By Autar Nehru
In nutshell nothing much will change for school education in short or medium term after this hype around NEP 2020 subsides. Take an average good school and you’ll find much of what this policy says starting from medium of instruction to foreign languages, clubs (now circles), project-based learning etc, is already in practice there. You just need to take ten of them and deduct the mean activity, best school practices including localized pedagogical innovations will be before you—and much of the things said in the new policy.
Also, for sake of curiosity and emphasis on Sanskrit in NEP 2020, which is very good, there is a need for some research as to know why popularity of Sanskrit hasn’t picked up the way it should have all these years except when students came to know that it can fetch you more marks in Class X than Hindi in board exams! Riches of Sanskrit at school level can be better harnessed through Olympiads and collaborative research projects, which can be somehow rewarded.
Between these two observations, almost a school education universe is looking forward to be rejuvenated and enabled by the NEP 2020. However, there are a whole lot of pessimists out there who will tell you that policy documents look nice on shelf and nobody looks at them. Education has never been a priority in public spends or public discourse and NEP 2020 is just a milestone, which will be used as ammunition for rhetoric both ways. There have been several ‘ …for all’ campaigns and now this 2030 target is almost there and even the action plans are nowhere in sight.
From millennia, education has been catering to larger objectives of civilizational continuity, its advancement and unleashing human quest and spirit but in recent times in our case, progressively these set of objectives have been aligned towards the examination system. Children study for examinations and schools teach for examinations. And society has accepted it, and in fact the whole support, commerce and entrepreneurial ecosystem in school education space have oriented themselves to make examinations a desired commodity and the system has made it a passport to future opportunities. Surprisingly, this looks normal to many including the policy makers, who have reiterated a love for this examination system. Assessment is not a problem for it is part of process but mindset is. And that ails.
CCE or continuous and comprehensive evaluation almost a decade ago was a bold attempt to challenge this system. It was conveniently sabotaged not by political class as most would think, but by ‘the examination system.’ As said above there are schools, which proactively have been bringing in good practices and methodologies into their schools and using the success to stay ahead of competition and eventually enter into an elitist mindset. These groups often seen as members of important committees become influencers of botched up rollouts. A few workshops of not even 100 schools and CCE was rolled out in the entire country. It became a clerical headache for teachers, who were never exposed to its methodology.
There is a real danger of good intentions and recommendations in NEP 2020 meeting the same fate. India’s challenges aren’t as much in diversity as in systemic failures. The dichotomy between education departments and SSA, an area of research, has actually impacted badly teachers as a cadre. The parallel systems are sea apart even though both seen complementing each other. And, now it is going to be even more segregated.
One of the biggest innovative ideas in NEP 2020 is school complexes or clusters even though some may say, it is in the contravention of the RTE law or a legitimizing way of emptying government schools. Best memories of both students and teachers and even schools are those interschool contests or meets where they have met so many different people, the festivity, those preparations and rehearsals and of course coming back victorious or losers with so much experiential learning. The human bonding and purpose makes collaborations vivid and definitive. If done in right spirit, this step could pull off thousands of failed schools.
Thousands of schools in the country simply don’t have a subject teacher. It is truer of mathematics, science, arts and other ‘specialist’ subjects. Teachers can’t be found overnight or recruited. Let’s accept the reality of enormity and magnitude. In this scenario, school clusters is the most pragmatic solutions if done with inherent proverbial enthusiasm than bureaucratic diktats. It should be used to free energy of teachers and see the wonders it will do!
There is a lot of welcome emphasis on values in NEP 2020. These weren’t missing even earlier and there is a lot of existing architecture like eco clubs, education trips, observances, celebrations etc to reinforce these. However, the big difference in these programs and activities has been like instead of deeper thoughts say exposing children to forests, schools have been celebrating trees. So to say most of these are superficial formats without depth are there just to fill in rituals. If here is an intervention in the form of some goal oriented programs backed with training and promotion of storytelling pedagogy and theatre, then value sets may find a ready resonance and audience in children.
There is a lot of both excitement and outcry over mainstreaming vocational education throughout the school years. This is significant and long term. But again, it must be done as a means of celebrating the skills and skills men and women. Even, one carpentry or plumbing session or better a workshop/trip a year will titillate young minds. As experts say till at least age 16, it must remain an experiential education and not serious training. But yes thereafter clear pathways of progression and employment opportunities must be integrated.
And finally as one of reactions that came said mentioning the 6% of GDP target for the education budget is futile if we are not setting an allocation target for this year or the method to achieve the ambitious target in the coming years.