Going by the public utterances of the MHRD, India will have a new national policy on education by the end of this year. Though there is hardly any clue as to how the ongoing consultations at ‘various levels’ are being processed and ultimately how the new policy will be put to ‘vote’ for approval, there is still time left to infuse ideas and contribute for aligning the new policy to a vision of prosperous and vibrant India.
PROF R GOVINDA, one of India’s topmost architects of education reforms during the last decade or so, who recently retired as the vice-chancellor of state-run National University of Educational Planning & Administration (NUEPA), the apex educational policy research university in the country, at an event a couple of months ago outlined two core values that our education system must imbibe and propagate. He said, “We must make new environmental ethics a part and parcel of higher education for sustainable development to succeed. At the moment it is the school children who are compulsorily taught environmental science but then we stop teaching youth in colleges. Children in any case are very innocent and love nature, young adults need to be sensitized and taught.. Supreme Court of India has also given a direction to teach environment to college students.” The second value he shared was about global citizenship. “Learning to live together is fundamental for progress and world peace. And our education system must carry this value in its core.”
This small backdrop is to bring home the point that a national education policy must provide a comprehensive vision, from which action plans can germinate and there will be a broad consensus, sensitization and urgency for their implementation. The National Policy on Education, 1986 (modified in 1992) was a watershed moment for education in India after Kothari commission of 1966.We need to provide a continuum of that vision and galvanize all stakeholders for embracing change.
Somehow, preparations for a new policy announced on January 26 this year lack an aura of excitement, enthusiasm and participation. The architecture of consultation process has been questioned by many as it is not following the benchmarked standard operating procedure of policy making. If this government wanted to do things differently, it could have parallelly involved the university system of the country to provide empirical research inputs/suggestions. Regional or theme cohorts consisting of a lead university, affiliated colleges and even some selected schools, would have produced wonderful results from grassroots.
“As someone who has been teaching in different public institutions of higher education for more than 30 years, I have always associated these institutions with teachers and students. The relationships amongst teachers and students are extraordinarily diverse—there are far too many moments of frustration, despair and exasperation, but there are also moments of exhilaration and excitement. If one is looking for an understanding of these experiences and also of the transformative potential of education, this document is clearly not the way to go. The covering page of the document lists 20 themes for consultation. Teachers figure in the title of the 12th theme, and student support in the title of the 13th. That provides, perhaps, a sense of the priorities of those who have structured the document, and the consultation that is meant to ensue on its basis,” wrote Kumkum Roy, a fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi in May issue of Economic & Political Weekly.
Like her most of the well-known educationists, activists and even policy experts have been left out from formal consultation process. All that the government is saying that it has created a web platform ‘MyGov.in’ where umpteen members of society can participate in providing inputs on 33 themes (20 on higher education and 13 on school education) under discussion. When this publication reached the administrators of the portal for an estimate of comments till August 31st and also information on how these comments are being processed, there was no reply to several emails that we wrote to them.
The undercurrent truth may be that country’s education agenda could be dictated by a handful of people and all this consultation process is hogwash. If it indeed turns to be true, it will be a costly affair both for the education agenda as well as the government. The later might be forced for a course correction and several things could be put for a revisit, which will add both effort, time and tax payer’s money.
Between 1986 or 1992 and 2015, education has undergone major metamorphosis within the country and outside. As a consequence of this transformation, the very architecture of learning has gone a sea change. We now have right to education legislation. Knowledge commission worked for several years and put forth a number of recommendations. Under UPA government, an apex committee under Prof Yash Pal studied higher education challenges and made important recommendations, several legislative bills aimed at education reforms were also drafted. In nutshell, a national debate was ongoing for last so many years to fix education system and a result of this new thinking was also reflected in Delhi University starting now aborted globally accepted four year degree programs.
To wash away all the collected wisdom of these largely apolitical efforts would be certainly bad for country’s education system beleaguered with multitude of problems and challenges at every level. Till now, there is no indication that the present government will build upon some of these valuable efforts.
