By Bhamy V Shenoy
The newly released 480-page draft report on ‘New Education Policy’ by a nine-member committee headed by K Kasturirangan is a delight to study. It constantly reminds us of our civilisational contribution that has been down played or often ignored by the current education system. The NEP, if implemented fully, will completely transform India’s education sector.
Unfortunately, it is a crying shame that some our political leaders have tried to highlight the non-issue of three-language policy to build political capital rather than discussing the more substantive issue of how the NEP will help the country. Since children learn languages quickly between the ages of 2 and 8, the NEP suggests that encouragement should be given to children to learn many languages. No priority has been given to Hindi and, in fact, more emphasis is placed to teach India’s classical languages like Sanskrit, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, etc. Still, after the protests, the government tweaked the draft NEP to make sure that for non-Hindi speakers Hindi is not mandatory.
If the NEP is implemented even partially, it will usher in a new era in India’s education sector. There will be no fear of one examination deciding the destiny of a student. Going to school will be enjoyable, and not boring like today. Students will have far more flexibility to select courses. Rote-learning will be replaced by creative thinking. Minimum bureaucracy, less regulation and less scope for corruption. Only honest elected leaders will opt to become education ministers.
Although the report deals with all aspects of school education, higher education and professional education (health, technical, legal and healthcare), greater emphasis is given to school education. Early childhood education, which has been more or less totally neglected, is given the highest priority. This is influenced by the fact that over 85% of cumulative brain development occurs prior to the age of 6.
The current 12 years of schooling will be replaced by 15 years, but still students can complete high school by the age of 18. The current 5+3+2+2 will be replaced by 5+3+3+4. The current system consists of primary, upper primary, secondary and pre-university. It will be replaced by a Foundational stage from ages 3 to 8, Preparatory stage from ages 8 to 11, Middle stage from ages 11 to 14, and High School from ages 14 to 18. The Foundational stage will comprise five years of flexible, multilevel, play-based, activity-based and discovery-based learning, and is the most important stage.
It is at the High School stage where there is complete transformation. Pre-university or higher secondary is eliminated. Each year will be divided into two semesters, for a total of eight semesters. Each student would take 5-6 subjects each semester. There will be some essential common subjects for all. Simultaneously, there will be a great flexibility in selecting elective courses, including in the arts, music, vocational subjects and physical education. SSLC (Secondary School Leaving Certificate) and PUC (pre-university course) examinations will be eliminated. In each semester, students can take Board examinations in the subjects they have taken and there will be no in-class final examinations. Thus, the pressure of examinations will be eliminated and so also the student suicide rate.
All stages will heavily incorporate Indian and local traditions, as well as ethical reasoning, socio-emotional learning, quantitative and logical reasoning, computational thinking and digital literacy, scientific temper, languages, and communication skills.
School education will develop scientific temper, aesthetic sense, communication, ethical reasoning, digital literacy, knowledge of India, and knowledge of critical issues facing the community and the world.
Since teachers are the critical factor in the education sector, the NEP deals extensively with this topic. The teacher education system will be overhauled completely. Teacher preparation for all school stages will be offered only in multidisciplinary universities through a four-year programme, with the curricula and processes being revamped to address current issues with teacher preparation. Institutions currently offering the two-year programme will either transition to this mode or be phased out; no new two-year programmes will be given recognition.
The objective of higher education is to create world-class multidisciplinary higher education institutions (HEI) across the country, and to increase the gross enrolment ratio (GER) to 50% by 2035 from the current level of 25%. Ancient Indian universities of Takshashila and Nalanda have served as role models in developing these efforts.
There will be three types of institutions. The first is Research Universities offering PhD and master’s degree to focus on research. The second is Teaching Universities focusing on high quality teaching across all disciplines. The third is Individual Colleges offering only undergraduate courses. Every such college, irrespective of private or public, will be autonomous. All these HEIs will have the rights to award degrees, unlike today where only universities have the right. There will be no affiliating universities or affiliated colleges in the future.
In order to drive the vision of the NEP and to facilitate the efficient and holistic implementation (in India, the best of reforms have failed at the implementation stage) of the NEP, a high-level body called the Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog (National Education Commission) headed by the Prime Minister has been proposed. This body will be responsible for developing, articulating, implementing, evaluating and revising the vision of education in the country on a continuous and sustained basis.
The NEP should have discussed what are the key success factors for its implementation. One such factor is honest, competent, dedicated teachers and managers at all levels. While the NEP is exhaustive, substantive policies, especially concerning school education, could have been discussed in fewer pages. These are: (1) Getting rid of public examinations; (2) No transfer of government school teachers; (3) Developing a system to hold teachers and administrators accountable based on the performance of students; (4) Closing down of ‘small’ schools and integrating them into larger and integrated schools like Kendriya Vidyalayas with library and laboratory facilities, and children residing away from these schools can be transported by buses like children going to private schools; (5) The government should allocate at least 6% of GDP towards education sector, which is currently at the 3% level.
With the elimination of public examinations, it will be the end of coaching schools. Teacher unions are unlikely to favour the recommendations since they will be held accountable and also they need to teach unlike preparing children to take exams. Anganwadi unions will also not be happy since pre-schooling will take place in large school complexes. But the general public and students should rejoice and welcome the NEP. Unless there is a vibrant movement to support the NEP, it will remain a pipe dream, and India would have a lost another golden opportunity to usher in a million mutinies in the education sector, as recommended by the NEP.
The author is former manager, Conoco, and former board member of the national oil company of Georgia