all the HEIs shall include credit-based courses and projects in the areas of community engagement and service, environmental education, and value-based education for students. An Academic Bank of Credit (ABC) will also be established, which will digitally store the academic credits earned from various recognized HEIs, thus enabling the student to avail degrees from an HEI taking into account credits earned previously. It will also ease the re-entry of students who may exit early and then return to work toward a full degree. [3]

While advocating a major shift to create a more multidisciplinary undergraduate education, the Policy directs the revamping of curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, and student support for enhancing student experiences. It further encourages the students of undergraduate programmes to know and get into the practice of core research in their respective subjects through the establishment of a National Research Foundation to fund outstanding peer-reviewed research.

Design for Master’s Degree Programmes

The Policy empowers the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) with the flexibility to offer different designs of Master’s programmes as follows:

  1. A 2-year programme with the second year devoted entirely to research for those who have completed the 3-year Bachelor ’s programme;
  2. 1-year Master’s programme for students completing a 4-year Bachelor’s programme with Research, and
  3. An integrated 5-year Bachelor’s/Master’s programme” [1].

M.Phil. Discontinued & Ph.D. Eligibility Redefined

NEP 2020 discontinues the M.Phil. programme and necessitates a Master’s degree or a 4-year Bachelor’s degree with Research to undertake a Ph.D.

Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities

Towards attaining the highest global standards in quality education and towards establishing the highest standards for multidisciplinary education across India, the NEP recommends the setting up of “Model public universities for holistic and multidisciplinary education, at par with IITs, IIMs, etc., called MERUs (Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities)” [1].

Higher Education Commission of India (HECI)

Presently, higher education in India is regulated by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and 14 other professional councils like the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE), Medical Council of India (MCI), Bar Council of India, and the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE). NEP 2020 retires these existing authorities by approving a single higher education regulator, Higher Education Commission of India (HECI). The HECI will function as a single umbrella institution that would govern four independent and empowered verticals, each dedicated to the purpose of performing one of the four distinct functions, namely “regulation, accreditation, funding, and academic standard-setting” [1]. The four verticals are as follows:

  • The first vertical of HECI will be the National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC). It will function as the common, single point regulator for the higher education sector including teacher education and excluding medical and legal education. [1]
  • The second vertical of HECI will be a  ‘meta-accrediting body’, called the National Accreditation Council (NAC). [1]
  • The third vertical of HECI will be the Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC), which will carry out funding and financing of higher education, including the Institutional Development Plans (IDPs) prepared by the institutions.[1]

The fourth vertical of HECI will be the General Education Council (GEC), which will frame expected learning outcomes (Graduate Attributes) for higher education programmes. The GEC will formulate a National Higher Education Qualification Framework (NHEQF), which will be “in sync with the National Skills Qualifications Framework (NSQF) to ease the integration of vocational education into higher education” [1].

Online and Digital Education

NEP 2020 states that “The recent rise in epidemics and pandemics necessitates that we are ready with alternative modes of quality education whenever and wherever traditional and in-person modes of education are not possible” [1]. In this regard, the Policy calls for carefully designed and appropriately scaled pilot studies to determine how the benefits of online/digital education can be reaped while addressing or mitigating the downsides. In the meantime, NEP 2020 advises the optimization and expansion of existing digital platforms and ongoing ICT-based educational initiatives to meet the current and future challenges in providing quality education for all [1].

International Collaboration

NEP 2020 aspires to invite and facilitate larger numbers of international students to study in India. Hence it aims at achieving global standards of quality in “all programmes, courses, curricula, and pedagogy across subjects, including those in class, online, and in Open and Distance Learning (ODL) modes as well as student support” [1]. This, in turn, is targeted at providing greater mobility to the students in India who aspire “to visit, study at, transfer credits to, or carry out research at institutions abroad, and vice versa” [1].

Notwithstanding, NEP 2020, towards facilitating the research/teaching collaborations and faculty/student exchanges with high-quality foreign institutions, proposes the signing of relevant mutually beneficial MOUs with foreign countries. It also encourages high-performing Indian universities to set up campuses in other countries. Similarly, the Policy strives to enable “selected universities e.g., those from among the top 100 universities in the world will be facilitated to operate in India” [1]. It also states that a “legislative framework facilitating such entry will be put in place, and such universities will be given special dispensation regarding regulatory, governance, and content norms on par with other autonomous institutions of India” [1].


The National Education Policy 2020 comes with tactical and strategic directives that would root the nation’s education system to its ancient, advanced, and rich intellect and culture, while seamlessly branching to address the various nuances and developments of the contemporary educational trends of the world. The NEP, which replaces the existing 34-year-old policy, is shaped to straighten and ease the education process in India right from the grassroots to the highest of degrees. This long-awaited policy now awaits implementation in all the states of India to gain momentum and benefit the people of India and eventually the world.



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