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July 04, 2019 Thursday 03:36:43 PM IST

India’s Draft New Education Policy Aims to Reinvent School Education

Rajagiri Round Table

India's excellence in education dates back to ancient times when it had set up Nalanda and Takshashila Universities that attracted thousands of foreign students from across the world. Who can ignore the contribution of Sushruta to medicine and surgery,Aryabhatta to astronomy and mathematics or Chanakya to economics and political science? The ancient Gurukula system of learning was considered the ideal method for teaching children the languages, science, religion and more importantly, the values of life. Centuries of colonial rule turned out to be a mixed blessing. It helped modernize infrastructure and administration and brought in Western education and helped create a scientific temper. However, it did convert our education to serve the purpose of getting people into administrative jobs in civil service. After Independence,the nation succeeded in bringing down illiteracy levels over the past seven decades and established several higher institutions of learning whose students are quickly lapped up by foreign countries eagerly looking for talent.

With the advent of internet, artificial intelligence, machine learning and a globalised market, policy-makers, experts in education, industry have all repeatedly stressed the need for reorientation of our education system at school, college and research levels. It was in this context that government appointed a committee under the Chairmanship of Dr K Kasturirangan to submit its recommendations for revival of education.The result was the Draft New Education Policy 2019, released in June, to elicit comments from the public.

It was against this backdrop that the 49th Rajagiri Round Table titled ‘New Education Policy-Vision on School Education’was held at Rajagiri School of Engineering and Technology (RSET),Kakkanad, Kochi, on 12th June to discuss how the recommendations would impact the school education system and what preparations and changes might be required before implementing the policy. The subject experts who initiated the discussion were Dr. D.Dhanuraj, Chairman of Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi; Dr. M.C. Dileep Kumar, former Vice Chancellor of SreeSankaracharya University of Sanskrit; and Ms. Ruby Antony, Vice Principal of Rajagiri Public School, Kalamassery. Mr. R.Ramabhadran Pillai, Executive Editor of Pallikkutammonthly, welcomed the panelists, introduced the topic and moderated the session. Excerpts:

Dr. D.Dhanuraj:The report is very comprehensive. The commission acknowledges that basic literacy, numerical ability and language skills are lacking in our primary education sector. By 2030, India is set to become the third largest economy with a GDP of US $10 trillion. To attain this goal, we need a robust education system. For the first time, the commission acknowledges that there is a problem with the pre-primary education sector. I see this as a positive development, event the Right To Education Act (RTE) was applicable only from 6 to 14 years and NEP states it should be applicable for 3-18 years.

Anganwadis are under the responsibility of Child Welfare Department but it may come under the Ministry of Human Resources Development. World over it is recognised that the age between 2 and 6 is the time when the child is able to imbibe most knowledge and skills; as a nation, we have not been giving sufficient importance to or neglected this sector. Our education should be based on cultural ethos and heritage. The committee is trying to reflect on all the changes that are happening in the world; how technology can be effectively used to impart education in an interesting manner. The report talks of no detention till 8th standard and there willbe assessment boards at the State level. The 8th Standard to 12th standard will be divided into 8 semesters and students need to learn only 5-6 subjects of their choice. They have the option to take the board examinations twice a year. Despite the innovative, unconventional proposals, 99% of them may not be implemented as it challenges existing institutional structures.

Dr. M.C. Dileep Kumar: The draft NEP is no doubt a commendable effort to put together a set of recommendations that can have a far-reaching impact on our education system right from pre-kindergarten levels. However, I doubt whether administrative efficiency can be increased as a result of this policy. The constitution of examination and assessment boards may not be easy in a State like Kerala. Similarly, when we talk about school complexes having pre-kg upto 12thstandard in one place, can the complexities of running it be handled by a secondary school principal?

Then five-year foundation stage is not necessary. Grade I and II can’t be conducted without the help of books. Though the draft policy calls for liberal education, it is silent on demographic practices. Regional realities have been overlooked and there is an urban view of the rural needs. On the one hand, philanthropic initiatives are welcomed while on the other there is mistrust on private institutions. It looks contradictory that flexibility is being advocated even as central control is sought to be brought in.   

Ruby Antony: For policy makers seated in the ivory towers, it is good to understand that the ground reality may be in stark contrast to what you imagine. Think of the hapless teacher who has to implement new policies. The Kothari Commission Report and the Education Policy of 1986 were serving us well for a long time. The 10+2 system created a large army of English speaking students, and those well versed in mathematics and sciences. We were able to have the largest educated manpower which was the envy of the world. However, with the emergence of the new world order and globalization, internet revolution necessitated us to give 21st century skills of critical, creative thinking and problem-solving capabilities to students. That is why despite our impressive academic achievements, many of our students were faring poorly in international assessments. So our educational system was ill-equipped to handle those dynamic changes. Our system should take into consideration the developmental needs of students of various age groups.

The five-year foundational stage may do away with the present play school business which has mushroomed across India and also integrate anganwadis in the system. The draft policy mentions play- based, activity-based learning for age 3.Such a system is in place for class I and II in CBSE - only Mathematics and languages are taught and no environmental sciences. This was unacceptable to most parents and we had to introduce worksheets without textbooks. For a school with sufficient resources, such customisationcould be donevery easily; but what about other schools?

