In a massive reconfiguration of the existing education system and to “prepare our students optimally in the 21st century”, the government has unveiled the new draft education policy; it is based on recommendations received to do away with the 10+2 model of schooling and replace it with the 5+3+3+4 format.
Besides suggesting three years of preschool and extending the purview of Right to Education to 18 years of age, the Kasturirangan Committee, which convened in New Delhi on Thursday, May 30, also proposed that the Human Resources and Development (HRD) Ministry be renamed as the Ministry of Education (MoE). The committee has also proposed key changes to teachers’ training and higher education system.
The committee, set up in 2017 and led by former ISRO chief and eminent scientist Dr Kasturirangan, submitted the draft National Education Policy (NEP) to Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, who was recently sworn into PM Narendra Modi’s cabinet.
The existing NEP was framed in 1968 and revised in 1992.
The latest design encourages focus at all stages to be on incorporating “Indian and local traditions as well as ethical reasoning, socio-emotional learning, quantitative and logical reasoning, computational thinking and digital literacy, scientific temper, and languages and communication skills, in a manner that is developmentally appropriate and in the curricular/pedagogical style that is optimal for each stage”.
Among others present at the release were Minister of State for HRD Sanjay Shamrao Dhotre, Secretary of Department of Higher Education R. Subrahmanyam, Secretary of Department of School Education & Literacy Rina Ray, and other senior ministry officials.
Rebuilding from scratch
The draft recommends the co-option of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) into integral school education. It also announces a major departure from the legacies of the original NEP, with the proposed replacement of the curricular and pedagogical 10+2 structure with a more globally accepted 5+3+3+4 design, also known as K-12.
This comprises five years of foundational stage (pre-primary school, Stds 1 and 2), three years of preparatory (Stds 3, 4 and 5), three years of middle stage (Stds 6, 7 and 8) and four years of high stage (Stds 9, 10, 11 and 12). That effectively does away with “higher secondary level” or junior college.
According to the draft, the “foundational stage will comprise five years of flexible, multilevel, play-based, activity-based, and discovery-based learning, continuously incorporating the latest research in ECCE as well as the various time-tested Indian traditions for cognitive and emotional stimulation of children.”
The preparatory stage will also involve play and discovery-based learning with the gradual incorporation of textbooks and other tools of formal classroom learning; the draft has recommended generalist teachers rather than specialists to lay the groundwork at this stage, preparing them to delve into specific learning areas in the stages that follow.
The middle school level “will comprise three years of education, building on the more formal pedagogical and curricular style of the elementary stage but will see the introduction of subject teachers for learning/discussion of the more abstract concepts in each subject that students will be ready for at this stage across the sciences, mathematics, arts, social sciences, and humanities”.
The focus would also be on “experiential learning within each subject, and explorations of relations among different subjects will be encouraged and emphasised despite the introduction of more specialised subjects and subject teachers”.
The secondary stage “will comprise four years of multidisciplinary study, and will build on the subject-oriented pedagogical and curricular style of the middle stage but with greater depth, greater critical thinking, greater attention to life aspirations, and greater flexibility and student choice.”
Dr Kasturirangan is of the opinion that “while the 10+2 system of school education has served the country well over the last 50 years—and has been an important step forward in uniformising the school education structure in India—modern times and needs with respect to employment and beyond, together with advances and discoveries in cognitive science, have also made clear that a new structure for the educational system is required”.
The reconfiguration has been proposed “to deliver the vision of education enunciated in this policy and to prepare our students optimally in the 21st century.”
Improving on existing policies
The committee also recommends the extension of Right to Education Act 2009 to cover children of ages 3 to 18 and proposes an expansion in the midday meal programme to include a nutritious breakfast and lunch for pre-primary and primary school students.
Corroborating the findings of many studies, the report says, “This will help make the hours between breakfast and lunch significantly more productive, especially for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Foundational literacy is key
One of the objectives of the draft policy is to achieve foundational literacy in Std 5 and beyond by 2025. Foundational literacy is the ability to read and comprehend basic text and the ability to carry out basic addition and subtraction with numbers.
