Issues such as transitioning between school and college, use of technology, and faculty training need more clarity.
The National Education Policy (NEP) for India has finally been presented to the public after much consultation. The democratisation of the education conversation, in itself, is a victory for it sets a precedent for policymaking.
NEP leads with three radical changes that will bring much-needed relief from the tunnel vision of restricted student potential. The first is the exit and re-entry of students in universities. We all live with uncertainty — but this should not be a reason to lose out on one’s degree. Combined with the ability to transfer credits across universities, this gives true freedom to students to find their best fit. The second is multi-disciplinarity, 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. The third is the flexibility given in board exams. Again, more choice, more chances to get it right. This is support to students to be their best selves in a way that had not been enabled before. NEP has also recognised the urgency of foundational learning and upgraded it to a mission.
There are many other things that NEP gets right, such as the focus on teacher training for schools, the fund for educating girls, and the freedom for university course length, among others. Creating a framework for teachers to only teach and not be co-opted for other duties is good, as is the emphasis on supporting the less able. The intent is to breach gaps that have been 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 must be 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. Language gets quick attention. While we know that home language learning leads to better outcomes, English brings social and economic mobility. The resourcing of multilingual education is highly welcome, while the early learning only in the home language will not be easy — unless they let the teacher have the freedom to use any language that works for their students, not driven by mandate.
Teacher resource reinforcement and training is another area where the right words have been used, but in the post-pandemic paradigm, we have seen that teachers need far more, especially with the shift to technology-driven pedagogies. Technology remains an area of promise, but there is inadequate clarity. The National Technology Forum has to move beyond buckets such as AI/ML and talk of teaching and learning, of impact and student progress — and this needs to be led by an educator lest we fall into the trap of current edutech, which has a market, but does not meet the values and principles so well elucidated in this NEP.
The most interesting change in NEP is the renamed PARAKH. This aims to redesign assessment and standardise the 60 education boards across the country. More cooperation across boards is on the anvil. This is first being done via a voluntary test for university admission, which is a great way to get data to calibrate board outcomes. This, combined with the other proposed changes in assessment, is the key that will transform education to make it relevant, consistent and therefore usable. This can only be achieved with the network approach proposed in this NEP and needs careful planning ahead.
There are some glaring gaps in NEP that could have been fixed. One is the transition between schools and universities. With multiple choices and multi-disciplinarity must come some support in making those choices for the young. This must be a part of the structural shift and needs resources, training and a clear place in the changed structure. Faculty training in university teaching remains a huge gap too. The National Research Foundation has been enabled to unshackle research, the acknowledgement of Research Universities and Teaching Universities boosts it too. But it only highlights the gap in support to teaching in universities.
The toughest criticism that NEP will face is that it is idealistic. This gap between vision and tasking will need more than action plans and implementation strategy — it will need champions. 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. For example, the middle school goals seem wonderful, but impractical. Even if educators agree, they will need to be convinced of how this will work in the context of their school. This job lies ahead.
Between the draft and the launch, NEP has demonstrated its resilience and future-readiness in the face of the pandemic. Now that educators have experienced a paradigm shift, the vision of NEP seems a manageable challenge. It brings choice, it needs champions. It brings a vision, it needs implementors to match.
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