Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Union government released the much-awaited National Education Policy and the media immediately started dishing out stories on its salient features perhaps not even before reading the 66-page document, supposed to set the future path for the learners, in its entirety. The document claims to focus on universal access to quality education and set a way to change the knowledge landscape of India as well as ‘Bharat’. Overhauling of the education system from primary to doctoral education is envisioned in the policy. Foundation of the policy is to provide conducive atmosphere to the learners with appropriate infrastructure and resources in learning centres to build an equitable, inclusive and pluralistic society.
Apparently, an inclusive and holistic policy is being implemented that will create truly global citizens with deep-rooted beliefs in Indian ethos and spirit. But when it reads, “Education must build character, enable learners to be ethical, rational, compassionate, and caring, while at the same time prepare them for gainful, fulfilling employment”, how would teachers justify to the learners about these qualities when educational institutes are not compassionate about the students who are facing financial crisis and unable to pay the hefty fees amidst this novel crisis. Dilapidated infrastructure in terms of technology and human resources has always been a concern for the students and parents when they take admission in such institutes lured by the fancy advertisements of buildings and international collaborations which never get operational.
At a time, when it is evident that millions have lost their jobs or are without salaries, how will the students bear the trauma of health and economic crisis? Ethics is a virtue which every society needs to develop, grow and sustain, but ethics in professional life must be forgotten when every product/service is controlled by market forces. How will teachers inculcate caring attitude in learners when online classes are being held without caring whether students have Information Communication Technology (ICT) enabled tools/internet connectivity or not. When millions of people have migrated from metro cities to their smaller hometowns, have we bothered to find out how students are coping up in this situation? The families whose members have been affected by Corona are facing physical and mental issues on one hand and are under economic stress on the other. The social stigma of the disease is additional baggage.
According to the document, “The teacher must be at the centre of the fundamental reforms in the education system. The new education policy must help re-establish teachers, at all levels, as the most respected and essential members of our society, because they truly shape our next generation of citizens”. At present, teachers are one of the most vulnerable sections of the society as volatility in the job market has increased. Educational institutions appoint contractual teachers, which leads to job insecurity. Not only this, permanent school teachers are surviving at the whims and fancies of various state governments. They can be deputed for any odd job like census survey, administering polio drops, election duties and a plethora of non-teaching jobs, including cooking mid-day meals. How do you expect the same teacher to meet the learning outcomes of children at various grades?
How the present political system will empower the teachers is not clear? As far as empowerment of the teacher is concerned, curriculum is being framed without knowing the ground reality of students’ knowledge level and the poor teacher, who has never been part of this planning and execution, is expected to meet the requirements without raising a question.
Creativity, A Dream
Due to rigidity of the syllabus, timetable and constant surveillance of the classes through CCTVs, and administrative jobs, a teacher has no freedom to teach using innovative and creative pedagogy. Expected learning outcomes of the students are measured through marks and same is the criterion of performance appraisal in many schools and higher educational institutes. When a teacher is not getting time to think creatively, read extensively and research exhaustively, how will he impart these traits in the students?
One of the thrust areas of New Education Policy is “undertaking major initiatives to seed and grow research at State Universities and other public institutions where research capability is currently limited.” Private Higher Education Institutions are already facing cash crunch (apparently Corona crisis) and research expenditure is not on their agenda. In a country where 0.69 per cent of GDP is allocated for research activities expecting seed money and research grant for teachers is a distant dream. There should have been a mandate for research funding allocation for private institutions so that the teachers employed in such institutions may get acknowledgement of their work and research may be promoted. Even the funding for scholars is much required in the institutions to have quality doctoral work.
While planning about blending of ICT tools in teaching pedagogy, somewhere experts drafting the policy forgot that teachers are the foundation of any academic institution. There is no mention of their training to adapt themselves to new technological and disciplinary demands of various streams. Faculty Development Programmes and orientation courses to promote blended learning and online education are required for all levels of teachers. The idea to diminish the compartments of science and humanities is really progressive but educational institutes require that kind of physical infrastructure and liberal attitude towards all the streams.
Freedom of Speech and Expression is pillar of our democracy and the person who has responsibility to educate the society is never allowed to speak for his liberty to impart knowledge, frame the policy, urge to learn new technologies to make teaching-learning more effective and boost the education system for bright future of our country with diversity. How he will get this power to express concerns on children’s education and his own enhancement of knowledge for the betterment of society, is not clear in the recently passed policy.
Interestingly, there is not a single mention of academic leadership, the leaders who may inspire the teachers and students to achieve the vision envisaged in the policy. We need visionary academic leaders in public and private institutions as the future is uncertain, mediocrity is increasing (evident in recent recruitments on senior positions of academic institutions of repute) and millions of students are clueless about their career choices. We need robust infrastructure with visionary academic leaders to attain the outcome expected from the policy which is promising millions of Indian students that they will be no longer job seekers but job creators.
(Dr Kiran Bala is the Dean, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, K.R. Mangalam University. Views expressed are personal.)
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