NEP: Din over Hindi takes focus away from key issues

The Central government has not even been able to persuade many Hindi speaking states to find a cure for the single language syndrome they seem to suffer from. This being the case, there is no way the three-language formula could be thrust on unwilling state governments. Representative purpose only. Photo: iStock.

The noisy criticisms being made by some political parties on the three-language formula — a routine and hardly implementable recommendation made by the Kasturirangan Committee — are insincere and crassly chauvinistic. The formula is being carried around like a millstone by successive committees on education from 1966 onwards and this committee is no exception.

So far, the Central government has not even been able to persuade many Hindi speaking states to find a cure for the single language syndrome they seem to suffer from. This being the case, there is no way the three-language formula could be thrust on unwilling state governments. Language issues are like a powder keg and the Centre knows much better than to ignite it.

The continuing din, however, has resulted in a wholly unexpected outcome. It has ensured that several other recommendations on school education, which are very important and new, remain more or less undiscussed.

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These are some of the major recommendations relating to schools:

  1. Children will join the stream of education from age three onwards. Anganwadis will be strengthened and expanded to include a robust education component. Wherever possible they will be co-located with the primary schools. In any case they will all be pedagogically linked to the primary schools in their areas. Education will be compulsory from the age of three.
  2. The school curriculum and pedagogy will be restructured in a new 5+3+3+4 design. (This practically means that school begins for children at the age of 3.)
  3. Every possible measure will be taken to achieve the goal that, by 2025, every student in Grade 5 and beyond achieves foundational literacy and numeracy.
  4. Reintegrating drop-outs and ensuring universal access to education to children will have to be achieved by 2030.
  5. School education will develop, among other things, scientific temper, digital literacy and knowledge of critical issues facing the community and the world.
  6. Teachers to both government and private schools across all stages will be recruited through Teachers Eligibility Tests and National Testing Agency examinations.
  7. Several measures will be taken to improve the education among underrepresented groups.
  8. Schools will be organised into school complexes which will be the basic units of governance and administration.

Anganwadis

As of 2015 the Integrated Child Development scheme under which anganwadis operate cover only 8.4 crore out of the total of 16.4 crore children under the age of six. Almost 50 per cent of the children who ought to be covered under the scheme are outside it. This is not all. Even Niti Aayog considers anganwadis primarily as providers of nutritional and health support to both children and lactating mothers. Imparting formal and pre-school education, it implicitly recognises, is far beyond the competence of them.

Most of the anganwadi workers are paid ₹4,500 a month (a helper gets ₹2,250) and their educational qualifications are nothing to write home about. Moreover, the Niti Aayog says in one of its reports that opening of public nursery schools in urban and rural areas pose a great threat to anganwadis which are in most cases without even basic facilities. Without taking into account these hard realities, the draft policy seeks the complete overhaul of the existing system, which itself is not fully equipped to do the job it is entrusted with.

The present budget allocation by the Centre for anganwadis is around ₹20,000 crore. The figure doesn’t take into account the money spent by states which varies widely from state to state. This will have to be increased multiple times and all the states be brought on the same page for the recommendation to be implemented with a modest degree of success. Be that as it may, is it really a good idea to send a malnourished and terrified Indian child of three to anganwadis for receiving education which is supposed to be playful and relaxing?

Do we have a sufficient number of qualified educators for the task, when even the existing educators who are supposedly qualified fall far short of what is expected of them?  A significant number of children of the age of three are not likely to have developed speech and language enough that people outside the family understand what they are saying. Anganwadis turned into preschools might prove traumatic for them. There are however a few places where anganwadis do provide preschool education in some form or the other. Such anganwadis could be strengthened.

Integration of preschool and primary school

The integration of preschool and primary school is a bombshell. There is no need to tinker with the present 5+3+4 system when we do not have sufficient qualified personnel to administer the present system. Even if we have the wherewithal, clubbing preschool with lower primary classes doesn’t seem to be a great idea. While the primary school in India has a definite shape and a known set of rules, a typical preschool is unorganised, without any recognisable shape and run by untrained persons.

