The NEP 2020 – What does it mean for schools?

Swami Vivekananda, one of the pioneers of Indian Renaissance has famously said, “Education is not the amount of information that we put into your brain and runs riot there, undigested, all your life. We must have life-building, man-making, character-making assimilation of ideas. If you have assimilated five ideas and made them your life and character, […] The post The NEP 2020 – What does it mean for schools? appeared first on The Sikkim Chronicle - Sikkim News.

The NEP 2020 – What does it mean for schools?

Swami Vivekananda, one of the pioneers of Indian Renaissance has famously said, “Education is not the amount of information that we put into your brain and runs riot there, undigested, all your life. We must have life-building, man-making, character-making assimilation of ideas. If you have assimilated five ideas and made them your life and character, you have more education than any man who has got by heart a whole library.”.

Other pioneers of Indian renaissance and freedom fighters have also called for secular, democratic and scientific education. Such values are imbibed in our constitution as well. Good national education policy must centre around the values imbibed in our constitution and it must envisage making the highest quality education accessible even to the people belonging to the lowest strata of the society.

India has had 3 Education policies so far. The first was passed in 1964, the second was passed in 1986 and the National Education Policy 2020(NEP 2020) is only the third Education Policy in 74 years since independence. The NEP 2020 will decide the future of education for decades to come. It will decide the fate of the crores of Indians, born and yet to born, for many years to come and will also set the tone for future Education policies. In a vast and diverse country like India with a lot of socio-economic, cultural disparities and varieties of colleges, universities and courses, evolving a national education policy is a gigantic task.

Therefore, before approving it, wide consultation with the stakeholders like students, teachers, various political and apolitical organisations, educationists, scientists etc was necessary. Unfortunately, bypassing this democratic process the policy is approved by the union cabinet in the middle of a pandemic when the entire country is engaged in life and death battle with the COVID-19. As Education falls under the concurrent list, to pass national education policy without eliciting the opinion of state government is also the total disregard to the federal structure.

The NEP 2020 starts with very encouraging words. Access, equity, quality, affordability and accountability are said to be the foundational pillars of the policy. It rightly says “the purpose of education is to develop good human beings – capable of rational thought and action, possessing compassion and empathy, courage and resilience, scientific temper and creative imagination, with sound ethical moorings and values” (section 0.12).

The NEP 2020 has two sections viz School Education (page no. 6-30) and Higher Education (page no. 30-49). This article delves on the School Education section only.

Early Child Care and ECCE

The NEP says the 85% of cumulative brain development occurs before the age of 6, indicating the importance of a child’s early years in health development and growth of the brain. It accepts “quality ECCE (Early child care and education) is not available to most young children, particularly children from economically disadvantaged families” (section 1.1). The policy also agrees “as, at the current time, with lack of universal access to ECCE, a large proportion of children fall behind already within the first few weeks of Grade 1…” (section 2.6).

The policy appears sound in the issue of hunger and nutrition as well and it says “Children are unable to learn optimally when they are undernourished or unwell (section 2.7).

In the host of other problems the school education system is going through, the policy rightly says “various governmental, as well as non-governmental surveys, indicate that we are currently in a severe learning crisis: a large proportion of students currently in elementary school estimated to be over 5 crores – have not attained foundational literacy and numeracy, i.e., the ability to read and comprehend basic text and the ability to carry out basic addition and subtraction with Indian numerals”.

The policy alerts “if action is not taken soon, over the next few years, then we could lose 10 crores or more students from the learning system to illiteracy” (section 2.1).  

The policy speaks in volumes about the problems of dropouts and abysmal Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher grades. It also accepts the failure of the schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Right to Education Act (RTE) etc in eliminating the problem of dropouts in the country. Citing the estimate of UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) it says “6.2 crores children of school age (between 6 and 18 years) were out of school in 2013” (section 3.1). It also sets the goal of achieving 100% GER by 2035(section 3.1).

The NEP is spot on in finding the underlying problems in our present education system. It has shown urgency in mending them. To meet this, it has suggested hosts of policy changes, introduced several fundamentally different policies, proposed for adding some fundamentally new policies. Let’s analyse the NEP 2020 to see how capable it is in eradicating the problems the students of this country are facing and setting new dawn to the future of education of this country.

Restructuring curriculum and pedagogy in 5+3+3+4 design

The 5+3+3+4 design to the corresponding age group of 3-8, 8-11, 11-15 and 14-18 years respectively as foundational (3 years in Aganbadi/pre-school and Class I and II), Preparatory (class III-V) and Middle (Class VI-VIII) and Secondary (class IX to XII) replaces the existing 10+2 system has been called ‘revolutionary’ by many.

The present 10+2 system also has a primary level, junior high level, secondary level and senior secondary level. The NEP has not stated what limitations in 10+2 triggered the need to replace it by the new pattern other than that it could not accommodate the students of the age group 3-6 years in the education system.

In this new system, the first 3 years in education must be spent in Aganbadi. However, Aganbadi neither has adequate infrastructure nor manpower to be able to handle the crucial period of pre-schools. We all are familiar with the condition of Aganbadi in the villages and urban areas. The policy speaks about providing an online diploma course to the present Aganbadi workers. However, looking at the reach of internet facilities and smartphones in rural areas, this seems very impracticable.

