G. Balasubramanian is a doyen of school education in India. He has held several positions of leadership at CBSE, including Director Academics. He was the brain behind the introduction of several innovations at CBSE, which included frontline curriculum, communicative approach to language teaching, Information Technology, alternatives to homework, etc. He is also an author, poet and a sought-after speaker at educational conferences world over. This article has been taken from G. Balasubramanian’s official website balaspeaks.in
The National Education Policy is on the table. It has taken its own time for deliberations, discussions, meetings, conferences, opinions, viewpoints, perceptions, priorities and what not! It has accommodated all of the above, to the extent possible, to carry people and their interests together. Let us acknowledge, that a policy of such nature in a country with diverse interests, diverse cultures, diverse languages and diverse thought architectures cannot really meet the personal and social interests of all individuals and communities.
Somewhere it has to strike a balance, somewhere it has to define its pragmatic existence and somewhere it should become administratively feasible. I think it has done enough. It is time to move on.
Here are a few highlights which we need to focus and work on:
1. It is India centric
This policy has made its focus very clear-being India centric. If one had been working with earlier policies of 1986 and 2005 NCF, they will understand the focus was on globalisation. I think the context demands a repositioning, and rightly so. With India trying to seek its place and status as a competitive global leader in various dimensions of political, economic, industrial and social designs, unless the policy focuses on an India-centric approach, the passion for local enterprises, opportunities for exploring our skills, the efforts for seeking global markets would slowly vanish. Further, it rehabilitates the Indian mind and knowledge assimilated over thousands of years, as an opportunity to a fast-changing world seeking to rediscover itself with Peace and prosperity. Education, has to focus on developing self-esteem, self-confidence and self-actualisation both at the individual level and at the national level. So be it!
2. Focus on ECCE
While the earlier policies have certainly addressed the issues of universalisation of primary education and further to universalisation of school education, the gap between goals and achievements has continued to exist, thanks to wastage in our efforts in our designs, actions and priorities. This policy has, I must appreciate whole heartedly, focused on development from 0-3 years which was never considered in earlier policies. Extensive researches in cognitive development, both at the pre-natal stage and post-natal stages, clearly indicate the importance of its nurture as vital to the futuristic intellectual, emotional and social profile of the individual. Education of the families, parents and society with regard to the physical, emotional and developmental profiles in these years of growth has to be taken up extensively through mass media as a priority. Sequencing early education in a package of 5-year scheme is in tune with the psychological development processes. Further, there is also evidence to show that brain development is faster, intensive, extensive and larger up to the age of 8- enabling curiosity, search and skills. Research also indicates the opportunities for extensive language skills and competencies during this period of growth.
No wonder, the post 5 years of curriculum addresses to the issue of foundational literacy and numeracy. One of the major drawbacks of our system at the early levels of learning has been thrust on too formal systems of learning, which is basically against the way the brain learns. We need to informalise learning content, processes, structures and opportunities. Also, the fear of competitive testing has to be replaced by self-assessments and peer assessments reducing the authority and fear of the teacher. The new NEP does speak of such initiatives. We could only wish that our boards and educational administrators are willing to ‘liberalise’ education from the clutches of the ‘licenceraj’ - walking into the nooks and corners of schools. We need to move from systems of ‘mistrust’ to systems of ‘trust’, simultaneously empowering the stakeholders.
While one should acknowledge that the language has a very strong emotional and cultural content, thereby creating a positive ownership and belongingness to the motherland and its tongue, it is equally important to create a social fabric both at the national and global level for co-existence. The socio-political and economic growth dimensions do call for skills and abilities in multiple languages, the learning at the formative level in mother tongue is to be encouraged to keep the learners in comfort zones for purposeful and extensive learning. Bilingual approaches to pedagogy in classroom are indeed a welcome step. With making three language formula more ‑flexible accommodating study of any modern Indian language as an opportunity, the decision of the government appears to be much broader based and appeasing to all linguistic segments. ‘Freedom to learn’ calls for saner approaches based on the selective priorities of the learners rather than policy makers. Any suggestion to downplay the important language as against science and technology is an outcome of turbid thought designs.
4. Reforms in curriculum
Many reforms have been suggested in approaches to curriculum – like focus on experiential learning, technology enabled learning, integrated learning, inclusive approaches to content with co-scholastic inputs, suggestions on use of Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Coding and Blended learning. These suggestions are indeed forward looking and harmonious with the transformations in our knowledge systems and knowledge processing. They are essential to make our younger generation to stay in tune with their contemporary systems. However, all these call for two support systems to schools – teacher empowerment, trustworthy localised assessment systems. The educational authorities, both at the state and the central level, should focus more on developmental perspectives of education rather than control systems, while mentoring and monitoring has to be essential. Optimisation of their approaches is important so that balance is maintained between education and enforcements.
5. Revisiting assessments
The NEP has certainly recommended revisiting assessments patterns to make them more credible, valid, realistic and localised. The focus on self-assessment, peer assessment and teacher-led assessment, I think, is indeed a blended recipe, if both strategies and systems are put in place. The fear of learning because of assessments can largely be diffused through technology driven digital assessment patterns. The governments, both at the state level and the central level should take initiatives to make the government schools and its students technology sensitive and competent. Focus should shift from ‘achievement’ to ‘pursuit of excellence’, lest the purpose of the policy would stand defeated.
6. Focus on improving the quality of government schools
There is a recommendation of spending about 6% of the GNP on education. Personally, I feel it is not how much we spend, but how effective and productive is what we spend. That indeed implies on the compromises in quality education at schools run by the government. While I do admit that there are a number of good government schools with track records of academic performance, they are only far and few in comparison with the total population. Political interventions in appointments, appointment of persons with no aptitude for teaching, use of government teachers to various non-professional activities, lack of motivation due to low professional esteem and various other considerations haunt the quality pursuits of government schools. While ‘subsidy’ and ‘free’ education is vital for social justice and to ensure the deprived to be active and engaging participants in social architectures, non-provision of good quality education will be roadblocks to these glorious goals. Conscious efforts with accountability need to be put in place. Suggestions of NEP to have school clusters for administration is indeed a wise and pragmatic suggestion to weave confidence through collaborative efforts.
7. Teacher empowerment
Critical to successful implementation of the vision of the NEP, is teacher empowerment. The NEP in its draft has acknowledged without reservation, the evils that exist in our teacher education alongside the poor quality of the curriculum, fake colleges, unethical practices of certification and others. The government needs to put in place some fresh thinking, by experts, drawn from different fields to re-articulate the curriculum liberating it from the controls of the dogmas in which they are imprisoned. The Indian Teacher Education system and their produces have been one of the outstanding features in global platforms. It is important to regain the status. The belief in ancient thought processes in defining and empowering the teacher are not alien to modern education. The teacher development processes should be akin to developing belief in Indian ethos, competence and wisdom. With several new gateways to open education to more pragmatic and sensitive purposes, the new National Education Policy has indeed done a respectable job. If there are certain inadequacies, let us acknowledge that scientifically perfection is just another Utopia.
This article originally appeared in the TeacherTribe Magazine September 2020 edition.