A loving critique of the National Education Policy 2020 by an (erstwhile) exasperated student and educator
I think I have used the word critique a little loosely. There is enough available online already in terms of the highlights of the Policy, its positives, the negatives etc. by people far more qualified than me. But, this is a personalised reading of the NEP by a person who is a product of the earlier system and is now on her way to experience it in its new avatar. These are the moments through the 60 pages where I paused to reflect upon what was written; not highlights but moments of impact.
I am big on education these days for two prime reasons-
1. I am developing a K-8 art curriculum for a model school program in rural Rajasthan.
2. I am starting my PhD by the end of the month at Ashoka University.
The former enables me to look at the world with empathy, warmth, joy, acceptance and wonder. The latter has trained me to notice the crevices through which unspoken truths try to make themselves known. Reading the NEP synergised the two tendencies for me. If you think about it, there are many kinds of smiles. The one that you receive rather nonchalantly at your workplace the second you enter; there’s the one you reserve for people you love; there’s the polite one you share with the person who calls your name out at Starbucks; there’s the one you hide when you find people noticing it on your face as you idly look through your phone; there’s one of sarcastic exasperation and there’s one of wonder. Here’a a list of the times I smiled (in all these possible ways) while reading the NEP-
(i) There will be a growing demand for humanities and art, as India moves towards becoming a developed country and among the three largest economies in the world (0.2).
I gladly embrace the inclusion of humanities and arts towards the concept of ‘development’ and lament its exclusion all these years from the domestic consciousness of education. This inclusion makes more sense in light of the multidisciplinary dimension with no ‘hard separation between sciences and arts” (NEP 5) introduced across academic levels, right from primary school to PhD programmes.
(ii)…it is becoming increasingly important that children not only learn but learn how to learn (0.3).
I am a product of 6 private schools and have worked in over 5 government schools as an external consultant for art education. The most potent outcome from these experiences conjoined with my higher education at a liberal arts University taught me to unlearn all I had learned before so that I can learn to learn again. I am getting there, one reread at a time. The NEP with its emphasis on “conceptual understanding” (5) rather than rote learning allows me to think of the possibility of education that runs deeper than multiple choice questions about Shakespeare’s year and place of birth. The inclusion of critical thinking and social-emotional learning alongside foundational skills made me smile a little wider. What is education if not an attempt to make life a tad bit more comprehensible?
(iii)…there will no hard separation among ‘curricular’, ‘extra curricular’ or ‘co curricular’ areas(4.8).
I remember having to justify my presence at debates close to my Pre-Boards at school. It is heartening to know that a possibility to remove superfluous prefixes might see the light of day so that a dancer, singer, actor, artist, sportsperson et al can enjoy his/her/their art without apology and obstacles. This statement made me think about the time I normalised the distinction and cursed myself if a participation certificate translated as half a mark less in an assessment. But I am not sure how NCERT and SCERTs will ensure that this amalgamation remains inclusive across economic structures. Expression should not become a function of privilege and be de-prioritised in some spaces. If that happens, we are just rehashing the existing system albeit in fancier vocabulary.
(iv)…every student in the country will participate in a fun project/activity on “The Languages of India’ sometime in Grade 6–8 (4.14).
I remember resorting to my first disposition and ignoring the concerns around the suggestions of the language of instruction in classrooms. As a country, we have reposed so much of what it means to be educated on English literacy. And I was glad to see the NEP move away from this postcolonial reliance. I remember being reprimanded for speaking in Hindi in school and how I always found that idea regressive and frankly, pathetic. However, my second disposition allows me to look at epistemic power and the power of language. It also allows me to see language as mere utility. While language is just an enabler and expression paramount, the only role English seems to play is that of universal access. While coding and AI are going to be introduced, it is important to ensure that bilingual instruction does not create inequitable access to the new reforms across economic structures. Will coding and AI be taught in the language of instruction? But won’t that take longer to create and disseminate than making available the existing curriculum on the subject. Again, the English speaker will benefit in terms of time if not intention perpetrating the existing divide in quality education measured across the spectrum of privilege. I feel that keeping instruction bilingual but ensuring English as a subject of significance can establish the inclusivity that the NEP claims as its foundation so students from non-English speaking families do not feel compromised by language as they embark upon vistas within and/or beyond their home state/country.