Moreover, the policy is silent about allocating adequate fund for this. This new design will pave the way for rampant privatisation in pre-schools too. Two types of education will be imparted, for the children who can afford expensive pre-schools and for the children who will have no option than to go to the Aganbadi. This will jeopardise the teaching and learning of millions of newly born kids of the country and a huge education divide will develop right from the age of 3. 

The NEP also says the preparatory level (class III-V) will also be play-based with the introduction of some light textbooks. This pedagogic change is a part of the controversial World Bank-sponsored DPEP (District Primary Education Programme) which has not been successful in India and the world.

Up to class 5, virtually there will be no book however after class 8 students will be loaded with 24 main subjects and 40 optional subjects. This will add tremendous burden and mental stress to students and teachers.

Vocational Education

Vocation is a skill that one can learn through training of 3-6 months or a year. However, the NEP introduces vocational courses right from class VI. It says “every student takes a fun course, during Grades 6-8, that gives a survey and hands-on experience of a sampling of important vocational crafts, such as carpentry, electric work, metalwork, gardening, pottery making, etc., (section 4.26).

It also speaks about providing 10 days bagless period right from the Middle level for internship programmes. Providing vocational skills as part of the education from the age of 11, at a time when a child is expected to develop foundational education will not only add additional burden to the learner but also goes against the basic tenet of education i.e. “Education is a man making and character-building process.”

Albert Einstein has said “It is not enough to teach a man a speciality. Though, he may become a useful machine but not a harmoniously developed personality. The student must acquire an understanding and a lively feeling for values; he must acquire a vivid sense of the beautiful and of the morally good. Otherwise he-with his specialized knowledge more closely resembles a well-trained dog than a harmoniously developed person…. Overemphasis on the competitive system and premature specialization on the ground of immediate usefulness kills the spirit of which all cultural life depends, specialized-knowledge included.” (Education for independent thought, 1952).

The prospect of jobs attached to vocational education might influence the students choosing the subject. There is a commonly accepted hypothesis that the problem of unemployment in the country is due to the lack of professionally oriented skills. However, the fact that lakhs of engineering degree holders, diploma holders, medicine practitioners, IT technicians, ITI pass-outs with skills and knowledge are roaming without job or underemployed exposes how wrong this hypothesis is. 

Vocational subjects can be provided as an option after class X but providing it from class VI will jeopardise the education of young learners.

School complexes/clusters

The NEP 2020 raises various issues regarding the low enrolment of students in Govt schools. It says “according to U-DISE 2016–17 data, nearly 28% of India’s public primary schools and 14.8% of India’s upper primary schools have less than 30 students.

The average number of students per grade in the elementary schooling system (primary and upper primary, i.e., Grades 1–8) is about 14, with a notable proportion having below 6; during the year 2016–17, there were 1,08,017 single-teacher schools, the majority of them (85743 ) being primary schools serving Grades 1–5” (section 7.1). However, it is silent about the cause of decreasing enrolment in Govt schools and corresponding rising enrolment in Private schools.

The reason behind low turn up in Govt schools is their degrading quality. If the face of the Govt schools is changed with the appointments of sufficient teachers, better infrastructures, the parents will start sending their children to Govt schools again. Giving a long justification of the need of the school complexes, it says “one possible mechanism for accomplishing the above would be the establishment of a grouping structure called the school complex, consisting of one secondary school together with all other schools offering lower grades in its neighbourhood including Anganwadis, in a radius of five to ten kilometres”(section 7.6).

The concept of school complexes combining several schools into a single school with shared teachers and infrastructures will hasten the closure of Govt schools, especially the primary schools, junior high and secondary schools. 

Three language policy

The NEP puts forward 3-language policy where the two languages must be Indian. It also says Sanskrit must be made available as an optional language in every school. It also mandates the mother tongue or local language to be the medium of education till class V or preferable up to class VIII. This may compel millions of parents to send their children to private schools which will follow English as the medium of education.

In many states of India, presently, the local language is the medium of instruction. However, the parents choose to send their children to a private school where English is the medium of instruction taking into account the market prospect of the English language. Moreover, the Govt will not force this in private schools which will virtually send parents to the laps of private English schools.

In Sikkim, this policy may put an even greater challenge. Here, Nepali will be more likely to be the medium of instruction. Although Nepali is the language of communication it is not the mother tongue of every community. Each community has its mother tongue. Moreover, all the people of Sikkim are educated from English medium school, how will they be able to teach students in the Nepali language all of a sudden?

The NEP has given more priorities to Sanskrit among all the Indian language. The criteria for learning any language are: (1) it has to be a living one and spoken by a large section of people; (2) it should be lucid and help us to access the treasure of world knowledge; (3) it should help us in getting gainful employment. Without doubt, Sanskrit is a rich but like Greek and Latin, it is an extinct language now. Moreover, Sanskrit does not qualify in any of the above criteria. So, the intention behind pushing Sanskrit as a compulsory language in schools spending crores of rupees is baffling. 

