The rehaul of the national education policy follows the pattern of ayes and nays that shadow government decisions. Outlook poses six questions to Professor Rajendra Pratap Gupta, who served as a member of the National Education Policy Committee, on how the NEP will affect higher education and learning outcomes.
Q1: What will a switch from 10+2 to a 5+3+3+4 structure in schooling mean?
The significant shift is moving from content to competence, based on cognitive development. It is essential to phase in learning based on the stages of brain development, and this shift has been factored in. I suggested two new terminologies—foundation and preparatory phase. I wanted to move away from the UNESCO standard of primary and secondary which to me appears irrelevant, and I suggested the terminologies that represented the functionality of the education system. So, when the student is in the foundation stage i.e., pre-primary till class II, the focus will be on experiential learning rather than rote memorization. This will lay a strong foundation for the next phase, i.e., preparatory phase from class III-V. The terminology here reflects preparing the student for higher studies.
Q2: How will 'mother tongue' at primary levels affect learning outcomes?
If you look at the world’s most forward-looking countries, be it the US, UK, Germany, France, Russia, or China, all of them teach students in their mother tongue. And yes, they have made considerable progress in science, technology, other sectors, as well as in economic terms. I strongly feel that studying in mother tongue helps to focus on fundamental research. However, if you teach in a foreign language, you will do follow-up research on what is already mentioned in foreign literature. So, teaching in local language is logical and scientific, and will contribute to making India strong in the field of science, humanities, and arts. Personally, for me, it is ‘de-Macaulization’ of the education system after almost 200 years!
Q3: Where are the funds?
While funds are needed and essential, significant reforms in the current pedagogy and institutions are more about structural shifts and systemic change, and they do not require money. Due to Covid, we have been pushed behind for sure. I believe that funds will be enhanced and the utilisation of the existing funds more effectively will address the issue in the near term. Also, I am hopeful that by 2023 the economy will be back to normal for more investment into education, and by then, structural and systemic reforms will have a multiplier effect. Covid has reset our priorities and if we don’t teach like a developed nation, we will keep dreaming of becoming one. Despite the temporary fund crunch, you will see a massive change in the education system going forward.
Q4: What qualitative changes will the proposed overhaul of higher education bring?
The proposed changes will ensure relevance to the needs of the current and emerging times. Currently, we are following content heavy, rote learning syllabus which will move to competence, skills acquisition with internship (practical experience), and research orientation, thereby meeting the critical skill gaps which we need for sectoral innovation and growth.
Also, district-level self-sufficiency with more flexibility to design and deliver courses will make students ready to find solutions to the challenges and monetise them with their skills and knowledge. We also hope that initially, students from neighbouring countries, and later from all parts of the globe, will consider India as an education destination.
Q5: How will the entry of foreign institutions change/affect higher education?
It will bring collaboration, comparison, and competition to our country. I can foresee an improvement in the quality of education in India. Besides, it will undoubtedly make foreign degrees a bit cheaper, and reduce our dollar outflow on Indian students going abroad.
Q6: What is the value of the emphasis on 'Indian ethos and values' in education?
Over the past few years, thanks to cheaper and faster internet, media access has been equal whether a person is living in a metro or a remote village. We have seen that cases of mental health and crime are on a rise, and with an ever-increasing proliferation of technology, this may get worse. The enforcement systems of today have their limitations. The only way to address all such issues is to inculcate values through the education system. Values are from constitutional and humanistic perspectives through a role model approach and community service programmes, besides other initiatives. The aim is to create an education system that is not just restricted to academics and skills development, but also leads to holistic development to make global citizens.
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