It has been almost three years since the Union Cabinet of India approved the progressive National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, with an aim to completely transform the country’s education system by the year 2030. Education Post’s Rohit Wadhwaney attempts to understand the challenges school authorities are facing to implement the policy at the grassroots level.
Ask almost anyone in the academic world, and they’ll only have great things to say about the new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which came into existence on July 29, 2020, with an ambitious goal of transforming India into a global knowledge superpower. But praising the policy is one thing, implementing it quite another.
Going by India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the NEP 2020 has been accepted by all and the whole country is working to implement it, unlike previous education policies which were “mired in controversies” due to ideological links.
“Normally, education policies have a history of being mired in controversies. There were two NEPs in the past and were always surrounded by controversies. Many commissions were also formed in between for the implementation of educational reforms, but they were always surrounded by controversies,” Union Home Minister Amit Shah said while addressing students at the 4th convocation of the Central University of Gujarat recently.
“But nobody could protest or make allegations against the education policy brought by Narendra Modiji. In a way, the entire society has accepted it and the whole country is moving forward to implement it,” he said.
But that’s not entirely true. A group of more than 50 noted educationalists and cultural icons in Kerala – which, at 94%, has the highest literacy rate in India – has requested the state government to abandon steps to implement the NEP 2020, saying the policy could reverse the progress made by Kerala in the field of education.
The joint statement issued by the All India Save Education Committee (AISEC) cautions that the move to make Classes 1 and 2 a part of the pre-primary education structure will lead to a “complete collapse of elementary education.”
Moreover, the statement by the eminent personalities, who include the likes of literary critics M.K. Sanoo and M. Leelavathi, writer Sarah Joseph and poet K.G. Sankara Pillai, says that the NEP 2020 aims at reducing schools and colleges into mere “vocational training institutes” that churn out workers adept at operating machines and not intelligent humans.
Similarly, the Joint Forum for Movement on Education (JFME) has issued a strongly-worded letter openly calling on the nation to “say NO to the implementation of NEP! Say NO to privatization and commercialization of education!”
“The fact that the document (NEP 2020) has been passed by the Cabinet without a discussion in Parliament shows how pernicious conditions are being introduced to dismantle public-funded education in the country,” the letter reads.
But in a country like India, the world’s most populous democracy, opposition to any new change is bound to raise its head. That, however, does not mean private schools across the country are finding it a cakewalk to implement the NEP 2020.
A survey by the Singapore-headquartered education platform XSEED Education revealed that almost 70% of schools in India are not fully prepared to implement the NEP.
Sudha P. Sridevi, Principal of Bommarasipet’s Ivy League Academy in Telangana, is a great fan of the NEP 2020. But she is certain the policy will not “reach the unique flavor expected” until and unless India rectifies a nagging problem – dearth of good teachers.
“The slow and independent phase of learning and exploring, as envisaged in the NEP, is a breath of fresh air to all the innocent little ones out there. The focus of the NEP on skill development rather than knowledge is also a unique feature that adds value to an individual’s education. Health and wellbeing is another important aspect included in the NEP, which highlights the need for mental and physical strength to accept and adapt changes in life. Teaching has become more flexible and supportive to include the teacher’s passion in creating learning environments. Sustainability is something that we will truly achieve with NEP 2020,” Sridevi told Education Post.
But a coin always has two sides, she added. “The harsh reality of our education system is that teaching is still a chance not a choice. The required qualification and the life-long learning part is neglected during recruitment and the dark reality of losing the job anytime is also rearing its ugly head in this profession. There are many who would like to take up this profession, however, in a country where privatization is allowed without proper policy to regulate and implement professional development, I believe the NEP becomes a dream rather than a reality.
“Not even one in fifty students who pass out of school willingly choose teaching as their profession. Until this scenario changes and teaching becomes an equally respected profession, which includes the teacher safety and job security, the NEP may be implemented but is difficult to reach the unique flavor expected,” Sridevi said.
“As a school head, I have ideas and I am implementing skill-based subjects into my school curriculum, but for it to move forward I need skilled teachers, which I find difficult to recruit. The financial structure does not support the expected salaries and hence the lacuna is bigger than expected. I hope that this part can be taken care by the government and regulatory bodies to make a better childhood to livelihood transformation for our future generations,” she said.
Kendriya Vidyalayas alone need at least 12,000 teachers to be able to properly implement the NEP 2020, said Indra Mani Upadhyay, PGT Hindi, Kendriya Vidyalaya, CRPF Lucknow.
“The government’s intentions are good, but it is not walking the talk. There are several schools in remote areas that function with only one or two teachers, who teach all the subjects and also take care of midday meals as there is a shortage of non-teaching staff,” Upadhyay said.
The government “must arrange for teacher training in offline mode with proper assessment,” she said, adding, “The NEP places emphasis on the mother tongue, but there is a lack of good content in the regional languages, so textbooks in regional languages need to be provided to schools in time.”
Then there is the problem of internet connectivity, which needs to be provided to schools in remote areas and “students must be trained to use these devices effectively. They mostly use laptops and tablets to browse the internet for entertainment or for social media. Students need the training to use these devices for educational purposes,” Upadhyay was quoted as saying in the Education Times.
“NEP 2020 is well designed for Indian schools and it results out well only if it is implemented, analysed and right steps are taken to achieve it,” said Manjula B, academic head, Orchids The International School, adding, “Final board exam results are not important for admission in universities. Universities can admit based on tests conducted at their level. NEP alone cannot bring in changes in India. The Problem with students and teacher ratio, students’ strength, good teachers, tests analysis is not addressed.”
The school, she said, is already following the new 5+3+3+4 pattern, and both subjective and objective types of questions in tests.
According to Shehanaz Cottar, Principal of the Podar International School in Pune, the effective implementation of this mega project will require shared responsibility and ownership among key stakeholders including the private sector at all levels of education.
“Alternative and innovative education centers need to be set up for the effective implementation of (the) NEP,” she was quoted as saying.
A principal of a school in Nagaland’s Kohima city told Education Post on condition of anonymity that there are several issues in the NEP 2020 that need clarity, without which implementation is “out of the question.”
“Take for example vocational and skill-based education. Schools have been told to implement them, but we have not been told how we should go about implementing these,” he said.
“Another challenge we are facing is figuring out how to break down the boundaries between arts, commerce, sciences, co-curricular and extracurricular activities. We need to segregate them in a way that children should be able to make the choice by the time they reach class 9,” he added.
Quite rightly so, Home Minister Amit Shah believes that the NEP 2020 has “brought our education out of narrow thinking.”
“The aim of education is not to get a degree, a good job or comforts in personal life, but to become a complete human. We should always make efforts in this direction and this education policy gives full opportunity for this,” he said.
He also urged teachers across the country to especially study the NEP 2020, because only when they read the policy “between the lines” will they understand its implications.
Reading between the lines in India? Clearly, easier said than done.