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NEP-2020 is just what India’s education system needs

Nine Years of TransformationNEP-2020 is just what India’s education system needs

In the third decade of the 21st century, humanity faces unprecedented pace of change in practically every sector of human activity and endeavour. There are great advances in ICT and AI, there are also daunting and threatening concerns that threaten the very existence of life on the planet earth.  Responsive policy formulations must take due note of changes in their specific sectors and remain ever vigilant to respond to unexpected turns and turmoil. India worked for about four-years to evolve a futuristic education policy, the National Education Policy, NEP-2020. It asserts that “The rich heritage of ancient and eternal Indian knowledge and thought has been a guiding light” in its formulation. On the global stage, it reiterates India’s commitment to the globally accepted Sustainable Development Goal (SDG-4) to: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong opportunities for all” by 2030. It is indeed a lofty goal in the national context. In pragmatic terms, it accepts that towards this, “the entire education system is to be reconfigured to support and foster learning”.

India now has a comprehensive and dynamic education policy that responds to the emerging aspirations of the millennial/digital generation, national and international concerns and responsibilities, it includes all the ingredients required to fulfil the commitment made in pursuance of SDG-4.

It would be worthwhile to recall that India got its first National Policy on Education–NEP–in 1968. It was based upon the Kothari Commission Report of 1964-66. One recalls two major recommendations that were most pertinent in those times: ten-year schooling shall be compulsory for all; both boys and girls. The other was gender sensitivity, which was inbuilt in the first one and in fact was really revolutionary in the sixties. Girls were not supposed to study maths and science; these were considered too tough for them, they were fit only for easy areas of study; home science, spinning weaving, arts and crafts etc. The 1986 policy ushered in the era of computers and focussed on emerging technologies. The 1992 policy review was undertaken because of political exigencies, particularly to junk the Ramamurthy Committee Report that was prepared just a year ago.

The NEP-2020 comes after a gap of over three decades and includes practically everything that could create an education system of anyone’s dream! It recognises individuality, focuses on foundational learning, offers flexibility to learners based on their interest and passion, no hard separations of subject combinations, multidiciplinarity, holistic education, conceptual comprehension, and most importantly, priority focus on learning, and learning how to learn, lifelong learning, and readiness to acquire new skills at any stage. Creativity and critical thinking, multilingualism, extensive use of ICT, respect for diversity, and respect for local context, human values, and learning to live together shall find adequate place and coverage in curriculum and syllabus formulations. Presence of divergent learning strategies could reduce the load on textual materials and teacher-taught focused learning. It is now universally realized that mere formal education is not the full preparation for life. It extends throughout life. Never before, education policies had confronted such a widespread paradigm of multidimensional change. The NEP-2020 has generally received approval from all the stakeholders, except from few constrained by their political ideologies.

The cooperation of state governments would be crucial and critical. For the last over two decades, shortage of school teachers, and the practice of appointing teachers on a large scale on a measly honorarium have greatly damaged the quality of learning and consequently, the credibility of government schools. The same applies to most of the universities that took recourse to appoint faculty on per-lecture basis payment, or as guest lecturers on pittance of an honorarium. The NEP-2020, in its articulation of fundamental principles stipulates: “According the highest priority to achieving foundational literacy and numeracy by all students by grade 3.” It flows from the realization and acceptance of the scientific truth that over 85% of a child’s cumulative brain development takes place prior to six-years of age. If implemented seriously on a mission mode, this recommendation has definite potential of transforming the quality of school education and also the higher education and research. The implementation of this “highest priority’ would face several impediments, and that would include availability of trained and inspired teachers, personnel or workers. State education systems–exceptions apart–must accept lack of vision and concern on the low availability of suitably trained regular teachers in schools. The NEP-2020 reproduces (Para 15.2) observations of a Committee Report prepared under the chairmanship of Justice J.S. Verma in 2012: a majority of standalone teacher education institutes–over 10,000 in numbers–“are not even attempting serious teacher education, but are essentially selling degrees for a price”. One could not recall another instance of such an indictment on teacher preparation. It is indeed sad that education quality improvement stands appropriated by commercial hawks damaging the future of the nation. That such a damaging assertion made in 2012 gets reproduced in the NEP-2020 clearly indicates  utter failure on the part of the regulatory body, the  National Council for Teacher Education; NCTE. The credibility of most of the regulatory bodies in various sectors of education, including medical and nursing, is very low. This is a major challenge before the implementers of the policy.

It is very encouraging to note one of the policy resolutions on teachers: “The teacher must be at the centre of fundamental reforms in the education system.” This realization has come too late at the time of a serious crisis in the quality of learning and skill acquisition. The private sector in school as well as higher education is obviously more interested in dividends on their investments. Closure of hundreds of engineering and management institutions tells the entire story of their lack of concern for quality. As such, it would indeed be a tough task to create a nationwide climate that encourages innovations, offers opportunities for skill acquisition to anyone and everyone, a policy recommendation one expects to be implemented in all sincerity. That would require creation of academic leadership, which indeed is in short supply both in school education and higher education. The Headmasters, Principals and Vice-Chancellors/Directors of schools, universities and national level institutions must earn respect from all quarters for their devotion, dedication, dexterity, dynamism and their own contribution to new knowledge. Teachers’ recruitment and selections of suitable heads of education centers must be considered not only as a priority task, but also a pious task by the systems. Some of the well-known impediments must be erased out of the education systems to ensure good quality education and skill-acquisition by all at each stage. If all of our education hubs begin to function at the expected levels, the cognitive capital of India would rise manifold. And that is what India needs.

Former NCERT director,  Prof J.S. Rajput works in education, social cohesion and religious amity.

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