NEP 2020 and Innovation
The New Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) was approved by the Union Cabinet and now only the modalities of implementation with a time frame has to be finalised. Education sector in the country was badly in need of reform. The nation has a long history of introducing reforms from time to time beginning with the New Education Policy of 1968 when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister of the nation. It was based on the DS Kothari Commission report submitted in 1966 that paved the way for 10 + 2 +3 system currently in vogue. The next major change occurred with the New Education Policy 1986 and subsequently amended in 1992. The first policy was formulated when there was no computers or technologies in education and thereafter in 1986 the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi realised that many schools in the country didn’t have the basic infrastructure needed for a school- blackboards. So ‘Operation Blackboard’ was launched. The NEP 2020 formulated by an expert committee headed by Dr K Kasturirangan comes at a time when the stake holders are worried about the disruption artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics can unleash in the industry causing loss of repetitive jobs.
It was in this backdrop that the 62nd Rajagiri International Round Table Conference was held on 26th August via Zoom webinar on the topic Innovate or Perish- A Decisive Policy in the Life of the Nation, anchored by Sreekumar Raghavan, Editor of Pallikkutam in association with School of Legal Studies, Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT). It was attended by leading academicians, corporate trainers, school, college leadership and experts from the legal fraternity.
The intention of the policy to bring better learning outcomes by incorporating problem solving, critical thinking, giving flexibility for the schools and colleges to introduce changes within the overall framework of National Council for Education Research and Training (NCERT) curriculum were laudable. Rote learning is to be replaced with holistic learning that aims to enhance the foundational numeracy and literacy, Life Skills, cognitive, social and emotional development of a child with emphasis on vocational training at school and college levels. Summative assessments are to be replaced with formative assessments.
A policy is intended to give a direction to our efforts at reform and implementation part comes at a later stage, according to Dr Vijay Kumar Singh, Professor and Dean, School of Law, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun. Prof Dr PR Poduval, former Director of School of Management Studies, CUSAT, was of the view that a policy statement is about a desirable future rather than what is the present state.
The multi-lingual framework with importance given to mother tongue and Indian languages is a welcome step that may help overcome excessive westernisation of our education system. However, trying to impose a language as a national language in a nation with such diversity of culture and tradition would only lead to disunity, according to Dr Job Kuruvila, Academician.
“Our education is oriented towards the west. We have actually neglected our own culture and traditions, ethical values and quite unfortunate. In China I don't find a single person speaking English and in France I don’t find anyone speaking anything other than French. This respect for our own culture has to happen,” according to Dr Vijay Kumar Singh. However, Philip Daniel, Corporate Trainer cautioned against developing an excessive love for Indian languages at the cost of English which is no longer an Englishman’s language. “We must build on the strength of our English language skills as many books and resources are mostly in English especially related to Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM),“ Philip Daniel added.
The emphasis on vocational education and skills from sixth grade onwards was a welcome step. However, there was a reluctance on the part of parents to choose vocational subjects for their children, according to Ms Charu Maini, Principal of DAV Public School, Gurugram, Haryana. As per a survey only 5% of the students opt for skill subjects in India. “The mindset is that those who are not good at mathematics, social science and sciences, slow learners and those with learning disabilities will only take up vocational skills. This has to change but it requires creation of verticals that enable a student to pursue the skills at a higher level. Parents ask if a child takes financial literacy or beauty and wellness as subject, what are the avenues for higher studies other than becoming a beautician or a financial services agent?,” Charu Maini said. Prof PR Poduval opined that people talk of skills in the context of a job but that need not be the case as education is not a training for getting a job in a particular industry alone. Brigadier Nair said that parents were keen to ensure their child’s education from kindergarten to PhD but not interested in teaching vocational skills. “Majority of our engineering graduates are unemployable and the quality of education provided is run of the mill. The new policy should be able to address these gaps in learning,” Brigadier Nair said.
Use of Technology
The use of technology has been emphasised in many areas including teaching of languages in the NEP. However, Prof Jeeva S Nireilla. Professor of Law and Criminal Justice, Faculty of Law, University of Colombo was of the view that a blended learning with offline and technology-based initiatives have to be followed and that might be the intention of the policy makers in India. “When students have no access to digital devices and connectivity, support systems have to be put in place,” she added.
Fr Loyola Antony, Principal of St Christopher School in Nagaland talked about several initiatives his school took up during the Covid-19 lockdown that did not require use of modern technology. As many as 28 literary and cultural activities including writing a moral story, writing a folk story after listening to their parents, drawing and colouring, mental aptitude, mathematical puzzles etc were done by children at home itself. “They were able to demonstrate their creativity and talent in front of their parents. Earlier, the parent involvement with school was less and children were made to work in the fields along with them during free time,” Fr Loyola Antony said.
Technology is not the major limiting factor but the sincerity of the people involved in education is important. If they have sense of direction and clear objectives, there will be progress in education. The Nagland Rural School’s example of innovating without technology gives us hope, Dr Job Kuruvila said.
Multi-disciplinary learning has been given importance in the NEP 2020 and this was also widely welcomed. The practice of putting various subjects of study into tight compartments was outmoded.Dr Kaumudhi Challa, Asst Professor, Hidayatullah National Law University, Chattisgarh was of the view that legal education had already become multi-disciplinary. There cannot be any learning of law in isolation without Economics and Political Science. Ms Charu Maini also said that in senior secondary levels in Central Board of Secondary Education, the multi-disciplinary approach had already been implemented with only one language and four subjects to choose from.
Some of the earlier education policies did not achieve its objectives because there was no clear road map and funding for the new initiatives. However, the NEP 2020 has outlined the need to spend 6% of GDP for education and address the criticism that government is shying away from investments in education and entrusting the task to private sector. Dr Aneesh V Pillai, Asst Professor at School of Legal Studies, CUSAT said that the immediate priority is to merge existing higher education institutions with less than 3000 students to larger institutions. Many self-financing colleges don’t have the infrastructure to give project work to students in science and engineering streams at post graduate level and such institutions can be merged with larger ones. The idea of attracting investments from top 100 foreign universities in India is a welcome step but there has to be some flexibility in this regard as relaxations in rankings can be initially be provided to attract universities. The NEP 2020 has focussed on improving the quality of teachers who are the most important stakeholders in education.
“The NEP is innovative and its intentions are really good. What I feel is that we need to motivate teachers. Our learning outcomes can improve only when teachers are motivated and do the work with dedication and not for the sake of a job or for money,” Fr Loyola Antony said
#Have support systems in place where students or institutions don’t have digital access
#Develop verticals in vocational education to have a clear career path for those who choose various streams of study
#Restructure vocational education in tune with the industry-based skills required for 21st century
#Capacity building programmes have to be in place for vocational education to train teachers and infrastructure
#Have a blended learning curriculum with appropriate use of technology, online and offline learning methodologies
#Ensure teachers are motivated to bring out the best results
#Instill love and respect for Indian languages, culture and tradition but capitalise on the English language skills of our scholars to reap dividends