This is a review only of the schooling section of the policy (the first 30 pages of the policy) based on my experiences as a municipal school teacher, during my Teach For India fellowship and now also as a parent to 2 school-aged children. The policy covers a lot of topics which have hitherto only been spoken about in the education circles. It is a step in the right direction. But the proof of the pudding is in eating and the worth of any policy is in its implementation. Since education is a state subject, it will depend on the interpretation and role each state decides to take on.
Education is fundamental for developing an equitable and just society and promoting national development. Providing universal access to quality education is the key to economic growth, social justice and equality, scientific advancement, national integration and cultural preservation. This is what the government has laid down as the founding principles of the New Education Policy 2020.
What is so right now?
Machine learning and artificial learning may render a lot of unskilled jobs world-over, irrelevant. Climate change and depletion of natural resources will need to be countered by new solutions for meeting needs of energy, water and sanitation resulting in the need for new skilled labour.
In the light of the above two challenges, what is important is not only that children learn but also learn how to learn. So far, so good. Progressive, comprehensive and encouraging.
There are 8 sections to the schooling section and multiple sub-sections. I hope you find this to be a summary of the policy and also my reactions to them.
- Early childhood care and Education (ECCE)
Having worked in a municipal school in Mumbai, I can unequivocally tell you that students who enter grade 1 are not school ready. The curriculum children are expected to deal with in their first year of school is far beyond their reach. And this has the most impact on children whose parents cannot afford to invest in their education. Like the policy mentions, ECCE can be the biggest equaliser in this unequal world of education. Now children from 3 years of age onwards will come into the fold of RTE. While this is a noble thought, the fact that no new solutions to fix the problem or a budget has been extended to reform this area, makes it seem like lip service at the moment. What is outlined is strengthening the existing Aanganwadis – how it will be achieved is the biggest question.
2. Foundational Literacy and Numeracy
The goal is that every student must achieve foundational literacy and numeracy by grade 3. This is something the state governments will have to take up as a priority. Considering the achievement of the Delhi Government in this regard, it does seem like something that is doable given enough political will and budget.
Some innovative suggestions like peer tutoring, use of technological aids to support teacher learning and also to impart literacy to the young students, an interim 3-month play-based ‘school preparation module’ for grade 1 students etc. have been made. From my experience, the most critical aspect here is to make the curriculum flexible. If the teacher is expected to complete the current curriculum as it is and then work on literacy and numeracy additionally, it will fail. Full focus on remedial education will be important while deprioritising the existing curriculum or by at least reducing the content by half. Without that, it’ll be another initiative doomed to fail. The other pitfall that needs to be avoided is to not define literacy and numeracy standards too low. Grade appropriate proficiency must be clear.
3. Curtailing dropout rates and ensuring universal access to education at all levels
Through Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and Right to Education, the past governments have managed to bring in scores of children into the public schooling system. However, retaining them in the schooling system continues to remain a challenge – especially after grades 5-7.
There are some important points here – a. definition of school to become less restrictive is a welcome move. Even Homeschooling has found mention for the first time and b. emphasis on learning outcomes and not only input measures to establish retention. State Open and Distance Learning and National Institute of Open Schools will have to be strengthened to reach the unreached and underserved. Whether this government actually intends to deregulate or not and whether this will be put in practice – your guess is as good as mine.
4. Curriculum and Pedagogy in schools: Learning should be holistic, integrated, inclusive, enjoyable and engaging
Waah! How would anyone disagree?!
The curricular structure and framework for school education to follow a 5 + 3 + 3 + 4 design, consisting of the Foundational (3 years of preschool + Grades 1-2), Preparatory (Grades 3-5), Middle (Grades 6-8), and High school (Grades 9-12 in two phases, i.e. 9 and 10 in the first and 11 and 12 in the second) stages respectively, with an option of exiting at Class 10 and re-entering in the next phase. This will not require any change in the physical infrastructure.
