National Education Policy (NEP)-2020 : A critical Review
- Part 2 -

Surjit S. Thokchom *

Let us first have a look to the structural changes in the school education. The existing structure of school education is 10+2. Strictly speaking, it is 2/3+5+3+2+2. 2 or 3 years of pre-primary, 5 years of lower primary, 3 years of upper primary, 2 years of secondary and 2 years of higher secondary. Before we try to answer significance of the proposed new structure of 5+3+3+4 in NEP 2020, let us understand issues and the problems of the existing structure in the last 3 decades.

Total Literacy Campaign (TLC) was started in 1989 and post literacy classes were open for drop out children. This was in late 80s and early 90s. The ground realities of TLC period did not change over the years. What was the Indian realities particularly amongst the rural poor, urban poor and the children of the marginalized sections of the society? Within the existing policy, there were no provision for teacher for pre-primary level and there was no provision for mid-day meal for children below 6 years.

Children below the age of 6 years were covered under Aangalwadi Scheme. There was no official collaboration between Aangalwadi and Lower Primary School either in village level or departmental level or ministerial level. But in practice, due to people's aspiration for children's education, existing govt aided or full-fledged government schools have to accept pre-primary (PP) children. This unofficial arrangement was done without sanctioned PP teachers, without separate PP rooms, without mid-day meal for PP, without prescribed books for PP and more importantly without a govt. order.

This pattern developed in the last three decades in the village level amongst poorer and marginalized section of both rural and urban society. As such Aangalwadi workers become unofficial and unpaid or underpaid para-teachers for PP. So, the functioning of Aangalwadi as an extension of lower primary schools is a practicing phenomenon, particularly in the rural areas. Therefore, Aangalwadi and the lower primary schools working together unofficially is a visible and feasible practices.

There is however one important thing that in the lower primary school, majority of children drop out before entering class 3. Many of them detain in pre-primary and those who enter class 1 detain in the same class as repeater and those who manage to cross class 1, they are likely to detain in class 2. This detention is somewhat resolved with RTE Act 2009 through no detention policy except in schools under minority act. But in terms of scholastic achievement, children's learning doesn't go beyond class 2. So, in reality, as of today, Aangalwadi workers work together with lower primary teachers. And the lower primary school effectively functions up to class 2 only. How shall we resolve this problem?

NEP 2020 ignores this crisis and take a regressive action: Take PP and class 1 & 2 as Aanganwadi and name it as 'Foundational stage'. Aangalwadi is extended up to class 2 with a new cadre of para-teachers drawn from Aangalwadi. The teacher may be a class 12 passed or below class 12 with no educational lower limit. Teachers will be trained through online for 6 months for class 12 passed and 1-year for below 12th class.

The new structure of 5 years Foundational course is a new Aangalwadi structure. It is hugely diluted and heavily compromised Lower Primary school. The failure in the earlier policy will be now a legitimate success story of the new policy. This is called new structure for 3-8 years old children known as 'Foundational stage'.

Under the existing policy, children can be divided broadly into two groups; (i) school going children (ii) non-school going children. As of now the non-school going children say after class 1 cannot be treated as a bona fide enrolled child unless the child is brought back to the school in class 1 or 2. In other word, these children's exclusion from enrollment register is a bloat towards 100% GER (Gross Enrolment Rate) towards the fulfillment of Sustainable Development Goal 4(SDG4).

In the NEP 2020, every drop out children will be officially enrolled without asking them to come back to school to engage in formal learning and the GER will be 100 % without changing or improving the objective realities. In fact, 100% GER will achieve through further dilution of both investment and quality. This miracle is called NEP-2020. How? The magic as per NEP-2020 is called, "wider Choices". There will be 5 types of enrolled children. Right now, let us confine to Foundational stage only though this classification will consistently continue in the later stage of education also.

The 5 types are : (i) Children in the formal school (private or government or government aided); (ii) Children in the non-formal centers (run by NGOs); (iii) Children in the open schooling (either under NIOS or SIOS); (iv) Children in online schooling (Accredited private or public); (v) Children in home schooling (severely disabled child).

All the courses under online, open, home schooling, non-formal Centre will be treated as equivalent to a regular formal education. Under the new arrangement of NEP 2020, there will be no drop out children and GER will be 100% irrespective of quality, accessibility and education facilities as long as children are enrolled in one of the multiple streams. The quality dimension will be decided by outcome. Input norm will be relaxed.

The dialectic relationship between input & outcome will be summarily rejected. A child in formal school with proper infrastructure and qualified trained teachers, a child in non-formal center, a child in online education, a child in open schooling will be treated as full-fledged formal education child and they are entitled to get access to all the facilities available in the school complex occasionally.

