NEP-1986: Modifications, Shortcomings and Challenges


The Three NEPs – 1968, 1986 and 2020 -

by Rajkumar Singh     26 September 2023

The Kothari Commission and the National Education Policy (NEP) of 1986 are two important milestones in the history of educational reforms in India. While both aimed to address various challenges in the education system, there are significant differences between them in terms of their scope, focus, and recommendations considered as: Time Period: Kothari Commission (1964-1966): The Kothari Commission, officially known as the Education Commission, was appointed in 1964 and submitted its report in 1966. It was a response to the educational needs and challenges of that era, while the National Education Policy of 1986 was formulated in the mid-1980s and implemented over a longer period, extending into the 1990s. It was designed to address the evolving needs of the Indian education system in the 1980s and beyond. The Kothari Commission primarily focused on higher education and made recommendations related to university education, research, and post-secondary education institutions, but the NEP of 1986 had a broader scope and covered all levels of education, from primary to higher education. It addressed issues related to school education, curriculum development, teacher training, vocational education, and adult education, in addition to higher education The Kothari Commission focused on expanding access to higher education, promoting research and innovation, and improving the quality of university education. The NEP of 1986 had a more comprehensive focus. It emphasized universalization of elementary education, improving the quality of school education, promoting vocational education, addressing social and regional disparities, and making education more relevant to the needs of society and the job market. In matters of language policy, the Kothari Commission recommended the three-language formula, emphasizing the study of a regional language, Hindi, and English. It aimed to promote linguistic and cultural diversity the NEP of 1986 supported the use of the mother tongue or regional language as the medium of instruction at the primary level, with an emphasis on multilingualism. It aimed to strengthen the foundation of education through the use of the child’s familiar language. In addition, the Kothari Commission operated in a different economic context, as it was prior to the economic liberalization policies of the early 1990s. Economic considerations and the role of education in economic development were not as prominent in its recommendations. NEP of 1986: The NEP of 1986 operated in a changing economic landscape, with a growing recognition of the role of education in economic growth and development.

Shortcomings of 1986 

Although, the Education Policy of 1986 was a comprehensive framework aimed at shaping the educational system in the country,  it also had its fair share of shortcomings which include: a. Lack of Focus on Skill Development: The policy emphasized a traditional academic approach, neglecting the need for practical skills and vocational training. This led to a gap between the education system and the demands of the job market. b. Inequality and Disparities: The policy did not adequately address the issue of educational disparities across different regions and social groups. It failed to provide concrete measures to bridge the gap between urban and rural education, as well as between various castes and communities. c. Examination-Centric System: The policy continued to promote an examination-centric approach to education, which put excessive pressure on students to perform well in exams rather than encouraging holistic learning and critical thinking. d. Rote Learning: The policy did little to discourage rote learning, which remained a prevalent practice in the Indian education system. Rote memorization often hindered creativity and problem-solving abilities among students. e. Overemphasis on Higher Education: While the policy aimed to expand higher education, it did not pay enough attention to strengthening the foundation of primary and secondary education. This resulted in a skewed focus, with higher education receiving more resources and attention than primary education. g. Limited Inclusivity: The policy did not adequately address the needs of children with disabilities or provide a clear roadmap for their inclusion in mainstream education. h. Insufficient Funding: The policy did not provide a concrete plan for financing the proposed reforms in the education system. As a result, many of the ambitious goals and objectives outlined in the policy remained underfunded and unimplemented. i. Bureaucratic Hurdles: Implementation of the policy often faced bureaucratic hurdles and delays, making it challenging to bring about meaningful reforms in a timely manner. In conclusion,  the shortcomings of the 1986 Education Policy led to the introduction of a new National Education Policy in 2020, which aimed to address some of these issues and bring about significant reforms in the Indian education system.

Modifications followed

The key educational reforms and initiatives that occurred after 1986 include: a. National Curriculum Framework (NCF): The National Curriculum Framework was introduced in 2005. It aimed to provide a more flexible and child-centered curriculum, focusing on holistic development and critical thinking rather than rote learning. The NCF recommended changes in textbooks and teaching methods to align with these principles. b. Right to Education Act (RTE) 2009: The RTE Act made elementary education a fundamental right for children aged 6 to 14 years. It mandated free and compulsory education for all children in this age group and set standards for school infrastructure, teacher qualifications, and pupil-teacher ratios. The RTE Act sought to reduce disparities in access to education. c. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA): Launched in 2001, SSA is a flagship program aimed at achieving universal elementary education. It focuses on improving infrastructure, teacher training, and access to quality education, particularly in rural and underserved areas. d. Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA): Launched in 2009, RMSA focuses on improving the quality of secondary education by enhancing infrastructure, teacher training, and curriculum development for classes 9 and 10. e. Mid-Day Meal Scheme: The Mid-Day Meal Scheme was expanded to cover all government and government-aided schools in 1995. It aims to improve school attendance and nutrition by providing free meals to students. e. Digital Initiatives: The use of technology in education has been promoted through initiatives like the National Mission on Education through ICT (NMEICT) and Digital India. These initiatives aim to enhance the use of digital resources and e-learning tools in classrooms. f. Higher Education Reforms: Several reforms have been introduced in higher education, including the establishment of new institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs). The National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) was introduced to rank higher education institutions based on various parameters. These are just some of the major educational reforms and initiatives that have been introduced in India since the National Education Policy of 1986. These reforms have aimed to address issues of access, quality, and relevance in the education system, as well as adapt to changing societal and economic needs.