Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday called for 'maximum flexibility' in implementing the new National Education Policy (NEP) and said it is the collective responsibility of all stakeholders to put into effect the policy in letter and spirit.
West Bengal Education Minister Partha Chatterjee, however, said the policy undermines the country's federal structure, and it will not be implemented in the state any time soon.
His Delhi counterpart Manish Sisodia claimed that the NEP lacks a roadmap for implementation and needs proper planning so that it is not reduced to just a wonderful idea.
The NEP, which was approved by the Union Cabinet in July, replaces the 34-year-old National Policy on Education framed in 1986 and is aimed at paving the way for transformational reforms in school and higher education systems.
"We have to collectively address all doubts. The vision of flexibility with which this policy was brought... We will have to show in a similar way maximum flexibility in implementing it," Modi said while addressing the 'Governors' Conference on the Role of NEP in Transforming Higher Education'.
The conference was attended by President Ram Nath Kovind, education ministers from states and union territories, and vice chancellors besides governors.
The President said the new NEP aims to achieve at the earliest joint investment of Centre and states to six per cent of GDP in the field of public education as has been consistently clarified from the 1968 Education Policy to the current one.
He said the policy envisions a higher education system that derives inspiration from the country's rich tradition and is also modern and futuristic in outlook.
From the view point of pedagogy and child psychology, it has been acknowledged that the mother tongue should be the medium of primary education, Kovind said.
Teaching up to class 5 in mother tongue or regional language, lowering the stakes of board exams, a single regulator for higher education institutions except for law and medical colleges and common entrance tests for universities are part of the sweeping reforms in the new NEP.
Likening the education policy to defence and foreign policies, Prime Minister Modi said they belong to the country not government
It is natural for stakeholders to have questions about various aspects of the policy and 'we are all working to address all these questions', he said.
Modi urged them to hold virtual conferences before September 25 in universities on the NEP, which, he said, has been widely welcomed, from a village teacher to noted educationists, as it was based on feedback received from across the country.
Highlighting the main features of the policy, first since 1986, he said it attempts to bring all aspects of higher education, be it academic, technical or vocational, out of silos and to cut down on administrative layers while bringing about a better coordination.
"It is now our collective responsibility to implement this essence of NEP, 2020 in letter and spirit," Modi said.
The policy focuses on learning instead of studying and goes beyond curriculum to focus on critical thinking, he said.
Criticising the new NEP, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, who attended the conference, said it encourages privatisation and "hurts" the spirit of cooperative federalism.
"The new policy encourages commercialisation and privatisation. As the Union government did not consult with states before preparing it, despite education being a part of the Constitution's concurrent list, implementing it would hurt the spirit of cooperative federalism," he said.
Bengal Education Minister Chatterjee said he has objected to the Centre's decision of not including 'Bengali' in the list of classical languages, during his address at the meeting.
"There is no question of implementing NEP in the state for the time being. More discussions need to be held on the matter with all stakeholders," he said.
"We have expressed our reservations about certain aspects of the NEP, which have been framed without taking Bengal into confidence.They undermine the country's federal structure and the role of the states," the minister, who attended the conference, told reporters.
Chatterjee also said that NEP implementation can wait, as the state currently needs to focus on the COVID situation.
Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Sisodia, who also holds the education portfolio, said, "The new national education policy lacks the action plan to implement it".
"The implementation of this policy should be carefully planned so that it is not limited to just a wonderful idea. It is necessary to put national education policy into practice rather than restricting it to only wishful thinking," said Sisodia, who attended the conference.
Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal lauded the NEP-2020 as not only being 'holistic and futuristic', but also 'effective' in addressing the challenges faced by the current higher education system.
"The NEP bestows the long-awaited and rightful status to vocational education by integrating it into mainstream education and forging a partnership with the industry," he said.
Prime Minister Modi also said that while governments, be it at Centre or states, have a role in shaping education policy and system, but this is also true that they should have minimal intervention and influence in preparing the education policy.
The more teachers, parents, students are associated with the education policy, the more relevant and broad based it will be, he added.
The new policy has paved way for best international institutions to set up their campuses in India, which will allow youngsters from common families to join them, Modi said and added that this will also curb brain drain.
During the conference, Rajasthan Governor Kalraj Mishra suggested the inclusion of computer science and agriculture in the new NEP to make higher education more employment oriented.