Delivery of quality education is arguably the most important responsibility of government in modern times. In the current Union government, this duty rests with Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank', the Minister of Education.
Up until last month, his department was called the Ministry for Human Resource Development. The name change was one of the recommendations of the New Education Policy or the NEP.
In the conversation below, Nishank answers specific questions from Swarajya related to the NEP. From deadlines, to national curricula, to the possibility of IITs turning to JNU, we tried to cover as much ground as possible here.
Question: Congratulations on getting the New National Education Policy (NEP) out after six years of manthan. It’s a comprehensive document and vast in its vision. How are you planning to execute it given that previous NEPs remained on paper? Will there be strict deadlines for different goals outlined in the policy?
Answer: As the Honourable Prime Minister quotes, “Niti se Ranniti”, the same spirit will be followed while developing the implementation plan of the National Education Policy. Every page and every word of policy is of quintessential importance to us in terms of implementation.
The chapter 27 ‘Implementation’ Para 27.1 to 27.3 have briefly discussed the implementation plan in order to ensure that the policy is implemented in its spirit and intent, through coherence in planning and synergy across all bodies involved in education. A detailed implementation strategy will be developed in consultation with all states and Union Territories for the implementation of NEP 2020.
We will also encapsulate the suggestions of the relevant stakeholders such as experts, professors, teachers and academicians. The policy will be implemented in a phased manner keeping the interest of the students as the focal point. There are some things that will be implemented next year and some later on.
The implementation plan will encompass 117 recommended action points of higher education and 150 of school education.
Q: Local language/mother tongue as medium of instruction is one of the best ideas in NEP. Was there any particular reason (implementation issues, perhaps) for making this optional (NEP says ‘wherever possible’) and not mandatory or did you just want to leave it to schools and parents to decide?
A 2) The policy uses the term ‘wherever possible’ for implicating that the medium of instruction until at least Class V, but preferably till Class VIII and beyond, will be the home language/mother tongue/local language/regional language. A well thought process with wide stakeholders have been undertaken, taking into account the demography and diversity of India.
To better elucidate it through an example, there are many multilingual states in India. For example, metropolitan states like Delhi have people from across India who speak varied languages like Punjabi, Hindi, Marathi among others.
Further, at times in multilingual families, there can be a home language spoken by other family members which may sometimes be different from mother tongue or local language. The policy provides the flexibility to decide the language at the local level such that the provisions of NEP can be fully utilised.
Q: It’s very rare that governments admit where they are failing but the NEP is very honest and bold in recognising that regulatory regime has stifled private schools and promises to make it easier to open and run schools. But RTE Act, which robs private schools of admission and financial autonomy, is an obstacle in achieving this. The draft NEP had called for a complete overhaul of the RTE act. When can we expect a new RTE act that is in line with the NEP’s vision?
A: The NEP holds true that the regulation must aim to empower schools and teachers with trust, enabling them to strive for excellence and perform at their very best, while ensuring the integrity of the system through the enforcement of complete transparency and full public disclosure of all finances, procedures, and educational outcomes.
Thereby, the policy recommends revision in the regulatory system for the schools. As mentioned earlier, the government is under the process of developing the implementation plan such that the policy is implemented in both letter and spirit.
Q: RTE act is not applicable to schools run by minorities. Similarly, minorities run colleges are exempt from SC/ST/OBC quota. Isn’t this discrimination on basis of religion? Is the government committed to ‘equality before law’ and make RTE and quota system applicable to minority run institutions?
A: India, being a secular country, advocates the principle of equality in the country. Protection of the rights of religious as well as the ethnic minorities is essential to uphold the secularity of our country.
Thereby, Article 30(1) of the Constitution of India gives linguistic and religious minorities a fundamental right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.
Similarly, the NEP envisions to develop an inclusive and equitable education system protecting everyone's rights, such that every student has the opportunity to dream, thrive, and contribute to the nation. We are in the process of developing the detailed implementation plan, the modalities can be decided thereon.
Q: Which academic year can we expect the overhauled textbooks (based on new NEP) to be implemented from — both at the school as well as university level? And, by when can we expect translations of textbooks to be made available in all Indian languages? Are you confident that new national curriculum framework (NCF) will be out next year?
A: The NCF for school education has been initiated and is expected to be ready by March 2021.In accordance with the NCF, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) will make the changes in the textbooks for which the subject experts will initiate this process for school education. They will be required to give an interim report by December 2020.
