A LEARNING REVOLUTION
The draft national education policy has radical reforms on its agenda. But it will need clear-cut action to succeed
The draft education policy promises to turn around the Indian education system. But how feasible are its recommendations?
What will happen if the draft New Education Policy 2019, or NEP, submitted by the nine-member K. Kasturirangan Committee to the Union ministry for human resource development on May 31, is implemented in full by 2035, as the policy envisions?
Let us imagine how Rohan, born 2032, might proceed in life. When he turns three, he will join the formal education structure under the 5+3+3+4 framework. For the first three years, he will receive pre-school education—in at least three languages—by trained teachers. In this time, he will learn the alphabet for each language, numbers, colours, shapes, how to draw, do puzzles, and be exposed to drama, puppetry, music and movement. There will be no textbooks, learning will be all play and experimental, in school premises with clean toilets, spacious rooms, IT-enabled gadgets, enough playthings and a cheerful environment. From Grades 1 to 5, he will have dedicated reading and mathematics hours because by fifth standard he will have to acquire fundamental
literacy and numeracy. If Rohan has any ‘singular interest’ and/ or ‘talent’—it could be in mathematics, sports, painting or acting—his teachers will identify it and provide additional guidance and encouragement.
Grade 6 onward, Rohan will not have to worry about curricular or extra-curricular activity as all subjects—from mathematics to music to sports to painting—will be part of the curriculum. He will opt for the subjects he is interested in. Of course, there will be some compulsory common subjects. At this stage, he will also be introduced to some vocational training so that he can decide which vocational subject to take up once he reaches Grade 9. Meanwhile, information technology tools will regularly assess and record his learning curve to make a customised plan for him. There will be tests at the end of Grades 3, 5 and 8 to measure his critical thinking ability as well as language and mathematical skills.
From Grade 9, Rohan will take online board examinations for three subjects in six-monthly semesters. The exam will be designed to test his understanding of core concepts, not his memorising skills. He can take board examinations twice a year, maybe more often. Once Rohan completes Grade 12, he can join any college or university close to home, as quality higher education institutes will be set up in every district of the country. They will offer either a regular three-year or four-year degree programme, or vocational courses. Alternatively, he can have vocational training integrated into his degree course. It won’t be like the 2020s when you had to choose a stream—all degrees will be multidisciplinary, allowing him to study, for instance, physics along with history. If Rohan wishes to join a professional course, he will be able to go to any university, as they will all be multidisciplinary. So while studying for an engineering or medical degree, Rohan can also take up social sciences and figure out how his degree can positively impact his local and global environment.
In the final year of his degree course, Rohan can opt for research, or do a year of research after completing his threeyear degree course. He will then be eligible to enrol in a PhD programme without having to study for a master’s degree first, though he can also opt for a doctorate after a master’s degree. He, or his institute, won’t need to worry about funds for his research as there will be a National Research Foundation to handhold his project if it is geared towards solving local, national or global issues. And if Rohan does not want to remain so long in academics, he will have multiple exit options during his four-year liberal education degree that will equip him for the 21st century knowledge economy.
This is just a preliminary glimpse into how the NEP seeks to radically overhaul the country’s education system by 2035. The 484-page document outlines an elaborate plan that includes pre-school, school, higher, vocational and adult education as well as teacher training and regulation, and suggests some path-breaking reforms such as strengthening early childhood learning programmes in schools, focusing on teacher training
programmes, adding vocational courses to school curriculums, boosting research funding in higher education and restructuring and creating apex regulatory bodies for qualitative changes in higher education.
“The NEP has made some bold and welcome recommendations to shift the focus to improving student learning outcomes. If we were to get this one thing right—ensuring all children achieve foundational literacy and numeracy skills—this in itself would have a tremendous impact on the education system,” says Ashish Dhawan, founder and chairman, Central Square Foundation, a non-profit working in the school education sector.
LEARNING TO READ AND COUNT
The most radical suggestion in NEP 2019 is including pre-school education in the formal education structure. The NEP makes a case for scientific pre-school education citing neuroscience research, which shows that 85 per cent of a child’s brain development takes place prior to age 6. It also refers to a 1992 National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) study on 30,000 children that showed a direct correlation between exposure to preschool education and retention and attendance rates and, most significantly, learning outcomes in primary school and above.
Pre-school education has an impact even on the economic development of individuals and countries. JNU economics professor Santosh Mehrotra cites research that shows how the lifetime earnings of people who have had an excellent childhood education are much higher than those who were deprived of it. For every rupee invested in pre-school education, the country will get a return of Rs 10, the NEP estimates. Simultaneously, research also indicates that children below 8 are not ready for textbook learning, which means a large proportion of our children are not receiving the education they need. Currently, most early childhood education is delivered through anganwadis and private pre-schools. The anganwadis, run under the aegis of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), have delivered in terms of healthcare for mothers and infants but have faltered in the education part. Private pre-schools provide better infrastructure, but the curriculum and instruction methods are not what early childhood education requires.
It’s not surprising that a 2017 study by Ambedkar University found that a significant proportion of children in India who completed pre-primary education, public or private, did not have the competencies to join primary school. A 2018 Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) survey found that only 50 per cent students in Class V could read texts meant for Class II. Consequently, the gross enrolment ratio drops from 95 per cent for Grades 1-5 to 79 per cent for Grades 9-10.
This is the reason why the NEP’s highest priority is to achieve universal foundational literacy and numeracy in primary school and beyond by 2025. ‘The rest of the policy will be largely irrelevant for such a large portion of our students if this most basic learning—reading, writing and arithmetic at the foundational level—is not first achieved,’ reads the NEP draft. They will also have to ensure that all students aged between 3 and 18 are brought within the ambit
TECHNOLOGY TO THE FORE Students at a classroom in Anganwadi Kendra, Jaipur
LEARNING BY DOING Students at a Miranda House College science lab