The New National Education Policy and Swami Vivekananda's Educational Ideas

  • By Swami Vedanishthananda
  • August 18, 2022
  • Know where NEP20 meets Swami Vivekananda’s ideas on education, observations wr.t. School and Higher education and RKMM role in implementing NEP20.

The Ministry of Human Resource Development of the Government of India has announced the New National Educational Policy in 2020 (hereafter, NEP).



The main underlying thoughts of the Policy as mentioned in its introduction reverberate with the ideas of Swami Vivekananda on Education to a large extent, some of which are as follows:

a. Education is fundamental for achieving full human potential.

b. Providing universal access to quality education is the key to India’s continued ascent, and leadership on the global stage in terms of economic growth.

c. The need for children not only to learn but more importantly learn how to learn.

d. Education must build character, and enable learners to be ethical, rational, compassionate, and caring.

e. Building upon India’s traditions and value systems.

f. The rich legacies of India to world heritage must not only be nurtured and preserved for posterity but also researched, enhanced, and put to new uses through our education system.

g. Teachers are the most respected and essential members of society.

h. Particular focus on historically marginalised, disadvantaged, and underrepresented groups.

i. Incorporation of the various elements are to be done by taking into account the local and global need of the country and with respect for and deference to its diversity and culture.


A Few Observations about NEP from the Viewpoint of Swami Vivekananda’s Educational Ideas 

1. The NEP speaks about education being fundamental for achieving full human potential. However, it does not indicate that ‘Divinity inherent in the human being’ is the potential that is to be manifested to the fullest. In developing and perfecting its adhyatma vidya, the science of the Self, India has given a spiritual direction to human evolution consistent with the dignity of a human and one’s infinite potentialities. The Upanishads uphold that this search for fulfilment will take a person progressively beyond one’s physical and sensate awareness which is finite and limited. This, in turn, will give one a glimpse of one’s infinite, universal, and true spiritual dimension as the Atman that enables one to develop a true love for one’s fellow beings and serve them. 


Swami Vivekananda says: ‘Teach yourselves, teach everyone his real nature, call upon the sleeping soul and see how it awakes. Power will come, glory will come, goodness will come, purity will come, and everything that is excellent will come when this sleeping soul is roused to self-conscious activity’ (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (CW, 3.193).

2. The NEP says that education is instrumental in making India a leader on the global stage in terms of economic growth. This in a way narrows down the contribution that India can make to the world at large and be a VishwaGuru, world teacher on the global stage. The growth of a new and dynamic India with her vision of the infinite, universal, and true human excellence that would affect revolutionary changes within her own body-politic and also exert a distinctive influence on the rest of the world, is the vision that should inspire our education system.


Swami Vivekananda says: ‘We have yet to do something to teach to the world. This is the very reason that this nation has lived on, in spite of hundreds of years of persecution, in spite of nearly a thousand years of foreign rule and foreign oppression. This nation still lives, it still holds to God, to the treasure house of religion and spirituality’ (CW, 3.148).


3. The NEP says that children need not only to learn but to learn how to learn.


Swami Vivekananda also echoes this idea: ‘The true education, however, is not yet conceived of amongst us. … It may be described as a development of faculty, not an accumulation of words, or as a training of individuals to will rightly and efficiently’ (CW, 5.231).


4. The NEP says that education must build character.


Swami Vivekananda says in this regard: ‘We want that education by which character is formed, strength of mind is increased, the intellect is expanded, and by which one can stand on one’s own feet’ (CW, 5.232).


5. The NEP emphasises building education strongly on Indian tradition and value systems and nurturing the rich legacies of Indian culture. Swami Vivekananda is also of the same opinion when he says: ‘We must grow according to our nature. … I do not condemn the institutions of other races; they are good for them, but not for us. … We, with our traditions, with thousands of years of karma behind us, naturally can follow our own bent, run into our own grooves; and that we shall have to do’ (CW., 3.213–20). 


However, Swamiji also points out that the mutual exchange of ideas in between India and other nations is the need of the day. He says: ‘Give and take is the law; and if India wants to raise herself once more, it is absolutely necessary that she brings out her treasures and throws them broadcast among the nations of the earth, and in return be ready to receive what others have to give her’ (CW, 4.365). And in this interaction through the exchange, India will discover her Yuga Dharma, the path suited for the present age.


