Education, as an idea and a practice, has always manifested itself in actions and reflections for the betterment of humanity. In ancient and medieval times, education was provided by the public-sponsored Gurukuls. Now, with the growing complexity of civilisation, this responsibility can only be managed and sustained with an inclusive and futuristic education system with focus on personality development.
The National Education Policy-2020 encompasses new imperatives in terms of curriculum, pedagogy, evaluation, skill and vocational education, soft skills, quality education, teachers’ training and ensuring equity, access and affordability. Lifting the ceiling of the Right to Education (RTE) and the mid-day meal to 18 years and 100% gross enrolment ratio (GER) in school education, primary education in the mother tongue or the local language, reduction of syllabus, easier board exams, systemic restructuring of school and higher education, strengthening of open and distance learning, targeting GER in higher education to 50% by 2035, multiple exit and entry options, creating single higher education regulator, academic credit bank, facilitating entry of foreign universities, and the universalisation of education are the other envisioned reforms.
Increasing the number of universities, colleges and schools, especially in a rural setting, for achieving the targeted GER can be actualised by opening at least one university and three colleges in each district within 10-15 years. Similarly, opening two new schools in every panchayat may ensure the return of nearly 3.22 crore students back into the school education alongside 100% GER. Opening of one college of education in every block may cater to training aspects of schoolteachers. Two ITIs in each will cater to skill and vocational needs. Appointment of quality faculty, principals and vice-chancellors in newly opened schools, colleges and universities is to be ensured for administering these institutions.
Tight but light, a dynamic and flexible regulatory regime, and facilitative umbrella implementation plan with baskets of options to choose from is the need of the hour. Successful implementation depends on the cooperation from teaching and student community, parents, civil society and media. We live in the ICT era and the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us this all the more. Transformational reforms cannot be implemented without the use of technology. Teachers and students alike should be empowered to use technology in learning-teaching.
In the education system, learning does not mean rote memorisation and recall, instead it is the process through which learners conceptualise the contents and understand how to apply skills and knowledge to solve real-life problems. This was the purpose of education in ancient India. The best way to achieve this is to make the learning process joyful. When students have the option and pleasure to choose and are subjected to personalised learning ecosystem, they will surely become active rather than passive learners by asking questions, participating in discussions, solving problems faster, conceptualising, and will create an effective learning environment and perform to their fullest as they choose what and how to learn.
Besides, positive learning methods help retain concepts better and also for longer memory span. Screen learning capabilities of today’s youth can become an asset in learning and teaching. Thus, we need to create screen learning environment within and beyond the classrooms and also in libraries to improve dwindling attendance. Earn-while-learn model can offer additional learning pathway. Teachers can devise their own methods depending on the context and learning needs. Our emphasis should be to train students as to ‘How to learn’ in addition to ‘What to learn’. These reforms coupled with evaluation reforms — quality question papers, open book and on demand examinations — will ensure that intended learning outcomes are achieved.
NEP-2020 provides ample scope for developing non-cognitive skills (socio-emotional skills) like self-discipline, patience, motivation, conscientiousness, team-work, passion, decision-making, communication, articulation, punctuality, responsibility and perseverance. These are as important as cognitive skills to succeed in later life. There is a need for seamless integration of cognitive and non-cognitive skills.
The quality of teachers and their commitment will be the main determinants of the success of NEP-2020. Teachers already in the system must be trained and sensitised to empower them with skills to mentor the youth in respect of curricular, pedagogical and evaluation reforms of NEP. Government-run and private TV channels may telecast at least one prescribed skill and vocational development programme each as a serial. The print media may periodically publish at least one prescribed skill development programme authored by the experts. Teachers also should become second parents and endeavour to create home-like congenial environment for learning-teaching and empathetic attitudes towards learners in the format of the Guru-Shishya tradition.
Though an increased allocation of 6% GDP is a welcome step, this is not sufficient to meet the requirement of quality infrastructure, salary, equipment, library, ICT, campus development and also for welfare measures like scholarships and fellowships for socio-economically disadvantaged. Additional funds may be generated through 3% NEP-2020 cess from citizens having income more than Rs 20 lakh and 2% from those in income slab of Rs 12-20 lakh for five years. Similarly, top 200 business houses can finance one university each for scholarship and fellowship and another 300 for the colleges and schools.
An intensive awareness campaign for sensitising parents and civil society to the NEP is a must. Teachers and students should be encouraged to evolve their own implementation plan. Teaching and non-teaching staff should be exempted from election duties to help them concentrate on their work.
For ushering in the era of transdisciplinarity, a paradigm cultural and moral shift is needed. Enhanced interaction among academia, industry and labs through the National Research Foundation is necessary. Institutional thrust areas of research should revolve around sustainable development goals and local and regional needs for promoting ‘Vocal for local’ concept.
The Bharatiya vision of education and human life — the purpose of education, mode of delivery of knowledge and evaluation, traditional knowledge base, environment and nature at large and universal brotherhood — should find prominence in the implementation plan. Through the NEP, the government is trying to democratise education in the cultural and socio-economic context. NEP-2020 offers an opportunity for us to empower the youth with the necessary skills and knowledge base to secure the nation’s future.
Views are personal