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The NEP Decoded (Part I)

The National Education Policy (NEP) Draft proclaims “Curriculum and pedagogy will be transformed by 2022 in order to minimise rote learning and instead encourage holistic development and 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, creativity, scientific temper, communication, collaboration, multilingualism, problem-solving, ethics, social responsibility, and digital literacy.” These attributes in a policy that kept the country waiting for more than three decades are welcome, though one would wonder why they should be 21st century skills. Were they not required in the earlier centuries? Were people any less creative then? Semantics apart, a good attempt is made to collate all skills required. However, 2022 is just two and half years away to minimise rote learning. Learning pedagogies and assessment methodologies gestate long before changing. Four long years of work in progress has culminated in some worthy suggestions and some real concerns. The increased stress on investments in education and skill development especially after they saw a downward slide in the last four years, is both welcome and much needed in a country with more than 60% population that has seen barely 3 decades of life.

 

The Country needs an equitable education to serve all kinds of disparity whether, caste, class, religion, gender or disability-based especially in the aftermath of a drop in the functioning of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and and Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan, by 31% and 71% respectively in 2017. One important parameter that defines equity is curriculum. NCERT and SCERT would do well to address all concerns past, present and future irrespective and in spite of the right or left inclined critics. The other is the language. Hindi admittedly a sensitive issue down south has been relegated to the trash cans at least for the present, which must come as a relief in the larger interest of the success of implementation of the policy.

 

In a Country where a premium is attached to education by every family, rich or poor, the draft signals setting up new schools and establishment and merging of new institutions, an idea worth exploring. Replacing the UGC by a Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) is a much-needed reform that can promote greater autonomy and focus on better academic outcomes with facilitating and enabling provisions. However, it appears that HECI may not have financial powers, given that the Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA), a joint venture of MHRD, and Canara Bank has already been setup for financing creation of capital assets in premier educational institutions. Further the scope of HEFA has been greatly expanded to cover school education and institutes under Ministry of health. Whereas HEFA seeks to develop the top end institutions like IIT’s, IIIT’s, AIIMS and others into world renowned institutions, it is debatable if funds alone would do this. A lack of synergy between HECI and HEFA must not become one of ‘passing the buck’ game for effective R&D is greatly intertwined with finances.

 

The NEP correctly though a little ambitious, lays stress on a 100% and 50% enrolment at the primary and Higher education respectively. Massive funding is needed to realise these goals. One suspects, the recommendations seem to rely more on hope than experience. NDA I allotted 1104 Billion Rupees (BR) out of a total budget of 17949 BR to HRD in its first year of 2014-15 which was a promising 6.15%. In the subsequent years 15-16, 16-17 and 17-18, it went down from to 5.44% to 4.68% to 3.71% respectively even as total budget in 17-18 went up to 21467 BR which was a good 19% rise on its figures three years earlier. It is worth noting that the gross national income in the same period went up from 104122 BR to 128350 BR which was a good 22% rise. Did public spending offset the government drop in spending? Massive private sector investment would be imperative. As an alternative, robust PPP models will have to evolve. However, PPP has been successful only in infra based projects where the returns are assured. Another concern is taxes on education. Levy of GST on value added services in education is not conducive to bringing down cost of education.

 

The recommendation to change the structure of the school with a start from 3 years of age, merging 9-12 standards into an 8-semester framework, replacing current assessment with application-based assessment pattern, creating new School Complexes and Special Educational Zones for backward areas is a radical and brave idea. Removal of junior colleges idea is actually a throwback on a three-decade old system. Including preschool with government school system will provide infra and logistic challenges and free control suggestion in private schools can pose legal challenges. Revamping under-graduate education through a four-year Liberal Arts Science Education degree with multiple entry and exit options may result in serious conflicts among the educationists on one side and the need to be employable early on the other side besides adding to the cost A recommendation separating the regulation of schools from aspects such as policymaking, school operations, and academic development seems to suggest creating an independent State School Regulatory Authority in each state which will prescribe basic uniform standards for public and private schools. But can we speak freeing education from multiple regulators and seeking to create new ones in the same breath?

 

Its implementation will call for structural changes besides investments of several orders of tens, not to speak of the gestation time to stabilise. The transition can be painful. The country cannot afford a single child subjected to the vagaries of change. Involving, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Ministry of Human Resource Development in curriculum development has potential to create a brilliant curriculum. That said, synergy between various ministries is the key.

 

The draft further insists on a strong emphasis to reading, writing and numeric skills till class sixth. With one in two students in India, still not able to read and write up to their standard fifth, this is again an essential move to improve the quality of education, though the earlier versions would not have encouraged anything different. One of the recommendations like remedial classes must be received well, though it would need commitment and maturity of all concerned of a very high level. The Draft is fairly impressive in stressing that education is not the problem, it’s the solution for education is not an expense, it’s an investment.

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