The committee notes that we are still in a severe learning crisis with respect to these most basic skills where “a large proportion of students currently in elementary school—perhaps over 5 crore in number—have not attained foundational literacy and numeracy”.
Speaking of the privatised education sector, the committee has laid down measures to curb arbitrary fees hikes.
Activities, academic pressure, Hindi imposition
The report says there will be no hard demarcation of learning areas in terms of curricular, co-curricular or extra-curricular areas; all subjects, including arts, music, crafts, sports, yoga, and community service will be curricular, according to the draft NEP.
This equal emphasis on skills and non-academic interests will make the process of learning and assessment more democratic, experts believe, as the present system does not allow students to devote time to their hobbies; even if they are taught in schools, these subjects are graded instead of being marked, suggesting academics is still the main focus.
The new policy will be more responsive and relevant to the interests of learners at different stages of their development.
Reducing the content load in the school curricula is also on the agenda, but there is already massive dissent on how chapters in textbooks—on India’s secular history and democratic polity—are being erased. The draft NEP has already caused a huge uproar in the southern states for suggesting that Hindi should be made mandatory till Std 8 in non-Hindi speaking states. In response, School Education Minister K A Sengottaiyan said, “Tamil Nadu will follow only two-language policy.”
Furthermore, if reducing academic pressure is indeed the motive behind slashing modules, the method of evaluation and teaching must improve, say experts.
Revamping pedagogy, assessment & higher education
In that respect, the committee proposes making the four-year integrated stage-specific B.Ed programme the minimum degree requirement to become teachers. It has recommended shutting down below-standard teachers’ training institutes and moving all teacher preparation programmes into large multidisciplinary universities/colleges.
The committee has also recommended a “system of modular board examinations—restructured to test only core concepts, principles, critical thinking and other higher-order skills in each subject” that will “pin down the common courses, while great flexibility will be offered for remaining courses”.
In the secondary stage in schools, for example, each year will be divided into two semesters, for a total of eight semesters. Each student will have to take five to six subjects (with electives in arts, vocational courses, and even physical education) per semester, according to the NEP draft. All students can thereby “expand their horizons as they see fit and explore their individual interests and talents”.
Higher education institutes will be revamped under Mission Nalanda and Mission Takshashila to focus on world-class research and high-quality teaching across disciplines, with significant contribution to research, and undergraduate education. UG honours courses could once again become 4-year courses.
Public and private institutes will be treated on par and remain not-for-profit, with the sanctioned Institutes of Eminence likely to be extended to 30. Other policy initiatives aim to promote internationalisation of higher education, improve open and distance learning, enhance participation of under-represented groups, and eliminate gender, social and regional gaps in education outcomes.
Precedence of Indian knowledge systems
The report says that multidisciplinary universities will now include programmes in varied areas, namely linguistics, mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, psychology, yoga, architecture, medicine, as well as governance, polity, society, and conservation course. It has recommended setting up three new national institutes for Pali, Persian, and Prakrit, and an Indian Institute of Translation and Interpretation.
The committee also proposes the formation of the National Higher Education Regulatory Authority as the sole regulator for higher education, including professional education. University Grants Commission (UGC) may soon become the Higher Education Grants Council, disbursing developmental grants and fellowships across all higher education disciplines, including professional courses.
A new apex body, Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog, has also been proposed to enable a holistic and integrated implementation of all educational initiatives and programmatic interventions and to coordinate efforts between the Centre and the states.
The HRD ministry will also resume attempts to replace the UGC with a Higher Education Commission. The move was opposed by the academic community, but the government is looking to make another attempt after the new cabinet is sworn in, the Indian Express reported.
“The ministry’s timeline states that the draft Act will be discussed with the state governments in June, and a final decision will be made in August,” the newspaper said.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.