The much-awaited National Education Policy (NEP) was released last week leaving many underwhelmed by its attempt to make education “fun”, assessments “easier”, and effort “basic”. The inspiring vision of an ecosystem that provides students with holistic education opportunities, promotes their interests and motivations and is grounded in innovative strategies led by teachers, meets an unimaginative climax with sub-par ideas on curriculum, pedagogy, and teacher professional development.
The NEP boldly states that the “principles on which this Policy is based include flexibility.” Yet, it goes on to suggestively mandate that the language of instruction in both public and private schools, “wherever possible,” be in the local language. It is ironic and counterproductive in a country, which has two official languages, to have a policy with such strong recommendations on the medium of instruction in elementary schools.
After selling a story on the need for multi-lingual teaching and learning, the NEP almost immediately goes back on this vision. It counter-intuitively suggests that teaching should be in the native language until grade 5.
Is this because our policymakers fear that our teachers are not capable of teaching in a language that is not native to them? If so, then why are we not seeing conversations on strategies to develop these competencies in our teachers?
What adds to the mystery is that NEP unequivocally appreciates the importance of English and states that “children pick up languages extremely quickly between the ages of 2 and 8” and yet goes on to recommend the introduction of teaching with English only after grade 6. The policy ignores the fact that infants do not speak any language at birth and without any concerted effort become fluent in their native tongue because of their own inherent skills of observation and meaning-making, and an environment of continuous contextual engagement.
The NEP is correct in stating that multi-lingual learning is key to a well-rounded education. Still, in a developing economy like India, it should involve a global language of business and connectivity at foundational levels so that students achieve native proficiency early in their lives.
By suggesting that foundational literacy and numeracy be in the native language followed by teaching and learning in English in higher classes, the NEP is recommending steps that could cause disastrous ramifications for our youth and our nation’s competitiveness in the future.
The real problem is not the language of teaching and learning because children are clearly more than capable of learning languages, but of the way the language is taught—the real problem is our teacher education.
With a plethora of research on the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) across the world, it is almost criminal that these elements were not explicitly mentioned as the guiding principle of our ECE teacher education curriculum at the foundational levels (certification or diploma)—especially given India’s aspirations to become a “global knowledge society and economy”.
While the NEP does identify a robust lens for the NCERT and SCERT to develop the necessary foundational curriculum and teacher professional development programs for ECE, it overlooks the identification of critical details, such as the contextual needs of the cadre of ECE teachers. It provides no information on the metrics to measure the quality of the implementation of the programs developed by the NCERT.
Overall, a centralized approach to the design and development of a professional development program seems detrimental to the vision of flexibility and autonomy. Ideally, the development of the initial cadres should have been led by the SCERTs after consultations with the Block Resource Centers and Cluster Resource Centers (resource centers for teacher education) to create programs that are contextually relevant with stakeholders having a higher degree of ownership.
Finally, one of the most glaring gaps in NEP 2020 is the overall lack of policy on accountability between and within government institutions.
The NEP fails to detail how the government will track and measure, and finally, publicly disclose the progress it makes.
While the identification of foundational literacy and numeracy by grade 3 sets the stage for the kind of accountability we as citizens expect from our government institutions, there are too few examples that clearly detail out such checks and balances. Unfortunately, it seems that the drafting body of the NEP gave up on our government’s will to provide quality educational opportunities.
That being said, there are few sparks of brilliance, especially with the recognition that current school regulations have been restrictive to “public-spirited” private schools, suggesting a need to create separate government institutions responsible for regulation and governance of schools, and a much-needed review of RTE.
However, more often than not, the policy missed important connections that you would expect to plug through the three years of consultation that has led to the design of this document. While the NEP may be satisfied with “basic” effort, we as citizens will accept nothing less than excellence from our education ecosystem.
About the Author: Kayhan brings over 10 years of passion and experience in learning design and has worked in diverse roles across for profit and non-profit education organizations. With a Masters in Instructional Technology and Media from Columbia University, Kayhan specializes in leveraging technology for curriculum design and online and blended pedagogy. Before moving back to India, Kayhan led the design of leading Master of Science programs at Columbia University as an instructional designer for the School of Professional Studies.