The new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has generated a lot of aspiration, hope and eagerness among people, especially students. The document states that the students are the prime stakeholders in the education system. This statement implies that the NEP looks at the students not as ‘citizens of tomorrow’ but as ‘citizens of today’ who are an equal stakeholder in the policies related to the development of the country.
Children in rural areas continue to be deprived of quality education because of reasons such as lack of infrastructure, inadequate staff, etc. These issues have been discussed at length over the years. But hopefully NEP 2020 will end this void.
What does the NEP speak regarding the promotion of education in rural areas?
Socio-economically Disadvantaged Groups
Education is a necessity that should reach to the remotest and farthest places. And this fact has been taken care of in the education policy. A new term that the document introduces is Socio-economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDGs). “While overall enrolments in schools decline steadily from Grade 1 to Grade 12, this decline in enrolments is significantly more pronounced for many of these SEDGs and often even steeper in higher education,” reads the document. Along with gender identities, socio-cultural, socio-economic identities and disabilities, geographical identities too are included in the SEDGs. This will help these areas to get the necessary attention and incentives from the governments in the future.
Special Education Zones (SEZs) and Aspirational Districts
The NEP 2020 recommends that regions with significantly large populations from educationally-disadvantaged SEDGs should be declared Special Education Zones (SEZs). In these SEZs, all the schemes and policies are to be implemented to the maximum through additional concerted efforts. This will help to truly change the educational landscape of these areas.
In addition to this, the policy also identifies specific geographical locations as Aspirational Districts which require special interventions for promoting educational development.
This categorisation can prove to be a very effective measure in eliminating the difference of education that has sustained for long. This idea can be compared to the idea of biodiversity hotspots in conservation biology wherein specific places are identified which need urgent efforts to save biodiversity.
The NEP 2020 also speaks about consolidating a large number of schools with very little strength of students and teachers into one complex.
One major problem with the schools, particularly primary, is the small size. The schools are often spread in multiple numbers with a minimum number of students. The geographical dispersion, challenging access conditions, and the very large numbers of schools make it difficult to reach all schools equally. The isolation of small schools also harms education and the teaching-learning process. The document has stated that teachers function best in communities and teams, and so do students.
In the new system, a school complex would be made with one secondary school together with all other schools offering lower grades in its neighbourhood including Anganwadis, in a radius of 5 to 10 km. It is worth noting that the document mentions that this suggestion was first made by the Education Commission (1964–66) but was left unimplemented. ‘This Policy strongly endorses the idea of the school complex/cluster, wherever possible. The aim of the school complex/cluster will be greater resource efficiency and more effective functioning, coordination, leadership, governance, and management of schools in the cluster,’ reads the document.
Easing the formalities to start a school
To make it easier for governments and organisations to establish a school and to allow alternative models of education, the required requirements will be made easier as per the NEP 2020. The emphasis on forming the new schools, as the document states, will be more on ‘output potential’ concerning desired learning outcomes than on the inputs.
Fostering unity and Indian cultural ethos, Ek Bharat Shrestha Bharat
Under the ‘Ek Bharat Shrestha Bharat’ initiative, every student in the country will participate in a fun project or activity on ‘The Languages of India’, sometime in Grades 6-8. In this, they’ll learn about the origin and script, etc. about the languages. The students will also be taught what geographical areas speak which languages and they’ll learn to say ‘commonly spoken phrases and sentences in every major language of India and also learn a bit about the rich and uplifting literature of each’.
The policy proposes to redesign the curriculum and pedagogy to be strongly rooted in the Indian and local context and ethos in terms of not just culture but also as per the geography and indigenous and traditional ways of learning. ‘The stories, arts, games, sports, examples, problems, etc. will be chosen from the Indian and local geographic context, as much as possible.’
Books to be made universally available
‘The Central and State governments will take steps to ensure that books are made accessible and affordable to all across the country including socio-economically disadvantaged areas as well as those living in rural and remote areas.’ This aims at the idea of increasing reading habits in the country. The availability and accessibility of books are essential to inculcating the habit of reading within communities and educational institutions. For this, the online accessibility of library books will be increased and digital libraries will be further broadened. Other measures include setting up of rural libraries and reading rooms in disadvantaged regions.
Recruitment of teachers
Presently, there is a shortage of teachers in the geographically tough and rural areas. Often the teachers teach in multiple classes and multiple subjects other than the one they are trained in. This reduces the efficiency of the teacher and also prevents the flow of proper knowledge to the students.
In order to solve this problem, NEP 2020 looks to ensure that outstanding students enter the teaching profession, especially from rural areas. ‘A large number of merit-based scholarships shall be instituted across the country for studying quality 4-year integrated B.Ed. the program,’ it reads. In rural areas, special merit-based scholarships will be established that also include preferential employment in their local areas upon successful completion of their B.Ed. programs. This, in addition to providing local job opportunities to the youth and solving the problem of shortage of teachers in rural areas, will also serve as portraying these employed youth as local-area role models and as highly qualified teachers who speak the local language.
It also says to increase efforts to make Olympiads and competitions in various subjects available in rural areas and in regional languages to ensure widespread participation. It is emphasized that ‘systematised arrangement shall be created to provide the requisite support to students from rural backgrounds, including increasing hostel facilities as needed. All Higher Educational Institutes will ensure quality medical facilities for all students in their institutions.’
It’ll be apt to conclude this article by quoting the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “The future of India lies in its villages” and as mentioned in the NEP itself, the global education development agenda reflected in the Goal 4 (SDG4) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by India in 2015, seeks to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” by 2030.
(The author is a research scholar, School of Environmental Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Views expressed are personal.)
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