Out of the 293 transformative paragraphs of the National Education Policy 2020, about 180 are dedicated to school education. Provisions of 86 of those paragraphs figure in the revamped Samagra Shiksha 2.0 scheme that was approved by the Union government on August 4.
Recently, a video of a six-year-old girl making a strong case for reducing the burden of studies went viral. This monologue was an appeal to usher in joyful education in our schools. Samagra Shiksha or holistic education is essentially joyful education: It encompasses the physical, social, emotional, and mental well-being of the child alongside academic and skill development in an integrated format. Version 2.0 of the scheme focuses on access and retention, strengthening foundations, equity and inclusion, quality and standards, holistic curriculum and pedagogy, assessment reforms, capacity building and stakeholder participation, and technology integration.
There are over 25 crore children in the 6-18 age group. The first thing they require is affordable access to quality education. The scheme has been funding basic school infrastructure, textbooks, uniforms and admissions to private schools under RTE Act since its inception. But for the first time, pre-school infrastructure and workshop/laboratory cum classroom for vocational education shall also be funded in the 2.0 scheme. For retention after class 8 and 10, the scheme will provide transport for students to attend formal school. It aims to attract 16 to 19 year-old out-of-school children through the Open School system.
From the pre-school stage itself, it is crucial to focus on learning to read, write, communicate and do basic math operations. The NIPUN Bharat Mission for foundational literacy and numeracy is a first-time component under the new Samagra Shiksha. Play and toy-based teaching-learning material and pedagogy will be the cornerstone of building this foundation. On connecting and engaging with people, objects, representations, children acquire a context. Play-based learning is strongly linked cognitive, language, thinking, communication, collaboration and psychomotor skills.
Gender-related interventions have been strengthened by giving additional funds for extending Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas to grade 12, and provisioning of sanitary pad vending machines and incinerators in all girls’ hostels. The self-defence training component is now extended from grades 6 to 12. Disabled girls from pre-school to grade 12 will now get a separate amount as a stipend and separate funding for aids and appliances, etc.
There are 21 disabilities identified under the PwD Act of 2016, many of which are difficult to identify in a classroom setting. Children whose disabilities remain unidentified find it difficult to adjust to schooling and their teachers have no idea of their specific pedagogical requirements. The revamped Samagra Shiksha for the first time provides for block-level camps for identification and training of special educators and equipping Block Resource Centres and home-based schooling for severe and profound disabilities.
The quality and standards component has several new aspects too. Aside from DIKSHA, ICT Labs, other digital initiatives, science labs, engaging teaching-learning material, curricular and pedagogical reforms, and tinkering labs,, the inclusion of a holistic progress card, topic circles, bagless days, criterion-referenced item banks, and school complexes for efficient schooling, heralds a shift towards competency-based education. For every school that gets at least two medals in Khelo India at the national level, a grant of Rs 25,000 awaits.
Capacity building will now focus not just on in-service teacher training but also on building capacities of stakeholders — school management committee members, parents, PTA, etc. Institutional strengthening of State Councils for Educational Research and Training (SCERT), District Institutions for Educational Training, Block and Cluster Resource Centres are expected to re-invigorate the teaching community. A special assessment cell is being set up in each SCERT to take assessment reforms forward in all states/UTs. The earlier system of funding subject streams has been done away with, and any combination of subjects will now be funded.
Infusing joy at every stage and in every aspect of school education in a holistic manner, with the complete support and participation of all stakeholders is the way forward not only for inducing positivity in the system, but also for bringing synchronicity in the experience of both teachers and learners.
This column first appeared in the print edition on September 1, 2021 under the title ‘A happier school’. The writer is secretary, school education, Union Ministry of Education