India's new education policy : Beating up a dead horse. - Part 1

India’s new education policy was finally published and it appears to be mostly a massive exercise of beating up a dead horse with a hunter expecting it to get on its feet.

This is a long thread as it involves reading 66 pages. It is mostly critical of the report as I have gone through its once, but it also has some good ideas.

flogging-dead-horse

The good name change

I am extremely happy for a very minor relief. Happy to see that the name of this cancerous ministry being changed from “Human Resource Development” to “Education”. This is an appropriate name as the primary duty of this ministry is like creating impediment to education. (like how commerce ministry makes life difficult for commerce).

Independent citizens are not anyone’s resource and the overlords in Delhi have no business ‘developing’ us poor sods.

Going into the details

A lot of he policy is a complete red herring designed to create fancy headlines but with very little impact on how the system operates currently. Let me bust the commonly reported myths.

The draft had 400 pages in 2019 but the actual final draft has only 66 hence it is more readable. The first page of the report is the title of the report in a boring sarkari font on a low resolution, mis-aligned background. This is one book you can judge by its cover.

It is a policy document

It is a policy document which means it gives guidelines to various departments as to how to conduct their business and how to change their current functioning. It is not a law. State governments will be free to pick and chose and implement various aspects of it in a different way (which is a good thing).

The fluff

The report outlines various “principles”. The first one for example is

recognizing, identifying, and fostering the unique capabilities of each student, by
sensitizing teachers as well as parents to promote each student’s holistic development in both
academic and non-academic spheres;

Actually you can not come up with an individually tailored solution without having an open market of ideas. India has only state boards and 2-3 central boards. Total school boards are less than 50 for a country of 1.3B people.

The big change

Capture

This process of cutting the cake differently is probably the most expensive and most impactful change. It adds 3 extra years to the layer making Anganwadi,pre-school,balvatika etc. more formal education.

I suspect this has very little to do with actual benefit for a child but giving a rationale for states to further regulate to death this thriving private sector provided service of pre-schools. State governments will now go on massive hiring spree for pre-school staff and create a jobs program for adults.

The report makes various suggestions but they are infantile at best and could have been written by an MBA student without referring to any data.

For universal access to ECCE, Anganwadi Centres will be strengthened with high-quality
infrastructure, play equipment, and well-trained Anganwadi workers/teachers. Every Anganwadi will
have a well-ventilated, well-designed, child-friendly and well-constructed building with an enriched
learning environment. Children in Anganwadi Centres shall take activity-filled tours - and meet the
teachers and students of their local primary schools, in order to make the transition from Anganwadi
Centres to primary schools a smooth one. Anganwadis shall be fully integrated into school
complexes/clusters, and Anganwadi children, parents, and teachers will be invited to attend and
participate in school/school complex programmes and vice versa.

We do not really need 15 years to come up with this earth shattering idea that it might be better have pre-schools near schools. A lot of schools as a matter of fact are ALREADY doing this. Having said that, there is also nothing wrong in having pre-school to far away from school either if parents are more comfortable around it. For exmaple parents might chose a pre-school very close to their home but will be wiling accept a school far away from home because of its higher quality.

Literacy and Numeric Literacy

I feel sad that someone like Dr. Kasturirangan had to come up with this sort of report that goes into details of how to achieve numeracy and literacy in 2020. This is like a high power committee in Delhi coming up with suggestions as to how one may wipe their butt.

This might sound harsh, but please give this a thought. Humans have been running schools to achieve numeracy and literacy for more than thousand years now. A vast majority of western world has near 100% literacy. This is a solved problem. Do we really need a policy document enumerating steps on ‘how to achieve literacy’ by age 5 ?

A good section on drop-outs

Dropping out students is a real problem in India and this is actually a good area where some kind of policy direction would help. Because, if a student is not in school he/she is invisible to the entire system and hence government can make changes to track these students and encourage them to join school again.

