Education is a fundamental requirement for the development of an egalitarian society. In this context, we have three National Education Policies, namely NEP 1968, NEP 1986 and NEP 2020 have been introduced in India so far. The new NEP 2020, adopted on 29th July 2020, aims to universalize education from pre-school to secondary level by 2030. It envisions an India-centric education system and provision of quality education and equitable access to all students in a sustainable manner. There are ten themes aligned with the policy objectives of the NEP 2020.
Early Childhood Care and Education : The Foundation of learning – Early child development encompasses physical, socio-emotional and cognitive development between 0-8 years of age. The early years of the learners are critical, as it is the period of life when the brain develops most rapidly and has a high capacity for change, and the foundation is laid for health and well-being for life. The NEP states that, the overarching goal will be to ensure universal access to high quality Early Childhood Care Education (ECCE) across the country. Special attention and priority will be given to the territories that are particularly socio-economically way behind ECCE shall be delivered through a significantly expanded and strengthened system of early-childhood education institutions consisting of (a) stand-alone Anganwadis, (b) Anganwadies co-located with primary schools, (c) pre-primary schools/sections covering at least age 5 to 6 years co-located with existing primary schools, and (d) stand-alone pre-schools- all of which would recruit workers/teachers specially trained in the curriculum and pedagogy of ECCE.
Foundational Literacy and Numeracy : An urgent and necessary Prerequisite to Learning – The ability to read and write, and perform basic operations with numbers, is a necessary foundation and an indispensable prerequisite for all future schooling and lifelong learning. NEP 2020 accords top priority to the attainment of Foundational Literacy and Numeracy by all students upto Grade 3. It stresses the need to develop a robust system of continuous formative/adaptive assessment to track each student’s learning. The early grade curriculum will be redesigned to have a renewed emphasis and teachers to be trained, encouraged, and supported to impart foundational literacy and numeracy.
Curtailing Drop-out Rates and Ensuring Universal Access to Education at all levels- As per NEP 2020, two holistic initiatives will be taken to bring drop-out children back to school and to prevent further drop-out. The first initiative is to provide effective and sufficient infrastructure so that all students have access to safe and engaging school education at all levels from pre-primary school to Grade 12. Besides providing regular trained teachers at each stage, special care shall be taken to ensure that no school remains deficient in the infrastructure sector. The second initiative is to achieve universal participation in the school by carefully tracking students as well as their learning levels in order to ensure that they (a) are enrolled in and attending school, and (b) have suitable opportunities to catch up and re-enter school in case they have fallen behind or dropped out. Suitable facilitating systems shall be put in place to provide equitable and quality education to all children from Foundation stage to Grade 12 till the age of 18 years.
Curriculum and Pedagogy in Schools : Learning should be Holistic, Integrated, Enjoyable and Engaging – NEP 2020 mandates that the learning should be holistic, integrated, inclusive, enjoyable, and engaging. In order to minimize rote learning and to encourage holistic development and 21st century skills such as critical thinking, creativity, scientific temper, communication, collaboration, multilingualism, problem solving, ethics, social responsibility, digital literacy, curriculum, textbooks, pedagogy and assessment shall be transformed by 2022. It stresses that in all stages; experimental learning will be adopted, including hands-on learning, arts-integrated and sports-integrated education, story-telling-based pedagogy, among others, as standard pedagogy within each subject, and with explorations of relations among different subjects. To bridge the gap in achievement of learning outcomes, classroom transactions will shift towards competency-based learning and education.
Teachers – Teachers are the frontline providers of quality education. They represent the key vehicle towards a progressive, just, educated, and prosperous society. It is known that inadequate quality of training, recruitment, service conditions and lack of empowerment of teachers affect their skill and motivation levels. NEP, 2020 has made several provisions to empower teachers and inspire the best individuals to enter the system to ensure the best possible future for our children and our nation. The primary goal of transforming the service environment and culture of schools will be to maximize teacher’s ability to perform their jobs effectively and to ensure that they are part of vibrant, caring, and inclusive communities of teachers, students, parents, principals, and other support staff, all of whom share a common goal, to ensure that our children are learning.
