National Education Policy 2020 – Reforms in Indian School Education System

Rote learning, the bane of Indian education, is finally being shown the door and is proposed to be replaced by competency-based learning and development of students which tests higher-order skills such as analysis, critical thinking and conceptual clarity. The long-awaited National Education Policy 2020 (“NEP 2020”), was announced by the Union Cabinet on July 29, 2020. The NEP 2020 is promoted as the first education policy of the 21st century with an objective of revising and revamping the Indian education structure and move towards creation of new system that is aligned with the aspirational goals of 21st century education. NEP 2020 is based on the principle that education must not be restricted to development of cognitive skills i.e., ‘fundamental skills’ of literacy and numeracy and ‘higher-order’ cognitive skills such as critical thinking and problem solving. Instead the education system must focus on development of ‘soft skills’ of a child, i.e. social and emotional skills including cultural awareness and empathy, perseverance and grit, teamwork, leadership and communication.

The foundational pillars of NEP 2020 include access, equity, quality, affordability, and accountability. Some of the key principles on which NEP 2020 is based include:

• flexibility, for learners to choose their learning trajectories and programmes and thereby choose their paths in life according to their own talents and interests;

• no hard separations between arts and sciences, between curricular and extra-curricular activities, between vocational and academic, etc. to ensure integrity and unity of knowledge and eliminate harmful hierarchies amongst different areas of learning;

• multi-disciplinary and holistic education (across the sciences, social sciences, arts, humanities and sports) for a multidisciplinary world;

• emphasis on conceptual understanding rather than rote learning and learning for exams; on creativity and critical thinking to encourage logical decision making and innovation; on ethics and human and constitutional values and on life skills such as cooperation, teamwork, communication, resilience etc.; and

• regular formative assessment for learning rather than the summative assessment that encourages the presently existing coaching culture.

Based on the aforesaid foundation and principles, NEP 2020 has introduced changes to the school education as well as higher education segment within India. In this update, we have focused on the reforms introduced in the school education system. Reforms introduced in the higher education system will be discussed in a separate update.

Reforms Introduced in the School Education System:

Early childhood to semi-adult stage, K-12 segment is the founding pillar of holistic child development. Some of the key reforms introduced vide NEP 2020 in the Indian school education system include:

1. Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE): One of the key visions and focus of NEP 2020 is its emphasis on ECCE to promote and achieve appropriate care and stimulation of the brain in a child’s early years for healthy brain development and growth. For implementation of ECCE, National Council of Educational Research and Training (“NCERT”) has been tasked with the development of a National Curricular and Pedagogical Framework for Early Childhood Care and Education for children up to the age of 8 years. Planning and implementation will be undertaken jointly by Ministries of Human Resource Development (being re-named as the Ministry of Education), Women and Child Development, Health and Family Welfare and Tribal Affairs.

For universal access to ECCE, the Anganwadi Centres are proposed to be strengthened with high quality infrastructure, play equipment and well-trained Anganwadi workers/teachers, to be funded by the central and state governments. NEP 2020 further proposes to introduce comprehensive training of the Anganwadi workers/teachers by conducting a certification program which will be mentored by the Cluster Resource Centres of the School Education Department.

2. Change in Curricular and Pedagogical Structure: The existing academic structure of 10+2 structure (ages 6-16 and ages 16-18) has been replaced with the structure of 5+3+3+4 with the structure being as follows:

a. Foundational Stage (ages 3-8): This stage involves multilevel, play/activity-based learning classified into 2 sub-stages, viz. (a) angawadi/pre-school/balvatika for ages 3-6; and (b) classes 1 and 2 for ages 6-8.

b. Preparatory Stage (ages 8-11): This stage involves play, discovery, and activity based and interactive classroom learning and includes classes 3 to 5.

c. Middle Stage (ages 11-14): This stage involves experiential learning in the sciences, mathematics, arts, social sciences, and humanities and includes classes 6 to 8.

d. High School (ages 14-18): This stage involves multidisciplinary study, greater critical thinking, flexibility, and student choice of subjects and includes classes 9 to 12. The High school stage is proposed to build on the subject-oriented pedagogical and curricular style of middle stage, but with greater depth, greater critical thinking, greater attention to life aspirations and greater flexibility and student choice.

NEP 2020 further proposes to offer greater flexibility to the students concerning choice of subjects, including subjects in physical education, arts, and vocational crafts, so that the students are free to design their own paths of study and life plans. Holistic development and wide choice of subjects and courses is proposed to be the new distinguishing feature of secondary school education. There will not be any hard separation amongst ‘curricular’, ‘extra-curricular’ and ‘co-curricular’ activities among arts, humanities, and science or between vocational or academic streams.

3. Curricular Integration of Essential Subjects and Skills: NEP 2020 further mandates that certain subjects and skills should be learned by all students to help them become successful, innovative, adaptive, and productive human beings in the rapidly changing and constantly evolving world. These skills inter alia include scientific temper and evidence based thinking, creativity and innovativeness, sense of aesthetics and art, oral and written communication, health and nutrition, physical education, wellness, fitness and sports, collaboration and teamwork, problem solving and logical reasoning, coding and computational thinking, environmental awareness, water and resources conservation, etc. It is thus targeted that curricular and pedagogical initiatives including the introduction of contemporary subjects such as artificial intelligence, design thinking, holistic health, organic living, etc, will be undertaken to develop the identified important skills in students, as part of school education.

