Shailendra Sharma, Principal Advisor to Delhi government’s Director of Education, on what the New Education Policy gets right — and what it doesn’t.
Certain focus areas of the NEP such as early education and foundational literacy and numeracy have been a focus of the Delhi government for a while. Do you think it is in line with the direction the Delhi government has been taking in these areas?
Both have been very significant components of Delhi’s education model. We believe that while good early childhood education (ECE) is the foundation of schooling, learning to read, write and do basic maths is the foundation of lifelong learning. With NEP 2020 stating that the highest priority will be to achieve universal foundational literacy and numeracy by 2025, I think with programmes like Mission Buniyaad right at the centre of our teaching-learning approach, this goal will be attained in Delhi much before 2025.
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In the last three years, anganwadis in Delhi were remodeled to take ECE more seriously; with KG and nursery classes in Sarvodaya schools of Delhi government, there has been an expansion in access with quality. In NEP 2020, the existence of four different institutions in the early years is likely to create transitional issues and qualitative gaps among children by the time they reach the next phase of schooling, which might recreate the same issues we are currently grappling with.
NEP also talks about adequate and safe infrastructure, including working toilets, clean drinking water and other facilities for teachers and children. Delhi government’s investment in school infrastructure goes much beyond that, and we see its impact on teachers and students’ self esteem and pride.
While there are a lot of ideas and recommendations in the NEP, do you think enough has been laid down to actually realise these?
NEP 2020 is a collection of progressive and forward-looking ideas. Having said that, let me add that any New Education Policy in India which seeks to make education creative, inclusive and universal will have to battle old mindset built over Macaulay’s minutes.
With some omissions… this policy renders itself more vulnerable than it deserves. It is about current teachers and exams, the two most significant pillars of school education. In the past, we have seen that non-investment in capacity building of teachers has cost us dearly. As a result, wonderful ideas like continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE) and no-detention policy were abandoned and National Curriculum Framework 2005 not even noticed. Therefore, an annual 50 hours of continuous professional development (CPD) will not be enough to transform the teachers.
Similarly, by saying that Board exams for grades X and XII will be continued though it would be “easier”, the policy ties itself in the old knot. The traditional board exams are not needed when new paradigms of learning assessment are sought to be established. For instance, why would board exams be required when the National Testing Agency will conduct assessment for admissions in higher education? Lastly, but most importantly, commitment to funds is going to be critical. Delhi Education model would not have been what it is today without 25% of the State’s budget being allocated to education.
The regional language medium point of the NEP has stirred up debate. How far do you think it can be applied in Delhi and how effectively?
Practically speaking, this policy merely maintains the status quo by adding the phrase “wherever possible” and leaving it for states to determine the medium of instruction and their three languages. It is well established that the medium of instruction in the initial years being the language that the child first utters when she starts speaking is best for the child. Despite that, if there is a debate it is clearly not about pedagogy but about Sociology. I feel that strengthening the language learning approach and infrastructure in schools and engaging with parents on a continuous basis to demonstrate that by being taught in the home language, their child is not losing out on learning other languages and new opportunities for a better life is a way to address this issue.
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