The set of questions that are being circulated with the themes for New Policy reflect a mindset. According to Ambarish Rai of RTE Forum, “the questions are designed to encourage private sector takeover of education.” One thing that must be understood is that the challenges of India are unique and massive. Cut and paste models from elsewhere have not and won’t succeed here. We need solutions in local context.
For many a people in the establishment, education is just another government department. And there lies the root of the problem. The Incheon Declaration at the World Education Forum in May this year while outlining vision for Global Education 2030 declared, “We reaffirm that education is a public good, a fundamental human right and a basis for guaranteeing the realization of other rights. It is essential for peace, tolerance, recognize education as key to achieving full employment and poverty eradication. We will focus our efforts on access, equity and inclusion, quality and learning outcomes, within a lifelong learning approach…. Our vision is to transform lives through education, recognizing the important role of education as a main driver of development and in achieving the other proposed SDGs. We commit with a sense of urgency to a single, renewed education agenda that is holistic, ambitious and aspirational, leaving no one behind.” India which is a signatory to this declaration has a historic opportunity to reflect this vision and its own in the proposed new education policy.
FOR QUITE SOMETIME crime against women has rightly become a focal point of interventions even in education with schemes like Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Save daughter, educate daughter). But then, have our powerful ministers studied school environments apart from need of toilets?
Growing children in puberty stage pass through not only bodily changes but social changes as well. Upon this the pressure of doing well in competitive exams and scoring top grades unfortunately also starts building up around the time teenagers step in secondary stage of their education. Can our policy provide for a cadre of trained counselors much like physical education? We have shied away from sex education for too long. Can’t we take science education route and subtly provide this education so that youth behavior and attitude becomes rational and stress free.
The narrative of education in this country must change. Ancient Indian civilization can boast of both university system as well residential school system popularly known as Gurukul system. These seats of learning supposedly provided their students depth and holistic education. The students of these seminaries could think, innovate and analyze. Education must prepare for life and not a particular job. This is what our school system must aim at it. The policy has to ensure it.
One of the most pressing and major challenges before the education system is near total dependence on tuitions or coaching industry and remedial education. While coaching has indeed become an industry of mammoth proportion, the learning in schools has greatly reduced over time. Some of the elements within education governance may be in cahoots with the flourishing coaching business, but in the long run, it is bound to doom our school system. We must not only protect our schools but provide them new energy and meaning as the temples of knowledge, collaborative learning, creativity, socialization and emotional well being.
The other area needing immediate attention is research in colleges and schools. While a lot of aspiration exists and even some works as well, there is no way of integrating them into research and development ecosystem that exists fragmentarily. Today students are completed disconnected with neighborhood problems while they go on exchange programs aboard. Schools and colleges can become important centres of data collection on local environment, civic problems, heritage, poverty conditions etc. as well as ambassadors of good campaigns. The students will also develop a perspective and knack for researched-based knowledge and inquisition.
While the list of micro challenge runs into many, the fundamental intent of our policy framework must be for providing a measurability of what is laid down. We must have a regular monitoring mechanism (certainly not CABE meetings) in form of annual monitoring reports, implementation appraisals and provisions for review. A management information system much on the lines of DISE should connect the entire education sector for sharing progress, best practices and no progress reports.
To again quote the Incheon Declaration, “We commit to quality education and to improving learning outcomes, which requires strengthening inputs, processes and evaluation of outcomes and mechanisms to measure progress. We will ensure that teachers and educators are empowered, adequately recruited, well-trained, professionally qualified, motivated and supported within well-resourced, efficient and effectively governed systems. Quality education fosters creativity and knowledge, and ensures the acquisition of the foundational skills of literacy and numeracy as well as analytical, problem-solving and other high-level cognitive, interpersonal and social skills. It also develops the skills, values and attitudes that enable citizens to lead healthy and fulfilled lives, make informed decisions, and respond to local and global challenges through education for sustainable development (ESD) and global citizenship education (GCED).”
Hope our New Education Policy does assure all this.