But again the report goes to infantile levels to suggest solutions.

Efforts will be made to involve community and alumni in volunteer efforts for enhancing
learning by providing at schools: one-on-one tutoring; the teaching of literacy and holding of extrahelp sessions; teaching support and guidance for educators; career guidance and mentoring to
students; etc. In this regard, the support of active and healthy senior citizens, school alumni and
local community members will be suitably garnered. Databases of literate volunteers, retired
scientists/government/semi government employees, alumni, and educators will be created for this
purpose.

I would expect a report to show me data on why students drop out. They could take samples of 5 major states as tell us things like :

  • Girls tend to drop out after puberty.
  • Boys tend to drop out when they become capable of physical labor.
  • Certain disabilities force students to drop out.

But the report is mum on those topics.

Curriculum and Pedagogy in Schools: Learning Should be Holistic, Integrated, Enjoyable, and Engaging

Horseshit! Th fancy terminology is the first symptom that you do not have anything concrete to offer. What is holistic and what is enjoyable ? These things mean very different things based on context. For some kids a safe environment where they are not being beaten up is enjoyable where as some kids would want Netflix subscription.

The key overall thrust of curriculum and pedagogy reform across all stages will be to move the
education system towards real understanding and towards learning how to learn - and away from the
culture of rote learning as is largely present today. The aim of education will not only be cognitive
development, but also building character and creating holistic and well-rounded individuals equipped
with the key 21st century skills.

If you child is planning to be a doctor or IIT engineer she wont have lot of time for this holistic crap and will end up spending more time at tuition classes after the school. Above paragraph looks good in a 10th grade essay but not in a policy document.

To give you an example, do you really want a law that says “only people of good character will be issued a driving license”. You are now essentially at the mercy of local RTO to get a driving license because they may decide you simply don’t have the right character.

Not only government/teachers/schools can make you “well-rounded” they often themselves won’t know what well rounded is. A nerd might be more interested in math where as a some girl might be more interested in dance. In most cases the school and teachers will never be capable of helping the wide array of student’s ambitions. Also, we can not measure what well rounded is as the definitions of these things change rapidly with time.

Reduce curriculum content to enhance essential learning and critical thinking

There is a ton of text around how arts and crafts must be promoted in classroom and how the syllabus should be reduced. While I have no specific criticism of various recommendations, the issue with this is again the “centralization”. New Delhi simply has no business making grand statements on these sort of things.

A school in Mumbai aimed at gifted children can have a very different approach than a village school taking in all kind of children. For some it makes sense to reduce syllabus to focus on core learning, for some it is stepping stone to JEE.

**Laudable suggestion in this section **

  • Empower students through flexibility in course choices. The report is vague on this topic, but that is good. The actual strategy needs to come from school boards. The idea here is that instead of having a fixed set of subjects schools should try to offer many elections and let students mix and match. This is surely implementable in large schools.

Multilingualism and the power of language

The most misreported aspect of NEP by media. The report has an entire section on multilingualism. This is something one would genuinely expect from a central policy document.

It first settles the debate that learning in familiar language is more beneficial in a learning perspective. This is common sense given that you are likely to learn better in a language you already know.

The section is very clear that students at young age must be subjected to 3 languages two of which should be Indian and not language should be forced on states or students.

The three-language formula will continue to be implemented while keeping in mind the
Constitutional provisions, aspirations of the people, regions, and the Union, and the need to promote
multilingualism as well as promote national unity. However, there will be a greater flexibility in the
three-language formula, and no language will be imposed on any State. The three languages learned
by children will be the choices of States, regions, and of course the students themselves, so long as at least two of the three languages are native to India. In particular, students who wish to change one or more of the three languages they are studying may do so in Grade 6 or 7, as long as they are able to demonstrate basic proficiency in three languages (including one language of India at the literature level) by the end of secondary school.

