“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
With the much needed reforms in the Indian education sector, I’ve decided to go through it myself and without any external influence- draw interpretations, and analyse it critically inclusive of both appraisals and concerns. This article is not a pro-NEP or an anti-NEP write-up.
There is a lot of content regarding regulatory systems and bureaucracy that I will not be discussing. I do not want to beat around the bush. Bureaucracy and regulations are not my field yet.
Basics and Introduction of New Education Policy 2020 of India
“It is becoming increasingly important that children not only learn but learn how to learn.”-Clause 0.3 of the NEP 2020
“The foundational pillars of this Policy are access, equity, quality, affordability and accountability. It believes that the purpose of education is to develop good human beings“-Clause 0.12 of the NEP 2020
The principles and introduction of the policy reflects the much needed changes of 21st century learning. The ideas and aims reflect progressive, forward-looking and all-round developing thinking of the writers of this policy. It seeks to break conventional narrow-minded mentalities among other things. It also strengthens multiple important points such as the esteemed nature of the teaching profession, the focus of education being a public service and not a commercial activity and more (regulatory frameworks, restructuring institutions, consolidating higher-education institutions etc.)
No hard separation between arts, Commerce and Sciences
Policy is not the basis on which the existence of subject choices is decided. The pay of requisite teacher, demand from students, and whether enough numbers exist to sustain a class are also important. The same issues shape the availability of subjects in other curriculum. The hard-line stream division is only for easier identification of one’s pathway and doesn’t shape the availability of subjects. If anything, it had negatively affected people’s mindsets and attitudes- that is something we cannot ignore. But to say that saying that there is no more separation will solve the problem of lack of subjects is ignorant of the system- not entirely, but to a great extent.
We know that more girls take humanities related subjects than boys. This is something I’ve noticed in my school- an all-boys school- that does not offer humanities subjects- simply because the demand for such does not exist- not enough boys want it to sustain a class that wont send that department into loss. Our girls branch counterpart has multiple humanities classes. This inherent disparity in demand has been created by mindset and attitudes- not policy. It’s not like my school never had humanities. We did. The demand fell, hence so did the subject options.
I understand that NEP did not intend to solve the availability problem with point 0.13 alone, but many who I have heard opinions on NEP from, thought that was meant to be the outcome.
No Separation Between Curricular and Extra-Curricular
The idea is great. Academics are not everything. Extra-curriculars also play a very important role. However, the enrolment systems into higher education in India do not talk about the importance of extra-curricular and non-academic activities pursued in high school. Such a provision would act as an incentive for students to pursue extra-curriculars in high school as it would aid their admissions into university. In clauses 4.38 and beyond, there is sole emphasis on newly developed national entrance tests based on aptitude and subject-knowledge. This narrows down the entrance into higher education back to a one lane road for the most part ignoring extra-curriculars.
No Separation Between Vocational and Academic Subjects
Perhaps this is a good change towards attitudes of people because now that vocational and academic subjects will be viewed as a free choice without any hierarchy of higher value, there will be less discrimination and erosion of negative attitudes to formerly vocational subjects.
This does not eliminate the pay gap between them and will still leave the income disparities in place. But, it is something that will make it easier for people to realise that lower paying jobs do not make you any less of a person. It will strengthen the essential need for quote unquote lowering paying jobs and how we should be grateful and kind to those invisible pillars that keep our society up.
Inadequately and Undiscussed Points in the NEP (With regards to Education Directly)
The document discusses every possible modern field and re-structures examination for the greater good through clauses 4.7, 4.23, 4.24, 4.25, 4.26, 4.32, 4.33, and 4.36 among others.
Concerns with eliminating rote-based (memorising) learning
4.7 along with few other points in the introduction make way for reducing memorisation-based learning. I do not know how this will work but I hope it’s not how the case study application questions worked in a few places (eg. Business) – reducing detail in subjects and limiting to core foundation to make way for critical and holistic development after that.