Swamiji says: ‘Let rays of light come in, in sharp-driving showers from the four quarters of the earth; let the intense flood of light flow in from the West-what of that? Whatever is weak and corrupt is liable to die-what are we to do with it? If it goes, let it go, what harm does it do to us? What is strong and invigorating is immortal—who can destroy that?’ (CW, 4.407).


6. The NEP rightly points out that teachers are the most respected and essential members of society. However, in order to keep up this lofty ideal prevalent in Indian ethos, the teachers need to be not only persons of knowledge of their subjects but also individuals of high character. It is a life lived on a great ideal that inspires another life to truly accept and live the ideal.


Swami Vivekananda says: ‘One should live from his very boyhood with one whose character is like a blazing fire and should have before him a living example of the highest teaching’ (CW, 5.369).


7. The NEP says that a particular focus will be put on the education of historically marginalised, disadvantaged, and underrepresented groups. Swamiji has always emphasised this urgent need of the nation. He exhorts: ‘Educate and raise the masses, and thus alone a nation is possible. … The whole defect is here: the real nation who live in the cottages have forgotten their manhood, their individuality’ (CW, 8.307).


8. The NEP emphasises education through colloquial languages.


Swami Vivekananda accepts this: ‘The language in which we naturally express ourselves, in which we communicate our anger, grief, or love, etc.—there cannot be a fitter language than that. We must stick to that idea, that manner of expression, that diction and all’ (CW, 6.187).


The document of the new National Education Policy is divided into four major parts, namely: (a) School Education, (b) Higher Education, (c) Other key areas of focus, and (d) Making it happen.


1. School Education

A few points of the policy on School Education that draws attention to bringing qualitative changes to the present education scenario are as follows (the quotations are from NEP 2020 document):


1. Early childhood care and educationChildren in Anganwadi Centres shall take activity-filled tours-and meet the teachers and students of their local primary schools, in order to make the transition from Anganwadi Centres to primary schools a smooth one.


2. Foundational literacy and numeracy - (a) Special attention will be given to employing local teachers or those with familiarity with local languages. (b) Peer tutoring will be taken up as a voluntary and joyful activity for fellow students under the supervision of trained teachers. (c) Every literate member of the community could commit to teaching one student how to read. (d) Enjoyable and inspirational books for students at all levels will be developed. (e) Public and school libraries will be significantly expanded to build a culture of reading across the country.

Children in RKM School Along, Arunachal trying to concentrate

3. Curriculum and pedagogy in schools

(i) Learning should be holistic, integrated, enjoyable, and engaging.

(ii) Restructuring school curriculum and pedagogy in a new 5+3+3+4 design—(a) The Foundational Stage will consist of five years of flexible, multilevel, play/activity-based learning. (b) The Preparatory stage will comprise three years of building on the curricular style of the foundation stage and will also begin to incorporate some light textbooks as well as aspects of more formal but interactive classroom learning. (c) The Middle stage will comprise three years of education building on the curricular style of the preparatory stage along with the introduction of subject teachers for learning and discussion on more abstract concepts in each subject including experiential learning within each subject, and explorations of relations among different subjects. (d) The Secondary stage will comprise four years of multidisciplinary study building on the curricular style of the Middle stage along with greater depth, greater critical thinking, greater attention to life aspirations, and greater flexibility and student’s choice of subjects.

(iii) To move the education system towards real understanding and towards learning how to learn-and away from the culture of rote learning as is largely present today.

(iv) The aim of education will not only be cognitive development, but also building character and creating holistic and well-rounded individuals.

(v) Education has to be the manifestation of the perfection which is already within an individual.

(vi) Curriculum content will be reduced in each subject to its core essentials to make space for critical thinking and more holistic, inquiry-based, discovery-based, discussion-based, and analysis-based learning.

(vii) Art-integration and Sports-integration will be taken up as a cross-cultural pedagogical approach.

(viii) Students will be given increased flexibility and choice of subjects to study so that they can design their own paths of study and life plans. There will be no hard separation among ‘curricular’, ‘extracurricular’, or ‘co-curricular’; among ‘arts’, ‘humanities’, and ‘sciences’, or between ‘vocational’ and ‘academic’ streams.

(ix) High-quality textbooks, including in science, will be made available in the home language/mother tongue.

(x) No language will be imposed on any State. Sanskrit will be offered at all levels of school and higher education as an important, enriching option for students. It will be taught in ways that are interesting and experiential as well as contemporarily relevant. Indian Sign language will be standardised across the country.

