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54% youth not job ready, yet NEP fails to recognise widening inequities in education


By Simi Mehta, Anshula Mehta

In an endeavour to harness India’s massive potential in the 21st century, the Government of India launched the “National Education Policy 2020”. The policy has been hailed as progressive and revolutionary; it has sparked discourse on the future of education. 
Given its potential to initiate massive transformations and create substantial change, it becomes pertinent to analyze and question its comprehensiveness, inclusiveness, flaws, ability to impart value education and skills and whether it can make a peaceful, tolerant and just society.
In this context, the Center for ICT for Development (CICTD), Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, organized a #WebPolicy talk on National Education Policy: Looking Through the Lens of Repurposing Education Towards Thriving for Every Child by Vishal Talreja, Co-Founder, Dream A Dream.
It has been three decades since the last policy was passed and implemented, and the situational realities have transformed since then. Technological developments have prompted a paradigm shift in the lives, workspaces and almost every sector globally. Thus, even education has to evolve and adapt to contemporary realities.
There are increasing challenges that need to be addressed as more and more first-generation school-goers come into the fold of the education system. Exacerbating problems of lack of reach, quality and professionalism demand interventions as evidence of poor learning outcomes, low-quality teaching, gaps between urban and poor, and the chasm between theory and practice become recorded.
Talreja demonstrated through the use of statistics the need for a new education policy. The data reflects that 54% of the youth are not job-ready, 81% of the workforce is in the informal sector, and there is only 25% enrollment in higher education. Furthermore, 3.22 crore of students are out of school, and one out of three do not finish their schooling.

Vision and key principles of the NEP

A testament to the National Education Policy’s (NEP’s) righteous vision and principles is Talreja’s assertion that they encapsulate almost everything needed for an inclusive education system. The vision has three components:
  1. An inclusive system that leaves no one behind through the provision of equitable and vibrant knowledge for everyone.
  2. Creation of responsible and aware citizens through inculcating respect towards fundamental rights, duties and constitutional values
  3. Moving beyond academic outcomes to prepare citizens for society and the world through instilling skills, values, and dispositions that support responsible commitment to human rights, sustainable development and global well-being
The NEP also consists of certain foundational principles. These include:
  • Respect for diversity and local context
  • Equity inclusion
  • Community participation
  • Use of technology
  • Emphasis on conceptual understanding
  • Unique capabilities
  • Critical thinking and creativity
  • Continuous review

Key Highlights of the NEP 2020

Talreja lists out all highlights of the policy before elaborating upon crucial aspects that merit consideration. These include
  • The Universalization of Early Childhood Care Education (ECCE)
  • National Mission on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy
  • 5+3+3+4 Curricular and Pedagogical Structure
  • Curriculum to integrate skills of Mathematical Thinking and Scientific temper
  • Education of Gifted Children
  • Regional Language as Medium of Instruction
  • No Rigid Separation between Arts and Sciences, Curricular and Extracurricular activities, and Vocational and Academic streams
  • Reduction in Curriculum to Core Concepts
  • Vocational integration
There are specific changes brought upon by the NEP 2020 that are significant and merit particular focus. First is the transformation of the Curricular and Pedagogical structure. Talreja explains how the traditional academic system of ten years of school and two years of pre-university education has been overhauled to be replaced by the three-plus two plus three plus three plus four structure.
This structure focuses on early childhood education and brings it within the ambit of the Right to Education (RTE). Furthermore, the education system is broken down into stages or achievement of milestones. This allows for an assessment of whether the child is prepared to go into the next stage.
A change in pedagogical approach has also been outlined with play and activity-based learning for the foundational stage and more interactive classroom learning for the preparatory stage. For the middle stages, experimental learning in the sciences, mathematics, arts, social sciences, and humanities and for the secondary stage greater critical thinking, flexibility and student choice of subjects are recommended.
Another aspect is the emphasis on minimal curriculum and maximum outcomes. Reducing the curriculum to focus on core concepts such as life skills, social-emotional learning competencies, critical thinking, and inquiry-based learning has been emphasized. The policy provides for the utilization of experiential learning models to shift the transaction and experience of curriculum from didactic to interactive.
Talreja elucidates how the innovative pedagogies presented in the NEP 2020 will transform the teacher learning process, i.e. how children learn. He further explains how teachers, through the use of such approaches and creating a conducive environment, will transform their role as primary sources of knowledge to the role of facilitators of learning.
The policy also deserves merit for its focus on inclusion and socio-economically disadvantaged groups. By acknowledging and recognizing diverse identities, the policy accounts for even disabled students and brings all kinds of students under the education system’s gambit, thus enhancing inclusiveness. Talreja argues that separate strategies have to be formulated for focused attention and reducing category wise gaps in school education.
Through his experience and work with students and teachers, Talreja elaborates upon how teachers appreciate policy due to its child-centric nature and the scope for flexibility; however, they remain apprehensive about access to teacher training. On the other hand, students appreciate the policy for features such as regional language learning, multiple exits and entry points, and choosing between different streams.

