In an endeavour to harness India’s massive potential in the 21st century, the Government of India launched the National Education Policy 2020. The policy has been hailed as progressive and revolutionary; it has sparked a fresh discourse on the future of education. Given its potential to initiate massive transformations and create substantial change, it becomes pertinent to analyse and question its comprehensiveness, inclusiveness, flaws and ability to impart value education and skills, and whether it can make a peaceful, tolerant and just society.
In this context, the Center for ICT for Development (CICTD), Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, organised a #WebPolicy talk on ‘National Education Policy: Looking Through the Lens of Repurposing Education Towards Thriving for Every Child’ by Vishal Talreja, Co-Founder, Dream A Dream.
It has been three decades since the last policy was passed and implemented and our situational realities have transformed since then. Technological developments have prompted a paradigm shift in our lives, workspaces and almost every sector globally. Thus, even education has to evolve and adapt to contemporary realities.
There are increasing challenges that need to be addressed as more and more first-generation school-goers come into the fold of our education system. Exacerbating problems of the lack of reach, quality and professionalism demand interventions as evidence of poor learning outcomes, low-quality teaching, gaps between urban and poor, and the chasm between theory and practice get recorded.
Mr Talreja demonstrated through the use of statistics the need for a new education policy. Data reflects that 54% of the youth is not job-ready, 81% of the workforce is in the informal sector, and there is only 25% enrolment in higher education. Furthermore, 3.22 crore students are out of school, and every one out of three people drop out in the middle of their schooling.
A testament to the National Education Policy’s righteous vision and principles is Mr Talreja’s assertion that they encapsulate almost everything needed for an inclusive education system. The vision has three components:
The NEP also consists of certain foundational principles. These include:
Mr Talreja lists out all highlights of the policy before elaborating upon crucial aspects that merit consideration. These include:
There are specific changes brought upon by the NEP 2020 that are significant and merit particular focus. First is the transformation of the Curricular and Pedagogical structure. Mr Talreja explained how the traditional academic system of 10 years of school and two years of pre-university education has been overhauled to be replaced by the 3+2+3+3+4 structure. This structure will focus on early childhood education and bring it within the ambit of the Right to Education (RTE).
Furthermore, the education system will be broken down into stages or achievement of milestones. This will allow for an assessment of whether the child is prepared to go into the next stage. A change in pedagogical approach has also been outlined with play and activity-based learning for the foundational stage and more interactive classroom learning for the preparatory stage. For the middle stages, experimental learning in the sciences, mathematics, arts, social sciences and humanities, and for the secondary stage, greater critical thinking, flexibility and student choice of subjects are recommended.
Another aspect is the emphasis on minimal curriculum and maximum outcomes. Reducing the curriculum to focus on core concepts such as life skills, social-emotional learning competencies, critical thinking and inquiry-based learning has been emphasised. The policy provides for the utilisation of experiential learning models to shift the transaction and experience of curriculum from didactic to interactive.
Mr Talreja elucidates how the innovative pedagogies presented in the NEP 2020 will transform the teacher learning process, i.e. how children learn. He further explained how teachers, through the use of such approaches and creating a conducive environment, will transform their role as primary sources of knowledge to the role of facilitators of learning.
The policy also deserves merit for its focus on inclusion and socio-economically disadvantaged groups. By acknowledging and recognising diverse identities, the policy accounts for disabled students and brings all students under the education system’s gambit, thus enhancing inclusiveness. Mr Talreja argued that separate strategies have to be formulated for focused attention and reducing category-wise gaps in school-level education.
Through his experience with students and teachers, Mr Talreja elaborated upon how many teachers are appreciating this policy due to its child-centric nature and scope for flexibility; however, they remain apprehensive about the access to teacher training. On the other hand, students appreciate the policy for features such as regional language learning, multiple exits and entry points, and choosing between different streams.
While the policy has acknowledged current realities, Mr Talreja argued that the NEP has not recognised the pace at which the world is changing and the complexities of these changes. There are widening inequities and inequalities in the access to livelihood, health services, and housing that impact students’ ability to come out of poverty using education. The current education system is irrelevant to the need of the present and the future of work, and the workspaces are rapidly changing.
