NEP can help make India a knowledge-based economy | Opinion
The National Education Policy (NEP) is a game-changer. It is the third policy on education after 1968 and 1986, and paves the way for transformational reform. It comes at an opportune time for the country to be able to reap the benefits of its demographic dividend by 2030 and aligns with the move towards a knowledge-based economy.
There are five major aspects of the policy that can potentially transform school education: Focus on foundational learning, universal access to pre-primary education, key-stage assessments to measure learning outcomes, integration of technology in education, and an enabling environment for the private school sector.
Prioritising foundational learning by Class 3 is a huge step towards addressing a critical gap in children’s ability to read with meaning and solve basic arithmetic problems. These critical gateway skills help students learn more meaningfully in higher classes and enable critical thinking and problem-solving.
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced in May that a national mission on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) will be launched later this year. This will give an impetus to the policy’s vision of universal acquisition of foundational skills by 2025.
To ensure that we are set up for success on achieving FLN, a few things must be taken into account. There has to be clear goal-setting — a common understanding of well-defined indicators to measure foundational skills such as word recognition and oral reading fluency (ORF). For instance, Peru uses ORF as a learning indicator for literacy, and it is clearly understood by all stakeholders: Students have to fluently read 60 words-per-minute by the end of Class 2 and 90 words-per-minute by the end of Class 3. The government should consider adopting a similar model. Spreading awareness about the importance of FLN such that the community, especially parents, are mobilised to proactively participate in their children’s learning journey too will be a key contributing factor to the mission’s success. Here, it is important to ask how the government intends to ensure that private school students do not get left behind in pursuing the FLN mission.
Pre-primary schooling in the early years of a child is the building block to acquiring FLN skills. The policy’s emphasis on ensuring school readiness and making pre-primary education accessible to every child is welcome. The curricular and pedagogical structure has been reconfigured from 10+2 to 5+3+3+4 to take young children into the schooling fold. Children between three-eight years of age will be part of the foundational stage, eight-11 years will undertake preparatory schooling, 11-14 years will attend middle school, and 14-18 will attend secondary classes. The new framework accounts for a child’s growth trajectory in terms of her cognitive and psycho-social development.
The policy also calls for the creation of a Performance Assessment Review and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development (PARAKH), a national-level assessment centre that will set the standards, norms and guidelines for student evaluations across school boards. This is an important provision given that large-scale learning assessments are increasingly being used as an important marker for progress made by India’s education system. While Niti Aayog and the ministry of human resource development use it to rank states based on learning outcomes, multilateral organisations like the World Bank and Unesco use it for global benchmarking.
Another win is that key-stage assessments will be held for students in Classes 3, 5, and 8 with a focus on learning outcomes. This encourages analytical thinking, moves away from rote learning, and opens up a window for remediation for students who might need additional help. These key-stage assessments will also become an indicator for parents to measure and compare learning across schools. This is an especially important move since in the absence of such an indicator, parents wanting to enrol children in private schools have thus far chosen schools based on proxies for learning such as “school infrastructure” or “English medium”. Reformed board examinations for Classes 10 and 12 with low stakes, and based on conceptual understanding and experiential learning is also an important reform.
Education Technology (EdTech) can help children learn at their own pace, a compelling factor given that learning levels of students vary significantly within each class. Establishing the National Educational Technology Forum (NETF), as suggested in the policy, can drive the adoption, implementation, and use of EdTech in schools and homes alike. The key to driving the uptake of EdTech will lie in developing contextually appropriate solutions in vernacular languages that are also cost-effective.
Another important provision in the policy is the assessment and accreditation of private schools. Nearly one in two children attends private schools in India because their parents believe that these will provide a better learning environment. But learning levels require urgent attention. This particular provision will perhaps help in easing regulations and create an enabling environment for private schools so that they can focus on improving student learning. We should consider bringing the private school sector into the formal economy; with 120 million enrolled students, it deserves more support.
Today’s primary school students will join India’s workforce in 2030, and the policy can play a huge role in making them productive and empowered citizens. Successful implementation of the FLN mission has the potential to make India an economic powerhouse. But efficient implementation in states will be crucial to achieving the goals and targets. The Centre, state governments, philanthropists, non-profit as well as for-profit organisations working in the sector, educators, and parents must all work together.
Ashish Dhawan is founder and chairman of Central Square Foundation
The views expressed are personal