The New Education Policy (NEP) by the government of India, with its 5+3+3+4 model, has garnered appraisals for some of its revolutionary and liberal ideas. But, will those ideas break the ‘ice’ of India’s parents’ mindset which has so far relied on several regressive formulae? On several occasions, Indian parents happened to be roadblocks to the nation’s youths’ and children’s own pursuit of careers and this issue has been overlooked for a long time. Let us examine if the newly drafted policy offers some hope or not.
Many well-to-do families prefer to admit their children into Convent or English-medium schools, hoping that English is the best and smartest language to pursue a bright career in the future. Of course, looking at India’s vast diversity and global demand, English is undisputedly an indispensable language. However, I feel that the strict discipline in many Convents and other English medium schools act as the imposition of English on the students, depriving any development in their own languages and cultures.
Moreover, the importance of local languages cannot be denied because that is what a student may use to communicate with the people in their localities, for example, when a student wants to make them aware of the environment and global warming. The NEP addresses this issue and suggests “Teachers will be encouraged to use a bilingual approach, including bilingual teaching-learning materials, with those students whose home language may be different from the medium of instruction.”
This bilingual flexibility will not make English a ‘superior’ language, rather a useful language that will let other regional languages breathe and flourish simultaneously (though there’s an issue with making two languages to be Indian in the overall three-language formula). An artist, a sportsperson, or a poet in a regional language may not need as much English as a software engineer requires, and the bilingual flexibility may reduce the convent craze and spare the parents who almost cannot afford their kids admitted but does not deprive them of the necessary education.
Physical and mental abuse of children by their parents are not very uncommon in India and in many cases, poor performance in the examination is considered a failure. Because of this apparent ‘failure’, often the students have to live with mental stress from their teachers and the family members. The reason behind this is because the marks on the scorecard apparently matter a lot, both before and after the board exams.
Not only marks but failing to score well in one subject in one exam prohibits the students from being promoted to the next level. The NEP promises that the assessment “will not just be linked simplistically, e.g., to ‘marks’ of students” and grading will happen only for 3rd, 5th, and 8th standards apart from the board exams. Also, for the board exams, there will be best-of-two attempts, i.e. a candidate may have a second chance if they fail to appear at the exam due to illness or some accident.
This reform might just change the marks-based perception for evaluating a candidate and hopefully diminish the number of incidences of violence happening to children. Child abuse (physical, verbal, and mental) is a serious concern.
The UNICEF recently found that children are exposed to at least 30 different forms of physical, verbal, and emotional abuse in their homes, and many of these are used in the name of disciplining the kids. In the NEP’s new reforms however, no parental guidelines were provided to deal with the children who are weak in learning or inattentive in the classroom.
Continuing with the previous context, many of the guardians and family members fail to understand the mental health issues of the children in their families. Hence the family members become often abusive towards or neglect children, which in turn affects their education badly.
The draft mentions: “…the nutrition and health (including mental health) of children will be addressed, through healthy meals and the introduction of well-trained social workers, counsellors, and community involvement into the schooling system.” and this plan hopefully will provide support to the students who do not find their families supportive enough.
Now as soon as one scores well in the secondary (10th) board exam, many parents try to push their children to opt for the science stream, or the children themselves find their friends mostly opting for science. This can cause two kinds of damage: Firstly, it seems that science students develop a superiority complex against the students opting for other streams. Secondly, even though one scores well in science subjects, they may not love to make a career in it, but eventually, opt for science under societal pressure.
The NEP addresses this issue and encourages students to go for multidisciplinary subjects where one doesn’t need to keep all science topics. Thus a maths-lover will feel free to drop chemistry and physics and may look for opting economics and political sciences in expanding their horizons. This might still be challenging for the parents to accept unless the institutes and the job sectors welcome such ‘weird’ combos.
Since most of the courses taught in the school are theory-based and high demand for science subjects prevails for the medical and engineering entrance exams, many coaching centres mushroomed across the nation. Eventually, students spent more time there in addition to the time devoted to homework and preparation for board exams. This is like putting more books inside a student’s bag.
Now, as the NEP promises many “bagless days” involving vocational training, quizzes, sports, etc (quite like the Gymnasium system in the West), the load of theory-based exercises is expected to be reduced. Regarding the entrance exams, it has been promised that it (the system) will “be reformed to eliminate the need for undertaking coaching classes,” though it is not yet clear how such reform will be made.
Nevertheless, the policy says, “any student who has been going to and making a basic effort in a school class will be able to pass and do well in the corresponding subject Board Exam without much additional effort.” Hence the load and expenditure from the parents’ side (Indian parents spend huge for education) might be reduced, at least before the entrance exams.
India is a highly patriarchal country and gender-based discrimination can be observed across the nation, largely in semi-urban and rural areas. It needs to be tackled by the institutions themselves before awareness arises in each Indian family. The NEP talks about raising a Gender-Inclusion Fund in order to assist “female and transgender children in gaining access to education (such as the provisions of sanitation and toilets, bicycles, conditional cash transfers, etc.).”
Though gender-sensitization has been mentioned several times in the new draft, no particular sensitization curriculum or any sex-education program has been mentioned. This is a crucial and difficult issue for parents who observe their children moving into their adolescence.
The NEP is a large document with plenty of promises offering flexibility to students so that education sounds more fun than a daunting task. Teachers can be trained within the institute, parents may not. Parents may not easily give up the fear of losing the rat-race for their children’s careers.
I just attempted to mention a few important points from the New Education Policy that may have the potential to break the glass ceiling that has confined our children for several decades.
The flexibility of opting both science and non-science subjects (similar to majors plus minors formula in the USA) opens more doors of knowledge and skills for students. Stress on skill development and vocational training is also the key behind building up skilled resources in manufacturing and workforce in East Asian countries like China, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam (The People’s Republic of China has a Vocation Education Law for its citizens.).
I myself didn’t enjoy much flexibility during my own education, and perhaps the same spirit has motivated me to write this article, despite my profession allowing me to write research papers in physics only.
About the author: Dr Himadri Barman is a researcher in theoretical condensed matter physics, affiliated with Zhejiang University, China and an aspiring socio-political analyst.