On May 31, a committee set up for drafting a new National Education Policy submitted its report to the HRD Minister. The draft policy is in the public domain for feedback and suggestions. A meeting with all state governments has also been called later this month to seek their views. Once feedback is received, the government will finalise the policy and move it in Parliament. Some of the broad draft recommendations on school education:
The draft NEP acknowledges a “severe learning crisis” in India, where children in primary school fail to attain basic math and reading skills. Attributing a major part of this crisis to a “tragic deficiency” in early childhood care and education (ECCE) of children in the age group 3-6 years, the draft recommends that ECCE be made an integral part of the Right to Education (RTE) Act. Once ECCE becomes a justiciable right, it will be “obligatory for the public system to provide appropriate and quality educational infrastructure, facilities, and educators to all children in the age group 3-6 years”.
To strengthen and expand ECCE, the draft policy recommends increased investment in existing anganwadi centres (meant for providing basic nutrition, healthcare and pre-school education to 3-to-6-year-olds), locating anganwadi centres in primary schools, encouraging primary schools to add pre-school, and building high-quality standalone pre-schools in areas where existing anganwadis and primary schools are not able to fulfill ECCE requirements. To ensure continuity from pre-primary to primary schools, the draft advocates bringing all aspects of ECCE under the purview of the Human Resource Development Ministry.
Reading and math skills
A large number of children currently in elementary school — perhaps over 5 crore — cannot read and understand basic text and solve simple addition and subtraction problems, the report states. Many of them eventually drop out. To address this, the draft policy proposes a host of interventions:
* Redesigning of school curriculum for Grades 1 to 5 to include dedicated mathematics and reading hours every day, activities that relate classroom maths to real-life maths, weekly puzzle-solving sessions to inculcate logical thinking, and language and maths-focused morning assemblies.
* A ‘National Tutors Programme’ that will enrol the best performers of each school for up to five hours a week as tutors for students who have fallen behind.
* A ‘Remedial Instructional Aides Programme’ to draw instructors from the
local community to hold remedial classes during schools hours, after school hours and during summer vacations for students who need help.
* A school preparation module to be prepared by NCERT for all Grade 1 students to ensure they have the required learning levels (letters, shapes, colours, numbers) before starting the Grade 1 syllabus.
* Vacancies to be filled urgently to ensure a pupil-teacher ratio of 30:1.
* A nutritious breakfast, in addition to the midday meal, for improved learning.
Curriculum and pedagogy
While the 1986 education policy standardised school education with its push for a uniform 10+2 structure, the 2018 draft pitches for reconfiguration of curriculum and pedagogy in a “5+3+3+4” design, which recognises different stages of development of cognitive abilities in children. This corresponds to the age groups 3-8 years (foundational stage), 8-11 (preparatory stage), 11-14 (middle stage), and 14-18 (secondary stage).
The foundational phase (from three years of pre-school to Grade 2), the draft policy recommends, should comprise five years of flexible “play-based, activity-based, and discovery-based” learning and interaction. Instilling multilingual skills in children will be the key focus of this stage.
“This is followed by a preparatory phase consisting of three years (Grades 3, 4 and 5) of basic education incorporating some textbooks as well as aspects of more formal classroom learning. The next three years of middle school education (Grades 6, 7 and 8) would involve developing more abstract thinking and subject teaching leading up to a secondary education phase of four years (Grades 9, 10, 11 and 12),” the report reads.
The secondary phase will comprise four years of multidisciplinary study, with each year divided into two semesters. Grades 11 and 12 will be considered a part of the secondary stage (not junior college or higher secondary).
“There will be some essential common subjects for all, while simultaneously there will be a great flexibility in selecting elective courses… so that all students can expand their horizons as they see fit and explore their individual interests and talents,” the draft states. It adds that the choice among science, arts and commerce should be delayed so that it is based on a student’s experience and interests and not dictated by parents and society. It proposes no hard separation of school content in terms of curricular, extracurricular, or co-curricular areas, and between arts and sciences.
While the draft recommends continuance of the three-language formula, it has proposed flexibility in the choice of languages, as long as students can show proficiency in any three languages. Hindi and English are no longer the stipulated languages that students must study from Grade 6.
Further, it advocates reduction in curriculum load and reorientation of curriculum to promote multilinguism, ancient Indian knowledge systems, scientific temper, ethical reasoning, social responsibility, digital literacy and knowledge of critical issues facing local communities. The National Curriculum Framework 2005, it states, should be revised by end-2020.
Board exam restructure
Class 10 and 12 Board examinations, according to the draft NEP 2018, should serve as a “check for basic learning, skills and analysis”, which one should pass comfortably without coaching and cramming. To eliminate the “life-determining” and “high stakes” nature of Board examinations, it calls for changes including allowing students to sit for the examination twice in any given school year. “Eventually, when computerised adaptive testing becomes widely available, multiple attempts for Board examinations could be allowed,” it proposes.
It also pitches a shift to a “modular” approach in which a student is able to sit for the Board exam in a range of subjects across eight semesters. “Students will be expected to take a total of at least 24 subjects (such as science, economics, Indian history, philosophy, digital literacy, physical education) Board Examinations, or on average three a semester (every six months), and these examinations would be in lieu of in-school final examinations so as not to be any additional burden on students or teachers,” the draft reads.
Governance of schools
At present, the Department of School Education (DSE) in a state is in charge of operation, regulation and policy-making. The draft NEP 2018 calls for decentralisation, with each of these functions carried out by separate bodies — policy-making by a ‘Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog’ (Education Commission at national level, headed by the PM); operation by DSE; regulation by an independent ‘State School Regulatory Authority’ or SSRA in each state, which will set basic and uniform standards for both public and private schools; academic matters, including standard setting and curriculum, to be continued to be led by the State Councils of Educational Research and Training.
While the policy advocates an end to “loading of regulatory requirements” against private institutions, it also recommends that school management committees or SMCs be set up in private schools. SMCs (with parents as members) are currently mandatory for government schools and play a significant role in governance and functioning.
For fee hikes in private schools, the draft states that the percentage of increase, based on inflation, will be decided by SSRA for every three-year period. Private schools will not use the word “public” in their names in any communication, documentation or declaration of status, it recommends.
Right to Education Act
The policy envisages a detailed review and subsequent amendment of the RTE Act for extension “downwards to include up to three years of early childhood education prior to Grade 1, and upwards to include Grades 11 and 12”. It calls for a review of Clause 12(1)(c) — providing for mandatory 25% reservation for economically weaker section students in private schools — in the wake of its alleged misuse.
* Early vocational exposure, with basic knowledge of various livelihoods (gardening, pottery, electric work, etc) will be taught at Foundational and Elementary levels.
* Students’ progress throughout school, and not just at the end of Grades 10 and 12, should be mapped regularly through state census examination in Grades 3, 5, and 8.
* Teachers will not be engaged in time-consuming, non-teaching work such as electioneering and cooking of midday meals.
* “Para-teacher” (Shikshakarmi, Shiksha-mitra, etc) systems to be stopped by 2022.
* Excessive teacher transfers to be halted immediately.
* All schools will be accredited as per the School Quality Assessment and Accreditation Framework.