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Menu is impressive – May we know the Recipes?

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By ROLI S

Ever since the draft of the new National Education Policy has been submitted for consideration, people in academic circles have been sensing a wind of change. Many opinions and analyses have been presented on various forums. The NEP draft has been dissected and examined from every possible angle by experts and academicians. Some have hailed the effort, while a few others have detected very serious loopholes in the draft. All for the betterment of the education scene in our country! I have also welcomed the emphasis that NEP has placed on Early Childhood Education and Foundation stages of learning. The government has to acknowledge, accept and understand the issues faced by the countr y, make policies and provide solutions to tackle the issues. Thus, the NEP has acknowledged that educational needs of the children of India demand continuous re-evaluation of the curriculum, removal of irrelevant knowledge and creation of room for emerging knowledge, so that the system does not end up failing the learner. I have experience of working in Army and Naval schools, as well as in many private education and publishing companies of K-12 segment in various capacities. I can imagine the total disorientation that schools and education companies must be experiencing because of the many changes that the NEP has suggested in the area of curriculum and pedagogy! The government run schools with their limited resources and know-how must have already given up thinking too much on the subject and must be already banking on the various helplines that government led organisations are going to provide them to meet the desired NEP goals! On the other hand, privately run schools that are supposed to be better equipped as compared to the government schools will have a different kind of bewilderment and turmoil as they will not know how to channelise the resources and prepare a robust curriculum as suggested in the NEP. While many worthy government run schools like Kendriya Vidyalays will manage because of qualified, experienced teachers that these schools recruit, and government back up, the road is going to be very rough for most of the privately-run schools that have mushroomed in every nook and corner of two and three tier cities and even some areas of the metros that have been left on their own. Why do I say so? First, because many private schools hire inexperienced and unqualified teachers because they are not good pay masters and the best talents are not available to them and, secondly, because some big private players who run education companies such as corporate houses that run chains of schools in the country, hire fresh graduates, people with marketing and managerial backgrounds, people who have never in their lives stood in the classroom and taught children, have no idea of child psychology and pedagogy, are not trained in developmentally appropriate practices, have no experience in classroom management and have no knowledge about the day to day challenges that teachers may face in the classroom, to design and make curriculum and write textbooks for hundreds of teachers and lakhs of students that occupy their schools, across India! Managers of these education corporates, who have little experience in education, have literally turned into managers whose main aim is to expand educational businesses and submit content and textbooks in a hurry, to meet financial targets. To meet the cost, quality is lost most of the time! Students are treated like guinea pigs and experiments are done on them by minds that are immature, inexperienced in the field of education and not academically inclined! NEP policy makers must make doubly sure that the system does not fail the millions of vulnerable young learners of our countr y. So, if NEP advocates that students should be given a solid foundation in reading, writing, speaking, counting, arithmetic, mathematical and logical thinking, problem-solving, and in being creative, to make their future easier, more enjoyable, and more individualised, then to design all curriculum and pedagogy, step by step guidelines must reach all the schools ( private and public) via portals or any other way at the earliest, because if policy makers think that the teachers and principals of our schools are capable of handling this change effectively on some sketchy guidelines, then they are in for a rude shock! There will be chaos and mayhem in all the school classrooms and lessons and learning outcomes will reach everywhere except where they should! For example, in the NEP under the heading, ‘Increased focus in school on foundational literacy and numeracy’, the suggestion is that there should be dedicated mathematics and reading hours every day for Grades 1, 2 and 3, and an additional writing hour for Grades 4 and 5. The hours between breakfast and lunch may be the most effective time periods for these. This suggests clearly that till grade 5 the emphasis will solely be on literacy and numeracy. This will make schools’ timetables go haywire as almost all the schools run on 30-40 minutes periods basis, so a more clear guidelines are needed. NEP also recommends every child in Grades 1-5 will have a workbook for languages and mathematics in addition to the school textbook. Brilliant! More books! Were we not advocating cutting down on books? By doing this, NEP has again laid down a playing field for profit-making publishing companies. Isn’t it? If workbooks must be made, then what are the criteria? NEP also puts forward a robust system of adaptive assessment in order to help teachers regularly evaluate each student’s progress and identify where each student is on the learning-ladder continuum, and thus provide accurate feedback and individualised learning plans for students. When I read this, I laughed at the words written in simple language on those guidelines. Why? Not because there is anything funny there, but because to fairly assess a child and figure out his/her true potential has been the most difficult task of my entire education career! I have gone out of my way, researched and learnt more about different learning styles, differing intelligence, etc., to penetrate the personality of each student! I request the policy makers to look into these matters that I am bringing up here. Why? Because why should policy makers, who have done such a good work of making the National Education Policy, outsource the nation’s curriculum to for-profit publishing and test- making corporations? Why should they leave millions of young learners at the mercy of inexperienced, unqualified and demotivated human resources that will struggle to reach NEP goals? Why should the education policy not come out with a standardised set of clear and specific instructions regarding books, curriculum, assessment and age appropriate learning objectives, etc., for all schools, education corporations, e- learning companies, and publishing houses to follow? I know that steps are already being taken to make educational degrees more comprehensive, but will that alone solve the issue? What about the thousands that are already working in the education field? NEP has definitely presented a very mouth- watering menu on the table, but all those who wish well for the youngest learners of this country, are waiting toknow the recipes!

(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Mumbai.)