Rant on Social Issues
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Two or More Cents on NEP

I want to go back to school.”

“Bro, everything depends on implementation.”

“Wow, so cool stuff.”

If you are done with these twitter reviews of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, let’s move ahead.

Geeta teaches/nurtures/takes care of 70 Class 2 students of a Hindi medium Municipal School in Pandesara (Surat, Gujarat), where many migrant labourers from the States of UP, MP and Bihar reside. The school has around 1,200 girls and, till last year, it had less than 10 teachers to teach.

Did I forget to mention that Geeta studies in the same school in Class 8? Now imagine if Geeta’s mother was from Orissa. What language should she choose to study in — home language, mother tongue or local language? How will the school arrange language subjects for such students? How will they get more teachers for these languages when they cannot afford enough teachers right now?

Regarding the lack of teachers and a high chance of dropping out after Class 8 , let us be optimist that her parents had somehow saved some money or taken a loan to move her to a low-income private school since the beginning of her schooling, despite the fact that such a school is not allowed to run on its efficiency, as government does not want to let entrepreneurs enter the education sector for profits. But more on that later.

Let’s get back to Geeta. There is a high probability that Geeta belongs to a SC/ST/OBC category, which means she will not get a chance to be a first generation speaker of the global language, English. While she studies in her local language, her upper caste, slightly-privileged classmates get to taste English, thanks to private tutors, access to e-learning, and parents’ awareness.

In Class 5, she was learning Sanskrit (a language that is not spoken, but is good for scientific research claims), and in Class 6, she had the option of taking up coding or vocational courses such as carpentry or plumbing. Unless she magically owns a computer and learns to code in Sanskrit, we don’t need to guess what electives she would choose, compared to her Savarna classmates.

But wait, she gets vocational training at the age of 11 and gets to intern in a country that is definitely known for women safety and records four Dalit rape cases every day. Geeta’s parents get to know that she has a skill that can help her get money for the family, and voila! She drops out to start earning. Wasn’t this why we moved her to a private school in the first place? This means she will be discriminated throughout her life just on the basis of her birth. Sounds familiar?

Welcome to the New Education Policy. Now I know I just took it apart like the pessimist I am, but I could not just overlook the applicability of the policy for the majority of this country. Undoubtedly, there are many positives as well, and I shall mention some of the salient ones. The change of the policy was long overdue and there could not have been a better timing to announce these changes, when the entire education system seems to be in shackles.

What Will Change Under NEP 2020?

The NEP talks about aiming for universal education till the age of 18, but nowhere mentions if it will be free. The Right to Education Act, a milestone in the Indian Education system, hasn’t been referred to in the document. What happens to that Act? What happens to RTE Section 12 (1) (c) that reserves 25% seats for people from SC/ST/OBC in private schools? Will the government make changes to the Act, considering it mentions ease of norms to open up a school? Well, the questions remain to be answered.

The policy will bring two crore children into the mainstream. Three years ago, there was a dearth of one million teachers in India. Who will teach these kids who come to the mainstream? The question is not on the ability to produce more teachers, but rather, on addressing what the current issues are in the first place — in any case, a welcome objective to have.

As more and more children enter the mainstream, another issue that would need to be addressed is the Pupil Teacher Ratio, especially in states such as Uttarakhand, where thousands of schools depend on a single teacher for their survival.Also read: How Much Do Dalit Lives Matters In Indian Higher Education?

One major change in the NEP is in the bucket of division, as we shall move from 10 + 2 to 5 + 3 + 3 + 4, which shall include Early Childhood Education (ECE) or Aanganwadi system in it. This, in my humble opinion, is a positive global move. One of the main issues with RTE, I feel, was a lack of focus on ECE. This will finally be taken more seriously and scientifically (Please do not think of the word ‘implementation’ yet).

The moment the policy said “No rigid separation between academic streams, extracurricular, vocational streams in schools,” there was a smile on my face, which I had reserved for special occasions — it was like my work of the past eight years, of screaming that extra-curricular activities are not extra, coming to a beautiful turn in its journey.