(xi) Certain subjects, skills, and capacities should be learned by all students to become good, successful, innovative, adaptable, and productive human beings in today’s rapidly changing world. 

(xii) Students will be taught at a young age the importance of ‘doing what’s right’, and will be given a logical framework for making ethical decisions.

(xiii) All curriculum pedagogy will be redesigned to be strongly rooted in the Indian and local context and ethos.

(xiv) The aim of assessment in the culture of our schooling system will shift from one that is summative and primarily tests rote memorisation skills to one that is more regular and formative, is more competency-based, promotes learning and development for our students, and tests higher-order skills, such as analysis, critical thinking, and conceptual clarity.


4. Teachers(a) Sharing of teachers could be considered in accordance with the grouping of schools adopted by State and non-Territory governments. (b) Teachers will not be engaged any longer in work that is not directly related to teaching.

5. School complexesEfficient resourcing and effective governance through school complexes/ clusters.

6. Socio-economically Disadvantaged Group (SEDG)Regions of the country with a large population from educationally-disadvantaged SEDGs should be declared Special Education Zones where all the schemes and policies are implemented to the maximum through additional concerted efforts.

7. Audit and Control of institutionsAll the educational institutions will be held to similar standards of audit and disclosure as a ‘not-for-profit’ entity. Surpluses, if any, will be reinvested in the educational sector.

8. Vocational educationIt will be integrated in the educational offering of all secondary schools.


A Few Observations about School Education as Envisaged in the NEP from the Viewpoint of Swami Vivekananda’s Educational Ideas 

1. The main thrust of Swamiji’s educational idea is that ‘Education is the manifestation of the perfection which is already in man’ (CW, 4.358). He also says: ‘The ideal of all education should be man-making. But, instead of that, we are always trying to polish up the outside’ (CW, 2.15).

2. In a reply to a question of Sister Nivedita, ‘What he felt to be the points of difference between his own schemes for the good of India and those preached by others?’, Swami Vivekananda replied: ‘One may desire to see again the India of one’s books, one’s studies, one’s dreams. My hope is to see again the strong points of that India, reinforced by the strong points of this age, only in a natural way. The new state of things must be a growth from within’ (CW, 8.266).

3. The Chandogya Upanishad (1.1.10) says that the manifestation of the true energy of character is generated by education: ‘Yadeva vidyaya karoti sraddhayopaniṣada tadeva viryavattaraṁ bhavatiti; whatever is done through mastery of the know-how, through faith (in oneself and one’s cause) and through inner meditation—that alone becomes charges with the highest energy.’

4. Presently, education more often turns out to be collecting of information, especially at the school education level. The national Parent-Teacher Journal, April 1955 of USA says aptly about the current education: ‘The mysterious process whereby information passes from the notes of the professor on to the note-book of the student, through his pen, without entering the mind of either of them.’

5. Swami Vivekananda says: ‘Education is not the amount of information that is put into your brain and run riot there, undigested all your life. We must have life-building, man-making, character-making, assimilation of ideas’ (CW, 3.302). ‘The end aim of all training is to make the man grow. The training by which the current and expression of will are brought under control and become fruitful is called education’ (CW, 4.490).

6. The NEP mentions the inculcation of values in education all through its levels in various ways. However, Values Education itself is often understood not in its true purport and hence fails to deliver the results it envisages. The term ‘values’ is often understood as ‘virtues’ that are to be taught to the students. A popular saying goes: ‘Values are not taught, but they are caught.’ The intent of this saying is that values are not cosmetic ideas that can be put into oneself from the outside but are inherent in us. They are to be discovered within ourselves, asserted again and again, and manifested through our day to day actions. 

7. We actually need the reality orientation of the values and ethics. The Indian education system needs a new foundation in Indian philosophy which is based on a correct understanding of Reality.

8. The true nature of this Reality was discovered for the first time by the sages of the Upanishads. The system of philosophy based on the knowledge gained by these sages is known as Vedanta.

9. Swami Vivekananda, has applied this Vedantic knowledge in the context of the past, present, and future of India and the world at large, and has enumerated ways to reach the true destinies of our lives as individuals, society, nation, and the entire human civilisation. His educational vision is actually the roadmap to these destinations. The NEP needs to implement the aspects of values education in the line of these thoughts of Swamiji.