Loopholes in the policy

While the policy has acknowledged current realities, Talreja argues that the NEP has not recognized the pace at which the world is changing and the complexities of these changes. There are widening inequities and inequalities in access to livelihood, health services, and housing that impact students’ ability to come out of poverty using education.
The current education system is irrelevant to the need of the present and the future of work, and the workspaces are rapidly changing. Even the role of individuals in society is changing; traditional education has worked on developing workforces for more extractive work. Today, an individual’s role is to be an active and global citizen who can respond to high levels of complexities, volatility, and uncertainty. He states that the future we prepare our students for is our present.
Thus, there is a need to transform the role of education from academic outcomes to shape how individuals live in society for thriving individuals, planet and humanity. The contemporary realities of climate change, increased polarisation, changing nature of jobs, automation, misinformation and technological advancements need to be addressed. 
Those mentioned above are certain considerations that need to be taken into account while designing new education systems curriculum and pedagogy. Talreja, in his address, describes enabling students and individuals to thrive as the true purpose of education.

The failure to thrive: Education inequity

A significant concern with regards to the education system is the prevalence of education inequality. Children who grow up in adverse conditions such as the lack of food and nutrition, abuse, neglect, and lack of emotional, their ability to achieve developmental milestones is affected. Thus, when they enter school, they do not possess the required cognitive faculties to access learning. 
This also manifests itself in the inability to demonstrate age-appropriate behaviour. The education system does not recognize this; the failure to thrive has an impact on poor cognitive skills, missed sensitive periods of development, poor relationship skills, insufficient maturity and emotional skills. 
Thus it has been argued by Talreja argues that education systems need to be designed to create environments of trust, care, love, and empathy so that students can have safe, authentic environments to overcome adversity.
What does thriving look like?
Talreja defines thriving as the inner state of confidence and surety in oneself that allows for a reevaluation and re-definition of the circumstances that have in the past and still do from the context of life. This allows for the emergence of a new identity and subsequently enables the possibility of crafting a new relationship with the world. He further describes it based on three characteristic features.
These include resilience, i.e. inner grit and strength to overcome adversity to make responsible decisions wherein individuals feel that they live the best version possible. Thriving has not been clearly defined or elaborated upon in the NEP, but the policy has its elements. The aim should be to make aspects of thriving clear and intentional.
Thriving does not happen in isolation. To ensure that the education system is inclusive and equitable, we need to engage with intersectional profiles and analyze how that impacts their ability to thrive. Even educators designing the system carry their own biases and prejudices; if they bring it into the education system, the children will not thrive. There are inequalities in the education system; to combat them, the system needs to understand, acknowledge and break out of intersectional lenses.

Way forward

Dr Rukmini Banerji, Chief Executive Officer, Pratham Education Foundation, argues that to bring the NEP to life, there is a need to be informed from many perspectives. The diversity of opinion is expected to allow for context suitable translation of policy. She states a higher likelihood of survival exists if mechanisms for engagement and precipitating discussions and debate are provided.
She further argues that the prevailing global crisis and the potential to broaden scope have occurred at the right time since they allow us to take stock of the education system. She suggests doing away with the annual work planning process and instead implementing a rolling plan to allow for flexibility. She concludes by stating that the policy will be redundant without focus and emphasis on foundational learning.
Meeta Sengupta, Founder, Centre for Education Strategy, New Delhi, says that there is a need to understand why and what before jumping to the question of how. She addresses the anxiety associated with change and elucidates that the system’s working elements should not resist change and instead embrace it as an inevitable reality.
She also places the onus on educators to make idealistic changes visual, visible, and evidence-based to foster trust within the teaching community. She also states that the dire situational realities have presented a unique opportunity to rebuild the education system by retaining effectual elements and discarding elements that hindered potential.
To conclude, we need to envision the NEP’s potential and its ability to transform society and India as a country in the next 30 years. Investments in education in the early years will define and shape the society we will live in. In the last couple of thousands of years, the education system has supported certain sections of society who have gone on to become decision-makers; it’s the result of their choices that the modern world’s problems have manifested.
Talreja sums up his address in the following maxim: “If we can truly transform education and emphasize thriving for every child, the kind of society to emerge in 20-30 years will truly be thriving”.
---
Acknowledgment: Kashish Babbar is a research intern at IMPRI

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