Even the role of individuals in society is changing; traditional education has worked on developing workforces for more extractive work. Today, an individual’s role is to be an active and global citizen who can respond to high levels of complexities, volatility and uncertainty. Mr Talreja stated that the future we prepare our students for is our present. Thus, there is a need to transform the role of education from academic outcomes to shape how individuals live in society for thriving individuals, planet and humanity.
The contemporary realities of climate change, increased polarisation, changing nature of jobs, automation, misinformation and technological advancements need to be addressed. These realities certain considerations that need to be taken into account while designing new education systems curriculum and pedagogy.
Mr Talreja, in his address, described enabling students and individuals to thrive as the true purpose of education.
A significant concern with regards to the education system is the prevalence of education inequality. Children who grow up in adverse conditions such as abuse, neglect, lack of food and nutrition, and lack of a healthy emotional support, their ability to achieve developmental milestones gets affected. Thus, when they enter school, they do not possess the required cognitive faculties to access learning. This also manifests itself in the inability to demonstrate age-appropriate behaviour.
The education system does not recognise this; the failure to thrive has an impact on poor cognitive skills, missed sensitive periods of development, poor relationship skills, insufficient maturity and emotional skills. Thus, it has been argued by Mr Talreja that education systems need to be designed to create an environment of trust, care, love and empathy so that students can overcome adversity.
Mr Talreja defined thriving as the inner state of confidence and surety in oneself that allows for a re-evaluation and re-definition of the circumstances of the past and present in terms of the context of life. This allows for the emergence of a new identity and subsequently enables the possibility of crafting a new relationship with the world.
He further described thriving based on three characteristic features. These include resilience, i.e. inner grit and strength to overcome adversity to make responsible decisions wherein individuals feel that they live the best version possible. Thriving has not been clearly defined or elaborated upon in the NEP, but the policy has its elements. The aim should be to make aspects of thriving clear and intentional.
Thriving does not happen in isolation. To ensure that the education system is inclusive and equitable, we need to engage with intersectional profiles and analyse how that impacts their ability to thrive. Even educators designing the system carry their own biases and prejudices; if they bring it into the education system, the children will not thrive. There are inequalities in the education system, and to combat them, the system needs to understand, acknowledge and break out of intersectional lenses.
Dr Rukmini Banerji, Chief Executive Officer, Pratham Education Foundation, argued that to bring the NEP to life, there is a need to be informed from many perspectives. The diversity of opinion is expected to allow for context suitable translation of policy. She stated a higher likelihood of survival exists if mechanisms for engagement and precipitating discussions and debate are provided.
She further argued that the prevailing global crisis and the potential to broaden scope have occurred at the right time since they allow us to take stock of the education system. She suggested doing away with the annual work planning process and instead, implementing a rolling plan to allow for flexibility. She concluded by stating that the policy will be redundant without focus and emphasis on foundational learning.
Ms Meeta Sengupta, Founder, Centre for Education Strategy, New Delhi, said that there is a need to understand the ‘why’ and ‘what’ before jumping to the question of ‘how’. She addressed the anxiety associated with change and elucidated that the system’s working elements should not resist change and instead embrace it as an inevitable reality. She placed the onus on educators to make idealistic changes visual, visible and evidence-based to foster trust within the teaching community. She also stated that the dire situational realities have presented a unique opportunity to rebuild the education system by retaining effectual elements and discarding elements that hindered potential.
To conclude, we need to envision the NEP’s potential and its ability to transform society and India as a country in the next 30 years. Investments in education in the early years will define and shape the society we will live in. In the last couple of thousands of years, the education system has supported certain sections of society who have gone on to become decision-makers; it’s the result of their choices that the modern world’s problems have manifested. Mr Talreja summed up his address in the following maxim: “If we can truly transform education and emphasise thriving for every child, the kind of society to emerge in 20-30 years will truly be thriving.”
Acknowledgement: Kashish Gupta is a research intern at IMPRI and pursuing BA (Hons) Political Science from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi University.
YouTube Video for National Education Policy: Looking Through the Lens of Repurposing Education Towards Thriving for Every Child
Simi Mehta, Anshula Mehta