Dr S. Saraswathi
rime Minister Modi has said that the new National Education Policy (NEP) will mark a shift from “the burden of school bag” to “experiential learning” with focus on “job creators” instead of “job seekers.” The NEP seems to usher in a mini revolution in education system, leaving no aspect of it untouched.
A thorough overhaul of the public education system at all levels is now proposed, keeping in mind our commitments to education for all and for reaching the Sustainable Development Goal No. 4, –i.e., “to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all” by 2030. Concentration is now placed on school and college education at all stages to prepare coming generations to new responsibilities and tasks. It will address two big challenges in education – equity and quality.
The NEP is based on the pillars of “access, equity, quality, affordability, and accountability.” The policy sets a fairly long time-frame to transform education in the next two decades. Action plans are many and will be introduced gradually providing time for the switchover.
Mention must be made of the National Foundational Literacy and Numeracy Mission expected to be launched by this yearend and which will come into full operation in five years. Elementary education in many states has come under criticism where most students fail to show expected standard of literacy and arithmetic. Cent per cent enrolment and prevention of drop-out are not the only aims of universal education. Learning is the principal objective of school education.
Education hitherto viewed as a passport for jobs will now aim at “enhancing the creative potential of humankind.” Among the salient changes envisaged are removal of strict separation of arts and science courses and the barrier between academic and vocational streams. Former is necessary for holistic education, but likely to be resented by students who want to choose their line according to their liking and take no interest in other lines as if work and life consist of water tight compartments. The latter is required for changing the common perception of vocational learning as being inferior to mainstream education.
So also, curricular and non-curricular activities are not strictly demarcated. Thus, many cultural, sports, and economic activities get their base in education expanding the contents of learning. This will also lead to removing existing barriers between school/college education and other types of learning — all of which are necessary to enrich human life. The NEP is designed to encourage different talents in students and does not stop with textbook learning and examinations.
The policy expands the age-group of 6-14 for mandatory schooling to 3-18 and brings 3-6 age-group under school curriculum. The existing 10+2 schooling is to be replaced by 5+3+3+4 corresponding to foundational course (3-8), preparatory (8-11), middle (11-14), and secondary (14-18). It means 12 years of schooling with three years of Anganwadi/pre-schooling. It is doubtful whether all states are ready to bring the 3-6 year age-group under an all-India pattern of schooling.
Wherever possible, the medium of instruction until Class V and preferably until Class VIII is to be the mother-tongue or regional/local language. Children will be exposed to various languages with particular emphasis on mother-tongue. Policy is firm on continuing the three language formula, but assures that no language will be imposed on any state. Two out of the three languages should be native to India. Option is given to study one classical language of India and also one foreign language.
Examination will be to test “core competencies” and board exams will be conducted twice a year. They will be redesigned and a National Assessment Centre, PARAKH (performance assessment, review, and analysis of knowledge for holistic development) will be set up as a standard-setting body.
Digital infrastructure will be built for use of technology in imparting education. Online education becoming common throughout the world, India cannot lag behind. Progress will depend on the strength of infrastructure.
A major change is provision for multiple entry and exit points at the undergraduate level which will facilitate a large number of students to get education in their speed and according to their personal convenience. It is to be welcomed by both slow and fast learners. It will be of great help to students unable to pursue the courses at a stretch and help drop-outs to pick up again.
A Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) will be set up for regulation as an umbrella institution along with four independent bodies for Regulation, Accreditation, Funding, and Academic Standard Setting. These regulatory bodies will ensure implementation of the changes envisaged in the policy.
The writer is former Director, ISSCR, New Delhi. INFA