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Having entered the chakravyuh, one hoped that the young prince would come back alive. The New Education Policy is like that young prince now. It has entered the domain of discussions, and even drafts. But the prospects of it coming out safe seem to be in jeopardy. Given the political timetable, it is entirely possible that elections are declared before the next draft is announced, and the nation’s conversation changes and places the future of education in limbo again.

It is not that there has been no movement in education recently, but it is also true that this has happened in the absence of a formal guide that is based on the holy triad of public consensus, expert guidance and political will. A document that is a statement of ambition, need and willingness to specific education goals. In the absence of such directional goals, we may be headed fast, but in the wrong direction. It would be a sad waste of effort to see much action in fixing potholes in roads that should have been abandoned or rebuilt years ago.

And potholes there are many, as are the fixes in process. Some of these are necessary fixes, such as the work done on teacher quality or grade inflation. But these are more maintenance fixes rather than a blueprint for building the future. In the absence of a guide, there may be initiatives, but they suffer from being unrooted and often misaligned.

For example, we have the SWAYAM platform that was announced in the previous minister’s time that sees rebirth from time to time – and still suffers from a lack of vision, and policy guidance. SWAYAM is supposed to be an indigenous MOOC – Massive Open Online Course. If a sound New Education Policy had been in place based on the nation’s goals and aspirations, the online education scheme would not have ended up becoming a replica of the televised UGC lectures of past decades, riding on wobbly internet infrastructure, and a pale imitation of distance education courses.

Not surprising, since India still does not have a Digital Education Policy in place. This lack would have been caught out if there was a policy led framework in place. It is the job of the policy to ensure a comprehensive vision that includes national goals, people aspirations, economic imperatives, and social uplift. It seeks to ensure global standards, enable governance targets and
inspire action. It does not enter into the realm of the political. An education policy is a pure demand side document, asking the system to rise up to a definitive challenge.

An Education policy therefore sits above the realm of the daily ask of both the politician and the administrator, but wields no power. That alone seems to be reason to de-prioritise it. It is easier to focus on visible wins than invest in a design structure. And yet, the costs are there for all to see. Consider the grand debacle called the CCE (Comprehensive and Continuous Evaluation) system that leaped to action without a nod to interlinkages. A wonderful concept that is essential to true learning was reduced to a template in the hands of teachers who were informed via circular. They clearly did they know how to adapt their teaching and observation to the new evaluation. It was an under planned mess, and declared a failure. This is precisely the kind of design failure that is prevented by a policy and strategy driven framework.This approach leads to a natural alignment of goals and optimal sharing of resources – and the avoidance of systemic failures that are endemic to an operations first approach.

As it stands, there is no clear vision for a new national education policy, nor a discussion or document. The exemplary bottom up consultation exercise is approaching its end of utility period soon. There is no clarity even at the level of domain driven policies – such as Digital Education Policy, Teacher Progression Policy and Curriculum Design policy amongst others. There has been no clear assessment what the education sector needs to deliver to the economy and its sectors. Nor has there been an ecosystem assessment of the current institutions, and whether they are still fit for purpose. The current draft document has a very good round up of the issues at hand and what the cognoscenti think about them, but is certainly incomplete without a sense of national potential and how it should impact the structures and institutional renewal in the education domain. At this stage, it may be wiser to build the base, before rushing towards a document release date for a New Education Policy. The half prepared prince, we know, did not make it out of the Chakravyuh.

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