Let us go little bit deeper on the 'foundational stage' (3-8 years) in this stage. Who will decide the curricular framework, the curriculum and text books? As per NEP-2020, as it is mentioned in section 1.3, the curricular framework will be centrally prepared by NCERT and it will be called National Curricular and Pedagogical Framework for early childhood care and education (NCEFECCE). This framework will have two parts; sub—framework for 0-3 years old and sub frame work for 3-8 years old.

The curriculum based on this framework and the pedagogy based on this framework will be centrally created by the Education Ministry (MHRD as of now). Planning and implementation will be jointly decided by Ministry of Education, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Ministry of Tribal Affairs. Please note the total absence of the state govt. and local bodies up to the level of curriculum, planning and implementation. Why? We shall come back again in this question after a while.

Now the Ministry will initiate a mission called National Mission on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (section 2.2). This is a restoration of earlier TLC exactly replicating the agenda of World Bank; equating literacy to education. It is difficult to comprehend why this regressive step is recommended. Of course, this mission will not cover children in the private school and govt. elite schools. While children of well to do family are busy with the latest technology, the children both from urban poor and rural poor along with children from marginalized sections of the society will be busy with literacy classes probably in evening time, with occasional visit to school complexes and they will be covered under this mission.

Let us now look to the issue of text books. NEP 2020 does not advocate the use of textbooks in this stage though it says introduction of limited number of texts in class 1 and 2. The curricular framework and the curriculum is centrally controlled by MHRD and the only possible contextualization in the local level is translating the instruction from Hindi and English to local languages. Beyond this, all the contextualization will be off record and unofficial. Of course, you will find the document decorated with beautiful words of flexibility as rhetoric.

Who will teach these children? There will be four types of teachers: (1) 12th class passed Aangalwadi teachers with a 6 months certificate course through online training conducted by NCERT, (2) Teachers below 12th class with 1-year online training course conducted by NCERT, (3) Peer group teachers from amongst the students, (4) Trained volunteers (from NGOs). In addition to these teachers, there will be counselors and mentors probably from outside the villages.

What will be the pay structure? Who will pay? What about the job security? These are something that we can speculate on the basis of pattern we observe ever since structural adjustment was started in mid 90s. In any case, they will be underpaid contractual para-teachers. Some of them will be overqualified as the large numbers of SSA and RMSA teachers are likely to be ousted from their teaching job in preparatory, middle and secondary level due to closer of schools in the process of converting schools to school complex. About the school complex, we shall discuss later. Whatever, the expanded Aanganwadi under NEP 2020 will be a part of a school complex.

Let us acknowledge one important change here. Under existing policies pre-primary level curriculum is not available in most of the Indian states. The provision for teachers of pre-primary level is available in some states in recent years. Infrastructure provisions is also very limited and mid-day meal was never extended for preprimary level. All these in practice do not apply to the private schools and urban elites govt. aided schools.

What we observe in the last few decades is the collective aspirations of parents both rich and poor to start formal education for their children as early as 2 years old. NEP 2020 clubbed the provision for Aangalwadi through social welfare department and the provision of class 1 and 2 through education department or SSA and promise to provide infrastructure and nutrition input as a part of the school complex.

This provision is a restructured provision but not a new one. There is a new provision of imposing centrally prepared curriculum, text books and learning materials based on centrally prepared curricular framework. This is against the constitutional provision of education under concurrent list, Indian federalism and all the known pedagogical practices till date.

Whatever, there is one very pertaining but not yet answered question: why do Central government need to centrally develop, design, prepare and implement curriculum, text books and learning materials for children at the age of 3-8 years in a country like India with huge diversity. NEP 2020 strongly recommends to teach the 21st century skills and education right from the foundational stage that is 3 years old child upto higher education through 12 class.

For a lay person, 21st century skills and education may mean the ICT, AI, Machine language, Climate change, renewable source of energy etc. But as per NEP 2020, 21st century skills and education mean ancient Indian knowledge(section11.1), not the modern knowledge. Such imposed teaching of ancient Indian knowledge without a critical and rational examination of the same need to defy democratic norm and humane pedagogy! Can this be the reason for this over-centralization? If yes, will it work? Time for us to ponder and act!!!

to be continued ....

* Surjit S Thokchom is based in Shillong at present. He is a Secretariat Member of All India Forum for Right to Education (AIFRTE) and Editorial Board Member of a monthly publication of AIFRTE titled, "Reconstructing Education". He has been associating with an education project in rural khasi hills titled, "Demonstrating an Alternative Vision of Education". He was a member of Institute Advisory Board of North East Regional Institute of Education (NERIE), Shillong, a Constituent of NCERT and he was a member of Position Paper of Work and Education, NCERT. He was also official translator of National Curricular Framework, 2005(NCF 2005) into Manipuri.

* Surjit S. Thokchom wrote this article for Imphal Times
The writer can be reached through ssthochom(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on September 08 2020.

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