Let us understand that the draft National Education Policy has no elements of alchemy that would transform the baser elements in our education system to a superior element. It also does not show the gateways to an Eldorado that would make our future generation become angels of a Holy land. Nevertheless, it has a potential wishful thinking to push forward the efforts of an ambitious governance to re-engineer a sick system.
The country has long been waiting for a change in the direction of the process of education and its administration. For long people at all levels have been debating on this issue. The question we have on our table now is – whether this new policy has enough substance and strength to give the necessary impetus to drive a change in the game? An overview of its statements in respect of many dimensions of education does clearly offer some bold initiatives and action plans that can re-engineer the ailing system. But whether the country has the political and bureaucratic will to take those difficult decisions knowing fully well that they are likely to face resistance for each and everything from some quarter the other. The history is evidence to the fact the administrative conveniences have always marginalized the larger social and academic interests. Further, the systems have always been designed with ‘mistrust’ as fundamental to any of the policy implementation programs. If the governance could address these two issues and put in place ‘the plans of action’ in the safe hands of a ‘Think tank’, there is every possibility of seeing the light in the tunnel.
Though there could be a number of suggestions which would add value to the current system of education, I find the following as game changers in so far as the school education process is concerned:
1. The policy is essentially India-centric. Therefore, the derivates of the policy would be woven around this core idea. There could be a counter argument to prove that all the earlier policies were also addressing to the same ideation. Well, though Kothari commission report or the 1986 policy did carry with it a number of elements that would meet the needs of the country, there was no such bold statement. This statement assumes importance at a time when ‘global’ markets try to overshadow the glory of India that it was. This statement is a narrative for incorporating and developing a ‘sense of pride’ on India and our belongingness to a country with a great treasure of knowledge, wisdom and skills. It can certainly encourage the belief-system of a knowledge-centric nation. Though the earlier documents did mention these, we have failed to address this issue with the kind of importance, seriousness and adequacy, it needs. India, developing as a powerful global economy can sustain itself only if its citizens own the ‘Indianness’ which will impact their thought architecture in manufacture, management, organization, business and its global leadership. This also would influence the way the educational leaders would think of the Indian perspectives in global positioning in so far as education is concerned. It could relieve us from the “intellectual fatigue’ we had been experiencing since Macaulay’s design of wanting to ‘develop a nation of clerks’.
2. The document publicly and emphatically acknowledges all the prevalent infections as well as the viruses that have demoralised the system and is transparent enough to call ‘a spade a spade’. This realization is critical to design of the future strategies. This will drive the plan of action -either to change the course of their journey or ‘shut down’ the shops once for all. It is a wake-up call to a ‘do or die’ situation for a developing nation.
3. It has broadly classified the functions into four streams – policy designs; affiliation, administration and monitoring; curriculum, pedagogy and academics; and lastly, of course most importantly, the assessment. The policy calls for a non-interventional, yet a synergetic approach to these areas by independent educational leaders and the processes to usher in more energy, purpose and speed for reforms. Segregation of powers and purposes will help in focusing the issues much more diligently and effectively. The concept of ‘school complexes’ as the basic unit of operation will help in resource allocation, optimal utilization of resources and in developing local and shared vision.
4. It challenges the ‘myopic visions’ of the curriculum we had been fostering for decades. Concepts of multilingualism, celebrations of all Indian languages with the respectability they deserve, demolishing the scope for rote learning, holistic approach to learning (removing the barriers of co-curricular and extra-curricular approaches), synergizing learning by its additional focus on integrated art education, health education, knowledge of India and its concerns for ethics are certainly inputs that would help the right and left brain thinkers to address issues more coherently and with the compassion they deserve. It has elements to nurture social consciousness with humanistic concerns be removing the sedative focus on examinations right from the day the kids step into the school.
5. It acknowledges the need for intelligent pedagogy by stating the freedom for the teacher and for the local contexts in the delivery of the content. Its emphasis on the role of passionate teachers, their professional growth, career path is explicit. The recommendation to ‘shut down’ the teacher training shops is courageous and indeed a welcome statement. While transporting the teacher education to the corridors of colleges and universities, it is important that these corridors should be insulated from political interventions to let the evolution of a democratic and freewill dominant culture to emerge.
