The Ministry of Human Resource Development released the draft National Education Policy, 2016 in July this year. The Ministry was receiving comments on the draft policy until the end of September 2016. In this context, we provide an overview of the proposed framework in the draft Policy to address challenges in the education sector. The country’s education policy was last revised in 1992. It outlined equitable access to quality education, with a common educational structure of 10+2+3 years. The draft Policy 2016 aims to create an education system which ensures quality education and learning opportunities for all. The focus areas of intervention of the draft Policy are: (i) access and participation, (ii) quality of education, (iii) curriculum and examination reforms, (iv) teacher development and management and (v) skill development and employability. Through these key interventions, the draft Policy provides a framework for the development of education in the country over the next few years. We discuss the key areas of intervention below.
Access and participation Presently in the country, enrolment at pre-school levels for children between the ages of 3- 5 years is low. 38% of children in this age bracket are enrolled in pre-school education in government anganwadi centres, while 27% of the children are not attending any (either government or private) pre-school. In contrast, the enrolment rate in primary education, which is class 1-5, is almost 100%. However, this reduces to 91% in classes 6-8 and 78% in classes 9-12. The trend of lower enrolment rates is seen in higher education (college and university level), where it is at 24%. Due to low enrolment rates after class 5, transition of students from one level to the next is a major challenge. Figure 1 shows the enrolment rates across different education levels. With regard to improving participation of children in pre-school education, the draft Policy aims to start a program for children in the pre-school age group which will be implemented in coordination with the Ministry of Women and Child Development. It also aims to strengthen pre-school education in anganwadis by developing learning materials and training anganwadi workers. Presently, the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009 applies to elementary education only. To improve access to education, the draft Policy suggests bringing secondary education under the ambit of the RTE Act. However, a strategy to increase enrolment across different levels of education has not been specified. Quality of education A large number of children leave school before passing class eight. In 2013-14, the proportion of students who dropped out from classes 1-8 was 36% and from classes 1-10 was 47%.3 Figure 2 shows the proportion of students who exited the school system in classes 1-8 in 2008-09 and 2013-14. Among the population of children who stay in school, the quality or level of learning is low. The Economic Survey 2015-16 noted that the proportion of class 3 children able to solve simple two-digit subtraction problems fell from 26% in 2013 to 25% in 2014. Similarly, the percentage of class two children who cannot recognize numbers up to 9 increased from 11.3% in 2009 to 19.5% in 2014. To address the issue of learning levels in school going children, the draft Policy proposes that norms for learning outcomes should be developed and applied uniformly to both private and government schools. In addition, it also recommends that the existing no-detention policy (promoting all students of a class to the next class, regardless of academic performance) till class 8 be amended and limited to class 5. At the upper primary stage (class six onward), the system of detention should be restored. Curriculum and examination reforms It has been noted that the current curriculum followed in schools does not help students acquire relevant skills which are essential to become employable. The draft Policy highlights that the assessment practices in the education system focus on rote learning and testing the students’ ability to reproduce content knowledge, rather than on understanding. The draft Policy aims to restructure the present assessment system to ensure a more comprehensive evaluation of students, and plans to include learning outcomes that relate to both scholastic and co-scholastic domains. In order to reduce failure rates in class 10, the Policy proposes to conduct examination for the subjects of mathematics, science and English in class 10 at two levels. The two levels will be part A (at a higher level) and part B (at a lower level). Students who wish to opt for a vocational stream or courses for which mathematics, science and English are not compulsory may opt for part B level examination. Teacher development and management It has been observed that the current teacher education and training programs are inadequate in imparting the requisite skills to teachers. The mismatch between institutional capacity to train teachers and required supply in schools results in a shortage of qualified teachers. At the level of classes 9-12, the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan prescribes a teacher-pupil ratio of 1:30. However, some states have a higher teacher-pupil ratio: Chhattisgarh (1:45), Bihar (1:57) and Jharkhand (1:68).3 In various central universities, the total number of sanctioned teaching posts is 16,339, of which 37% are lying vacant. The draft Policy recommends that state governments should set up independent teacher recruitment commissions to facilitate transparent, merit based recruitment of principals, teachers, and other academic staff. For teacher development, a Teacher Education University should be set up at the national level to focus on teacher education and faculty development. In addition, the draft Policy also states that all teacher education institutes must have mandatory accreditation. To ensure effective teacher management, periodic assessment of teachers in government and private schools should be carried out and linked to their future promotions and increments. Skill development and employability It has been noted that the current institutional arrangements to support technical and vocational education programs for population below 25 years of age is inadequate. The social acceptability of vocational education is also low. Presently, over 62% of the population in the country is in the working age-group (15-59 years). Only 10% of this workforce (7.4 crore) is trained, which includes about 3% who are formally trained and 7% who are informally trained. In developed countries, skilled workforce is between 60-90% of the total workforce. The draft Policy proposes to integrate skill development programs in 25% of schools and higher education institutions in the country. This is in line with the National Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Policy that was released by the government in 2015. The draft Policy 2016 focuses on important aspects that have not been addressed in previous policies such as: (i) curriculum and examination reforms, and (ii) teacher development . Although the Policy sets a framework for improving education in the country, the various implementation strategies that will be put in place to achieve the education outcomes envisaged by it remains to be seen. For an analysis on some education indicators such as enrolment of students, drop-out rates, availability of teachers and share of government and private schools, please see our Vital Stats on the ‘overview of the education sector’ here.  Some Inputs for Draft National Education Policy 2016, Ministry of Human Resource Development, http://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/Inputs_Draft_NEP_2016.pdf.  Rapid Survey on Children, 2013-14, Ministry of Women & Child Development, Government of India, http://wcd.nic.in/sites/default/files/RSOC%20FACT%20SHEETS%20Final.pdf.  Secondary education in India, U-DISE 2014-15, National University of Educational Planning and Administration, http://www.dise.in/Downloads/Publications/Documents/SecondaryFlash%20Statistics-2014-15.pdf.  All India Survey on Higher Education 2014-15, http://aishe.nic.in/aishe/viewDocument.action?documentId=197.  Economic Survey 2015-16, Volume-2, http://indiabudget.nic.in/es2015-16/echapvol2-09.pdf.  Overview, Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan, Ministry of Human Resource Development, http://mhrd.gov.in/rmsa.  “265th Report: Demands for Grants (Demand No. 60) of the Department of Higher Education”, Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, April 2013, 2015, http://22.214.171.124/newcommittee/reports/EnglishCommittees/Committee%20on%20HRD/265.pdf.  “Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship: Key Achievements and Success Stories in 2015”, Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Press Information Bureau, December 15, 2015.  Draft Report of the Sub-Group of Chief Ministers on Skill Development, NITI Aayog, September 2015, http://niti.gov.in/mgov_file/Final%20report%20%20of%20Sub-Group%20Report%20on%20Skill%20Development.pdf.  Economic Survey 2014-15, Volume 2, http://indiabudget.nic.in/es2014-15/echapter-vol2.pdf.
