By Kavita Sahay Kerawalla
When the government of India revealed its National Education Policy (NEP) in 2020, one of the most striking pedagogical reforms in the draft policy was the changing of the existing 10+2 years structure to the 5+3+3+4 format. With this move, the NEP 2020 aims to create a more inclusive transition for children from the foundational to the secondary stage by bringing playschools into the sphere of formal education and dividing the educational structure based on the cognitive-developmental stages of the child.
The ABCs of the new 5+3+3+4 format and why it holds promise
According to the new school education system of 5+3+3+4 as outlined by the NEP, children will spend five years in the foundational stage, three years in the preparatory stage, three years in the middle stage, and four years in the secondary stage. This also increases the purview of the Right to Education Act that will now cover ages three to 18 as opposed to the current six to 14, ensuring that children are supported right from preschool ages to the higher grades that is nine to 12.
This overhaul is more than just a structural change: the 5+3+3+4 system ensures that there is increased focus on early childhood care and education (ECCE) because, for the first time, the preschool level (ages 3-6) has been brought into the ambit of formal education. According to extensive neuroscience research, this is a period of amazing development in a child’s brain as thousands of synaptic connections are formed in the brain every second and the child picks up on language and speech skills, gross and fine motor skills, social and emotional skills, cognitive abilities and much more. Hence, these years represent a time of rapid psychological growth and cognitive development that children eventually carry into adulthood.
Currently, there are hundreds of pre-primary schools across the country, each following its own curriculum, fee structure and training requirement that may stipulate as little as three months of study for potential teachers. Scores of well-meaning yet uninformed parents often send their children to these schools that do not follow any government norms and function as independent educational institutions. Thus, by bringing preschools and Montessori schools into the fold of formal education, the NEP’s new 5+3+3+4 format ensures that there is accountability and standardisation of early childhood education.
Additionally, the new structure can also help to tackle one of the most significant challenges in education systems the world over – student retention rates. Ensuring that children stay in school is one of the hardest tasks for educators across the globe. Currently, one in five children, adolescents, and youth are out of school; this includes 64 million primary school going kids, 61 million lower secondary school age children and 138 million children of upper secondary age. India also grapples with the same problem, and this has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. As per the Observer Research Foundation, nearly 250 million children across India have been adversely affected because of the school closures and lockdowns in the pandemic times. Research by UNICEF shows that this problem can be tackled via good early childhood care and education (ECCE), which is linked to reduced chances of dropout and repetition of years, and it can help enhance results at all levels of education.
The NEP 2020 has been implemented after much deliberation, with the aim of improving India’s education system and bringing it at par with international benchmarks. Moving to a 5+3+3+4 structure is one among the many changes that will help to mould India’s children into a future-ready generation prepared to drive its economy and tackle global challenges head on.
The author is vice chairperson, VIBGYOR Group of Schools