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Saturday, September 18, 2021

E-xplained: ‘NEP has scope, flexibility. It is not a straitjacket, one-size-fits-all…’

Amit Khare, Secretary, Higher Education, discusses the new National Education Policy and the roadmap for implementing it.

By: Explained Desk |
Updated: August 17, 2020 11:44:12 am
Higher Education Secretary Amit Khare in conversation on Zoom with Ritika Chopra, Senior Assistant Editor, The Indian Express.

In this explained.Live event before a nationwide audience on Zoom, Amit Khare, Secretary, Higher Education, discusses the new National Education Policy and the roadmap for implementing it.

On implementing the NEP

We have divided it into three parts. First, there are certain reforms which are non-financial. Say, reforming the regulatory structure: It is not financial, but requires new legislation to be approved by Parliament. The second is where we do have a requirement of funds but it can be achieved… To give an example, we spend about Rs 1,500 crore a year on technology and adult education, on different platforms. If we pool these things together through the National Education and Technology Forum, perhaps with the same funding, we will be able to achieve much more. And the third are reforms which will require heavy investment. For example, the National Research Foundation, or providing breakfast before mid-day meals, with heavy expenditure to be shared by the central government and the states.

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On taking the states on board

Many states are in different levels of educational development. The anganwadi and the pre-schooling system, many states already have it, and there are other states who just start from grade 1. There are universities which are small and there are other universities which have a huge number of affiliated colleges, and they find it difficult to change to the new system. So the first thing that we are doing is to go in a sequential manner. For example, if we wish to change to 5+3+3+4, the first thing will be to have a national curriculum framework for this. The second will be to take on board the states not by force, but by informing them of the benefits that are likely to accumulate. Most states are okay with 5+3+3+4 because the development of a child takes place at an early age… in fact, Tamil Nadu already has activity-based learning for the early years. Many other states already have it. So these reforms can be brought in immediately.

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The academic bank of credit we are talking about, that reform is not very difficult… Once we have this academic bank of credit, the next stage will be to have the multiple entry and exit, because the credits need to be stored in the bank. That bank will be ready by December. Here, the change will start from centralised institutions and state institutions will have a choice to join as and when they are ready.

On meeting the 2040 deadline

Why we have written 2040 — a child who is born in 2020, when she or he graduates by 2040, they would have crossed the entirely new education system. Starting from higher education, the first thing will be to introduce the credit bank. In the institutions of excellence — 20 of them have been identified — we request them to develop modular courses where entry and exit is possible. Therefore, the new courses will have to be modular, where exit is possible after two semesters, four semesters and six semesters. Before we start the academic session 2021-22, we will have the academic bank of credit working, all central institutions would have shifted to the new system of four-year courses with multiple exits.

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The common entrance tests which have been proposed for higher educational institutions will be in place for the central institutions. But for state institutions, because of different languages at the Board level, that will take time. The National Research Fund … (the university) can apply for a research grant and the evaluation will be of the project and not of the institution. This also will be there in 2021, or maybe December this year.

On the school side, the Gifted Children Programme has already started the group programme for 5+3+3+4. The remaining part of this academic year is being utilised to develop a framework. Once we have the framework, states which are willing to have that system can start in 2021.

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In the Boards, which take time to change — I was there when these Boards changed in 1978, when we shifted from regular higher-secondary to 12 years or 10+2 — for some time we will have the two systems running parallel. For example, if I have studied a three-year course… it will be very difficult for me to join the other courses. Those who are in M Phil, they have a misunderstanding that their course will get discontinued immediately. We’ll take care that all those who are enrolled till this year are able to complete their course and then we shift to the new system.

On the school side, the sequence will require classes to have their framework. Then the second (step) is to have syllabi, particularly class 3 onwards, because the first five years are activity-based. After syllabi, if required, there will be a change of textbooks — but only if required.

On what is different this time in the emphasis on mother tongue

About doubts related to implementation, I’ll clarify. First things first. What has been written in the policy is mother tongue/regional language, because many states have many different languages. For example in Jharkhand, where I come from, there are certain tribal areas that have their language as Santhali, and Hindi-speaking areas, and there is a certain area which was earlier part of Odisha but was included in Jharkhand and the people there speak in Odia. Their books come from the government of Odisha, so that flexibility has been given by the policy. So this issue can be easily resolved because the policy says “preferably” — it is not mandatory everywhere. For example, if there is a school in the defence sector and the defence personnel keep moving, we cannot have the local language there because it may create difficulty for the personnel.

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Secondly, people are presuming that the teaching of English will get discontinued. We are talking of medium of instruction: The medium of instruction will be up to grade 5 only in the mother tongue or regional language. But as a subject, suppose mother tongue teaching is in Urdu. Hyderabad may have some areas where they speak Urdu, other areas where they speak Telugu, so they can have their teaching and the medium of instruction in one language and they can have the other language as a subject. They have either Telugu or English or another language. So this policy gives immense scope, and flexibility is there. It is not a straitjacket, one- size- fits-all…

Thirdly, English-medium schools. Some parents are very worried that their child is in grade 5 or 4, and what will happen. As I said, the change will be introduced from grade 1 or maybe from anganwadi, that is from pre-school. Those who have already reached a certain level in that five-year period, that is up to grade 5, they will not be asked to re-learn. So the new system starts with the new batch.

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We are not going for a compulsory model. At every level we want to give a choice. So if you have 12 schools in one locality, some of them also running in shifts, we can have one shift for a certain medium of instruction, the other shift can have the other medium… After all, the entire focus of the policy is to give more choice, not to reduce their choices.

On families in which a child’s mother tongue is different from local language

Every family has some home language and it is not very difficult even for migrants. I read sometime back that in the Board exams in Kerala, the child who stood first was a child belonging to a migrant family from Bihar. Some schools cater mostly to migrant workers. Say in Surat, there will be some areas which will have more Gujarati and there will be some areas where you will have migrant workers coming, and one or two schools where you have more migrant workers can be in a different medium.

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On whether central institutions could admit based on board exams rather than entrance tests

The real issue is that there are a number of Boards. The equivalence of, say, CBSE with ICSE, with the UP Board and Maharashtra Board, is the difficulty. Now with the type of competition that we have, the difference in the evaluation, in the levels and types of questions, it is very difficult to have them moderated. So these board exams will be there, but what is perhaps more important is that the evaluation or the assessment will be 360 degrees. 360 in the sense, the other talents that a child has, say in what we call extra-curriculars. So we fill up all the marks and then we put one or two sentences about extra-curriculars — this is good and this is very good.

Actually, there are some subjects which have the marks, which are considered to be important, where you have the best four and best five. So we are shifting away from that system, giving a holistic progress card to the student, where the other achievements are equally important. They are a part of the progress card and it also tells the child and the parents that other avenues are open to him or her. To give a concrete example, if he or she is good in music, right now it will appear only in the extra-curriculars. What we are planning is that the holistic report card will also have a column about his music abilities and depending on the choice of the student, he or she in higher education can study physics along with music, he or she can have music as one subject, physics and maths as another two subjects.

Transcribed by Mehr Gill

Edited excerpts.

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