(v) Concerted efforts…will be made by NCERT, SCERTs, schools and educators to significantly reduce the weight of school bags and textbooks that students are asked to carry to and from school on a daily basis (4.30).
My mum once found extra books in my bag. She asked me why I carried all my books everyday when I needed the textbook on moral education just on Saturday. I told her I was worried about forgetting the required material when the day actually presented itself. I was ecstatic when I heard about No Bag Saturday in the schools I worked in in Delhi for I remembered the struggle of lugging a bag that weighed 3 kgs up and down two flighs of stairs twice a day. I smiled at the bittersweet memory because nostalgia makes everything yellow and I smiled for the kids who will never have this burden to remember as part of their schooldays. How liberating and freeing! I smiled knowing that the NEP made space for this thoughtful addition.
(vi) A National Mission for Mentoring shall be funded and established, with a large pool of outstanding senior/retired faculty…who would be willing to provide short and long term mentoring/professional support to university/college teachers (15.11).
I liked that NEP focuses on the development of teachers and in aiding their personal and professional growth. I heard somewhere that Professors never retire- they just change classrooms. I am glad that the NEP is making space for an interaction between seasoned faculty and their younger counterparts to strengthen pedagogical practices with practical experience.
(vii) All existing stand-alone professional educational institutions will have to become multi-disciplinary institutions by 2030, either by opening new departments or by operating in clusters (17.1).
I got 95.2% in my Boards and I had Commerce with Mathematics. I had to justify my choice to study English Literature to a lot of friends (luckily, my family was behind my choice). But then, I chose a Liberal Arts degree and all these demarcations seemed redundant. I am glad that the NEP does not envision professional education in vacuum but asserts the interplay of disciplines. I only hope this effort gets translated in terms of relevance rather than as a mere tokenisation of a concept; I hope it creates a space where the science department is informed by the development in the humanities and the humanities by those in science- not another debate of ‘my subject is better than yours’.
Wouldn't be the first time a concept is reduced to a token.
(viii)…there must be a comprehensive approach to transforming the quality and quantity of research in India. This work must begin in the schools…(18.5).
Every time I write an academic paper, I realise how difficult it is to convert the thoughts in my head to words on a Google Doc. The shift from a learning by reading to a learning by doing classroom will enable this transition to occur seamlessly. Research is not just an additional credit on a report card but addition to the body of knowledge of an existing discipline. That is a big responsibility and I am glad that the NEP recognises its importance in early stages of academic engagement.
(ix)Every higher educational institution and even every school or school complex will aim to have Artist(s)-in-Residence to expose students to art, creativity, and the rich treasures of the country (22.9).
I remember how my visit to Sanskriti Musuem was enriched by a meeting with the AIR, there, back in 2015. I am thrilled that schools will now host a coterie of artists for the students and faculty to engage with. I smiled but then, I paused. I only hope we learn to broaden our definition of art and create a space where art in all its forms is celebrated- folk art, traditional art, street art— with whatever associative word attached to it. I hope this program seeks participation of people beyond rigid academic and economic backgrounds to egalitarianise the space.
(x)…a proposed Indian Institute of Translation and Interpretation (IITI) will be established (22.11).
It is amazing to think of the social, academic and cultural upliftment that this step can accord to the languages of India. I am also thinking of the employment this will generate for language experts working in regional languages. I hope it remains representative of the rather diverse pool we have, here!
This is in no way an exhaustive list of my moments of joy and concerns with the NEP but this is a scattered list across the 60 pages where I was thrilled to read inclusive 6 times and multidisciplinary 16 times. Somewhere, I also read about Adult Education and the break from the 10+2 system. I read about Sanskrit, Pali, and Persian and thought about missing out on learning these treasure when I could (never too late, I reckon). I also read about vocational studies in school and hoped that it does not create a further social divide by making this study a hobby for the privileged and a necessity for others. We don’t need exploitation in the name of education. The NEP is ambitious in its goals, unbelievable in its changes, problematic if not executed in the manner that respects the 6 times recurring word. But it is comforting to know that it’s at least out there, now. The only hope is that its execution meets its theory so the smiles generated over a 3 hour reading of a PDF can be extended beyond time and space.