Thursday, June 13, 2024

New Education Policy and the approaching Board exams

By Sudip Choudhury

New Delhi: A lot of research has gone into the new National Education Policy (NEP) but it is still not clear how it will be operationalised across the country. 

Currently, it looks like well-toasted bread with a little butter. But a lot needs to be done. 

Why? Let’s find out.

The NEP sets the tone, prescribing a skeleton for the education framework to be applicable nationwide. But results towards nation building are still well beyond the horizon as many other aspects to operationalise the policy remain to be taken up. The pedagogy of each subject must be re-written if not re-invented. Delivery of the subject via teachers, professors and online tools must be clearly established.

This is not all. Teachers must be retrained, and new recruits need to demonstrate a flair for teaching as a primary requisite rather than mastery on the subject. More importantly, teachers must be able to distinguish between Teaching and Learning, to be most effective.

Education is more about Learning than Teaching – hence teachers have to be more of Facilitators of Learning.

Many changes are expected as the NEP takes its course. But the most important change will be in terms of social evolution. Education is a time bound activity to be completed at a particular phase in one’s lifespan. Many miss out due to lack of adequate opportunities and other challenges. The fact that acquiring education can be a continuous endeavour irrespective of one’s stage in life is going to be nothing short of a social revolution. 

NEP allows for people to acquire education in smaller steps, which is a huge boon for the world’s most populous nation. Unlike the traditional sequential path which is one-way, School Boards, Bachelor’s degree followed by Master’s and Doctorate. Certificates and Diplomas exist in parallel but not considered main-stream and usually considered as complements. Plus, there is no provision for somebody to drop-off and re-join a particular curriculum. NEP provides an opportunity to drop-off and rejoin to suit the circumstances of the candidate. 

So you could enroll for a three year Bachelor’s degree (four for a honours degree) but personal circumstances may require you to drop out at say second year – which you could and be awarded a Diploma and join the workforce. 

Some years later when your situation improves, you can rejoin and complete your Bachelor’s degree or even take it further to a Honours degree. This enables every citizen to pursue educational pursuits at their own pace and circumstances.

NEP is a well-researched and thought-out initiative. The approach is novel in that it seeks to fulfil the education needs by providing

various pathways to Education opportunity. At the same time provide for a wider selection of cross-streams subjects as choices to students. This will enable students to take up subject preferences in line with their interests and provide opportunities to excel and shine as per their inherent talent. 

As one year exits and another has made a grand entry – a whole generation of students between the ages of 16 – 18yrs move into top gear as their Secondary School (10th Class) and Higher Secondary School (12th Class) exams loom in February – March.

Both parents and their wards place their normal lives on-hold, with a laser focus only on studies with the goal to score the highest in the Board Exams. Schools begin their ‘special’ classes exclusively for these students, teachers also gear up to assist any student needing extra support. Private tutors and tuitions also follow suit.

In 2022 CBSE had 21 Lacs students enrolled for 10th Boards and 16 Lacs enrolled for 12th Boards. So a total of 38 Lacs students appear for the CBSE Boards – this number can be easily multiplied by 3 to include all the 32 Boards that conduct similar exams. In effect about a crore students appear in the Boards every year. This is not the end of exams – a slew of other examinations follows – a battery of entrance examinations to various courses and institutes followed by another later like IAS, Banks PO, GMAT and the list goes on.

IIT JEE is supposedly one of the toughest examinations in the World. Approximately 9.5 lakh vie for only 16,000 seats. To study law, 60,000 appear for CLAT vying for 3,200 seats. If you are aspiring to be a doctor, you would be one of 18 Lacs appearing for NEET vying for some 75,000 seats. Then we have the all new CUET – an Entrance Exam for Central University seats like Delhi

University, a total of 9.7 lacs appeared for the exam vying for 70,000 seats located across 249 cities.

Private education institutes are doing brisk business in preparing students to crack these exams. With no guarantees of any success, this has emerged as probably the most risk-free and profitable venture that is also recession-proof. 

An overzealous emphasis on cracking an exam has led one’s career journey to be pockmarked with exam stops at the beginning itself. 

Exams are held world-over to identify and select the right candidate. But in India, exams are a process of selection by rejection. For example, in the CAT (Common Aptitude Test for MBA degree in India), one needs to answer only 60 percent of the questions to be in the top 5 percentile or so. 

Pedagogically, exams and tests are designed to evaluate the learning outcomes rather than to rank the students by their scores. Ranking, unfortunately, has led to a culture of rote learning among the students, keeping the individual’s aptitude, talent, and interests in abeyance. The objective is no longer about displaying one’s ability to apply the learnings and being innovative. But to beat the next person in scores or somehow be in the top percentile. 

While our education system is busy creating exams and tests, it has forsaken the needs of nation building, resulting in well-meaning and eager young adults left unemployed while the job market struggles to recruit new talent. The gap here is commonly referred to as ‘unemployment’ whereas the fact of the matter is ‘unemployability’. Young adults are not necessarily equipped with the required skills nor applicable knowledge. Even some who do make the mark, find the marketplace highly inert, devoid of challenges or opportunities.

that are able to fuel their own thirst to perform. Left with no option, they opt to pursue their dreams in far-off lands, leaving their own homeland to mediocrity. 

NEP by its revolutionary structure, allows for pedagogy to be responsive to the market needs. Of course, the current structure also has provisions for the same, but the amendments to the pedagogy or curricula takes so long to reach the classroom, that the market place would have moved on much ahead – the gap between what is being taught and what is required in the work environment creates the problem of unemployability. 

Large establishments can close this gap by providing necessary training but then this is largely limited for entry level positions. Vagaries of the marketplace require some amount of re-learning at all levels and moreover to be innovative and creative towards growth some amount of academic connection has to be maintained. 

When students turn, employees are encouraged to weave between classroom and workplace, it forces the pedagogy to adapt with the market demands at a faster pace. The challenges of adaptation that we were facing previously are no longer as severe because adaptation can now be in smaller bits and chunks rather than trying to develop a full-blown curricula upheaval. 

Expectation is that it will lead to a Kaizen phenomenon of continuous improvement. Evolving into an ecosystem of education, research, development and industry, establishing a mechanism of quick feedback and correction.  A closer and more  involved relationship is expected to evolve between Universities, Institutes, and Industry.

A crucial and probably an unintended outcome of the NEP is that the current social stigma associated with the education level of the individual is expected to gradually decay. Failure to acquire relevant education by millions of aspiring youths has created a deep divide within our society beyond the conventional socio-economic factors. For many it gets further aggravated when in spite of all the travails to gain some find themselves jobless.

Our education policy has largely been a legacy left behind by the British Administration which should have been modified to suit our domestic context. NEP appears to be responding to the overall Indian environment, which shows significant promises, at least on paper. The roll-out is envisaged to be a substantial challenge and a slow one. This will be the litmus test for all the powers to be, to implement the policy irrespective of their ideological differences and collectively work towards nation building collaboratively.

(The writer is a trained architect who studies trends in education)

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