In the last few years, several states have enacted laws to curb cheating in examinations, especially those for recruitment in public service commissions. According to news reports, incidents of cheating and paper leaks have occurred on several occasions in Uttarakhand, including during the panchayat development officer exams in 2016, and the Uttarakhand Subordinate Services Selection Commission exams in 2021. The Uttarakhand Public Service Commission papers were also leaked in January 2023. The most recent cheating incidents led to protests and unrest in Uttarakhand. Following this, on February 11, 2023, the state promulgated an Ordinance to bar and penalise the use of unfair means in public examinations. The Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Bill replacing the Ordinance in March 2023. There have been multiple reports of candidates being arrested and debarred for cheating in public examinations for posts such as forest guard and secretariat guard after the ordinance’s introduction. Similar instances of cheating have also been noted in other states. As per news reports, since 2015, Gujarat has not been able to hold a single recruitment exam without reported paper leaks. In February 2023, the Gujarat Assembly also passed a law to penalise cheating in public examinations. Other states such as Rajasthan (Act passed in 2022), Uttar Pradesh (Act passed in 1998) and Andhra Pradesh (Act passed in 1997) also have similar laws. In this blog, we compare anti-cheating laws across some states (see Table 1), and discuss some issues to consider.
Typical provisions of anti-cheating laws
Anti-cheating laws across states generally contain provisions that penalise the use of unfair means by examinees and other groups in public examinations such as those conducted by state public sector commission examinations and higher secondary education boards. Broadly, unfair means is defined to include the use of unauthorised help and the unauthorised use of written material by candidates. These laws also prohibit individuals responsible for conducting examinations from disclosing any information they acquire in this role. The more recent laws, such as the Gujarat, Uttarakhand, and Rajasthan ones, also include the impersonation of candidates and the leaking of exam papers within the definition of unfair means. Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh prohibit the use of electronic aids. Maximum prison sentences for using such unfair means range from three months in Uttar Pradesh, to seven years in Andhra Pradesh.
Issues to consider
The Gujarat and Uttarakhand anti-cheating Acts have relatively stringent provisions for cheating. The Uttarakhand Act has a fixed 3-year prison sentence for examinees caught cheating or using unfair means (for the first offence). Since the Act does not distinguish between the different types of unfair means used, an examinee could serve a sentence disproportionate to the offence committed. In most other states, the maximum imprisonment term for such offences is three years. Andhra Pradesh has a minimum imprisonment term of three years. However, all these states allow for a range with respect to the penalty, that is, the judge can decide on the imprisonment term (within the specified limits) depending on the manner of cheating and the implications of such cheating. Table 1 below compares the penalties for certain offences across eight states.
The Uttarakhand Act has a provision that debars the examinee from state competitive examinations for two to five years upon the filing of the chargesheet, rather than upon conviction. Thus, an examinee could be deprived of giving the examination even if they were innocent but being prosecuted under the law. This could compromise the presumption of innocence for accused candidates. The Gujarat and Rajasthan laws also debar candidates from sitting in specified examinations for two years, but only upon conviction.
These laws also vary in scope across states. In Uttarakhand and Rajasthan, the laws only apply to competitive examinations for recruitment in a state department (such as a Public Commission). In the other six states examined, these laws also apply to examinations held by educational institutions for granting educational qualifications such as diplomas and degrees. For example, in Gujarat, exams conducted by the Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board are also covered under the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2023. The question is whether it is appropriate to have similar punishments for exams in educational institutions and exams for recruitment in government jobs, given the difference in stakes between them.
Sources: The Rajasthan Public Examination (Measures for Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2022; the Uttar Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 1998; the Chhattisgarh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2008; the Orissa Conduct of Examinations Act, 1988; the Andhra Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Malpractices and Unfair means) Act, 1997; the Jharkhand Conduct of Examinations Act, 2001, the Uttarakhand Competitive Examination (Measures for Prevention and Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2023, the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Methods) Act, 2023; PRS.