The trend of trying to inculcate HOTS and critical thinking content up till now in those subjects have only added an extra layer of work rather than actually reaching the ends proposed- instead of directly writing down your memorised content in response to a direct question. An indirect question (let’s say, a case study) needs to be first analysed so you can figure out what part of your memorised information has to be spewed out in those spaces: if that’s what they mean by application based learning- then we’re only complicating the system further, and not simplifying it, whether or not accompanied by a reduction in content- such a system would make redundant whatever is left of what was reduced.
Outdated Content in Textbooks
The NEP also did not talk about using updated content and relevant resources. It mentioned the use of translated resources (discussed further ahead in the language section), looking away from rote based learning but not using updated content. Such drawbacks are greatly felt in subjects such as accountancy and computers where decades old programs (where am I expected to learn 1992 C++?) and theories that no longer apply are taught and assessed only to have to unlearn all of it in university. This trend of having to ‘unlearn’ high-school content in university because of its outdated nature is prevalent in most subjects.
Another point to be noted is the concept of ‘Advanced Standing Credit Transfer‘ offered by universities. If a student has scored good in any relevant university subjects during high-school, they’re permitted to skip taking it in university hence be granted credits in their first year itself. The fact that universities do not consider Indian Central and State Board subjects eligible for this system regardless of ones score further calls for a need to update our content.
Academic Writing and Research Skills Remain Unaddressed
Apart from focusing literature and culture- academic writing and research styles should also have been given importance. Subjects such as history and politics should teach such skills more than focusing on giving mere information so students can know better how to look from multiple perspectives, verify sources and write essays effectively. This problem is assessed in higher education but with an enrolment ratio of under 30% (within India), perhaps it is something that would be beneficial if introduced in high school.
Failure in Effectively Addressing Mental Health and Sex Education
Higher education and high school education fail to address mental health challenges as well as the need for sex education in an overpopulated and challenging India. Indian mentalities towards both topics remain a taboo and the aftermath of the unfortunate demise of Sushant Singh serve as proof for the former and population explosion and STDs for the latter.
Implementation and General Policy Concerns
”all State/UT governments will immediately prepare an implementation plan for attaining universal foundational literacy and numeracy in all primary and middle schools, identifying stage-wise targets and goals to be achieved by 2025,”-Clause 2.2 of the NEP 2020
What is foundational literacy and numeracy? It is associated to the skills that enable a child to correctly and smoothly read the words on the page, including phonemic awareness, the alphabetic principle, phonics, spelling, and fluency. Numeracy is its mathematical (arithmetic) equivalent.
“If action is not taken soon, over the next few years, then we could lose 10 crores or more students from the learning system to illiteracy.”-Clause 2.1 of the NEP 2020
This translates to the loss of elementary students who will be lost to illiteracy due to lack of sustainable foundational literacy. The statistics of losing enrolled students to illiteracy due to lack of foundation reflect the failure of our previous policies in being sustained. The enrolment ratios will show implementation of policies but statistics like these reflect the hollow nature of their implementation and the lack of sustainability in the way they were implemented.
The policy mentions a lot of unfinished and unimplemented plans from previous years. This along with other trends in India at present gives the obvious fear that NEP2020 might also just be one of them, if not wholly, to an extent. The document also calls for the establishment of over five different authorities that will regulate and assist in various regulatory and policy frameworks to implement the NEP. This raises the fears of its costs, how the money will be acquired, how long will it take to be created, and then to sustain it, and keep it free from corruption. All the ideas, to my best knowledge, with regards to the departments are in good light but if not implemented properly. This will be yet another failed document cited in a future policy update, with possibly a worsened situation at hand to deal with.
Apart from this, I’ve skipped most content regarding expansions, construction, funding, salaries, promotions, qualifications and recognition of teachers and educators—again, those aren’t policies that can be gone against—but something that relies on implementation. Those are beautiful on paper, but if not effectively implemented—will be yet another failed plan.
