On Track to Transform

Private schools and NGOs cater to more than 50 per cent of school children but they are given just a passing reference in the New Education Policy, raising questions about its scope and efficacy By Anil Swarup Anil Swarup
Enter Vol.14 ISSUE 4-6 JULY-SEPT 2020

After a long wait of more than six years, the is finally out. And it has some very interesting and meaningful features that can actually transform school education. It could be debated whether there was indeed a need for such a policy for a country as diverse as ours.

“Children should not only learn but also learn how to learn”. This is the essence of the recently announced education policy. Most of the provisions of the policy attempt to enable the child to learn how to learn. The intention and the direction that the policy provides are, by and large, laudable though there could be serious implementation related issues.

The policy provides for migration from existing structure to 5+3+3+4. One wonders how this  step will help improve learning outcomes and whether it would be worthwhile spending time, effort and money to undertake such  an overhaul

One of the most heartening features of the policy relates to inclusion of pre-school education. It is well established that the initial years of a child are critical for his overall development. The suggestion to the Ministries (Women and Child Welfare responsible for Anganwadis and School Education) to work in tandem for this purpose makes a lot of sense. Steps had been initiated three years ago by incorporating early childhood education in “Samagra Shiksha”. This new scheme sought to amalgamate the ongoing “Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA)” and “Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA). Incorporating this feature in the policy will provide the desired thrust.

The focus on the teacher has been talked about for a while. The teacher lies at the pivot of school education. The policy reiterates and endorses this. One of the biggest ‘mafias’ in school education “that were eating into the essentials of society like termites” (highlighted in “The Ethical Dilemmas of a Civil Servant”) is the group of such B. Ed and D. El. Ed colleges that existed only on paper. This scourge would hopefully be taken care of under the policy as there is a provision for bringing forth a four-year integrated course for pre-service training. Various other issues relating to selection of teachers and in-service upgradation of skills have also been appropriately highlighted. Some of these steps were initiated a few years ago. They can now to be taken to logical conclusion.

Transfer of teachers is a racket in several states. One former Chief Minister is behind bars on account of such a racket. The policy recognises this as a problem but does not provide an effective way forward. Some states, like Rajasthan and Karnataka, have managed to find a broad solution. Policy could have outlined such examples that could be replicated by other states. There are other similar instances where a roadmap has not been provided. After six years of deliberations, the two Committees that looked into such issues could have provided some way forward.

Students have been rightly empowered to select subjects of their choice. More flexibility has been advocated for this purpose in the curriculum. The emphasis given to vocational training and extra-curricular activities is critical and finds space in the Policy. These activities have been deservedly placed on the same pedestal as the ‘regular’ subjects.

Teaching in mother tongue till Class V is theoretically a great idea and needs to be done as it is now established that it is easier for a child to learn and understand concepts in his mother-tongue. However, it will pose many practical problems. How will migrant children manage? Or will there be separate sets of teachers? Will it be affordable? These and many similar questions are neither raised nor answered in the policy

The policy provides for migration from existing structure to 5+3+3+4. One wonders how this step will help improve learning outcomes and whether it would be worthwhile spending time, effort and money to undertake such an overhaul.

The policy incorporates large scale changes in the conduct of examinations by Boards as also introduction of examinations at various levels. Whereas this may sound good in theory, its implementation could prove tricky. The State Boards are struggling to conduct just two exams. In fact, the effort should be to build capacities of these Boards to conduct the ongoing exams efficiently to assess the competencies of the student

A separate regulatory authority for school education has also been provided in the policy. Yet again, this appears to be a sound move in principle as it separates execution from regulation. Right now the State Education Departments are performing both the tasks and there is indeed a conflict of interest. It is a moot point whether this change would help in qualitative improvements in learning outcomes. It could even morph into a new form of ‘inspector-raj’

A separate regulatory authority for school education has also been provided in the policy and appears to be a sound move in principle as it separates execution from regulation. But it all depends on execution

The delusionary farce of spiking marks, perpetrated by the respective examination boards, has led to a situation where a student can get  and does get 100 per cent marks in English Literature (Shakespeare must be turning in his grave). All this farce is to facilitate entry to good universities. Reforming the existence system of entrance to higher education is a welcome move and will perhaps eliminate this farce. Similarly, setting up National Assessment Centre for School Education for periodic assessment of competencies is a positive move as it will reveal the ground reality. It will enable the authorities to take corrective steps based on such findings. This task is presently being performed by NCERT and they are doing a decent job but there is a need for an independent expert body.

The policy virtually ignores private schools. Around 50 per cent of children go to private schools. Encouraging investments by private sector in schools would have helped the cause of school education. There is a lot of space for both public and private schools. An opportunity to promote private sector investment in school education has been missed.

Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are playing an important role in the school education. They are partnering with the State Governments in a number of states to deliver and improve quality of education. There is just a passing reference to these organisations in the policy. The joint efforts by NGOs and the State Governments should have been elaborated. These efforts should be leveraged, replicated and scaled. NGOs can also play a major role in managing and mainstreaming out-of-school children and drop outs.

There are indeed ambitious plans outlined in the policy. There is a mention that 6 per cent of the GDP would be allocated to education. Let us pray that it happens. What gives hope is an outstanding team of officers at the Department of School Education at the Central level. They are capable of making it happen. g

(The writer is a former Secretary Department of School Education & Literacy)


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