I wish the report had been more ambitious here and offered freedom that students could also learn languages like Bhojpuri, Avadhi. Aagari etc. as third language.

There is some needless reference to “Languages of India” project that each student will be required to do. Again, a policy document for 1.2B people should not decide what assignments and projects students should be doing.

I also liked the idea of teaching students the history of language and their evolution. This will be helpful to understand that Gujarati is not really different from Marathi which is not very different from Haryanvi etc.

National Textbooks with Local Content and Flavour

This is also a common sense section again written like a college level essay. The most important part however is this ;

While the Board exams for Grades 10 and 12 will be continued, the existing system of Board
and entrance examinations shall be reformed to eliminate the need for undertaking coaching classes.
To reverse these harmful effects of the current assessment system, Board exams will be redesigned to
encourage holistic development; students will be able to choose many of the subjects in which they
take Board exams, depending on their individualized interests. Board exams will also be made
‘easier’, in the sense that they will test primarily core capacities/competencies rather than months of
coaching and memorization; any student who has been going to and making a basic effort in a school
class will be able to pass and do well in the corresponding subject Board Exam without much
additional effort. To further eliminate the ‘high stakes’ aspect of Board Exams, all students will be
allowed to take Board Exams on up to two occasions during any given school year, one main
examination and one for improvement, if desired.

This tells you that the writers of the report have no clue what they are talking about. People do not go to coaching classes because the current board exams are bad, they go to coaching classes because even 1 mark makes a difference in terms of getting admission in right college.

Each student has different objective in life but schools as this policy demonstrates operate in a soviet styled centrally controlled fashion. The child who wishes to crack JEE has to attend coaching not matter what you teach in schools because the underpaid pen-pushing teachers of your schools might not be in the same league as JEE coaching folks.

There will be some children you lack self discipline to study and home and hence tuition are one way for them to stay on track after school is over.

If the policymakers think they can eliminate tutions they are in fools paradise.

. It is proposed to set up a National Assessment Centre, PARAKH (Performance Assessment,
Review, and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development), as a standard-setting body under
MHRD that fulfils the basic objectives of setting norms, standards, and guidelines for student
assessment and evaluation for all recognized school boards of India, guiding the State Achievement
Survey (SAS) and undertaking the National Achievement Survey (NAS), monitoring achievement of
learning outcomes in the country, and encouraging and helping school boards to shift their
assessment patterns towards meeting the skill requirements of the 21st century in consonance with the
stated objectives of this Policy. This Centre will also advise school boards regarding new assessment
patterns and latest researches, promote collaborations between school boards. It will also become an
instrument for the sharing of best practices among school boards, and for ensuring equivalence of
academic standards among learners across all school board

This is a good idea and I think could potentially address grade inflation across state boards assuming that is what the policy means here.

I wish they allowed large school chains to create their own private boards or let multiple schools form their own co-operatives to run school boards.

4.42. The principles for university entrance exams will be similar. The National Testing Agency
(NTA) will work to offer a high-quality common aptitude test, as well as specialized common subject
exams in the sciences, humanities, languages, arts, and vocational subjects, at least twice every year.
These exams shall test conceptual understanding and the ability to apply knowledge and shall aim to
eliminate the need for taking coaching for these exams. Students will be able to choose the subjects
for taking the test, and each university will be able to see each student’s individual subject portfolio
and admit students into their programmes based on individual interests and talents. The NTA will
serve as a premier, expert, autonomous testing organization to conduct entrance examinations for
undergraduate and graduate admissions and fellowships in higher education institutions. The high
quality, range, and flexibility of the NTA testing services will enable most universities to use these
common entrance exams - rather than having hundreds of universities each devising their own
entrance exams - thereby drastically reducing the burden on students, universities and colleges, and
the entire education system. It will be left up to individual universities and colleges to use NTA
assessments for their admissions.

What they are proposing is a SAT like system. Not bad but I wish it is not made the only criteria universities could use.