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Saturday, September 26, 2020
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NEP 2020: A progressive step

NEP 2020: A progressive step

Lakshmi Annapurna Chintaluri, Bett Asia Awardee, Academic Director, Curious Kids & Jaihind Public SchoolOn the face of it, the NEP looks very ambitious, with all the right words and intentions like Providing universal access to quality education with equity, affordability and accountability etc.,

It can be seen as a very progressive step, very well laid out with consultations taking feedback from across the spectrum and carefully drafted to cover every aspect of the field of education. It also clearly reflects that we now want to move towards ensuring that the needs, requirements and aspirations of the students to become global citizens is met. It is very clear from the document that there has been a lot of research done about the educational systems across the world, specially from the developed world and the world leaders in the field of education.  It reflects the thinking that we now want to think Global and act Local to rise up to the global standards and at the same time taking the rich cultural heritage of our country as a springboard to achieve quality and innovation in education.

There are some sweeping changes that have been brought about, like introducing the principles of ECCE for early years as a foundational stage, bringing in mother tongue as a medium of instruction in the preparatory stage, exposure to vocational education from the middle years and multidisciplinary education in the secondary levels..   aspiring to reach higher employability of the educated youth in the country, at the same time bringing to the fore the marginalized, Socially and Economically disadvantaged groups.

Another ambitious endeavour is to bring in the 5 crore or so school dropouts to the mainstream by providing the necessary facilities and infrastructure for these children, ensure universal access to high quality early childhood care and education to all, across the country in a phased manner as an overarching goal.

This is important to note because, today, this is a glaring deficiency in this direction,  as it is seen in many states the percentage of children reaching grade-level competency as regards literacy and numeracy is very less.

Another major move according to the policy or the cornerstone of the entire policy as this was the reason the entire education policy needed to be revisited, is to move from rote-learning to competency based learning. This has been in focus for the last few years and today, there are many schools which have adopted these measures in their teaching and learning process as this is the need of the hour today, for our children to compete with the best in the world. The multidisciplinary approach that has been recommended in the policy also helps the students to gain concept understanding again helping to move away from rote learning.

One major loophole that can be seen is, that the private school’s participation has been kept on the back burner, and if as the policy suggests, they can make the government school system, along with the allied school systems like KVs, etc., as robust as they have mentioned in the policy, then it is definitely very good for the country, but with the kind of good work that the private schools have done..  the question is do we need to reinvent the wheel? The public private partnership would have been an ideal way forward as mentioned in the policy that this model along with the Philanthropic -public partnership will be piloted.

The process of implementation as outlined in the policy is also encouraging. The setting up of Rashtriya Shiksha Ayog along with its state units, which is another ambitious endeavour to set up IES – Indian Educational Services cadre to oversee the implementation of the policies stated,  indicates that there is a vision and direction that has been laid out.. but at the same time the policy with its lofty ideals should not end up like all the facilities have been provided and brought the horse to the water, but can’t make it drink… it is not enough to provide everything, the implementation has to be such that it makes horse thirsty also.. only then will can the expected results leading to the progressive steps outlined be seen, and this is where all the doubts are being expressed as unfortunately successive governments do not have a very good track record in the proper implementation of the policies specially spending 6% of the GDP which has been there for a long time but has never happened.

But if on the other hand, if we do go ahead and implement it the way it has been envisioned, we are definitely on the path to compete with the best of the countries in the world very soon, as our children and youth, once channelized in the right direction can really do wonders. Secondly,  the zeal with which the whole exercise has been taken up spanning more than 4 years, with the expert committees set up, there is optimism which overrides skepticism that this NEP will bring in the changes it has envisaged.

Emphasis about ECCE for early years – its impact on Foundational development

Bill gates said.. “The first five years of a child’s life decide how the next 80 will be” that is how important early years education is to a child as it helps in building the base or foundation for their entire life’s learning process and the focus of NEP is to introduce the pedagogical practices of ECCE at the foundational stage as early years today is considered the most important age group which requires proper education. According to UNESCO, a preschool curriculum is one that delivers educational content through daily activities and furthers a child’s physical, cognitive, and social development, and in this direction, the pedagogical practices of ECCE are the best, that can be implemented and NEP also has recognized that it enables the children to attain optimal outcomes in the domains of physical and motor development, cognitive development, socio-emotional-ethical development, cultural/artistic development, and the development of communication and early language, literacy, and numeracy.

