NEP (Reform or a Risk?)

Since the day we first heard about this Coronavirus, we've been praying to get through it smoothly. But looking at the current circumstances, with our economy shaking, our mental well being on the pedestal, we knew that introducing some changes in our "then normal" routines almost became mandatory.

One of the highly affected sectors has to be the student sector. Put your finger on anyone, be it a child who was supposed to learn his first real knowledge outside the home or be it that one individual who after completing all these years of priceless education to finally breathe the air of freedom, all of them have been deeply affected by this virus.

With almost no sense of examinations, no clear schedule for marking, a eavy heap of course pending, all these students could almost see their future dwindling.

But just like how a drowning man clutches at a straw, these students saw a hope after all, that was the new National Educational Reforms.

Recently, the Union Cabinet has approved the new National Education Policy (NEP), 2020 with an aim to introduce several changes in the Indian education system - from the school to college level.

The NEP 2020 aims at making “India a global knowledge superpower”.

Even the renaming ceremony of the Ministry of Human Resource Development to the Ministry of Education has already taken place under the guidance of the Cabinet.

Some Key Points

● There will be Universalization of education from preschool to secondary level with 100% Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in school education by 2030.

● Bringing 2 crore out of school children back into the mainstream through an open schooling system.

● The current 10+2 system will undergo a makeover. The new 5+3+3+4 curricular structure corresponding to ages 3-8, 8-11, 11-14, and 14-18 years respectively will be followed from now on.

● Even the uncovered age group of 3-6 years will be coming under school curriculum, which has been recognized globally as the crucial stage for development of mental faculties of a child.

As if it wasn't enough, it'll also have 12 years of schooling with three years of Anganwadi/ pre-schooling.

● Happy news for Class 10 and 12 students as the biggest challenge, the board examinations are to be made easier as they'll be aiming to test core competencies rather than memorised facts, with an added bonus of all students being allowed to take the exam twice.

● School governance is set to change, with a new accreditation framework and an independent authority to regulate both public and private schools.

● Vocational Education to start from Class 6 with Internships, giving rise to many new and interesting policies.

● Teaching up to at least Grade 5 to be in mother tongue/regional language. No language imposition on any child.

Also for our new teachers in making, bring smiles back on your faces as by 2030, the minimum degree qualification for teaching will be a 4-year integrated B.Ed. degree.

● Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education to be raised to 50% by 2035. Also, 3.5 crore seats to be added in higher education.

● M.Phil courses will be discontinued and all the courses at undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD level will now be interdisciplinary.

Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) will be set up as a single umbrella body for the entire higher education, excluding medical and legal education, kind of swaying away half of our hassles.

Public and private higher education institutions will be governed by the same set of norms for regulation, accreditation and academic standards.

● Affiliation of colleges is to be phased out in 15 years and a stage-wise mechanism to be established for granting graded autonomy to colleges.

Over some amount of time, it is being expected that every college will either develop into an autonomous degree-granting College, or at least a constituent college of a university. Heavy terms all the way!!

With all this in our plate, many other things are also being pondered upon. And while all these reforms are in action, it's almost inevitable that these wouldn't receive some backlash and doubts from people, which not to forget have already started to pour in.

While the positive effects of NEP 2020 will depend largely on how well the good suggestions are implemented, the bad ideas that are part of this policy have the potential to inflict serious harm.

It is being largely pointed out that while NEP was supposed to target the roots of ill plaguing government schools, neither could it diagnose the problem with government schools well, nor could it suggest any concrete solutions which would help improve them.

Since 85 percent of a child’s cumulative brain development occurs prior to the age of six, the age at which formal, compulsory schooling begins - lack of ECCE (Early Childhood Care and Education) dangerously impacts the learning outcomes in primary school and beyond.

While the reforms are all worthy suggestions that will help move the needle on government school reform. But they don't appear to be helpful in the long run.

Under the idea, which is being called dangerously divisive, “Equitable and inclusive education’, the draft NEP recommends an idea of carving out special education zones in the country based on identity (effectively on caste and religion) as it believes that areas where disadvantaged groups such as SCs, STs, OBCs, Muslims, et cetera are in present in significant numbers are also the areas which lack behind in education outcomes.

While the genuine reality is that even in those areas where disadvantaged sections are not in the majority, government schools have an overwhelming number of students from these groups.

Well once a step is taken, a road is chosen, there'll be fingers pointing, there'll be consequences. What we have to look out for is whether this gamble passes or fails.

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