Health and Wellness of Students
References are made regarding health checks, medical wellness and food serving…-Clause 2.7 of the NEP 2020
Concerns are raised with regards to this point if we see what is going on with COVID19, the country is under heavy criticism for its lack of accountability and reliability. So, how transparent will these checks really be? We know there is rampant corruption with govt services. We have heard the lack of quality the mid-day meal program had. While 2.7 sounds amazing to read, our history as discussed in the previous point (2.1) and other conditions make me worry to what extent will it be implemented, and how transparent, nay, reliable will the government really be about it?
Furthermore, among the health and wellness points- the easy access and provision of sanitary resources and related comfort for girls is not mentioned. The problems caused by it in their attendance as well as the financial difficulty in obtaining such resources is a vital point left undiscussed in NEP.
Language Related Clauses in The NEP
“Wherever possible, the medium of instruction until at least Grade 5, but preferably till Grade 8 and beyond, will be the home language/mother-tongue/local language.” After which it becomes a second language. Ttwo other languages will also be taught as children can pick up languages easily in young ages.-Clause 4.9-4.10 of the NEP 2020
If implemented correctly then great. Otherwise sometimes languages are not taught effectively and teachers themselves give way to just pass its exams without having made much real progress. The results will be disastrous if such a case occurs. That is the style in which I’ve noticed many people learn different languages when the school called for it- memorising and relying on ‘key words’. The teachers themselves leniently sometimes help students during exams and leak questions prior to it.
“Science and maths will be taught bilingually from grade 6.”-Clause 4.12 of the NEP 2020
The purpose seems to be national integration. As step one, it makes sense. When I first read it, from the view of a global citizen, stressing on languages that are dying out for just culture seemed bizarre because I would prioritise being able to communicate with larger masses and not give in to mere culture if there isn’t any benefit. But it makes sense for the second most populated nation in the world to first focus on bridging the language barriers within itself before worrying about global ones.
“every” student will do project activity on languages of India in grade 6-8 focusing on major Indian languages and their origins and sources from Sanskrit and other classical languages. What geographical areas speak which languages and the influences and differences. Learn a few lines in every major language of India. No assessments.-Clause 4.15 of the NEP 2020
I feel like, the lines learnt will be forgotten because most people will not be in constant travel after acquiring this knowledge and since its selective lines- depending on the student- it can be easily forgotten. However, this project will surely prevent demographic discrimination between students who take it seriously and aid national integration towards a united Indian front.
Sanskrit, other and foreign languages will be offered at all levels as an option.-Clause 4.16, 4.18 and 4.20 of the NEP 2020
I heard people being upset about teaching students an outdated language (Sanskrit) being useless but from my understanding of this simple paragraph, it is not going to be compulsory. This raises questions on the implementation of this clause though. As mentioned earlier- the availability of subjects does not depend solely on policy but more on demand and costs. What if only one student opts for a certain language? Will the school still be forced to offer it given that they will sustain a loss for hiring a teacher for ONE student only. Will the government fund such losses, or exempt the school from adhering to this clause?
Other Language-Related Clauses
They want to maintain languages. UNESCO declared 197 Indian languages as endangered. This does not include the already extinct languages of course or the ones that might be close to reaching the endangered scenario. While the government can surely come up with ways to preserve such languages in books and produce its content thereof.
Realistically speaking, towards a more globalised world, there is going to be an inevitable extinction of languages with the only remainder of multiple core and national languages. Obviously, I do not see this narrowing down to come to a small one- or two-digit number but the narrowing down is inevitable because enough people will not be willing to preserve dying out languages.
There is a mention of use of such languages only for literature. It makes sense. A person who’s primary and/or secondary languages are not endangered will, in most cases, not need to learn an endangered language to use it but to know its heritage and literature.
These opinions and clauses do not imply a blockage of education in the languages in question of course as the use of local language as the medium of instruction has already been guaranteed in the earlier pages.
Languages can be uploaded on app that functions like Duolingo and its data can be preserved so even if time snatches away its teachers and physical resources. A protected Duolingo inspired data and teaching mechanism would keep the doors of learning it open.
