Central Square Foundation

NEP 2020 puts students at the centre of reforms: Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank'

The EDge Editorial Team August, 2020

As Union Minister of Education, Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank' oversaw the drafting of the new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 which was released after a gap of 34 years. In an email interview to Central Square Foundation for our special edition of The EDge on NEP, he stresses on the need to move the needle from expanding access to education, to providing quality education. He talks about how the effective implementation of the policy will equip India’s children with 21st Century skills like critical thinking and conceptual understanding which are imperative to succeed in life.

The new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 makes a progressive shift towards the quality of education and can be a game-changer for children. What factors will be central to the success of the suggested reforms?

More than three decades have passed since the National Policy in Education (NPE) 1986. With the changing paradigm of knowledge and technology across the country, society, economy and the world, a new education policy was necessary to equip our youth to meet the 21st century requirements. The NEP aims to develop Aatmnirbhar Bharat by making both school and higher education more holistic, flexible, multidisciplinary, and suited to 21st century needs.

The policy recommends critical overhaul of the existing system of education, making the “student’’ the centre of the reforms. With emphasis on Early Childhood Care and Education and Foundational Literacy And Numeracy, the 10+2 structure of school curriculum is to be replaced by a 5+3+3+4 structure corresponding to ages 3-8, 8-11, 11-14, and 14-18 years respectively. The curricula will aim for holistic development of learners, equipping them with the key 21st century skills. Reduction in curricular content will enhance essential learning and critical thinking and greater focus on experiential learning. Regulation and operations of schools will be carried out by separate bodies to eliminate conflict of interests. Students will be given vocational exposure at early ages in middle and secondary school, thereby integrating quality vocational education smoothly into higher education. The policy affirms that by 2025, at least 50% of learners through the school and higher education system shall have exposure to vocational education.

The policy aims to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education including vocational education from 26.3% (2018) to 50% by 2035. It envisages a broad-based multi-disciplinary holistic education at the undergraduate level for integrated and rigorous exposure across the streams. Further, the undergraduate degree will be of either 3 or 4-year duration, with multiple exit options within this period and appropriate certifications. An Academic Bank of Credit (ABC) shall be established which would digitally store the academic credits earned from various recognized HEIs so that the degrees from an HEI can be awarded taking into account credits earned.

The success of the NEP to provide quality education will be harnessed through its effective implementation. Its implementation will be led by various bodies along with timelines and a plan for review — in order to ensure that the policy is implemented in its spirit and intent. The policy aims at a substantial increase in public investment on education by both the Central Government and State Governments. Since Education is in the concurrent list, States/UTs will play a vital role in the implementation. The Centre and the States will work together to increase the public investment in the Education sector to reach 6% of GDP at the earliest.

The policy underlines the importance of Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN). It recognises that the rest of the policy will be rendered irrelevant if children don’t acquire basic reading and math skills by the end of Class 3. The government even announced the FLN Mission to help children acquire these skills. How does it aim to ensure these skills are achieved by 2025? Does the FLN Mission include private schools in its ambit?

The Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narender Modi quotes “For a long time, priority has been given to spread education…. But today more than expanding education what is necessary is to improve the quality of education. We will have to shift our priority from literacy campaigns to a good education. From now onward, more than schooling, we will have to lay stress on learning.”

The ability to read and write, and perform basic operations with numbers are a gateway to learning in school and life beyond. The World Bank terms the phenomenon of being unable to read and understand a simple text by age of 10 as ‘learning poverty’. The World Bank reports, currently, 53 percent of children in low- and middle-income countries cannot read and understand a simple story by the end of primary school. The level is as high as 80 percent in poor countries. Undeniably, the situation is alarming, jeopardizing our aim to achieve the SDG 4. The Indian case is not much different. Various governmental and non-governmental surveys have often indicated a precarious state of a learning crisis in India. A large proportion of students currently in elementary schools, estimated to be over 5 crore, have not attained foundational literacy and numeracy i.e. the ability to read and comprehend basic text and the ability to carry out basic addition and subtraction with Indian numerals.