Coupling them together will result only in further chaos.  There is no doubt that the preschool system needs a clear set of regulations, but it should be distinct from primary schools. In any case, in most of the developed countries preschool is optional and compulsory education starts from the age of six. To make education compulsory for a child of three will be draconian and resisted by most of the parents.

Literacy and numeracy

The committee’s recommendations towards achieving sufficient foundational literacy and numeracy are heartwarming but sadly they are likely to remain pious wishes for quite some time. The student-teacher ratio is not likely to improve soon. Neither are we going to have enough volunteers to take on the task of educating children.

Each one teach one is an old and a shop worn slogan. The Indian middle class which has to take a lead in this respect is in general self-centred and it cares a fig about universal literacy or numeracy. Literate servants are a nuisance, unlike illiterates who not only know their places but also what their deserved salaries are. Yes, the middle class should be motivated, if such a thing is possible.

Dropouts

The idea of tracking the learning levels of individual students and the dropouts too is welcome and it can be implemented with the technical tools available with us. Here, too, volunteers and social service agencies can do a great job, if they are motivated.

Scientific temper

Digital literacy is fine, but scientific temper? The committee, believe it or not, calls for scientific temper and evidence-based reasoning in the school curriculum. It says a student should be able to ask, in a history class, “What are the possible historical scenarios consistent with the known archaeological and literary evidence?” Really?

Leave alone students, even when internationally recognised professors of history ask such questions, they barely escape being lynched. The tragedy of India is that it treats evidence-based reasoning on par with ancient myths handed down to us from our revered ancestors. Even teachers refuse to be irreverent when it comes to sifting history from folksy bilge. There is no indication that the scene is likely to change any time soon.

Competent teachers 

That the teachers should have a basic, tested competence is known to everyone of us, but our political system considers education a milch cow. Hence, any standard competitive process that aims to select teachers impartially is likely to subverted by the political class and the ones who will benefit, if the process is opaque.

The committee has recommended Teacher Eligibility Test (which can be devised state-wise) for both public and private schools which is welcomed. But as the committee points out, 92 per cent of our approximately 17,000 teacher training institutions are in private hand and a large proportion of them are commercial shops where degrees are available for a price. In the event of governments holding eligibility tests, not many of the teachers graduated from these shops are likely clear them and the usual howl for relaxing the standard will be heard.

On the other hand, the problem is we are woefully short of teachers — both competent and not so competent. The shortage is as high as 10 lakh. Most rural schools suffer in the bargain. Now, if the teaching shops are shut down as recommended by the committee, where will the teachers come from? The committee offers the solution of a merger of teacher education into the University system, which is supposed to start a four-year integrated Bachelor of Education programme.

The committee envisages that by 2030 the shops of education will vanish and degrees will no longer be on offer to the highest bidder. This is a very important recommendation which should be implemented by all the state governments. There will be an interim period which will be problematic but, in the long run, our children will be benefitted.

Underrepresented regions and groups

There are several important recommendations concerning underrepresented groups and underrepresented regions. One of them is the increase in teacher student ratio to 1:25 in places where there are high proportion of learners from the underrepresented groups. The committee wants the central government to invest at the ratio of 2:1 for every rupee spent by the state in the underrepresented regions which will be identified as Special Educational Zones. All these recommendations are welcome.

School complexes

The proposal to create school complexes is novel and worth implementing on a trial basis immediately. As Dr Kasturirangan said in a recent interview, there are many schools which have only six students or one teacher; there is no playground and there is no idea of societal interface with the child. The proposed school complex system envisages sharing of teachers and facilities which will in effect mean that the children do not suffer for want of teachers or sports facilities.

Industrial training institutes 

The committee has almost totally neglected the industrial training institutes. They are only mentioned in passing. There are more than 13,000 institutes in the country, almost 85 per cent of them in the private sector. The number of students studying in them run into millions.

It is shocking that these institutes, which too impart important skills, are deemed not fit enough to be considered educational institutions. While discussing vocational education, which I will tackle in my next article, the report says that the ‘matter of social status hierarchy of occupation’ has vexed education in multiple ways and largely because of this vocational education has been less desirable as choice to many students. Do ITIs occupy such a low status in the hierarchy of education that they remain unanalysed even in a report concerning education?

(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not reflect the views of The Federal.)

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