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New Education Policy 2019: Hope for Better Future

Despite the new era of reforms that might soon be pushed, one question that largely remains ignored in this discussion is: are we ready for change?

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The objective today is to ensure the development of independent learning skills in children and this can only be achieved on a strong foundation of early grade literacy. Wikimedia Commons

Even though India boasts of universalisation of primary education, with almost 100 per cent Gross Enrolment Rate (2014-15), quality of education in the last decade has gone down. While ASER 2008 revealed that 50.6 per cent grade 3 children in India could read a grade 1 text, this number reduced to 42.5 per cent by 2016. With India committed to the Sustainable Development Goal of achieving equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030, this backward trend is a cause of concern.

Padhe Bharat Badhe Bharat scheme launched in 2014 under the aegis of SSA aims to improve the reading and writing skills of children in grades 1 and 2. The recently released draft New Education Policy 2019 also talks of foundational literacy and age appropriate pedagogical practices. It not only talks of revamping the current educational structure, but also promotes massive teacher education and professional development reforms. The draft NEP also talks about remedial education, primarily for those who have been left behind and struggle with the daily challenges of curriculum in class.

Despite the new era of reforms that might soon be pushed, one question that largely remains ignored in this discussion is: are we ready for change? The concept of literacy is expanding and is not confined to development of basic reading writing abilities alone. Literacy today talks of the ability to access information from multiple sources, deal with multiple perspectives and layered meaning in a text and form an informed opinion. The objective today is to ensure the development of independent learning skills in children and this can only be achieved on a strong foundation of early grade literacy.

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Padhe Bharat Badhe Bharat scheme launched in 2014 under the aegis of SSA aims to improve the reading and writing skills of children in grades 1 and 2. Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, stakeholders at various levels today seem to be ill-prepared or ill-equipped on multiple fronts. Firstly, there is a general lack of understanding about ‘science of reading’, among teachers, both public and private. This is not to pass on the blame to the teachers in any way. On the contrary, the attempt is to provide a sympathetic view. Most of the pre-service teacher education courses use obsolete content with minimal focus on reading pedagogy. The result is often an unprepared teacher having to deal with children speaking multiple home languages and coming with minimum or no quality preschool experience. Add to it the fact that they are pressured to teach multi-level, multi-grade classrooms with ill-designed curriculum, poorly designed textbooks and still show results. The in-service teacher training does little to help alleviate the problem.

Secondly, the state government also provides a cadre of academic officials known as Block Resource Persons (BRPs) or Cluster Academic Coordinators (CACs) to monitor and support the teachers in delivery of effective classroom instruction. However, owing to less than adequate academic capabilities and conceptual knowledge, they seem to be unable to do justice to their defined role. Also, in most of the states they are largely seen to be involved in administrative tasks that provides them with no challenge and zeal to focus on quality education. Lack of understanding of early grade literacy exists even at the highest level of government machinery, with senior officials ‘demanding’ results; rather than working to improve systemic inefficiencies and capabilities.

Thirdly, parents from humble backgrounds, proud of being the first ones to send their kids to school, more often than not are satisfied with their children just ‘attending school’ and do not ‘demand’ quality. These first generation learners themselves come completely unprepared for the school and are lost amidst the textbooks and rote learning of the script.

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Lastly, most of the government schools have inadequate infrastructure and non-functional libraries stacked with low quality inappropriate reading material for early graders, if any. Pixabay

Lastly, most of the government schools have inadequate infrastructure and non-functional libraries stacked with low quality inappropriate reading material for early graders, if any. The missing culture of reading both in our schools and our communities does not help either.

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There is an urgent need today to ensure quality education in primary grades, or else our demographic advantage may very soon turn to ‘demographic burden’. Language experts must be involved in the development of a broad literacy framework based on scientific pedagogical principles that provides scalable sustainable inputs with in-built flexibility for state specific contexts. Based on the framework, early grade curriculum needs to be reworked on and textbooks revised. Teacher education courses and in-service training need to be made more relevant and closely linked to ground realities. There should be creation of government recognised MOOC courses focusing on pedagogy, in teachers’ own language. The structure and content of in-service teacher training needs to be changed. These should be followed by regular long-term mentoring and support on the ground, which is not possible unless there is a cadre of trained academic coordinators. Hence, focused training for BRPs/CACs on pedagogy and mentoring skills remains a non-negotiable. Schools need to be filled with relevant and appropriate reading material for primary grades, either through school libraries or classroom libraries.

Lastly, all of this can only be done if sufficient awareness and sensitivity about early grade literacy is brought about not only at the level of the community, but also at the highest bureaucratic and political level. The draft New Education Policy 2019 needs to ponder over these issues and provide appropriate solutions. One can only hope that the new era of reforms would help India provide quality learning opportunities to those we fail most often, our children. (IANS)

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Union Government Appoints Committee For A New Education Policy

The Article 30 of the Constitution gives religious and linguistic minorities “the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.”