Equitable and Inclusive Education : Learning for All – Sustainable Development Goal 4.0 obliges India to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” by 2030. In tune with SDG goal, NEP-2020 provides a renewed impetus to inclusive and equitable education. It re-focuses on the need to provide children with disabilities, and those belonging to disadvantaged groups and weaker sections the same opportunities of obtaining quality education as any other child. It is also in full sync with RPWD Act 2016 which mandates that students with and without disability learn together and the system of teaching and learning is suitably adapted to meet the learning needs of students with disabilities. By 2040, India should have an education system that is second to none, with equitable access to the highest-quality education for all learners, regardless of social or economic background. Many schools have already taken initiatives to promote inclusive classrooms. Innovative teaching pedagogy on the subject needs to focus on inclusive practices so that similar initiatives can be taken by other schools.
Efficient Resourcing and Effective Governance: The establishment of school complexes/ clusters and the sharing of resources across complexes will have a number of other benefits, such as improved support for children with disabilities, more topic-centered clubs and academic/sports/ arts/ crafts events across school complexes, better incorporation of art, music, language, vocational subjects, physical education, and other subjects in the classroom through the sharing of teachers in these subjects including use of ICT tools to conduct virtual classes. Improved student support, enrollment, attendance, and performance through the sharing of social workers and councilors, and school complex Management committees (rather than only School Management Committees) for more robust and better governance, monitoring, oversight, innovations, and initiatives by local stakeholders. Building such larger communities of schools, school leaders, teachers, students, support staff, parents, and local citizens would energize and empower the schooling system, and in a resource-efficient manner.
Standard Setting and Accreditation for School Education – The NEP, 2020 envisions an effective quality self-regulation or accreditation system for all stages of education, including pre-school education – private, public, and philanthropic – to ensure compliance with mandatory quality standards. To ensure that all schools adhere to certain minimum professional and quality standards, States/UTs will set up an independent, state-wide body called the State School Standards Authority (SSSA). In addition to the standard criterion for accreditation, to ensure academic quality, a separate School Quality Assessment and Accreditation Framework has to be developed by SCERTs. All schools, including private schools, will be assessed and accredited on the same criteria, benchmarks, and processes, with an emphasis on online and offline public disclosure and transparency. Educational outcomes and the transparent disclosure of all financial, academic, and operational matters will be given due importance and suitably incorporated in the evaluation of schools. By ensuring a uniform process of accreditation and quality framework for both public and private schools, the objective of reforming the public education system could be ensured.
Technology in Education : NDEAR – The recent rise in epidemics and pandemics necessitates that we are ready with alternative modes of quality education, whenever and wherever traditional modes of education are not possible. In this regard, the NEP 2020 recognizes the importance of reaping the benefits of technology while acknowledging its potential risks and dangers. This calls for carefully designed and appropriately scaled pilot studies to determine how the benefits of online/digital education can be reaped while addressing or mitigating the downsides. National Digital Education Architecture is being envisioned as a digital infrastructure for education that will help not only the government at Centre, State and UTs but the entire education ecosystem including private sector, non-profit and technology players to enhance the quality of education in the country through innovation and experimentation. It is part of the “Digital India” initiative of the Government of India and it endeavors to make lives simpler for students, parents, teachers and administrators.
Reimaging Vocational Education and Skill Building – NEP 2020 aims to overcome the perception of lower social status associated with vocational education and requires integration of vocational education programme into mainstream education in a phased manner. Beginning with vocational exposure in early ages in middle school, quality vocational education will be integrated smoothly into secondary and higher education. It will ensure that every child learns at least one vocation from class 9 onwards and is exposed to many more professions. It will emphasize the importance of skill building, dignity of labour and various professions associated with Indian art and craftsmanship.
(The author is a technocrat & academician)