Curriculum will be reduced in each subject to its core essentials, to make space for critical thinking and more holistic, discovery-based, discussion-based, and analysis-based learning (dancing with joy!) Students will be given increased flexibility and choice of subjects to study, particularly in secondary school – including subjects in physical education, the arts, and vocational crafts – so that they may be free to design their own paths of study and life plans. How this will pan out and how long it will take to see the light of day is the real question.
Emphasis on home language or mother tongue until grade 5 or even 8, is a welcome move. The imposition of Hindi on all states is completely missing – which after all the backlash – is feedback well taken by the government. The 3-language formula may be seen as cumbersome by many who are used to only dealing with 2 languages so far. The thrust on Sanskrit seems to be politically motivated but given education ultimately revolves around higher education and job markets, this may become irrelevant.
Vocational training to find space in the curriculum between grades 6-8. This is great. Given all the talk about the demographic dividend and the shortage of skilled labour, this was certainly needed. Contemporary subjects like organic living, artificial intelligence etc. to be introduced. This is great too.
National textbooks with local content and flavour. This sticks out like a sore thumb according to me. When so far, its been about holistic, discussion-based, enquiry based, multi-modal learning – why should suddenly textbooks become the focal point is confusing – except that we know how it can be used to drive an agenda. That apart the rest of the clause does seem to provide flexibility on implementation.
Transforming assessment for student development. Undoubtedly, this is how it should be. More formatives along with summative assessments to measure and revise the teaching provided. Introducing state school examinations in grades 3, 5 and 8 in the spirit of CCE – I’m not so sure – it may just end up increasing the exam pressure. Reducing entrance exam pressure and standardising testing through setting up NACSE and NTA is great.
Support for gifted students/students with special talents. Wow! I can’t wait for this to take shape. It would make such a big difference to so many students who are at the ends of the spectrum.
Teachers to not be engaged in non-teaching activities like electioneering, cooking of mid-day meals and other strenuous administrative activities is a step in the right direction.
The concept of school complexes and the sharing of resources including teachers is not clear. Especially in rural areas, where schools are few and far between, how will this work?
A modular approach to CPD (continuous professional development) is a superb idea. But again, what is missing is why and how will the teachers take up these extra initiatives. Will going through these pieces of training help the teachers move up in their career? This is an important missing link.
The recognition of the need for more special educators and specialised instructors (for promoting local knowledge and skills) is a considerate thought at the moment.
The movement of teacher education programs into multi-disciplinary colleges and universities and shutting down of sub-standard TEIs (Teacher Education Institutes) is also a great step to improve quality. And I am sure that the authorities will make the most of some of the good quality institutes that have put in a lot of work over the last few decades into teacher training. The flexibility worked into the B.Ed programs through different combinations is superb.
6. Equitable and Inclusive Education: Learning for All
Thousands of NGOs across the country have played a crucial role in the advancement of education among SEDGs so far. Continuing and encouraging their efforts through a systematic plan and budget will be crucial. The mention of women and transgenders specifically is heartening but all other diversities also need to be included and at all levels. This clause is a lot of heart and I hope the States take it up in the right spirit and allocate budgets and keep a tight hold on corruption.
7. Efficient Resourcing and Effective Governance through School Complexes/Clusters
While making clusters of small schools to use their resources more effectively seems like a good idea on paper, I can’t wrap my head around how it will be done. Transporting students for one day of picnic is such an exhausting activity (every teacher I am sure will agree); doing this on a daily or weekly basis for learning – I am not sure how practical this is!
8. Standard-setting and Accreditation for School Education
The Department of Education is being split into 4 bodies – a) policymaking with Department of School Education, b) operations of public schools with Directorate of School Education, c) maintaining of minimum standards by State School Standards Authority (SSSA) and d) curriculum and academic matters with State Council of Education Research and Training (SCERT). SSSA granting LSS (License to start schools) can be tricky because it has the power to grant licenses to new schools to begin operations (License to Start School – LSS) and given the Govt’s track record in being facilitative when given licensing powers has not been great, this is a watch out.
Stopping commercialisation of education – affects exhorbitantly charging schools adversely. The intent to review RTE to remove input based criteria is welcome because RTE is currently tedious for affordable schools. Regular assessment is good for the system because it generates data that can be used for course correction.