Reading National Education Policy 2020 Right for our Schools

The National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) announced this week has caused tremendous excitement among educationists and stakeholders in the country. The last national education policy, a vision document to give direction to India’s education system, came out decades earlier in 1986 and was later modified in 1992. This was the time when computers had entered our economy. To give you a perspective, according to Moore’s law, the technology in the corresponding period has advanced to an extent where the number of transistors on integrated circuit chips have increased from 50,000 in 1986 to over 50 billion in 2020.

This is how much technology, related skills, and the world around us have drastically evolved in the past three decades while we in India are debating if NEP’s focus on regional languages will be an assault on the English language. The usual suspects might still want to ignite this old debate in the backdrop of NEP 2020, but young India must look beyond these conflicts and must focus on the aspirations of the 21st century.

There are three things that stand out distinctly in the document. First is the honest assessment of the current situation. Second is the inclusion of out of the box ideas. And third and most important are the realistic timelines for achieving various goals.

There are two facts from the document around foundational literacy & numeracy, and gross enrolment ratio that must be noted. On the former, the policy mentions, a large proportion of students currently in elementary school estimated to be over 5 crores — have not attained foundational literacy and numeracy, i.e., the ability to read and comprehend basic text and the ability to carry out basic addition and subtraction with Indian numerals. If action is not taken soon, over the next few years, then we could lose 10 crore or more students from the learning system to illiteracy.’ The numbers on gross enrolment ratio (GER) are equally frightening, ‘GER for Grades 6–8 was 90.7%, while for Grades 9–10 and 11–12 it was only 79.3% and 51.3%, respectively — indicating that a significant proportion of enrolled students begin to drop out after Grade 5 and especially after Grade 8. As per the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) an estimated 6.2 crores children of school age (between 6 and 18 years) were out of school in 2013.’ These realities are scary enough to understand that what was being done previously wasn’t working and required an approach of lateral thinking.

Solving these conundrums are the innovative recommendations brought out in the policy. The focus of these recommendations is to inculcate the skill of ‘learning how to learn‘. There are four policy suggestions that drive across this point in the document and require serious deliberation on the mechanism to implement, while also requiring a shift in the existing mindset towards basic education.

First is restructuring of the school curriculum and pedagogy to a ‘5+3+3+4’ system. This also includes focus on early childhood care and education ‘to ensure that all children entering Grade 1 are school ready.’ The focus on 5+3+3+4 in accordance with the age will develop the important cognitive skills that get lost due to rote learning. The flexibility around choice of subjects and inclusion of vocational courses will help students consciously design and choose a career path early on in their student life.

The focus on mother tongue as a language of instruction in foundational years will be in line with global education research. The policy also takes note of the importance of exposing students to multiple languages in their growing years which has significant cognitive benefits. English, incontestably, is an important skill in today’s world and has found a space in the policy just as that, a skill. In addition, there is a conscious choice in the document to foster national integration by encouraging students to learn languages of other states and especially Sanskrit.

Also, the change in the format of board exams and their introduction in Grades 3, 5 and 8 apart from Grades 10 and 12 will give a more comprehensive picture of a child’s learning curve and skill set they acquire.

Second is the introduction of the concept of school complexes. ‘According to U-DISE 2016–17 data, nearly 28% of India’s public primary schools and 14.8% of India’s upper primary schools have less than 30 students. The average number of students per grade in the elementary schooling system (primary and upper primary, i.e Grades 1–8) is about 14, with a notable proportion having below 6 (students); during the year 2016–17, there were 1,19,303 single- teacher schools, the majority of them (94,028) being primary schools serving Grades 1–5.’ This reality calls for better management of schools, shared resources and infrastructure. This concept will go a long way in creating a strong community of teachers.

A famous proverb goes, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. The third out of the box recommendation pertains to this wisdom and focuses on the involvement of the society in the learning process. NEP 2020 talks of getting trained and qualified social workers to be connected to schools through innovative mechanisms. ‘If every literate member of the community could commit to teaching one student/person how to read, it would change the country’s landscape very quickly; this mission will be highly encouraged and supported. States may consider establishing innovative models to foster such peer-tutoring and volunteer activities.

Lastly, no education can be imagined without teachers and school leaders. NEP 2020 talks of selection, training and continuous professional development of teachers. This shift from the current teacher education model is critical. ‘Recognising that the best teachers will require training in high-quality content as well as pedagogy, teacher education will gradually be moved by 2030 into multidisciplinary colleges and universities’ and ‘in order to fully restore the integrity of the teacher education system, the thousands of substandard standalone Teacher Education Institutions (TEIs) across the country will be shut down as soon as possible.’

The vision of the National Education Policy 2020 is to build the global best education system rooted in Indian ethos and transforming India into a global knowledge superpower. This vision has no meaning if not delivered in a time bound manner, and must be worked upon in a mission mode. In this regard, the timelines put in place by the policymakers are both ambitious and necessary. Some notable timelines are

  1. Ensuring all children entering Grade 1 are school ready by 2030
  2. Achieving universal foundational literacy and numeracy in primary school and beyond by 2025
  3. The goal to achieve 100% Gross Enrolment Ratio in pre-school through secondary school by 2035
  4. By 2030, the minimum degree qualification for teaching will be a 4 -year integrated B.Ed. degree and
  5. Adopting innovative mechanisms to group or rationalise schools by 2025

National Education Policy 2020 states that ‘the aim must be for India to have an education system by 2040 that is second to none, with equitable access to the highest-quality education for all learners regardless of social or economic background.’ At this juncture in India’s history, simmering with a young and vibrant demography, the NEP 2020 is a brave and timely initiative that will require bold and determined measures for successful implementation.

शब्द के आडम्बरों में अर्थ मेरा खो न जाये. Engineer,Ex-Fellow-Teach for India,Quizzing enthusiast, Runner, Like to write poems...and proud Indian.