How easy will it be to transform school education by NEP-2020?

The NEP-2020 has been prepared with the pious intent of positively transforming the school education, but the extent of execution of the provisions made therein will decide the qualitative improvement in education.

The New Education Policy (NEP)-2020 has envisaged the remodeling of school education from 10+2 system to 5+3+3+4 system. Technically, the new model desires a child to enter into preparatory class at age of three years while the existing model has student admitting at six years and completing 10 classes in 6-16 year age slab followed by another two classes in age slab of 16-18 years. The age slabs corresponding to new proposition of (5+3+3+4) system are (age 3-8 years + age 8-11 years + age 11-14 years + age 14-18 years) respectively.

Not much change in duration of primary education

A look at the present-day education in private schools shows that a child of three years of age undertakes three years of pre-primary schooling in the form of pre-nursery/nursery/lower kindergarten, (LKG)/upper kindergarten, (UKG) /kindergarten, (KG) with slightly varying nomenclature. However, this practice of pre-primary schooling has not been there in government schools.

As per NEP-2020, the prevalent five stages of the pre-primary, primary, middle, secondary, and higher secondary schooling have been reduced to four distinct stages namely foundation + preparatory + middle + secondary schooling.

Therefore, as regards the duration of the study, there is not much change in the case of kids going for pre-primary schooling in private schools while there will now be the privilege of additional three years of preparatory classes for those studying in government schools too. These preparatory classes encompass play-based learning aiming to develop cognitive, affective, and psychomotor abilities and early literacy and numeracy, termed as part of early child care and education (ECCE).

Uniformity bridges the divide

The uniformity in schooling for 15 years bridges the divide that prevailed between the children studying in private schools and those studying in government schools for only 12 years. Currently, the socio-economic background dictates the type of education model a kid moves in i.e. the well off families can afford to send children to private schools, whereas poor families depend on government schools or no school at all.

Creation of new facilities may result in delay of policy execution

The uniformity in the school education framework and making it accessible to all up to the secondary level is a welcome step. But there are challenges associated with the conduction of preparatory classes through anganwadis and others as prescribed in NEP. Private schools have been imparting 15 years of schooling, so they are already equipped with infrastructure, play equipment, and trained teachers.

However, the creation of new facilities in Anganwadi centres for ECCE will be taking certain time and lead to a delay in its execution. Also, meditating upon the poor state of existing primary schools in the government sector in rural and semi-urban areas, it is worth apprehending the performance of anganwadis and others in nurturing kids in preparatory classes.

Will there be sufficient number of teachers for policy implementation?

Over a period of time, the performance of private schools surpassing that of government schools should be considered as a caution in devising the delivery and monitoring system for ECCE. Undoubtedly, government schools have better human resources, but the lackadaisical approach towards education delivery due to lack of teachers in sufficient numbers, weak infrastructure, lesser motivation, inadequate financing, lesser freedom, less responsive governance, and other reasons, the private schools have been demonstrating better output.

The NEP has explicitly mandated for qualitative improvement in the formal and informal schooling for all to achieve universal foundational literacy and numeracy in primary schools by 2025. So, with the goals being set, a lot will depend on the availability of the sufficient number of teachers to improve pupil to teacher ratio, motivation in teachers, enabling infrastructure and facilities, supportive management of government schools. It will be appropriate to pick up cues from the concerns of existing government schools in rural and semi-urban areas that are unable to attract the children from middle and upper-middle-class families, for making necessary corrections in the existing system.

Recruitment of motivated teachers

Teacher recruitment has been a contentious issue in many parts of the country. The issues disrupting teacher recruitment are concomitant to an unfair approach or breach at some level in the processes involved in it. The improvement in pupil to teacher ratio being a function of the expeditious teacher recruitment calls for the objective, fair, and committed planning as well as execution of recruitment process so that teachers get recruited in time.

The NEP’s prescription for continuous upgradation of school teachers through the platform of digital infrastructure for knowledge sharing (DIKSHA) and other associated measures will be relevant only when the respective human resource is sufficient in numbers and motivated enough to work with the commitment to improve the quality of education.

The uphill task of Examinations and the question of coaching system

Moving on to the NEP’s criticism on the current nature of secondary school exams, including Board exams, entrance exams, and the resulting coaching culture of today about the harm done at the secondary school level, may necessitate the propitious change in the functioning of the present middle and secondary schools. It is rightly observed in the policy document that the students spend a lot of their valuable time of true learning on excessive exam coaching and preparation. Also, the examination pressure restricting learning to a narrow band of material in a single stream is concerning.

Indeed, it is an uphill task to get rid of the coaching system and make schools take care of all the learning requirements of the children. The question of why students go for coaching needs to be answered for ameliorating the state of affairs. The perception developed about the inadequacy of the quality and extent of learning in schools is the consequence of this coaching culture for quite some time.

The teaching in schools at the middle and secondary levels has to be inevitably improved for ensuring that every student gets adequate learning and has the capability to fair well in the examinations based on it.

If one talks about the teaching quality and rigour of the STEM-related subjects, it is evident that the students are not at all satisfied with the classroom teaching in schools. This pushes them for coaching or tuitions to make up the deficiency in respective subjects. The student requirement has consolidated the coaching establishments, which are in fact doing great service to make students learn for succeeding in examinations ahead. However, the coaching puts the additional financial burden on the family along with extra exertion on the student along with formal schooling, which makes them unacceptable.

Schools should be saved from becoming redundant due to the increasing dependency on coachings. The focus on certain subjects in examinations for admission to undergraduate courses skew the student orientation, yielding natural neglect of other subjects that are not in competitive examination. The precarious combination of ‘competitive examinations for merit preparation’ and ‘students making focused preparations for them’ will continue until the student performances in board examinations are not given sole consideration for future merit preparation. For holistic improvement in school education, there is a need to ponder upon the following issues majorly for eliminating the need for coaching.

1. Why should schools not take complete responsibility for ensuring the requisite learning of each student for which special efforts may be required?

2. Why should the competitive examinations based on the subjects taught at the secondary level not discontinued?

3. Why should the student performance in board examinations with rationalization across different examining boards in the country not made the criteria for merit preparation?

NEP-2020 provides for National Assessment Centre to meet the basic objectives of setting norms, standards, and guidelines for student assessment and evaluation for all recognized school boards of India, guiding the State Achievement Survey (SAS) and undertaking the National Achievement Survey (NAS), monitoring achievement of learning outcomes, and encouraging and helping school boards to shift their assessment patterns towards meeting the skill requirements of the 21 st century. The effectiveness of the assessment process evolved by the respective agencies rests on the integrity and commitment of school functionaries and teachers in the process. Any lapse in the transparency and integrity on the part of teachers may mar the process and affect the motivation of students adversely.

The competitive examinations have relied on inter-se merit preparation because the board examinations have lost credibility and for every filtering, a new examination is to be carried out.

The NEP-2020 has been prepared with the pious intent of positively transforming the school education, but the extent of execution of the provisions made therein will decide the qualitative improvement in education. Good school education will eventually be rolling out competent students who are ought to achieve excellence through higher education or otherwise. The educators across the country should try to strengthen the credibility of formal school education so that the performances issued by them as well as by respective boards do not warrant any more competitive examination for assessment.

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First Published:Aug. 29, 2020, 10 a.m.