The massive Cabinet rejig effected by Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently and the discussions around intent, timing and its larger ramifications for the governance seem to be settling down. However, the change at the helm in the HRD ministry continues to invite comments on the future of education and the proposals in the National Education Policy (NEP) 2016.
Prakash Javadekar, the incumbent, has his task cut out. To ensure access, expansion, inclusion and quality in education, and to build a strong human capital, is the real challenge.
Over 17 million children and adolescents are out of school, according to the just released UNESCO eAtlas of Out-of-School Children. The share of GDP to education is hovering below 4%, hampering our effort to provide access to the poorer sections. Over 10 million young people are in the need of jobs at any given time. We need effectively managed government schools to impart free, compulsory, quality education. We also need to engage with the private sector, encouraging it with incentives to share the responsibilities of nation building.
Javadekar’s experience in the environment ministry and his term on the HRD panel of Parliament in the previous government will serve him well. He has been at the forefront in negotiating perhaps the most crunching global deal on climate change, basing his case on justice, collaboration, spirit of accommodation and flexibility.
The major task ahead lies in value streaming and meaning creation to respond to the learning expectations of each learner. The draft NEP 2016 provides a framework for the development of education over the coming years (page 5). How the incumbent leadership conceives the goals of 21st-century education will be key to the understanding of how committed the leadership is in fulfilling national and international obligations in providing students necessary skills and competencies.
The NEP 2016 recognises key challenges in the education sector—access, quality, employability, teacher development, equity, curriculum and assessment, technology integration, governance, financial allocation, R&D and global commitments.
Then there is a statement of mission. Four trajectories enunciated as part of the mission—pathways to achieve the vision—do not include the intent of how the private sector will participate in the process. It is an opportunity lost.
Education is largely the responsibility of the state. The NEP 2016 has devoted several sections to quality education. Among the factors for the declining standards in education, the NEP 2016 cites existence of a large proportion of schools that are not compliant with the prescribed norms and standards for a school; student and teacher absenteeism; serious gaps in teacher motivation and training resulting in deficiencies relating to teacher quality and performance; slow progress with regard to use of information and communication technologies in education; suboptimal personnel management; inadequate attention to monitoring and supervision of performance as the plausible reasons.
The NEP 2016 goes on to say that the perceived failure of schools in the government system to provide education of good quality has triggered entry of a large number of private schools, many of which lack required infrastructure, learning environment and competent teachers. The NEP 2016 here has not talked about the huge contribution most private schools have made in the past years. Deficiencies in government schools are the reasons for parents to prefer a private school. How else would one explain the growth of the private sector?
No useful remedies to educational problems can be presented without a good peep into our classrooms. The 21st-century classrooms bring new insights at all levels—learners, teachers, curriculum and instruction. Teacher preparedness, differential teaching-learning strategies, creating engaging content, personalised learning and diagnostics are the areas demanding utmost attention.
An expert group’s report, “Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century”, led by Margaret Hilton and James Pellegrini, brings out that the most critical areas of learning are cognitive, intrapersonal and interpersonal competencies. The challenge lies in linking theory, practice and preparation of teachers in an environment which is not very encouraging at this juncture.
Dimensions of holistic education encompass information, knowledge, enquiry, exploration, creativity, reverence for life and fulfilment. College degrees will play a lesser role in the future than the ability of graduates to culturally fit into organisations, add value and be standard-bearer.
The UN, on September 25, 2015, adopted a set of 17 goals called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—including ending poverty in all forms, ending hunger, ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education, promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all, protecting the earth, ensuring prosperity and promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, to name a few.
Each of these has specific targets, 169 in all, to be achieved over the next 15 years. Of these, goal number 4 focuses on quality education. It has found mention in the draft NEP 2016. In all, eight goals revolve around education, demonstrating the critical role it plays.
Javadekar’s experience will be helpful in fulfilling national commitment to SDGs. He knows how important it is to invest in the education of every child in early years, especially the most vulnerable and marginalised.
In radically unprecedented times in education, our job is not to prepare kids for something; it is to help kids learn to prepare for anything, as aptly said by AJ Juliani, the education and technology innovation specialist. Having worked on Intended Nationally Determined Contributions on climate pledge, it is not mere coincidence that new HRD minister is called upon to envision the Intended Nationally Determined Educational Goals.
The author is Ashok Pandey, principal, Ahlcon International School, Delhi, and chairman, National Progressive Schools’ Conference. Views are personal