Emphasis on Use of technology and online modules (Clause 4.19 among others)
Affordability and access to the lower income households. We have seen news of parents of poor families sell their assets for the sole purchase of a device that will enable their child to attend online classes. Some have ended their lives. Some would have dropped out. This accessibility concern in times of pandemic, and in the general quest of technological advancement needs to be urgently addressed. Otherwise, the further development and technological advancement aspect of the education reforms will only benefit the richer classes and prove correct the negative notions against the policy which accuse it of further aiding only the privileged section of the society.
I understand completely why people feel that way. To an extent, I can agree with it too. If we take the society to be a house. Let the foundation be its poor and uneducated people and as we raise the walls and go to the roof, consider them getting richer and further educated. When you build a house, you would focus on the foundation first and then slowly go up making sure everything from the foundation is strong and complete first.
However, a government cannot be expected to work for just one section of society. It must work for all its sections- especially for a government that is not extreme towards either capitalism or socialism. Hence its attempt on building all segments of the earlier described house is equally understandable as much as the outrage.
However, my tolerance towards this is because I give it the benefit of the doubt that the educational aims in this policy will be implemented as mentioned, and the government will complement it with socio-economic solutions as well so as to avoid the widening of economic and educational disparities.
Recruitment and Incentives for Teachers
“Availability of merit scholarships for B.Ed programs to recruit teachers. Provision of incentives for teachers to teach in areas of shortage near them. Incentives being provision of local housing or housing allowances.”-Clause 5.2 of the NEP 2020
The effectiveness of this clause can only be determined with the value of the incentive compared to what they already have. Philanthropic motives help society (if teachers volunteer to help sections of need without demanding incentives), but incentives are designed for greater effectiveness keeping in mind human psychology. If the value of incentive implies a downgrade, then the clause will not reach its full potential. Besides, teaching is the most Honorable profession. It shapes all other professions. It is what makes children ready for the coming years, and their coming lives and jobs. So, the incentive should be high- without teachers none of the so called higher pay deserving jobs would exist.
Inclusion and Accessibility in the NEP 2020
Use of the word ‘disabilities’ (Clause 5.21)
Apprehensive about the use of the word disabilities. Using a word like differently-abled would make more sense because in the long run it will help in reducing negative mindsets against such people. Even with the word disability, the awareness spread about inclusiveness helps reduce such negative attitudes but sometimes, when the child in question is stressed, they take the negative interpretation of it. If a teacher, parent, or peer is upset with this child, they throw their inclusive ideas out the window and lash out with the negative conventional beliefs against them. I feel using a less aggressive word would help inhibit such situations.
Regions Needing Special Intervention (Clause 6)
“development of special education zones for regions that need special and concentrated intervention and a ‘gender-inclusion fund’ for girls and transgender education. Free boarding facilities for disadvantaged economic backgrounds with safety especially for girls- separate hostel, female warden, security, and boundary wall). Expansion of Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalay to Grade 12. Additional schools that help the disadvantaged as well. Sensitizing people especially staff to the concept of inclusion.”-Clause 6 and its sub-clauses of the NEP 2020
The recognition and focus on areas that need urgent and special attention is applaudable. However, like every other word in this document. The real applause will only come if it is implemented in the same way it is written. Furthermore, educational reforms for the Socio-Economic Disadvantaged Group (SEDG) must be accompanied with economic and social reforms for them as well. One of the reasons they do not attend schools is because their family employs them in work that will increase their family income. A sole educational reform will not transform the lives of SEDGs. Increase of access without reforms that create their will to utilize this access will not create much change.
Anti-Commercialisation (Clause 8.7, among others)
“Stopping commercialisation of education by promoting philanthropic private schools and improving public schools.”-Clause 8.7 of the NEP 2020
This will be redundant if the ‘infrastructure’ and quality of education is not good. The government sector will yet again be an inefficient and low-class system. This does not mean they have to develop state-of-the-art infrastructure and pretty aesthetics. Ensuring safety and comfort of students while achieving the other goals in this policy is an acceptable target for the public education system, and I cannot stress this enough- implementation, implementation and implementation.
Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment (Clause 8.12)
The policy talks about systems against discrimination and harassment but does not provide any detail on it. Furthermore, Safety of girl children must be accompanied with demolishing established norms for positive long-term outputs.
Among notions of ‘visual distraction’ in terms of dressing sense. A girl being told to dress properly so the boys don’t get distracted shows the prioritisation of distraction-free learning for boys and a comparative lack of importance of education for girls.
The development of a dress code should adhere to the secular nature of the government and go together with teaching boys to learn how to manage their distractions and lower their gaze. The importance of neither should supersede each other- if it must, then the boys should be taught to control their distraction and gaze more than the girls dress code should be regulated.
Higher Education (University)
Gross Enrolment Ratio
“Increasing gross enrolment ratio to 50% by 2030”-One of the goals of the NEP 2020
Apart from personal development and soft skills- the primary purpose of higher education has been to manage to make a living, among other reasons. I cannot resonate with a goal that focuses solely on an enrolment statistic for higher education.
The higher education system should be improved and made more towards development of skills and discovering opportunities and made more affordable. The success of these measures should also be calculated by the knowledge of what graduates do after finishing their studies, unemployment levels and social state of the nation.
Making all university courses multi-disciplinary (Clause 11 among others)
This explains making education include holistic arts. Science students learning arts and arts students learning science and all learning vocational. This is not an option. This opens the ends for students enabling them to be able to change their mind and discover new interests—”jack of all trades- master of none- still better than a master of one” is a quote I’ve always resonated with, and the style of university education I will be pursuing from next month onward is also as it is described here- multidisciplinary- so reading this makes me happy. It is clearly a progressive move. Yes, to an extent, it can make securing a high GPA difficult, but it is for the better. Not all good changes come in the form of a piece of cake.
Internships and the NEP 2020
Talks about provision of internships with local industries and businesses are progressive and definitely advantageous for students as it helps them apply what they learn but the erosion of local industries and businesses places a question mark on not the emergence of these opportunities but its sustenance.
I’ve heard the notion that provision of internships at high school and university level snatches opportunities away from the economically disadvantaged. While I somewhat understand this, I also don’t. To fight this notion, the implementation of the policy needs to ensure that the economically disadvantaged are able to access and afford this high-school and higher level of education so they can reap the benefits it provides as well. Combating the existence of internships as a whole does a lot more harm than good.
Foreign Universities and Multilingual University Programs
Allowing foreign universities (among top 100 for example) to settle branches in India-Clause 12.8 of the NEP
It would be beneficial if the quality of education and variety is up to the mark. Branches of reputed university in nations out of the host country are vastly different and are often not considered good—a lot of students attending such branches console themselves with the notion that their degree will be accredited from the host country. Keeping that in mind, whether such an action will stop brain-drain is unknown.
Achieving global excellence status of Indian universities, hosting programs in local language, and discontinuing M. Phil.-Clause 11.9 of the NEP 2020
Discontinuing M. Phil suddenly does not seem like a good idea. The clause does not mention from when it will be discontinued leading me to believe it is immediate. Perhaps a notice period would be beneficial for those who wished to take it up in the very near future.
The clause further talks about aiming to achieve global status of Indian universities such as the ivy leagues and mentioned encouraging them to host programs in local languages. For a country that is beginning to develop world-wide standards to offer its programs in only local language(s) will slow down the process of achieving greater international influx of wanting Indian education as the motive of students to come to the nation is low, and the language barrier would further decrease the motive. Hosting programs in local languages shouldn’t be entirely encouraged- if anything, it should be bilingually available, or in a major language first.
Agricultural Higher Education
Agricultural education reforms need to be accompanied with reforms in the agricultural sector itself. There are so many cases of farmers not being able to sustain themselves, repay loans and many other concerns. Mere provision of agricultural education to a section that already, for the most part, cannot afford to sustain themselves will not bring about significant change in its corresponding sector.
Some might say, despite the many good things, which I recognised, my criticism is uncalled for. But again, if you had yourself a house built- and they forgot to add windows- would you still be as happy as you thought you’d be?
You may access the policy document here.