By Vardan Kabra
The draft National Education Policy (dNEP) 2019 proposes multiple reforms to improve schooling and higher education in India.
It assumes the doubling of government spending on education in 10 years and an 11% plus annual GDP growth, which may leave a huge shortfall in public spending necessary to achieve the envisaged reforms. While the policy recognises that private schools have been treated by the state with distrust, it ignores the role of these schools in catering to more than 45% of Indian children, including those from low-income families. The expansion of RTE from early years to high school, the provision of a School Management Committee superceding school promoters, and additional governmental oversight bodies will further stifle private schools.
Evidence shows that the Indian state has failed to provide quality schooling. Therefore, instead of the state trying to be both the funder and provider of all schooling education, the policy needs to reimagine private schools as partners and incentivise them to improve both quantity and quality. Allowing schools for profit, funding children through direct benefit systems or school vouchers, removing the RTE Section 12(1)(c) that forces private schools to admit children at very low and often delayed fees reimbursement, and allowing private schools genuine autonomy would go a long way in achieving the vision of the policy of equitable and quality education for all Indian children. A regulatory structure that focuses on safety and disclosure of standardised, comparable and audited disclosures for all schools will allow market forces to improve both access and quality while keeping costs in check.
The dNEP rightly advocates reducing curriculum content to core concepts and knowledge so that education can focus on higher order skills. However, it leaves this reduction to the same experts who designed the curriculum in the first place. Industry practitioners should lead this process of realigning the curriculum to a core to add skills essential to succeed in 21st century workplaces.
Holding the 10+2 structure and board exams responsible for the stress on students and the coaching culture, the dNEP proposes a minimum of 24 board exams over four years from grade 9 to 12. This ignores the fact that the current deleterious system is a result of board marks being the only criteria for admission to colleges. More exams are likely to increase stress exponentially, without reducing the coaching culture, as long as every mark can make a difference in college admissions.
Instead, increasing college seats will allow for more choice and reduce stress on school students.
All universities must be asked to use the proposed National Testing Agency (NTA) exams, which would test only core competency in relevant subjects rather than an expansive curriculum as AIEEE or NEET presently do, for admitting students. Colleges can define which subjects they require basic proficiency in. Instead of selecting students with higher marks, minimum scores needed for a particular course should be defined, with a draw of lots to choose between the candidates meeting them. Colleges may also choose to look for other non-examination based criteria, such as overall profile of students, statement of purpose or even setting practical exams where feasible.
This system would make board results redundant to college admissions. To make sure students aren’t caught between the dual pressure of boards and entrance exams, the former should be dropped, allowing schools to take genuine responsibility for both the curriculum and pedagogy. Independent accrediting agencies will work with schools to set the standards for achieving a high school diploma, but should be involved only in ratifying the structure and quality of the diploma, rather than specifying the curriculum.
To achieve broad-based education, the dNEP proposes to make 19+ courses compulsory across subject areas. While the idea of a broad-based education, or a move towards a liberal arts and sciences structure of education for both high school and higher education is a good one, the current structure won’t meet the needs of students with deep interests or varied needs. Instead, 6-10 compulsory courses from baskets such as languages, mathematics, sciences, humanities, arts & physical education, design & vocational subjects can ensure a broad based education while allowing students to choose more courses of their interest.
The three-language formula plus a literature course in an Indian language is impractical nor unnecessary. To truly learn a language authentically, children need immersive play and social experiences, which is impossible for most schools to achieve for even the second language, forget the third language. Therefore, learning two languages will suffice for most with proficiency in all the skills in one, and the ability to speak and read another (English with a home/family language).
Only if all these reforms are considered together will Indian education be reformed to the extent that the dNEP hopes. These reforms together will improve both access and quality of schooling to children across India, while focusing on the learning of 21st century concepts and skills that will allow the country to reap its demographic dividend.
Author is an educationist (Views are personal)