When it comes to higher classes, experiential learning is to be introduced. One such measure implemented earlier was the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation introduced by former HRD Minister, Mr. Kapil Sibal. There was no Board exam for 10th standard, but due to parental pressure, it was re-introduced.

When we talk of flexibility in choosing the curriculum, I can tell you of our experience in 11th standard where we have 16 electives. It requires so much infrastructure and additional teachers which a normal school may not be able to afford. Yes, the policy makes sweeping changes in pedagogical structure and curriculum architecture; provided sufficient time is given, it can be successfully implemented.

Focus on Indian values

The policy puts emphasis on having Indian values integrated in the education system, according to K. L. Mohana Varma, writer and novelist. Considering the political situation, these policies may be implemented in North, North East and Western parts of the country.  This is going to be a structural change in the education and it is not likely to be uniformly implemented, he added.

Sajeev Kumar P.P., Member of All India Save Education Committee, said that before formulating the new education policy, we need to assess whether the goals of Kothari Commission and 1986 policies were realized. The new policy will lead to commercialization of education. The government is allocating only 3% of GDP for education, which should be increased to 10%.

3 years too early for education

There are those who feel that integration of pre-kg and KG coming together and clubbing together of 9th to 12 standards may not be in the interests of the students and parents. The present system is well structured and helps the student choose a subject appropriate to him or her for higher studies, according to Paul Augustine, Assistant Professor at Rajagiri School of Engineering and Technology (RSET).He said that the present system has some advantages.What is the need for such a drastic change, he asked. Three years may be too early to be put in a school environment because the school is a huge infrastructure and at this age, they should be spending more time with parents.  According to KS Harikumar, Member, State Chapter of Breakthrough Science Society, three years is too early to start formal learning and it should be raised to 6 years. The introduction of semester system with choice of subjects from class 9 to 12 would deprive the students of the chance to study languages or essential science subjects, according to him.

Is it realistic?

Some speakers were of the view that the policy document does not take into consideration the infrastructure or resources in the schools in most parts of the country. Dr Job Kuruvila pointed out the pathetic condition of schools he visited in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu thoughcertainStates such as Kerala were an exception. “You are talking of implementing this policy in a school where four classes are handled by one teacher,” Dr Job Kuruvila added. Most of the discussions on education in India talk about quantity than quality. And the discussions are about some initiatives or innovations that can be implemented only by the elite schools, not the majority of the schools, he added. This report may very well be suitable for nations such as Germany, Netherlands and Australia where there are plenty of jobs and vocationalisation of education, Dr Job Kuruvila added.

The 8-semester system

The system of allowing students to choose between a wide range of electives will not be a good idea from their career point of view. Secondly, schools need to have trained teachers in a variety of subjects and improved infrastructure to cater to large number of electives. Mr.Harikumar expressed the view that science is not given much importance in our curriculum compared to technology. “We are seeing a return of superstition and blind belief which can be attributed to lack of solid grounding in science at the school level”, he added.

Too Frequent Policies

Dr. P.R.Poduval, former Director of School of Communication and Management Studies of CUSAT, said that frequent policy changes make it difficult to get sufficient time to implement policies. A policy is a forward looking one and is not past-oriented or present-oriented.  It may look like a dream now but it doesn’t mean it can’t be a reality. But the problem with educational policies is lack of resources -teachers, money and infrastructure; and politicians are not ready to implement them. Education has become a matter of politics, Dr Poduval added.

No mention of parenting and mentoring

L. Unnikrishnan, Assistant Professor of RSET, pointed out that there is no mention of parenting or mentoring in the new education policy. Quality of parenting has an important influence on how a student fares in school and also in career and life. Mentoring helps students to understand values, learn communication skills and etiquette which are vital for success. With children not being able to pursue hobbies as they are glued to digital gadgets, learning through observation and activities is missing in their lives, Unnikrishnan added.

Major Recommendations

  • The policy requires large scale preparation and training of teachers.
  • A proper time frame has to be given to schools to implement the reform measures.
  •  Training programme for teachers have to be conducted across the country before implementation.
  • There is an absence of clarity on how digital literacy will be implemented.
  • The implementation of the policy has to be done in three of four phases and not in one go.
  • Make sure there is sufficient funding for the projects.
  • The emphasis should be on developing scientific temper at school levels so that re-emergence of superstitions and blind beliefs can be checked.
  • More emphasis should be given to science than technology to get better results in Research and Development.
  • Devote atleast 13-14% of budgetary resources for education.
  • Parents, teachers and students or in short, the entire stakeholders should be taken into confidence before implementation.
  • The policy should be assessed based on the cultural, linguistic, regional and ethnic diversities of the nation.
  • Parenting and mentoring should be given sufficient importance in the policy document.
  • There could be a change in the existing academic institutional structure and those at the concerned have to be taken into confidence or rehabilitated to other departments to ensure smooth implementation of policy.
  • (Reported by Sreekumar Raghavan)