Editor's Comment: This is the first part of our two-part series on the recently released Draft National Education Policy (NEP) 2019. The policy which has been split into three parts - School Education, Higher Education and Additional Key Focus Areas. This article dwells upon School Education. The second part of our series on the NEP analyses the remaining two sections of the NEP. It can be read here.
On 31 May, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) released the Draft National Education Policy (NEP) 2019 developed by an 11-member committee chaired by former ISRO Chairman K. Kasturirangan for comments from all stakeholders till June 30. The report, which is the product of deliberations involving over 1,00,000 sessions conducted over four years, and up for comments from all stakeholders till June 30th, is an exhaustive analysis of the current education system.
The third such education policy document commissioned by the government since independence (after the NEPs of 1968 and 1986), the Draft National Education Policy 2019 looks at the education sector in three segments. It begins by elaborating on the key challenges observed at the School Education level, followed by potential reforms. Moving on, it talks about Higher Education before expanding on “Additional Key Focus Areas” like vocational training, adult education and regulation.
As discussed, below is a rundown of the key highlights of the first section of the policy document – School Education.
(i) Importance of Early Education: The majority of brain development in a child occurs before the age of six, which highlights the significance of a progressive early education policy.
Currently, most early education in India takes place in anganwadis, which do not follow any prescribed curriculum and often ignore the educational aspects of early education. The NEP recommends bringing anganwadis and all pre-schools under a formal curriculum, which would include guidelines for children up to the age of three.
(ii) Expanding the Ambit of the RTE: The Right to Education Act, 2009 (RTE) provides for free and compulsory education for all children from age six to 14. The NEP advocates the expansion of the RTE so as to include early childhood education and secondary education. This would mean that the right would be guaranteed to all children from age three to 18.
(iii) Infrastructure Reforms: There are multiple instances of very small schools across the country – schools with very few students that drain teaching staff and resources. To address this problem, the NEP proposes “school complexes” in such areas. A school complex would include one secondary school (classes 9 to twelve) and all other public schools in its neighbourhood (pre-primary to class eight). The complex would also include anganwadis, vocational training facilities and adult education centres (discussed in detail in the second part of the series).
(iv) Teacher Management: An education system is only as good as its teachers. And while teachers teach, teacher education is still a crucial component of that system. Teachers, the NEP states, must be given constant opportunities for self-improvement and to learn the latest innovations and advances in their profession. The committee also asks for teachers to not be deployed in non-educational activities like vaccination programmes and cooking midday meals during teaching hours. And to address the problems of teacher shortage and the limited pool of qualified teaching faculty, the report recommends deploying teachers in a particular school complex for at least five to seven years and replacing the existing two-year long B.Ed. programme with a four-year integrated B.Ed. programme that will be multidisciplinary in nature.
(v) Matters of Regulation: To dilute regulatory authority and set uniform standards, the report recommends establishing a State School Regulatory Authority for each state, an independent body that would be responsible for all school education-related regulations based on a few parameters like safety, security, basic infrastructure, the number of teachers across subjects and grades, probity, and sound processes of governance.
The report also suggested curriculum reform (development of a 5-3-3-4 model and adoption of holistic thinking-oriented syllabi rather than ones that revolve around rote learning) and school exam reform (including holding public state exams at grades three, five and eight).
While the recommendations made by the Committee for the execution and enhancement of quality education at the school level have received rather positive responses by experts, many opine that these recommendations need to be backed by robust administrative reforms and sizeable investment, especially in the training of the faculty, anganwadi workers, setting up of school complexes etc.
It is worthwhile to note here that inspite of both the first two NEPs - in 1968 and 1986 – pitching for 6% of GDP as education spending, the current figure lags at 2.7% of GDP.
Another conspicuous issue with the Policy is that it does not identify the “real problems”, which could arise during their implementation. For instance, the document suggests that in order “to facilitate learning for all students, including Children With Special Needs (CWSN) or children of migrant workers, the scope of school education will be broadened to facilitate multiple pathways to learning involving formal and non-formal education modes.” It goes on to say that the thrust would be to “develop and utilise innovative educational platforms involving the use of technology, including the development and sharing of e-resources and promotion of e-learning, and introduction of assessment on demand.”
It is needless to mention that a major chunk of “migratory” children belong to informal labourers. Therefore, the question of being able to afford digital aid through “digital open schools” is one that needs to be closely engaged with.
The draft makes a case for an inclusive and equitable education system, ensuring that participation and learning outcomes are equalised across all genders and social categories. Here, it is worthwhile to note that India perhaps has the world’s most differentiated school system with at least nine types of schools - from the low-end Ashramshala to the expensive and exclusive international schools, each aligning with varied socio-economic classes. However, the draft fails to address the obvious discrepancy in the quality of education, which often varies with the cost of education.
(This was Part 1 in our two-part series covering the draft National Education Policy. You read Part 2, which deals with Higher Education and Additional Key Focus Areas, here.)
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