Indianisation of Education – Knowledge about the country

In the introduction section, the NEP says “instilling knowledge of India and its varied social, cultural, and technological needs, its inimitable artistic, language, and knowledge traditions, and its strong ethics in India’s young people are considered critical for purposes of national pride, self-confidence, self-knowledge, cooperation, and integration”.

Without any doubt, the achievements in the geographical region of present India were great must not be ignored in our education. The achievements of the past in the field of science, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, metallurgy, literature, music etc were commendable and it is the prime duty of the countrymen to know about them. However, India’s past must not confine to just one era.

India has made a great contribution in the field of knowledge in the Vedic period and it continued to contribute in the later centuries as well. There have been similar contributions in the era of Slaves, Mughals, the British as well. During the period of Renaissance and India’s freedom struggle, the contribution of men like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Jyoti Rao Phule, Mahatma Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Subash Chandra Bose, Rabindra Nath Tagore, Premchand, Nehru, Ambedkar and scores of other stalwart humanists must not be ignored in our textbooks.

The NEP must help in materialising the kind of education our freedom fighters, the pioneers of Indian renaissance wanted in free India. However, the NEP has surreptitiously ignored the torch bearers of the renaissance. 

Moreover, for centuries there has been a free exchange of knowledge and ideas between India, Greek, Egypt, Babylonia (present-day Iraq), Chine, etc; the flow of knowledge and influences were both ways. 

The NEP in the name of Indianizing Education is compromising with the very basic tenet of education that it must be scientific and secular. Only the facts established by scientific methods must be taught to the learners. For knowledge, there must not be geographical, political or ideological boundaries. Infiltration of unscientific and obscurantist approach in modern science subjects will only foster blindness, religious bigotry, medieval mentality and stunt the process of acquiring modern scientific knowledge. This will destroy the very process of development of scientific, democratic, secular thinking upheld by the freedom fighters and pioneer of Indian Renaissance.

Financing

The policy shows commitments for the increasing fund in education as it wisely says “ …as there is no better investment towards a society’s future than the high-quality education of our young people.”(section 26.1). It also speaks about raising investment in education to 6% of the country’s GDP. This has been the call of the government since the NEP 1968, which has never been achieved. Moreover, calculation of GDP involves the spending of central Govt, state Govt as well as the private investors.

Instead of criticising the Govt for failing to spend adequate fund in education in the past and the present, the policy says “the Policy also calls for the rejuvenation, active promotion, and support for private philanthropic activity in the education sector.

In particular, over and above the public budgetary support which would have been otherwise provided to them, any public institution can take initiatives towards raising private philanthropic funds to enhance educational experiences” (section 26.6), thereby directly inviting the private investors to invest in education and to earn profits in return through it. It further says “opportunities for higher cost recovery without affecting the needy or deserving sections will also be explored” (section 29.7).

In a country like India where the majority of the people earn just enough to survive, to materialise the universalisation of education the financial responsibility must be borne by the Govt. All the tall proposals of the NEP 2020 vanish into the thin air as the responsibly of finance has been shifted to the private investors.

Assessment for student development

The NEP 2020 does not include examination and detention policy much to the dismay of parents and educators in the country. Examinations will be held only in class 3, 5 and 8. Board examinations in class 10 and 12 will be retained however the policy says “any student who has been going to and making a basic effort in a school class will be able to pass and do well in the corresponding subject Board Exam without much additional effort” (section 4.37).

Moreover, the NEP has introduced entrance test even for undergraduate courses. It will accentuate the coaching culture and help in mushrooming coaching centres in the country contradictory to the tall proposal of the policy of ending coaching culture in the country.

In the context of Sikkim

The NEP 2020 endorses privatisation and commercialisation of school education in the country, right from the preschool level. The policy must be critically studied and analysed. A few days back through a circular the Education Department has said that it will undertake wide dissemination of the NEP 2020 from 5th -25th /09/2020.

Rather than implementing the policy blindly in Sikkim, the Govt must consult with the stakeholders, educationists, teachers to identify which policies are in the interest of Sikkim and which are not. As Education comes under concurrent list the state must use its discretion before deciding to implement in the state.

Conclusion

Superficially, the NEP 2020 looks like a pro-people policy but in reality, it is just the opposite. Covertly or overtly, it endorses private investment in education which will, in the long term, make quality education impossible for economically weak people.

The Govt’s intentions of making education a ‘unique field of investment’ is clear in it. To universalise education in the country, the Govt must shoulder the entire responsibility and allocate adequate fund in education. The Govt must reintroduce the pass-fail system and fill up all vacancies in schools with qualified and permanent teachers, develop infrastructures. Rather than addressing these vital issues, the NEP resorts to examination reforms, tampering with syllabus, curriculum and pedagogy.

The author is Shanker Sharma, a scholar and member of the Sikkim Progressive Youth Forum (SPYF). He can be reached at sharmashanker721@yahoo.in/9593880721

Views/Opinions expressed in the article or write up is purely of the author or writer and not of the Sikkim Chronicle. For any queries or contradictions, the author can be contacted in his/her email id.

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