Across the world, the OECD  – Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development which ranks countries based on their standards of education, has ranked Finland, Sweden, Norway, UK, Singapore etc., as the countries having the best education, all of them use the pedagogical practices of ECCE at the foundational stage in their education system.

Today, there is a growing awareness about the importance of early years education in the society today.  This is because 75% of the brain development of a child happens after birth and 90% of this happens before the age of 5 to 6 years in a child and the kind of experiences that the child goes through in these years help shape their entire character and personality. Every time the child goes through a challenging experience, there are neurotic connections that are developed in the child’s brain and hence it is crucial for us as educators to provide the curriculum and environment which can cater to this and the ECCE – Early Childhood Care and Education’s pedagogical practices are the most appropriate ones on this direction.

In the Indian context, it is an important move to bring in the first 5 years of the 5+3+3+4 system as the foundation stage from age 3 by mainstreaming them which actually takes into account the brain development that is needed.

So far we have only had traditional methods of teaching and learning at the early years stage, and there are many cases where due to the lack of awareness has ensured that children do not start education almost until 5 years of age and the result of this combination has been that in many states, we have observed that even at the primary school level as I mentioned before, the percentage of children reaching grade-level competency as regards literacy and numeracy is very less and not meeting the changing needs of the children, indicating clearly that some major measures need to be taken.

By bringing in this mandate, and by providing the necessary training to the anganwadi workers, along with the facilities like nutrition in the form of mid-day meals etc., providing the infrastructure necessary, the introduction of a preparatory class as a bridge program for the children coming from these anganwadis, extending the pedagogical practices of ECCE for classes 1 and 2 to bring in the activity based and project based learning, I am sure that if implemented diligently, we will see a big increase in the percentage of the grade level competency of the children which will have a big impact on their further education through the next 3 phases of preparatory, middle and secondary school.

Another positive that I can see here is the introduction of multilingualism. It is well known that learning in mother tongue has a lot of cognitive benefits as children understand the concepts much better. A few years ago, many of the people who are in high offices today have all studied in government schools in their mother tongue with English as an additional language, today their conceptual understanding is far better and their communication in English is also pretty good. This again has been proved in many countries across the world, as most of the European countries follow the medium of instruction in their language and today are doing pretty well in reaching the benchmarks set by the world.

As per the policy, the curriculum will be designed by the MHRD or MOE which is also a good move as then there will be standardization across the board, and the implementation will be carried out jointly by the Ministries of HRD, Women and Child Development (WCD), Health and Family Welfare (HFW) and Tribal Affairs. So a lot of coordinated efforts are required.  And they have also mentioned that a special joint task force will be constituted for continuous guidance of the integration and of course the CPD also needs to be taken up.

Some of the challenges that I see here are, identification of teachers for the preschool with the necessary skills and mindset to adopt the pedagogical practices of ECCE, then, training of the anganwadi workers with their current educational levels and exposure to life, and the next step is the mentoring, monitoring and measuring their progress and again Since we are talking about access and equity for the children, it is again imperative for the government to take all the stakeholders into the fold as our country’s diversity provides many challenges and it requires a lot of planning and political will to overcome them.

Over all, bringing in the pedagogical practices of ECCE at the foundational level is a very good move and if implemented well can bring in drastic changes to the learning outcomes specially in literacy and numeracy to improve the grade level competency at the foundation stage of the education in the country as a building block for the next stages.

What is in it for the teacher?

The role of the teacher is a very important piece in this puzzle of the Education System in, not only our country but any country across the world because it is the teachers who shape the next generation of any country.

