National Education Policy 2020 – A view from the field

– By Gayathri Tirthapura, Co-Founder Trustee at Tejasvita Trust

The National Education Policy (NEP), a landmark document in Indian education system which was released on July 29th, 2020 has been hailed as an education policy that will shape both the future social and economic fabric of India. It’s hard to find any serious critics of this policy, and this in itself is a win considering that the Indian education system serves more than 400 million learners with diverse needs.  Reading the policy has brought in a lot of hope and optimism for me about the future of education in India. From the get-go, the policy takes a no-nonsense approach to creating a new high-quality education system aligned with the aspirational goals of 21st century education. To quote the policy, ”it is becoming increasingly critical that children not only learn, but more importantly learn how to learn. Education thus, must move towards less content, and more towards learning about how to think critically and solve problems, how to be creative and multidisciplinary, and how to innovate, adapt, and absorb new material in novel and changing fields”. 

Highlights of the policy

At Tejasvita Trust, we have done significant work in developing a quality curriculum, pedagogy, and teacher reported assessment methods for preschool classrooms in Affordable Private Schools that serve low-income populations. We have also developed professional development modules for new and in-service teachers to match our curriculum and pedagogy. Here are some key recommendations in the NEP 2020 that are relevant to the work we do in the field. 

  1. Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) will now be integrated into the formal schooling system. This move is highly significant for the Anganwadis. Anganwadis are publicly funded child care centers for preschool aged children and were set up in 1975. They serve an estimated 80 million children all over India. Preschool education at these centers  typically takes a backseat due to the centers’ wide-ranging objectives related to health and nutrition of the whole community. The critical importance of stimulating environments for optimal brain development during the early years cannot be overstated. Hence NEP 2020 makes a superior preschool curriculum a burning priority, and also the need to restructure the Anganwadis, it’s management and the hiring/training of Anganwadi workers in this regard. 
  2. The curriculum and pedagogical structure of the entire school education will be re-organised to meet the new goals. Specifically for the younger years,  five years of foundational learning (preschool + grades 1 and 2) will be instituted during which time “learning is flexible, multilevel, play and activity based”. The foundational stage will be followed by three years of preparatory learning (grades 3 – 5) which again emphasises “play and activity based learning and introduction of light textbooks and interactive classroom learning”.  Learning in mother-tongue will be emphasised during early childhood while the importance of exposing children to multiple languages during their younger years in quality learning environments  is highlighted. 
  3. The absolute urgency of all children attaining foundational literacy and numeracy by the end of Grade 3 has been recognised in the policy. Currently, an estimated 50 million children in elementary schools don’t attain these foundational skills.  “The rest of this policy will become relevant for students only if this most basic learning requirement (i.e reading, writing and arithmetic at the foundational level) is first achieved”, says the policy. A timeline to achieve universal foundational literacy and numeracy by 2025 has been set and all viable methods including curricular and professional development, one-on-one peer tutoring with volunteers, developing inspirational books and increased focus on libraries will be taken up.
  4. Nearly 50% of the children in India attend privately managed schools and hence it is imperative that any education policy takes steps to improve the quality of education in private schools. NEP 2020 recommends many steps in this direction – reducing regulation to a minimal set of standards for setting up schools and increasing emphasis on learning outcomes for each school,  removing conflicts of interests in monitoring schools and setting same criteria for assessing of public and private schools, national or state level key stage assessments at grades 3rd, 5th and 8th grades for students in order to evaluate the quality of education in the schools and full public disclosure of learning outcomes of each school so that parents have effective information to decide the right school for their children. 
  5. The policy firmly establishes teachers at the center of the delivery of education and calls for their empowerment and the need for supporting them at all levels. At the same time it recommends putting in place professional standards and appropriate performance based incentives for teachers, and  basic methods for their quality and accountability. Given that education in the 21st century requires teachers to up-skill themselves to use advanced pedagogical methods, the policy proposes moving teacher education to multidisciplinary universities and heavy restructuring of B.Ed programs, it’s curriculum and pedagogy to suit the context.

Implementation challenges

NEP 2020 has set a very high bar for the quality of Indian education. For it to become a reality, several government institutions will have to work together to construct the curriculum, training, implementation, monitoring and regulatory frameworks. This is a huge effort that requires high levels of coordination across many government bodies at national, state, local levels and the educational institutions themselves. In the midst of all this, let’s not forget the primary intention of all these efforts, which is the improvement of the quality of teaching and learning that is required in the field. 

NEP 2020 recommends that pedagogical methods in the classrooms should make learning “experiential, holistic, integrated, inquiry-driven, discovery-oriented, learner-centered, discussion-based, flexible and enjoyable”. Such a teaching act is incredibly complex.  It requires teachers themselves to have higher order skills of critical thinking, creative thinking, problem solving, collaboration and communication skills.  Our experience on the ground has also shown that providing a classroom environment where every single child can progress, requires teachers to be constantly “present” for children and resolve classroom management issues in compassionate ways, so that a safe space is created for children to be just who they are and pursue joyful learning. In addition, effective parent – school – community partnerships need to be built where the whole community of adults serving children become growth-oriented and build the skills required. 

In India, a culture of rote learning and learning for the sake of scoring high marks has seeped into every stage of learning including early childhood. To change this culture to one where children enjoy learning and curiously seek new knowledge and skills as opposed to just for scoring marks, will require significant intentional effort. The high-stakes nature of exams should be curtailed at a systemic level. Awareness should be built among the stakeholders and  in the society about the true purpose of education as described in the NEP and the natural learning process of a human brain. 

NEP 2020 has catapulted the aspirations of the country for its education system to be one of the best in the world by 2040. It seeks to build an equitable and just society accompanied by a thriving economy where every job seeker is employed productively and working towards resolving the challenges that the world is facing in the 21st century. A synchronised effort across all stakeholders must accompany the changes sought in the system to make this goal a reality. But most importantly, the needs of the learners and the teachers should be kept at the heart of any planning and implementation. Only then the goals of NEP 2020 can become a reality.

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