Thereby, The New Education Policy recommends that a National Mission on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy will be set-up on priority to focus on early language and mathematical skills from Grades 1 to 3 by 2025. Strategies recommended by the policy are: developing school readiness through interim 3 month play-based school preparation module for all Grade 1 students; increased focus on reading, writing, speaking, counting, arithmetic, and mathematical thinking; continuous assessment and adaptive testing; national repository of high-quality resources on foundational literacy and numeracy; filling teacher vacancies; peer-tutoring and volunteer activities; setting up school libraries in every village. A National Book Promotion Policy will be formulated, and initiatives to ensure the availability, accessibility, quality, and readership of books across geographies, languages, levels, and genres will be undertaken. All efforts will be made to ensure that all children gain the ability to read and write, and perform basic operations with numbers.

The policy proposes establishing PARAKH. What role do you think it will play in conducting the National Assessment Survey and helping states strengthen their assessment capacity? What are some good principles to keep in mind while setting it up?

NEP 2020 proposed to set up a National Assessment Centre, PARAKH (Performance Assessment, Review, and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development), as a standard-setting body under MHRD that fulfils the basic objectives of setting norms, standards, and guidelines for student assessment and evaluation for all recognized school boards of India. The core functions of PARAKH will be as follows:

  • Guiding the State Achievement Survey (SAS) and undertaking the National Achievement Survey (NAS)
  • Monitoring achievement of learning outcomes in the country
  • Encouraging and helping school boards to shift their assessment patterns towards meeting the skill requirements of the 21st Century
  • Advising school boards on new assessment patterns and latest researches, promoting collaborations between school boards
  • Sharing best practices among school boards
  • Ensuring equivalence of academic standards among learners across all school boards

Thus, PARAKH will help in bringing a shift from summative assessment to regular and formative assessment, which is more competency-based, promotes learning and development, and tests higher-order skills such as analysis, critical thinking, and conceptual clarity.

NEP introduces key-stage assessments for Classes 3, 5, and 8 across public and private schools. How does the government plan to ensure reliable collection of assessment-based data? How can this information be used to empower parents and other system stakeholders?

The assessment for classes 3,5 and 8 will help the government to obtain empirical evidence for undertaking measures for planning improvements to schools and teaching-learning processes. This will be beneficial not only at the policy-level, but also at the individual level - students, parents, teachers, principals and the entire schooling system will be able to track progress throughout the school years, and not just at the end of Grades 10 and 12. These examinations would test achievement of basic learning outcomes through assessment of core concepts and knowledge from the national and local curricula, along with relevant higher-order skills and application of knowledge in real-life situations, rather than rote memorisation.

Since the Ministry has already been conducting education surveys, such as the National Achievement Survey. With that expertise and expertise through the years we will ensure that we devise a reliable methodology for data collection with the help of headmasters/principals/enumerators. The modalities of assessment of Class 3,5 and 8 will be worked out in greater detail soon.

How will the NEP ensure integration and deployment of appropriate EdTech solutions for school education?

NEP 2020 recognizes the importance of leveraging the advantages of technology while acknowledging its potential risks and dangers. It calls for carefully designed and appropriately scaled pilot studies to determine how the benefits of online/digital education can be reaped while addressing or mitigating the downsides. In the meantime, the existing digital platforms and ongoing ICT-based educational initiatives must be optimized and expanded to meet the current and future challenges in providing quality education for all. The National Education Policy lays emphasis on leveraging the advantages of technology to meet the current and future challenges in providing equitable and quality education, thereby Ministry will be further augmenting initiatives like DIKSHA- 'One India, One Digital Platform', Swayam Prabha (One Class, One Channel) and online education etc. under the e- Vidya/ Atmnirbhar Bharat Abhiyan.

DIKSHA, SWAYAM and SWAYAMPRABHA will be leveraged for creating virtual labs so that all students have equal access to quality practical and hands-on experiment-based learning experiences. The possibility of providing adequate access to Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Group students and teachers through suitable digital devices, such as tablets with preloaded content, will be considered and developed.

An autonomous body, the National Educational Technology Forum (NETF), will be created to provide a platform for the free exchange of ideas on the use of technology to enhance learning, assessment, planning, administration. The Ministry will ensure that there is appropriate integration of technology into all levels of education; in order to improve classroom processes, support teacher professional development, enhance educational access for disadvantaged groups and streamline educational planning, administration and management. Technology-based education platforms, such as DIKSHA/SWAYAM, will be better integrated across school and higher education. The role of Higher Education Institutions will be enhanced as they will now play an active role in conducting research on disruptive technologies and in creating instructional materials and courses including online courses in cutting-edge domains. A dedicated unit for the purpose of orchestrating the building of digital infrastructure, digital content and capacity building will be created in the Education Ministry to look after the e-education needs of both school and higher education.

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