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Union Government Appoints Committee For A New Education Policy
Union Government Appoints Committee For A New Education Policy. Pixabay

The Union government has appointed a Committee, headed by K Kasturirangan, to work on a New Education Policy. The Committee is yet to submit its recommendations. Meanwhile, the government is contemplating to replace the six-decade old University Grants Commission (UGC) — a regulating authority that failed to check the rot in Higher Education. Prakash Javadekar, HRD Minister, intends to pilot the Higher Education Commission of India (Repeal of UGC Act) Bill in this monsoon session of Parliament, commencing from July 18.

The Bill proposes to delink funding of educational institutions from the regulating body, HRD Ministry itself taking over the responsibility, as the Higher Education Secretary R Subramanyam put it, “the UGC remains preoccupied with disbursing funds to institutes and is unable to concentrate on other key areas such as mentoring institutes, focusing on research to be undertaken and other quality measures.” To placate the apprehensions of the academics, a subsequent press release of the Ministry has assured, “if there is a successor system to the current grant-giving role of the UGC, the same will be operated in the most unbiased and impartial manner.” Some other proposals, inter alia, include (a) universities to get authorisation from the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) before awarding degrees; (b) the HECI to focus on promoting academic excellence and maintaining standards; and (c) closing down fake and sub-standard institutions. Education in general and higher education, in particular, requires fundamental reforms, not cosmetic changes.

First, it is important to raise the standard of schools, run by Panchayat Institutes and Municipal bodies, to the level of Kendriya Vidyalayas. The policy of teaching in mother tongue has altered the very thrust of education. The three language formula is not observed, neglecting the official languages — Hindi and English. It is not a question of preserving regional languages. The regional languages are promoting linguistic chauvinism, resulting in communication barrier. A student from Tamil Nadu, studying in Tamil medium, cannot communicate with a student from UP, studying in Hindi, and vice versa. The students are paying the price for this short sighted policy of States. The teaching in mother tongue has practically immobilised them, affecting their higher studies and job opportunities. Besides, most of the government schools do not have basic amenities and infrastructure. This is aggravated by mass absenteeism of teachers, due to corruption and ineffective supervision and control. How redundant is education could be gauged from a recent recruitment of police constables in Maharashtra. For some 1100 police vacancies, over 2 lakh applicants, including doctors, engineers, MBAs and lawyers, have applied. Arup Patnaik, former Mumbai Police Commissioner says, “The problem with qualified youth from rural areas is that they are unable to communicate in English and hence are unable to bag jobs in the private sector…it is a sad reflection of our times…” A crash course for English language should be made mandatory at the first year of College, exclusively for the students from vernacular medium, to improve their reading, speaking and writing skills. Unless the quality of primary and secondary education is improved, the products of our colleges and universities will not be able to gain productive employment.

Second, our education system encourages rote learning with emphasises only on marks. There is a need to de-emphasise on rote learning and encourage critical thinking. Make the teaching and learning a matter of joy and happiness. The school curriculum should be overhauled to imbibe human values like truth, righteous conduct, gender equality and democratic principles of equality, tolerance and respect for dissent and diversity. As S Radhakrishnan, one of the finest teachers the modern world has seen, said, “The values of human life must come from two sources: parents and teachers. They are the makers of an evolved society.” The School is an important agent of socialisation.

Third, privatisation has made the education unaffordable to the poor and marginalised. It has resulted in commercialisation and profiting the managements. More than 60% students in Higher Education are studying in private institutions. There is mushrooming of engineering colleges, having no infrastructure and qualified teachers, with 50% seats going vacant. The teachers in private unaided institutions do not enjoy the protection of service conditions. They are paid a pittance, seriously affecting the quality of teaching. While cutting grants to educational institutions, the government is promoting contractual appointment of teachers, making the teaching profession exploitative and unattractive. The privatisation should be confined to certain professional courses. The bulk of students in Arts, Science and Commerce streams cannot afford private education.

The Article 30 of the Constitution gives religious and linguistic minorities “the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.”
The Article 30 of the Constitution gives religious and linguistic minorities “the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.” Pixabay

Fourth, revisit the policy of admission. Education is an instrument of social mobility. Therefore, quality education must be accessible to all. The Article 30 of the Constitution gives religious and linguistic minorities “the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.” This makes the minority institutions to reserve 50% seats to the members of their community, changing the character of educational institutions, making them non-liberal and exclusive centres of learning. Why not open admission to all students, banning admission based on religion, caste and language, except for SC and ST? This does not amount to denying the minorities the right to establish and administer educational institutions.

Fifth, depoliticise the educational institutions. The appointments of top functionaries of institutions should be made on merit basis, not on regional and caste considerations. Today, most of the appointments in universities and academic bodies are made on the ideological basis, eroding the academic autonomy and the freedom to explore ideas and knowledge. As Prof Arun Kumar says, “those not catering to the markets would be marginalised and the generation of the socially relevant knowledge would decline.” Educational institutions need freedom from political controls, if they have to excel and perform to their full potential. Allahabad University was once known as the Oxford of the East. Banaras Hindu University and Shanti Niketan were compared to Gurukuls. Delhi University was renowned for its classicism and Jawaharlal Nehru University for its progressive values. They flourished as premier public institutions because of autonomy.

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And no regulating authority will be able to ensure quality and maintain standards unless its Head and his team enjoy freedom of action and have the courage to enforce the norms and take punitive action against the erring institutions without fear or favour. (IANS)