NEP 2020: For Sikkim, a chance for good change
National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 is based on the principle that education must develop not only cognitive skills which include both foundational skills of literacy and numeracy and higher-order cognitive skills: Navneet Chettri
India will have the largest youth population in the world over the next decade and reform in the form of National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 was no doubt, the need of the hour. The policy is based on the principle that education must develop not only cognitive skills which include both foundational skills of literacy and numeracy and higher-order cognitive skills such as critical thinking and problem solving; but also social and emotional skills called as soft skills which include cultural awareness, empathy, perseverance, grit, teamwork, leadership and communication among others.
The policy may still take some time to see the light of day; regardless of the cabinet approval is the first step in the right direction. The policy, if implemented in both “letter and spirit”, may prevent the impending demographic disaster to yield a much needed demographic dividend for our nation. This document, no doubt, has the potential to shape the future of our country in the 21st century.
A recent notification was circulated by the State Education Department asking the teaching fraternity to submit suggestions and strategies through the head of the institution for the implementation of NEP 2020 in our state. In this regard, I had put forward the following suggestions, specifically related to higher technical education because of my grass root level experience, after a detailed analysis of the policy document.
The main focus of the NEP 2020 is to transform the existing fragmentation of higher education into multidisciplinary university and colleges. This can be achieved in three steps in our state. First, our state Industrial Training Institutes (ITI) can act as compulsory feeder institutions to the existing two-state polytechnics, namely ATTC, Bardang and CCCT, Chisopani for those students who want to pursue higher education.
This would provide for a well-defined path for the students and increase awareness among them about the existing opportunity to be admitted directly to the second year in engineering. As such, this will provide for synthesis of vocational and technical institutions in our state, without any considerable overhaul of the existing infrastructure, and thus expensive to the exchequer. It can be taken as a short term goal.
Second, these two state polytechnics can act as a feeder institution for our state degree college SIST, Chisopani, provided the infrastructure of SIST is developed with the highest priority on a mission mode. The financial burden of it will be considered but with the increase in the share of the GDP to 6% of the GDP in the NEP 2020, it can be achieved. This should act as an intermediate goal.
Finally, a long term commitment and a vision of establishing the first state university in Sikkim (SMIT, SU and NIT are central universities) by upgrading SIST should be taken at the earliest. Once achieved, probably over the next decade, other business and arts courses can be rolled out with PhD programs in all streams to make it a holistic and a multidisciplinary institute that helps to develop an all-round individual that possess critical 21st-century capabilities, as a state by NEP.
Further, a utopian dream in regards to this third and final step would be to upgrade either SIST or any arts degree college in Sikkim to the status of the state university and bring all other degree colleges within its ambit with PhD programs in all streams. This would enable the university to be a melting pot of arts and technical ideas, first of its kind in Sikkim, furthering the long tradition of holistic and multidisciplinary learning that India has had since the days of Takshashila and Nalanda universities. Though physically apart in terms of campus, they can act as a single unit in its functioning for faculty and students. As such, we can achieve the above-stated goal using the existing facility without incurring much expense concerning land, infrastructure, faculty etc to the exchequer. But as I have already stated in the beginning, it is more likely to be imaginary.
As stated by NEP 2020, the most important factor in the success of higher education is the quality and engagement of faculty. A lot can be done to address the low motivation of faculties. Deputation policy or lack of one so to say, known for all the wrong reasons in our state can be modified to benefit the teaching fraternity in this case. Technical education is largely practical based and as such, a deputation policy for lecturers of a technical institution to serve for at least a period of 6 months in State Engineering Services in appropriate department and position of her level compulsorily can be started. It can be made as a requirement for promotion to the next level for the lecturer.
Further, a policy to use the available resources of the institute for design works of various departments of the government can also be started. We can start by assigning design of a small project to a lecturer, or a group of them, and with time and experience, move to the larger ones. These simple steps would keep the teaching fraternity in touch with the changing demands of the market, keeping them updated to the ground realities, which is a must in a technical field, thus motivating them to share real-life experiences in their teaching which would go a long way to benefit the students.
To ensure equity and inclusion into higher education, a novel step can be a sort of employment policy to offer the top ranker or rankers of each pass out batch (I do not mean each department) of all polytechnics and degree college with some benefit in the appropriate govt. employment exam, over and above the existing reservation policy, if not a confirmed regular service of his/her level in the appropriate department for the student. This would go a long way in driving the student of all social strata to pursue and invest in higher education from all corners of Sikkim with full zeal and vigour.
Further, a focus on teacher’s education is a crucial step for improving the quality of higher education. Teaching profession mostly is taken as a stepping stone for bureaucratic positions in our state. Competent teachers crack the exam and move ahead while the non-competent ones use connections and flattery of political class without even attempting to clear any exam for the same. The shift of non-competent teachers rather benefits the students though it degrades the efficiency of the bureaucracy. The loss of competent ones is what we need to prevent, especially in higher education. Attempts should be made to catch and train educators to the fullest at a young age.
Novel schemes specifically targeted for young faculties, probably less than 30 years of age, in line with sending them to complete their higher education (PhD) to reputed institutes can be implemented so that we can create a relatively young class of a strong, experienced and competent group of educators who will see no benefit in shifting to other bureaucratic professions in our state. All faculties of higher education in the existing system eventually have to complete their higher education in time. But following this approach will go on to benefit the teaching community of our state in particular, and the students and society in general to a huge extent.
Similarly, faculties of older age bracket than mentioned above should also be given appropriate opportunities to complete their education. This will create a robust teaching fraternity and an environment in colleges that is more focussed on research, development and creation of new knowledge in our state.
“At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom”. After 73 years of independence, finally, a means to fulfil this promise made to us on the eve of independence can be seen on the horizon. We have to ensure that this opportunity does not get lost into the night.
The author is Navneet Chettri, a lecturer in the Dept. of Civil engineering at CCCT, Chisopani. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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