While redesigning textbooks, along with the core content, areas, such as creative thinking, life skills, Indian ethos, art, and integration, etc, will be integrated. NCERT will also start working on the layout and design of the new textbooks well in advance.
The availability of textbooks in all regional languages will be a top priority so that all students have access to high-quality learning.
Simultaneous, efforts will be undertaken to enable the provision of textbooks in regional languages in higher education.
Q: Under “equitable and inclusive education’, NEP recommends establishing special education zones in areas where SCs, STs, OBCs, Muslims, et cetera are in significant population. These schools will be sectarian in nature as students as well as teachers will be from certain caste/religious groups. Doesn’t this go against the spirit of building a united nation?
A: The NEP strongly recommends that the education system must aim to benefit all children so that no child loses any opportunity to learn and excel because of circumstances of birth or background.
The policy recommends various measures for bridging the social category gaps in access, participation, and learning outcomes in school education in line with the Constitution of India following Article 46 and Article 30 for the protection of rights of SC/ST and religious minorities respectively.
Special emphasis will be given on socially and economically disadvantaged groups (SEDGs) Every state/district will be encouraged to establish ‘bal bhavans’ as a special daytime boarding school, to participate in art-related, career-related, and play-related activities.
The unutilised capacity of school infrastructure will be used to promote social, intellectual, and volunteer activities for the community and to promote social cohesion during non-teaching/schooling hours and may be used as a ‘samajik chetna kendra’.
Q: NEP’s biggest recommendation for higher education is to convert all HEIs into multidisciplinary institutions. Does that mean even IITs, IIMs, IISc, etc will teach humanities and arts courses? There is a fear that this will dilute the identity these institutions have created worldwide in STEM. Additionally, there is apprehension of these institutes becoming playgrounds of Leftist politics like JNU/AMU/Jamia/etc where studies are regularly disrupted by toxic activism.
A: Many studies have shown that designing courses where one discipline learns from the perspective of another or where the disciplines are integrated allows for more context-specific programmes that better suit industry and prepare students for jobs, opening doors rather than closing them.
In a world where interdisciplinary research is of growing importance, the current monolithic structures are blocking the next phase in the evolution of universities. Sticking to a particular department makes it harder for academics to push boundaries as they struggle to find new intellectual homes for ideas that don’t fit neatly into disciplinary boxes.
Students lose out to poorly managed course development across disciplines can lead them to a joint degree that is two mealy halves joined together rather than a seamless matrix of ideas and challenges.
The need for developing multidisciplinary universities also stems from the impact created by the coronavirus pandemic, where the crisis was converted into opportunities by IITs followed by many HEIs.
They came out with exciting cost-effective products to combat the spread of Covid-19 virus. Had it not been for the multidisciplinary nature of the universities, it would have been difficult to deal with a subject that has medical, technical, psychological as well as social perspectives. India needs more universities of such kinds which can contribute to the society as and when needed.
At the same time, moving on to multidisciplinary universities doesn’t mean that the quality of all the disciplines would be at par with each other. Rather, idea is that a university which was good in a particular field(s) will still maintain the status quo of that particular discipline(s) while also allowing the other disciplines of standard quality. The quality should not be lost at the cost of quantity.
Q: Teachers are a big focus of the NEP. It has decided to continue with mandating getting a BEd degree for all teachers. Today, we are seeing proliferation of excellent teachers online. They are experts in their fields. But they don’t have BEd degrees. Most of this talent ends up teaching in e-learning portals or coaching academies. Shouldn’t the government have been more liberal in letting the schools decide the kind of talent they want to hire for teaching rather than limiting the posts only to BEd degree holders?
A: Along with the specialisation on the content and knowledge of a subject it is also essential that the teachers are adequately trained on the pedagogy which includes strong practicum training too.
The NEP recommends that the BEd programmes to include training in time-tested as well as the most recent techniques in pedagogy, including pedagogy with respect to foundational literacy and numeracy, multilevel teaching and evaluation, teaching children with disabilities, teaching children with special interests or talents, use of educational technology, and learner-centered and collaborative learning.
Though the teachers training through the online portals may be excellent but it is essential for them to develop aforementioned skills too, which only a teacher education course such as BEd/MEd/PhD in education course can provide.
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