4. Transformation in Assessment for Student Development: The assessment mechanism, being an integral part of school education, is also proposed to be shifted from the system which primarily tests rote memorisation skills to a system which is more formative and competency based. The Board exams are proposed to be reformed to encourage holistic development and students will be able to choose the subjects in which they want to take the Board exams, depending on their individual interests.

The Board exams, over a period, are expected to be modelled on the fundamentals that reduce pressure and coaching culture. Students will now be required to take state school examinations in grades 3, 5, and 8 in addition to grades 10 and 12. The examinations will be focused on testing the achievement of the learning outcomes through assessment of core concepts and knowledge from national and local curricula along with relevant higher-order skills and application of knowledge in real-life situations, rather the rote learning. The grade 3 examination, particularly, is proposed to be text basic literacy, numeracy, and other foundational skills.

It is also proposed that the National Assessment Centre for School Education shall be a standard setting body under the Ministry of Education, to fulfil the basic objectives of setting norms, standards and guidelines for assessment and evaluation for all recognised schools boards of India, guiding the State Achievement Survey and undertaking the National Achievement Survey, monitoring achievement of learning outcomes within the country.

5. Standard-setting and Accreditation for School Education: NEP 2020 has demarcated the roles of governance and regulation into four bodies:

a. Department of School Education: The department will be responsible for overall monitoring and policymaking for continual improvement of the system but will not be involved with the provision and operation of schools or with the regulation of the system.

b. Directorate of School Education: The Directorate will be responsible for implementation of policies regarding educational operations and provision.

c. State School Standards Authority: An independent, state-wide body called the State School Standards Authority (SSSA) will be set up in each State/Union Territory which will establish a minimal set of standards based on basic parameters to be followed by all schools. The SSSA will also be responsible for transparent public disclosure of all regulatory information.

d. SCERT: The State Council of Educational Research and Training (“SCERT”), in consultation and collaboration with the NCERT, will be responsible for academic matters including academic standards and curricula in the State.

6. Professional Development for Teachers: Recognizing the importance of teachers for sustainability of world class education system, NEP 2020 mandates that teachers will be given constant opportunities for self-improvement and to learn latest innovations and advances in their profession. Developmental opportunities, in the form of local, state, national and international teaching and subject workshops, as well as online teacher development modules will be made available to all teachers. Each teacher will also be expected to participate in 50 hours of continuous development opportunity, every year for their own professional development.

The school leadership members such as principal and school complex leaders will also have similar modular leadership/management workshops and online development opportunities and platforms to continuously improve their own leadership and management skills and will thus also be expected to participate in 50 hours of continuous development opportunity, every year covering leadership and management aspects.

The National Council for Teacher Education in consultation with NCERT, SCERTs, teachers from across levels and regions, expert organisations in teacher preparation and development, and higher educational institutions shall develop a common National Professional Standards for Teachers by 2022. The said standards shall cover expectations of the role of the teacher at different levels of expertise/rank, and the competencies required for that rank.

Comments and Observations:

Introduction of Reforms in the Indian school education system were long overdue, and NEP 2020 marks a significant shift in the long-standing and established rote and herd learning education practice followed in India. The main thrust of NEP 2020 is to raise the standard of school education system in India at par with global standards through various comprehensive measures such as revamping of the curriculum, examination structure, regulatory regime, teacher education, etc.

While the NEP 2020 intends to transform the Indian school education system in the right direction by curtailing rote based learning and introducing a holistic education with adequate focus on development of different life skills for the students, the real success of the policy will be based on its actual implementation. As in the words of Mr. Anil Swarup, former secretary Department of School Education and Literacy, “policy conveys the right intentions, but the key would be in implementation.”

Over the last one decade, the private schools across the country have tried to shift the focus of the Indian school education system from purely academic learning system to a system which gives opportunities to students to learn different life skills and focus on overall development of a child. However, efforts of the schools have been somewhat curtailed on account of number of reasons, such as restricted availability of teachers with an ability to impart instructions for teaching different life skills and maintaining a balance with the prescribed curriculum and the examination structure. Thus, the proposed amendments in the curriculum and the revised examination structure will now provide an impetus to schools in providing holistic learning opportunities as well as enable students to focus more on the subject/area of their interest.

However, the role of private schools and encouraging investment by corporates in schools have been ignored in NEP 2020 even though majority of parents aspire to send their wards to private schools rather than government run public institutions. Further, private public partnership such as relationship between schools and the NGOs who play a crucial role in managing out of school dropouts has been side-stepped.

Accordingly, while the introduction of NEP 2020 is a positive step towards making the Indian school education system in sync with the evolving global ecosystem but the success of the proposed reforms will be based on actual ground level implementation and the results of the proposed reforms are not expected to be gradual rather than immediate. The next focus should be on understanding the nitty-gritty of the policy, breaking down responsibility state and department wise and mapping of expectation for effective implementation and funding.

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