Firstly, it can be seen that the 4 year B.Ed degree program that can be done after Class 12 as one of the best measures to bring on more passionate teachers with commitment to teaching as a profession. When a student completes class 12, he/she is at the threshold of choosing their career and hence would take up courses of their choice leading up to  the career of their choice in their life. Now this provision of being able to do B.Ed after class 12 will ensure that those who really want to become teachers in their life will come forward, so we will have more teachers who want to work with passion and make a difference to the field and that is what we need today.

Next, the policy outlines that we now have to move from rote-learning to competency-based learning, so the policymakers  have to take note of the present scenario of the skill level of the teachers and need to work to bring about professional development modules by revising and revisiting the NCFTE’s new version by the end of 2021 and the changes to standards  in the quality, revisited every 5 years. The policy also clearly outlines the guidelines that have been defined to improve the Teacher Education overall… including overhauling the teacher Education Institutes and even attempting to weed out those not up to the mark, and slowly ensuring that going forward these programs will be available in regular universities to enable the students to have access to research based programs and exposure and interaction with  PHd aspirants.

The policy has also outlined  the  development of a common guiding set of National Professional Standards for Teachers (NPST) which will be developed by 2022 as per the policy, by the National Council for Teacher Education in consultation with NCERT and coordinated by the NCERT, SCERTs, teachers from across levels and regions will hopefully ensure that there is a standardization of the expectations from the teachers as to the minimum levels of knowledge, skills and attitude required to be exhibited by the teachers across the board which will then help us to reach the goals outlined in the policy. And here again, the professional standards will be reviewed once every 10 years from 2030 onwards, taking the empirical analysis and after observing how efficiently the systems are running.

Another positive move in the policy for teachers, is the autonomy that is given to them in choosing finer aspects of pedagogy, so that they may teach in the manner that they find most effective for the students in their classrooms and communities, and,  as part of developing the school culture  involving them in the governance including as members of the School Management Committees/School Complex Management Committees.

So for a teacher, who is passionate, there is a lot to look forward to, teachers who deliver will enjoy lot of learning and growing opportunities and attempts are also being made to create a niche for them in the society also today..

To achieve all of these mentioned in the policy is definitely a humongous task, a huge mountain to climb, a very difficult task but not an impossible one. If we have to reach the benchmarks set by the world, we have to go ahead in this direction. Here again, there has been a lot of work and progress that has been done in the private sector with many educators coming forward to take their schools up the progressive path with very good results seen in the learning outcomes of their students, this can be easily leveraged by the government by bringing in collaborative efforts  in the form of public private partnerships rather than reinvent the wheel to set the ball rolling.

  • Strengthening of the regulation

Regulation in the field of education, specially in a country like India is very essential. It is not only enough to frame the rules, regulations, policies, define quality and professional standards, it is equally necessary to ensure that there is an efficient monitoring system to see to it that all of these are followed as directed. Many countries across the world have these regulations in place with some of them being very stringent, some giving enough autonomy to the school leadership and teachers to enable them to come up with innovative ideas. In some countries, there are regular inspections of all the schools based on the parameters spelt out by the Ministry and schools are given rankings. This actually gives the parents also an idea as to what kind of school they are admitting their child and what is the quality of education they can expect from the school.

Now as per the policy, to ensure that all schools follow certain minimal professional and quality standards, the states/UTs will set up an independent, state-wide, body called the State School Standards Authority (SSSA). The SSSA will establish a minimal set of standards based on basic parameters (namely, safety, security, basic infrastructure, number of teachers across subjects and grades, probity, and sound processes of governance), which have to be followed by all schools. In fact, new schools need to take a license from the SSSA – this will be on the basis of a transparent self-declaration on the requirements and criteria set up by the SSSA.

The aim of the policy is to set up the necessary infrastructure in place for monitoring but would like to handle it with kid gloves, saying that it will be a ‘light but tight’ oversight and regulatory system to ensure integrity and transparency of the educational system through audit and public disclosure, while simultaneously encouraging innovation and out-of-the-box ideas through autonomy, good governance and empowerment, with outstanding research as a prerequisite for outstanding education and development. It does not want stringent measures like regular strict inspections etc., but on the other hand would like to trust the institutions and hence encouraging self and public disclosures.

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