2. Higher Education ­

A few points in the NEP of the policy on Higher Education that draws attention to bringing qualitative changes to the present education scenario are as follows:

1. It must prepare students for more meaningful and satisfying lives and work roles.

2. The purpose of higher education is more than the creation of greater opportunities for individual employment.

3. End the fragmentation of higher education by transforming higher education institutes into large multidisciplinary universities.

4. Allow a spectrum of institutions that range from those that place equal emphasis on teaching and research, that is, research-intensive universities; and those that place greater emphasis on teaching but still conduct significant research, that is, teaching-intensive universities.

5. A stage-wise mechanism for granting graded autonomy to colleges.

6. Curricula of all higher education institutions shall include credit-based courses and projects on community engagement and service, environmental education, and values based education.

7. Multiple exit options in the degree programmes with appropriate certifications with the establishment of an academic bank of credit.


A Few Observations about the Higher Education as Envisaged in the NEP from the Viewpoint of Swami Vivekananda’s Educational Ideas 

1. The NEP says: ‘The purpose of higher education is more than the creation of greater opportunities for individual employment’. In the context of the present situation of India with its huge youth population who will be the receivers of this higher education, this ‘more’ is actually about more calm thinking, more thinking together, and more purposeful thinking.

2. Our universities have to become the churning houses of ideas and the dynamos of inspiration, and this can be possible only when our youth enter the university as students in search of true higher knowledge and the best that the world has left for each new generation.

3. The teachers of these higher education institutions have also to function as proud lovers of knowledge, who not only use and enjoy it themselves, but also enhance it with their own intellectual contributions by sharing them with the new generation.

4. When our higher education institutions will truly become such a custodians of knowledge, comprising enlightened students and teachers, the nation will turn into a knowledge society as envisaged by the NEP.

5. Students who will be educated in higher education institutions will be entering into a practical world of struggle and opportunity. They thus need to be well equipped with inner strength and poise to face the challenges of life. Often, the curricula do not train the students in these aspects.

6. Our education system also needs to connect youth force with the struggles, aspirations, and all aspects of the society, country, and the world at large, and make them contributors to the betterment of humanity.

7. Swami Vivekananda says that nation-building in India must also involve giving back to the people their lost individuality. It means each child of the nation has to develop his or her personality, out of the prevailing state of being an anonymous face.

8. Swami Vivekananda has also warned about treason. He says: ‘So long as the millions live in hunger and ignorance, I hold every man a traitor who, having been educated at their expense, pay not the least heed to them’ (CW, 5.58). This truth must be broadcast all over India today, and especially among younger generation. For them, the motto given by Swamiji is not only to ‘be’, but also to ‘make’, also pointing out that our national ideals are ‘Renunciation and Service’. 

9. Swami Vivekananda has put his great faith in the youth. He says: ‘My faith is in the younger generation, the modern generation, out of them will come my workers. They will work out the whole problem, like lions’ (CW, 5.223). Higher education has to build such a generation of youth.


The Role of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission in the Implementation of the NEP

1. Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission (RKMM) is the custodian of the nation-building ideals of Swami Vivekananda. A close interaction between the Government and RKMM, both at the Central and State levels, will help those who are engaged in the practical implementation of the policy.

2. RKMM has a vast array of publications in various languages covering various aspects of man-making, character-building, and nation-building ideas of Swami Vivekananda and also the eternal values of the cultural and spiritual heritage of India. This literature can be of immense help at various levels of implementing the NEP.

3. Various monks and centres of RKMM are directly engaged in the field of education and working to put into practice the educational vision of Swami Vivekananda which has a lot in common with the NEP. They can offer their expertise as resource persons both at the state and national levels to enhance the quality of the implementation of NEP.


Swami Vivekananda envisaged that a New India will arise: ‘She is awakening! This motherland of ours, from her deep long sleep. None can resist her anymore; never is she going to sleep anymore; no outward powers can hold her back anymore’ (CW, 3.146).


May the new National Education Policy fulfil this great vision of Swami Vivekananda.


This article was first published in the August 2022 issue of Prabuddha Bharata, monthly journal of The Ramakrishna Order started by Swami Vivekananda in 1896. This article is courtesy and copyright Prabuddha Bharata. I have been reading the Prabuddha Bharata for years and found it enlightening. Cost is Rs 200/ for one year and Rs 570/ for three years. To subscribe

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