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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

One year on, the NEP report card

Pandemic has slowed it down, needs of children cannot be addressed only online. Every stakeholder at the state, district, sub-district, block level has to take ownership of the policy.

Written by Ameeta Mulla Wattal |
Updated: August 4, 2021 8:04:10 am
For the NEP to move forward, we need robust institutional mechanisms to support the policy.

The launch of the National Education Policy 2020 marked remarkable progress in the area of education and learning. We are now one year into the policy. How much of it has been realised? Have schools focused on the challenges reflected in the policy? Has the vision document entered the community at any level?Aspects of assessments, vocational education, subject selection, child appropriate age- and stage-based programmes at the foundational, preparatory and middle school, among other initiatives, were supposed to be embedded in the educational space.

Various state governments are still reflecting on the possibility of implementing some policies at ground level. National boards have tried during the Covid year to bring in some changes in classroom transaction connected with well-being, inclusive education, joyful learning, a compilation of best teaching practices, assessment models etc. As a result of schools having closed down, the big shifts did not take place in areas of thematic learning or multiple pedagogical approaches.

For the NEP to move forward, we need robust institutional mechanisms to support the policy. A great deal of capacity building is required along with creating enthusiasm among stakeholders. Every stakeholder at the state, district, sub-district, block level has to have ownership and understanding of the concepts. Directorates of education have to be strengthened in order to ensure that the policy permeates to the district and zonal level educational clusters. Unless every teacher at the foundational, primary and middle school level develops a sense of ownership, the transformation will not take place. We have to move schools and staff from fixed to growth mindsets in order for them to make sense of the new changes.

Currently, we are grappling with huge learning gaps. Schools cannot be compared to institutions of higher education; the needs of children are more personalised and cannot be addressed only online. With the extension of school closures and fear of infections, children are losing touch with understanding, comprehension, reading and speaking skills.

According to the prime minister, the NEP will help our children to realise their hopes, aspirations and dreams to get them future ready. We require effective strategies to physically equip teachers and students with better tools in the classroom, increase access to laptops and other gadgets, install interactive white boards and provide fast and reliable internet access.

Technology connects people, but it has limitations as far as teaching and learning are concerned. This crisis has made us reflect on the inequality not only in bandwidth, and devices, but also in the fact that the parents do not have the time or ability to support their children in this venture. Schools of brick and mortar cannot be completely dispensed with as places of learning. They are a reflection of community, time, care and values, which technology has not been able to touch.

It is imperative that we lay emphasis on vaccination of the young and old, without which the schools would find it difficult to reopen. Only a fraction of students across the country have moved to online learning exposing the deep inequity in the system, and opening up a digital abyss. Today in India, over 90 per cent of students do not have devices that allow them to access online learning holistically.

The NEP is extremely experiential and palpable; it cannot be brought in through online devices. Schools have to determine their capacity for restructuring, mobilising teachers, strategising the operational needs required to navigate their understanding and implementation of the NEP. In the last year and a half, we have been pushed into designing schools for crisis as opposed to designing schools for what we want them to be.

Students, teachers and other stakeholders have gone through a great deal of uncertainty and relearning in classrooms. The new technologies that they are grappling with have required training, reworking and experimenting with apps that they never knew existed. This has led to a fragile learning system with implications for the implementation of the NEP and, in fact, education in general.

The issues that are impacting schools today are rapid, technological changes, societal expectations and changing demographics. In order to implement the NEP, research, evaluation and documentation is essential along with coordination and convergence of the policy and programmes connected with it. We have still not been able to sensitise the parent community as far as the NEP is concerned because of the challenges that have been thrown up due to a break in basic education.

The state and national boards across the nation will have to start with pilot programmes. Creation of master trainers should be done who will train principals and teachers in urban and rural areas, replicating the model across all schools. This success can resonate through twinning programmes and school clusters with government and state schools.

The important outcome of the pandemic is that due to technological advancement and embedding of social media platforms, a countrywide level of awareness has taken place vis a vis the NEP. Various state and national boards have made efforts for consensus building in order to dispel the cynicism that exists.

The NEP is essentially about learning through observation, listening, exploring, experimenting and asking questions. All of these are hands-on experiences, which require interest, motivation, engagement and a need for children to understand why they are learning. None of the above are really part of online learning. The CBSE has worked very hard to build training modules in order to steer the programmes of the NEP through its active sahodaya school complexes with a task force to oversee implementation.

The hubs of learning have been activated. Innovation ambassador programmes are being created which will help in strengthening the mentoring capacity where teachers are being trained on design thinking, innovations, idea generation, intellectual property rights, product prototype development etc. This will help create robust, smart future schools. However, 22,000 schools of CBSE are not even a drop in the ocean of learning, in spite of their efforts to strengthen systems.

The road of learning that stretches before us is both exciting and filled with challenges. The journey has begun.

This column first appeared in the print edition on August 4, 2021 under the title ‘The learning journey’. The writer is Chairperson and Executive Director Education, DLF Foundation Schools and Scholarship Programmes.

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