6. The commission’s call for restructuring the ‘examination’ boards to come with new avatars as ‘Boards of Assessment’ with a continuous engagement with formative focus, opening up the learning to a wide variety of learning areas, staggered and choice driven assessment packages are indicators of opening up the system to a more healthy environment that would eliminate stress and cut-throat competition. The real challenge is – how far a system that has lived with a conditioned ‘mindset’ and ‘pre-conceived purpose’ will give way to a more flexible approach that would force the authoritative structures to divest a lot of their power and importance?
7.The advice of the commission that all educational institutions should be treated at par in terms of their fulfilment of basic norms like infrastructure, resources, strategies and other pedagogical requirements is a case in the point. For decades all such conditions were sought after mostly from private players with Government run institutions enjoying a protectionist approach. The ‘wastage component’ of may government investments and resources have been mind-noggling and its time to put the house in order. At the same time, many ‘profits’ based private players have been adopting ‘bogus’ methods and strategies to prove their credibility. I think it is important to ensure accountability and quality with public institutions while it is important to bring greater transparency in the administration of private institutions.
8. For decades, private investors have played a significant role in promoting the access and quality of education either as a service or for a profit. Their role can neither be negated nor be minimized. It will be disastrous to look at them as ‘evil-mongers’, but it is necessary to provide them a respectable role and acknowledge the same with grace and humility. Minds haunted by ‘mistrust’ should gave way to the ones with ‘trust’- considering them as ‘partners in progress.’ The draft policy could have been a little more liberal to them.
9. “Learning” – the commission acknowledges as a multi-polar activity, with a lot of it being accessed through informal sources and through enabled and empowered technology. The closed-door approach to classrooms has given way to ‘space and time free learning.’ The curriculum and textbooks are considered as ‘runways’ for the ‘flight of knowledge’. Hence imposition of any textbook or specific source of learning would be totally disastrous to the purpose and the vision the commission has detailed for itself. Encouraging a wide variety of knowledge sources, experiential interventions, pedagogical support systems, assessment models from different sources including private knowledge entrepreneurs to have a fair play and a level playing ground is essential, if the spirit of the new policy has to be realized to its full potential. That would be a powerful trigger for change and access to quality.
10. The development of ‘scientific temper’ has always been underplayed in learning platforms. There has been a considered view that the spirit of science is handed over only from the ivory towers of scientific inquiry. This approach has indeed killed the development of scientific pursuits. “Elitist” stature to science has put many native scientific ‘thoughts’ and pursuits to shame and discourage the originality and the contextuality of science. While it is absolutely important that the processes and methods of science should never be compromised, the native thoughts need to be verified and acknowledged for their value. After all, the world has survived from the stone age only through progressive thinking and not through exclusive laboratory sciences and approaches. The document certainly gives scope for celebration of freedom of thoughts provided the teachers would acknowledge innovation and creativity even if is in a small measure.The development of ‘scientific temper’ has always been underplayed in learning platforms. There has been a considered view that the spirit of science is handed over only from the ivory towers of scientific inquiry. This approach has indeed killed the development of scientific pursuits. “Elitist” stature to science has put many native scientific ‘thoughts’ and pursuits to shame and discourage the originality and the contextuality of science. While it is absolutely important that the processes and methods of science should never be compromised, the native thoughts need to be verified and acknowledged for their value. After all, the world has survived from the stone age only through progressive thinking and not through exclusive laboratory sciences and approaches. The document certainly gives scope for celebration of freedom of thoughts provided the teachers would acknowledge innovation and creativity even if is in a small measure.
The question is – whether those who always enjoy living in ‘safe pastures’ in the educational corridors would let changes happen meaningfully and effectively -will decide whether these game changing factors will find their way or will be celebrations in print?
*This article was originally written on LinkedIn.https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/can-new-national-education-policy-game-changer-india-g/