To implement NEP’s transformational vision of ensuring multidisciplinary education, policymakers should sincerely focus on bolstering primary schooling
We are in the midst of celebrating the 75th year of our independence and the entire country is organizing functions and programmes to commemorate this year as Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav. There is a lot that we should be justifiably proud of in our progress during this period but, at the same time, we should be aware where we stand with respect to various indicators of development and also consciously chalk out a roadmap to make our country a developed nation by 2047. A holistic approach of development is required but we must realize that the 21st century is one where knowledge will determine the progress of a nation. If India wants to keep pace or even go ahead of the rest of the world in the 21st century then the main area of focus has to be education. We have a vast army of young people giving us the advantage of a demographic dividend but, without providing quality education to all, this will turn into a disaster. Education is a tool of political empowerment and also the means to bring about social equality and economic progress. The SDG goal for education very succinctly puts it that we have to strive to achieve “inclusive and equitable education to all by 2030”. This is a tall order for our country where the mean years of schooling are low and the gross enrolment rate for higher education is only 26.3 per cent at the moment and the status of all education indicators are much lower for girls.
We had an education policy in 1986 under which a significant amount of work was done in the education sector but the new education policy, coming 34 years after that in 2020, has a completely new vision about what education should mean for the Indian citizen. The vision statement envisions an education system rooted in Indian ethos and seeks to transform India (Bharat) into an equitable and vibrant knowledge society by providing high-quality education to all. It seeks to inculcate pride in being an Indian but also inspires to become a truly global citizen. It is indeed a wonderful vision which aspires to blend the Indian culture and ethos with modern science and technology. The NEP decisively wants to free itself from the shackles of the colonial legacy, as pronounced in the famous Macaulay minute on education. The Indian citizen should be a self-confident person, conscious of the great culture of the country but also desire to bring in the best of science and technology.
The foundation has to be strong for any building to withstand shocks or pressures. Unfortunately, our elementary education system is of abysmal quality and this clearly means that it would be difficult to build the edifice of a developed nation on this basis. The NEP has rightly focused on foundational literacy and numeracy. The education system would now be 5+3+3+4 years instead of the current 10+2+3. There would be a national mission for foundational literacy for the first five years of a child’s education. This would be till the age of eight years and is based on the scientific premise that 85 per cent of a child’s cumulative brain development occurs up to the age of six. Today, we see the sorry spectacle, as brought out by the survey reports of the NGO Pratham that students of class five can barely read or do simple arithmetic of class two levels. This requires serious remediation if our nation has to develop. The teachers need to be specially trained in early childhood care education. In India, this work is done by Aganwadis that are not trained for this job and have a lot of additional duties to perform. They will have to be trained specifically for this job and a synergy would have to be established with the primary school teachers so that together they are able to fulfill the goal of foundational literacy. It is indeed a matter of concern that even today, there are a large number of schools where the children don’t even have chairs and desks and they sit on the floor. We cannot become leaders of the knowledge society if serious steps are not taken to completely overhaul primary education. The community has to be involved in this. I would vouch for decentralization of primary education so that the village level local bodies are able to monitor them and bring about an improvement in the quality of education.
Teachers are crucial if school education has to turn round the corner. The new education policy rightly says that efforts have to be made to restore the respect and dignity of teachers which should motivate her to feel responsible and accountable for imparting quality education. We need to create an environment where the best are willing to enter the teaching profession and are prepared to work in outlying rural areas. There should be a regular programme of training and capacity development for teachers, and to keep them motivated the governance has to ensure a fair and impartial system of career management and progression. Qualified teachers should be recruited. Vacancies need to be urgently filled up and a system evolved to protect the teachers from the menace of transfers.
The goal of having a multidisciplinary approach at the school level is laudable but difficult to implement. The school systems as well as teachers will have to be oriented and geared to take up this responsibility. Besides, it is imperative to give equal importance to vocational and extracurricular education but, once again, this requires a lot of reforms at the school management level.
The new education policy has given valuable suggestions about developing education from primary to higher level but I feel we have to begin by focusing on school education. If the quality at this level remains poor then higher education will not improve. Education must get the highest priority from all political parties and the governments otherwise the problem of unemployment will grow larger and we will have an army of frustrated youth who would be diverting their energies into deviant channels. The future of India depends upon how we manage and transform school education.