"If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow", John Dewey, a renowned educationist once said. This is what India’s New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 appears to follow in spirit. Does it actually have the spine to prepare our children for tomorrow, or suffer from the classical goal setting - policy making gap? Here’s what I think.
What is the NEP?
Let us begin by reminding ourselves that in one of the youngest countries of the world, India, the gross enrollment ratio for education is around 26%, compared to 35% in Egypt, 48% in China, and 90% in Australia. The NEP aims to enrol two crore out-of-school children into the educational system and reduce dropouts. It also aims to increase the share of educational investment in the national GDP from around 3% in the past few years to about 6% in the next few years. Other key points include the replacement of the 10+2 system with a 5+3+3+4, a centralised body for all streams except for medical and legal, and the introduction of learning in mother tongue.
Full marks for extra efforts
The very fact that after 1986, this is the first major overhaul in our education system, is worth applauding. In the middle of grappling with a global health crisis and the ensuing economic crisis, India is focussed on national development all the same.
Under the new system, there will be no annual exams but board exams in classes 3,5,8,10, and 12. If this also translates into doing away with unit tests, monthly tests, and all other forms of frequent marking systems, it is surely a welcome change. Removal of regular testing and grading can shift the focus from the marksheet to actual learning. The pressure of the marksheet at degree level is also set to reduce with a 4-year degree that provides students with an option to drop out of the course mid-way and still earn a certificate.
The introduction to autonomy to colleges will not just pave the way for institutions to develop unique syllabi, but also encourage experimentation with learning tools and methods at the higher education level and reduce the quality gap between regular institutions and the IITs/IIMs, where most of us don’t make it. There is also a clear focus on multi-disciplinary learning with a proposal to set up stand-alone universities catering to health science, law, agriculture, etc. Terms like online learning, digital repositories, coding, credit-based recognition of MOOCs, have also been thrown, signalling the long overdue digitization of education in a country known for producing technological geniuses and sending them to the West.
There are two initiatives that show a promising sign of modernization- welcoming international universities to set up campuses in India, and the introduction of vocational learning through classes and internships with gardeners, artists, carpenters, etc. right from the school level. The latter not only seeks to blur the dated boundaries between the arts and other streams, but also uproot the societal issue of lack of dignity of labour. In pure capitalistic terms, international universities arriving home would mean that home institutions will have to pull their socks up to stay relevant.
Lessons we still haven’t learnt
The ruling party’s agenda of nationalism surely shines through the NEP. The usage of mother tongue, local language, or regional language as medium of instruction till Class 5 has welcomed a lot of positive responses. Why is no one asking the fundamental questions in this regard? Firstly, India has a sea of regional languages. Science says that when you’re a toddler, you don’t learn a language, you acquire it. As you grow older, your understanding and vocabulary expands. If kids learn in a regional language till Class 5, do they start learning English in their teenage, when the ‘acquisition’ phase has already passed? Is the employment market ready to absorb students equipped better in languages other than English? The introduction of classical languages such as Sanskrit and Prakrit also sounds hollow, considering that these languages are tough to crack even for scholars and experts. Are we trying too hard to preserve our culture at the cost of energies that could rather be diverted to learning for the future?
Now, consider this. About 500 million Indians actively use the internet. That’s roughly half of our population. Out of these, a lot of users wouldn’t have the data speed and efficiency that cities have. Only 47% of Indian homes even have electricity for more than 12 hours a day. The policy has stated no clear plans to improve digital infrastructure, and has jumped onto digital learning.
Remember the Right To Education (RTE)? Ten years ago, the act promised ‘free and compulsory’ education for all children in the age group of 6 to 14 years. In 2020, we need a new policy to ensure enrolment of crores of children. The cracks at policy level in these ambitious plans couldn’t be clearer.
We shall overcome…
Any change could’ve been a good change in an educational system that has been screaming for reform since decades. It can be safely concluded that the NEP should be welcomed with open arms, while at the same time, not be placed on a pedestal.
A lot of the finer details such as involving tech experts for development of digital infrastructure, linguists for creating a scientific language-learning roadmap, international educational experts for creating a strong workforce, etc. remain to be seen. While going back to our roots and learning regional languages is not at all a bad thing, the need for a unifying language, albeit colonial, cannot be ignored. While the language conundrum of India is a whole different discourse, it’s a good time to have it along with the educational discourse on the same platform.
Let us keep our minds open and make our children ready for better learning. If nothing else, this pandemic has surely brought to us newer spaces for learning online and learning on our own. Why not make the best of it, while we wait for the state to do its job?
Snehal is Columnist at GGI.
She is a writer, poet, music aficionado, Oxford comma proponent, and a lot of other things. She also writes on personal finance for 'Qrius Creative Labs'. She has worked as a copywriter, content writer, scriptwriter, creative strategist, and direction assistant at multiple organisations in the past.
Snehal is a graduate from the Bachelor in Mass Media, Advertising from St.Xavier's College, Bombay.