During my school days, I was part of the minority which opted for Sanskrit as their third language to ‘get marks’ since that’s what really mattered at the end of the day. However, a large number of students took up French, Spanish, German, and the likes as their third language, for it was the more practical and massively popular choice. A strange ‘three-language rule’ among many others introduced in the “New Education Policy” may take this option away.
India, riding the wave of new city names, took it a step further and recently relabelled the Ministry of Human Resource Development as the Ministry of Education. This came alongside the launch of the New Education Policy, which had been drafted back in May. The announcement, made by Ramesh Pokriyal, Minister for (now) Education and Prakash Javadekar, the Minister for Information and Broadcasting, has taken the onus to change the face of the education system of our country to make India “a global knowledge superpower.” This drastic change has been the source of widespread confusion among students and teachers alike.
Many people saw this as yet another masterstroke by the Prime Minister, for education reform has been long overdue in this country. The constant debate of providing holistic education to students over rote-learning has finally been addressed. Up until now, CBSE, and other Indian education boards were highly criticized for their textbook-centric approach at academics, and how it hampered the overall growth and personality development of children.
The biggest step is the expansion of the Right to Education Act to the age group 3-18 from the initial 6-14; thereby making education free and accessible for pre-schoolers. In addition to a greater emphasis on early childhood development, the policy also proposes the expansion of the mid-day meal scheme, thereby tackling the rampant problem of malnutrition. The 5+3+3+4 approach rather than 10+2 has been introduced. It suggests that students only write exams in grade 3, 5, and 8; and also allows students to take the board exams twice through the semester system. Besides this, the introduction of vocational training to help students develop or recognize various skills is seen as a crucial step. The plan also seeks to standardize Indian Sign Language or ISL throughout the country to make education more inclusive and accessible. The aforementioned three language policy states that at least two of the three languages must be Indian, which if it excludes English, will be forcing students to choose between that or any other foreign language. This, coupled with the encouragement of the teaching medium to be shifted to regional languages and a lack of clarity regarding the plan of action has been massively criticized by several state governments.
College-level education has also seen a swift change where the undergraduate degree has been increased to four years, and for each year there is a credential in a hierarchical order: certificate, diploma, degree, and a research degree respectively. Additionally, multiple exit options proposed by the policy allow students to be awarded with appropriate certifications if they choose to discontinue their education midway and ensure zero dropouts. This is not just inclusive but also makes it easier for students to get a Ph.D. There is also a proposed introduction of a common aptitude exam, similar to the SATs to be conducted for college entrances hence alleviating the pressure from the board exam results. Moreover, all colleges, excluding medical and legal ones are encouraged to adopt a multidisciplinary approach that will break away from the pre-existing cycle of churning out students and focus more on creating an environment that fosters growth.
While all of these proposed changes in the policy look great on paper, the implementation strategies for the same remain missing. To entirely alter an education system that has been followed for decades requires remodelling just about every aspect of school as well as college curriculums. Most teachers that I spoke with had been looking forward to this exciting document, however, they felt that it was too idealistic and lacked clarity. The biggest concern becomes training teachers and building the infrastructure to incorporate skill-oriented learning and multidisciplinary institutes, or even the challenge of ISL standardization. The policy has made a bold statement in terms of increasing the amount of money that goes into the education sector - aiming to increase it from 1.7% of the GDP to a solid 6%. However, this change doesn’t mean minting new coins. The share of certain other sectors is bound to decrease and increasing the share is just the first step which must be followed by a profound and complex strategy to allocate funds productively.
Another challenge faced by the urban-rural population and government schools especially is the absenteeism of students. Most families use the money given for books, uniforms, and other school supplies for themselves. The child is sent to school merely to be fed, and this affects the actual learning process. Similarly, the question of the paucity of teachers in these schools may worsen after the proposed four-year Bachelor of Education system which aims to train teachers effectively, but the quality aspect may precede the quantity, something already lagging in our education system. These aspects remain unanswered and only add to the cloud of uncertainty that has been floating about since the announcement.
As a student, I believe the overall prospective reform is an interesting shift. An important perspective would be to not simply introduce a multidisciplinary curriculum in schools and colleges, but to also aid them with career counselling as a must. Broadening the horizon may not always have the expected outcome, and it can end up confusing students further about their future. There’s always scope of improvement in all spheres, but certain essential elements like moral and sex education continue to remain missing from the document. The policy appears to be a less-than-ideal essay of what one would want to change about the existing plight of education in India. However, from an administrative point of view, the policy requires more deliberate and well-thought-out plans to put the penned down changes into action.
All we as students, teachers, and parents can do is to wait for the government to give more information and eventually fulfil the ideal that is NEP.