It has been four weeks since the NEP and the debate on its pros and cons has lost its momentum.
For most people the introduction of NEP which is in fact a 66 page document was through electronic media drafts or through whataspp messages.
Before I read the NEP draft in its entirety, I too dipped into the summary shared by newspapers. I couldn’t get past the second point which said that mother tongue would be the medium of instruction in Primary. I am still trying to get my head around it and making sense of how the same will be implemented practically in primary schools.
I am not a pessimist but a realistic optimist. Hence I visited the MHRD website and read the whole set of documents which detail the tedious process which started in January 2015. It was initially under late Shri TSR Subramanian who was a bureaucrat with a master’s degree from Calcutta University, Imperial College London and holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from Harvard University and was taken over by eminent scientist Padma Vibhushan Dr. K. Kasturirangan. The committee constituted elite members which included Vice-Chancellors of universities, mathematicians, professors and bureaucrats, a few of them with exposure to international universities and curriculum. After the first draft which was uploaded on MHRD website in 2019, it details the different levels of discussions which took place with different authorities at block, village, district, regional and national level.
So there is no doubt that a lot of brainstorming has gone into the policy which has been presented to us.
A common man’s reaction towards the recommendations would be “Oh Wow” and that of a teacher would be “But How”.
As a teacher, who has been working with children of all ages and as someone who has been interacting with parents for the past 21 years, reading the document which is based on the vision to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” by 2030 is a lofty goal and a utopian dream . The reason being, there is no road map .It is 63 pages of dreams and two pages of implementation. Before we come to the points of contentions based on optimism vs reality, perusing summary of the education policy in the committee’s own words would throw sufficient light on why a citizen of India would feel his veins bursting with pride and patriotism.
I do not know how many have gone beyond this summary and read each fundamental principle in detail.
One of the most debated reforms from NEP is the suggestion to have primary education in mother tongue.
To quote verbatim, wherever possible, the medium of instruction until at least Grade 5, but preferably till Grade 8 and beyond, will be the home language/mother tongue/local language/regional language. This will be followed by both public and private schools.
High-quality textbooks, including in science, will be made available in home languages/mother tongue. All efforts will be made early on to ensure that any gaps that exist between the language spoken by the child and the medium of teaching are bridged. In cases where home language/mother tongue textbook material is not available, the language of transaction between teachers and students will still remain the home language/mother tongue wherever possible.
There will be a major effort from both the Central and State governments to invest in large numbers of language teachers in all regional languages around the country.
A fact check with the data provided by the All India School Education Survey conducted by government , 66% schools of India are government schools while the remaining 34% includes 20% private and 14% owned by local body.
The report also says that 86.62% of primary Schools already have mother tongue as the medium of instruction.
So, one is left to wonder, whether the NEP recommendation is aimed at regulating English medium schools by forcing mother tongue /Hindi or is it aimed at fortifying those 86.62% government schools which have mother tongue as medium of instruction by introducing English.
Assuming that the concern of government is introducing mother tongue in the 15% of those primary schools with English as the medium of instruction, we hit the first roadblock in the form of the diverse Indian community which co exists in metro cities. Every school in every metro city has a large crowd of not only students, but also teachers from all around India, whose common language of communication is either Hindi or English. In such schools, how would the authorities decide on a mother tongue?
There are 780 dialects in our country and 23 recognized by the Constitution and English is one among them. Even if the government is providing textbooks with the subject matter translated into multiple languages, the practicability of including all Indian languages and then find finding teachers to deliver individualized instruction based on the student’s mother tongue is nothing but a glorious mess.
The second best option then is choosing the language of that particular state as the medium of instruction. Teachers are already a witness to the struggle of primary children with Hindi as Second language and the State’s language as the third language. Expecting a child to learn all subjects in State language is not the same as learning in mother tongue or home language. It defeats the very purpose of the concept of learning in mother tongue which is expected to facilitate learning and not cripple it.
When the higher education and competitive examinations are still held in English, the right to choose the medium of instruction should be with the parent. By forcing a medium of instruction through this new regulation, a parent is being deprived of the existing right to choose between English medium and vernacular medium schools.
Instead government should focus on achieving Foundational Literacy and Numeracy by all students by Grade 3 by making its existing vernacular medium schools multilingual and by providing quality education.
Government brought its Right To Education Act to ensure that children from economically backward strata gets quality education in private schools and in doing so they inadvertently admitted that privately run schools provide better quality education.
Already the country faces a shortage of over 9 lakh teachers. These conditions are exacerbated by a poor culture, influenced by social perceptions around teaching, which further lessens the motivation of high quality aspirants from entering the profession. Those who finally take up teaching do so either as a last resort, or a stop-gap affair till some thing better turns up.
Add to that a low quality education for teacher aspirants, and we end up with the depressing statistics of 83% failure rate in the Central Teacher Eligibility Test (CTET).
Rather than focusing on bridging the above gaps and bringing measures to encourage the young generation to become teachers, the policies are sowing only fear and insecurity in the mind of existing teachers who are expected to implement the policies.
Policy makers are oblivious to the ground reality. All committees which aim to bring reforms in education often have educationists who hold administrative positions who have forgotten what it takes to be among children and deliver the facets of the policies which are theoretically appealing but far from practical.
Thus lies the wide chasm between one of the NEP’s highlight and its realization.
The other suggested reforms are well meant with a vision to have an education system which is second to none by 2040. The policy makers themselves candidly admits that only 4.43%o f GDP and 10% of total government expenditure is on education which is far smaller than most developed and developing countries.
Private educational institutions which are funded by school fees might succeed in achieving the vision and yet again it will be government run schools which will be lagging behind caught up in the apathy and inaction of various authorities.
When all stake holders and multiple bodies act together in a synchronized manner and stay invested, the vision of an equitable access to the highest-quality education for all learners regardless of social or economic background will not remain just a utopian dream.
Teachers are well rehearsed in acting out the plots written by authorities who wants to see how many adversities they can overcome. So another edit in the plot will any way be accommodated by the teaching community. That’s what teachers do because end off the day all we can see are the expectant faces of the next generation of nation builders.