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The new Education Policy for India has finally been approved by the cabinet and presented to the public (we are still scrambling for an authentic version, but let that pass) It’s here – and that is the first good news. Years of work have gone into it, and I was terrified that it would never see the light of day. It has.

The next bit of good news is about process – the NEP contains no surprises. And that is good because it is indicative of a strong consultation process. Almost everything that has been announced has been discussed, debated and evidenced. That does not mean it is a perfect document, nor does it mean that the fine print – or indeed the planning phases will not lead to debate. It just means that a mature – keep all stakeholders involved – and updated – process was followed. (This is not usual in India, thus even more appreciated)

Now to the real analysis:

The New Education policy leads with three radical changes that will bring much needed relief from the pipeline approach that had trammelled much of our students’ potential. First is the excellent initiative of allowing students in HE to collect credits and step away from HE and return when they can (within limits). Life happens to us all – it should not be a reason to lose out on one’s degree. Combined with the ability to transfer credits across universities (now being enabled), this gives true freedom to students to find their best fit. The second is multidisciplinarity – across schools and higher education. Students can choose any subjects, all subjects are equal and the concept of streams has been disbanded. This truly frees up students to work to their talents rather than to an administrator’s diktat. A huge breath of fresh air, much needed. The third fantastic input is flexibility given in Class x/xii board exams. Again, more choice, more chances to get it right. This is support to the student to be their best self in a way that had not been enabled before. The mission mode on Foundational learning is an imperative – to make it a mission is to understand the urgency.

There are many other things that the NEP gets right, such as the focus on teacher training for schools, though details are scant. Teachers to only teach and not be co-opted for other duties is good. The freedom for university courses to be three or four years long. The Fund for Girl Education needs – funds. The provision for disabled and the less fortunate. And so many more. The intent is to breach gaps that have lain untended for too long. There is so much to be said and done here, and it is already too little too late – but every effort is appreciated. The challenge is to get it right.

The challenge to get it right is even more so in the troublesome parts of the policy. I see that most people have pounced on the language policy for primary schools. While the mother tongue/regional tongue learning outcomes are higher in most studies conducted on this, it does not work well for a country with as much diversity and mobility as India. The first question is choice of language- whose mother tongue? What if each of the parents have a different language? What if your mother tongue is different from the region, or the rest of the class? (As will be true for most students whose parents have transferrable jobs). And so on…this is not easy to implement. For many, this will be seen as a move to restrict professional mobility of the child since English is still seen to be the language that accesses better opportunities. The policy, if and when implemented is going to be very supportive of English tuition businesses, for they will rise to fill the gap in demand. A small check here – the infographic from the MHRD used the word Multilingual, and promised resources. This is a practicable way out. If classes continue to remain multilingual with proper training and resources, we could transition across learning outcomes towards mobility much more easily. Building choice has been the hallmark of this NEP, no reason not to apply this principle here. And no reason to stop at class 5 – multilingual resources should be made available all through higher education. The outcomes certainly improve.

There are other glaring gaps in the NEP that could have been fixed. (I am still to do an in depth reading). One is the need for the transition between school and college to be supported. Dumbing down the first year of college/Uni to make it the bridge year is not fair to the students who perform well – for them it is a wasted year. This was tried a few years back and did not meet with success. It does not also make sense to start this journey after finishing school, since the gap is in the preparation for university level learning, freedom and choices. The work for this must begin at school and needs to be a specific set of initiatives. Now it is not necessary for a national education policy to specify these initiatives and programs, but it does help if the NEP indicates this as a need and a goal so that states and schools find a way to make it happen.

Another clear gap that has not been answered by the NEP is the area of upgrading and training faculty in higher education. The elephant in the room is the complex web of issues with higher education faculty – and a process to unmesh these issues would be necessary before attaining the goals set out in the NEP of quality education and making India a hub for international students. The quality and motivation of HE staff needs support and there is little mention of that in the NEP.

The toughest criticism that the NEP will face will be that it is idealistic and not practical at all. That these are words that mean little to educators. The NEP is a vision document, and after all it’s iterations, some of the energy in articulating an inspiring vision has truly and sadly been dissipated. It is a guideline, and not a plan. Plans follow from here on. Schools and University staff often do not see beyond their arena, nor beyond implementation and will find themselves puzzled by this – for the NEP does not (and should not) give them a set of tasks to be performed. This is the job of the planners. Already, some of the goals were given deadlines, and going forward these will be detailed by the ministry. This gap between vision and tasking will need more than action plans and implementation strategy – it will need champions. For example, the goal for middle school to be holistic, vocational, enabling critical thinking while spending ten days interning with a local tradesperson, and of course encouraging experiential learning via discovery and activities sounds wonderful. Everyday educators are left wondering – what does it mean? And the next logical thought is – there will be books(textbooks), we will stick to that. This is not something that is easy to implement on the ground. To define these, showcase them, to give clear outcomes without becoming prescriptive in the delivery is going to be the task of a few champions. Without these champions, all the good envisaged in the visionary document will collapse at the point of delivery. This was but one illustration, there are many in the NEP that will need to be showcased and made visually evident to educators before they take it up. Even if they are convinced in principle that this approach will develop the bright stars of the future, they will need to be convinced of how this will work in the context of their school. This job lies ahead.

The NEP is a document that is designed to create a better future for the country – it looks beyond this term and the next to the next decade and more. It is a testament to it’s excellence that it has stood the test of the pandemic in a way that very few have – and it is this resilience that should assure educators that there is something that is valuable in the document. The paradigm shift changed everything in education, and yet the NEP did not need to be revised – it was prepared for this level of shift, and more already. As it stands, it is a beacon, challenging educators to find the way forward. For now, even as it is just launched, the NEP has passed its first test of being anti fragile, and so ready to guide educators to a safe future.

 

To add:

Technology Forum – Already too slow.

NRF – HE and k12

NTS and other testing and assessment organisations + engagement with 60 school boards.

 

Needs a champion or it will not happen. The pandemic is a positive here – virtual U are easier to enable.

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