But then, they ruined it by mentioning vocational training from Class 6 with internships. Nevertheless, doing away with streams is a welcome move that gives flexibility and freedom to students to choose the subjects they want to study. This also brings critical thinking and interdisciplinary learning.

The NEP’s assessment has received a fair share of good news, with mention of fancy terms such as 360-degree holistic progress card, and if I recall correctly, at one point, they said Artificial Intelligence (AI) too. Well, that’s the future and AI and Machine Learning is already changing the way we look at assessments.

The move from summative to formative assessment is also a global standard that has been duly included. What would be interesting is to see which skills or parameters will be considered for testing this 360 degree progress assessment. The only thing to review in between was peer assessment which, in India, can become an official tool for bullying and harassment, which has already been observed by many marginalised communities.

National Technological Forum would be created to promote tech and equity. NEP 2020 emphasises on setting up a Gender Inclusion Fund and Special Education Zones for disadvantaged regions and groups, a much-needed and appreciated initiative.

The most controversial part still remains the obsession with local languages, especially since our language (and culture) changes every 50 odd kms in India. Considering the best age for learning a language is 10 years, why not give more time and start earlier so that first generational learners do not get discriminated against and maybe promote a language used globally for trade — unless we want to be China (I know the policy carefully uses the words “wherever possible”, but we know what that means). Additional challenges would be for children who change States and would have to bear the brunt of learning/comprehending a new language.

Apart from these, there are many initiatives, namely increase in Bal Bhavans (boarding schools), sign language institutes, open learning for Classes 3, 5 and 8 through NIOS, flexibility and ease of board exams — twice a year (still wrapping my head around how) — National Curricular and Pedagogical Framework for Early Childhood Care and Education (NCPFECCE), and accreditation of schools (could be game changer).

For a huge part of the document that talked about gender sensitisation and inclusion, not much change can be seen in teaching gender sensitisation in the Early childhood Education or special Training Programmes for teachers in the same domain.

Conclusion

These were just some of the features of the school education policy. Changes in teaching guidelines and higher education will take separate long articles. Don’t worry, I could hardly find loopholes there. Yet, my pessimism might help me write about them as well.

Also, I kept the best part for the last. The policy aims to increase the investment in education to 6% of GDP. This is huge. Currently, we rank 62nd in this. In the last eight years, we have contributed less than 3% to education in most cases, and reduced it to 2.4% in 2015-16. A good thing is that the NEP has not specified 6% of GDP of which year, so let us wait and watch. Most of the vision embarks 2030 as the year for policy implementation timeline, in line with Sustainable Development Goals.

My concerns lie more with the scientific aptitude we aim compared to the scientific aptitude displayed by current leadership. I can mention close to 100 examples here of the past six years ranging from how peacocks mate to how corona can be removed from bhabhiji papads. But most of us already know them. What will happen with a change of curriculum? Will we come up with new science? New history? New media? Depends on our votes.

Two things that could have had a major impact if included are: allowing schools to be for-profit and going with Direct Benefit Transfer to bring real change. Hear me out. As per a report by the Central Square Foundation, close to 50% students are going to private schools, with a majority in low-income private schools paying less than Rs 1,000 monthly fee.

As we are already inviting public-private partnerships in higher education, why not give incentives to entrepreneurs to bring in investment for this model? Fun fact, all schools are already making profits illegally, so why not get them under the law? Secondly, the cost at which the government is providing education is way higher than what low-income private schools are providing. Then why not use DBT to make good education accessible to more students and at lesser government expenditure? Could have, should have.

The last educational policy came out in 1986, it has been a long wait since then. The NEP 2020 has been built on the foundational pillars of Access, Equity, Quality, Affordability and Accountability. At least, it claims so. The effectiveness of the policy will depend on its implementation (there, I said it again), and to take it to the masses, we need professors who have given their life to research on the masses (read SC /ST /OBC). But wait, are those professors not behind bars as political prisoners currently? Okay, bye.

A huge thanks to Tanisha Venkani for inputs.

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