National Education Policy 2020 may be termed as "Peoples' Document" which was framed with massive participation of experts, academicians, educationists and public in general of the country and from across the border spanning over a pretty long time of five and a half years. No Policy Document of the world, on any issue, was prepared by involvement of so much of population, a cent percent democratic process. After approval of the policy document of education on 29 July 2020 by the cabinet decision, the opposition parties which puts party interest before the national interest, expressed grievances of not being discussed in the Parliament, contrary to the popular opinion of not making education a political issue. Of all the praises showered in speeches, articles, seminars, webinars, probably the issue of timeline set by the policy documents for implementation was in a less discussed agenda. Many critics expressed the apprehension about its implementation probably from their previous experiences about such policies as in the case of NPE 1986 which action plan was prepared after a lapse of six years in 1992. If one goes through the policy document of 2020, it will be found that almost all the major issues of education were embedded with dateline of implementation. This, rather forced the central and state governments, to start working on action plan for implementation by constituting Task Forces at various levels. Urgency of implementation was reflected on an online 'Visitor's Conference' on 19 September 2020 inaugurated by Hon'ble President of India, Ram Nath Kovind who also highly praised the various verticals of the policy.
The students of present class VIII will be the first batch to get the new curricular frame work and assessment system, starting next year according to the department of School Education and Literacy (SE & L) to turn it into reality at least in KVS, JNVS and schools under CBSE. Department of SE & L conducted online meetings with all states and UTs on 25th and 27th November 2020 to assess the preparedness for implementation of the policy. So far, the department has identified 300 tasks for a wide range of implementing agencies to carry out over the next five years. This is to ensure implementation of new policies from early childhood care education (ECCE) and Foundational Literacy & Numeracy (FL & N) to mother tongue medium schools and invigorate the teachers' training. All these tasks, basically for school education on priority basis, were shared with the states and UTs to ease the preparative plan for implementation. SCERT complexes are seen to be humming with officials of education departments, SCERT officials, educators, experts and academicians meeting frequently to formulate the action plans, a sense of emergency is prevailed.
National Curriculum Framework (NCF) was last drafted in 2005 and this is to be reviewed on or before 2021 by NCERT to include ECCE and adult education as new areas. The document so prepared is to be adapted and adopted by state governments and UTs (through SCERT) by 2022. The text books are to be re-written by NCERT and SCERT between 2021 and 2024. Next year during the academic session of 2021-22, class IX students are expected to be the pioneer of integrated secondary level (Class IX – XII) with no compartmentalisation of science, arts and commerce facing a total of 8 semesters with 2 board examinations in future (Class X and XII).
Competency-based questions, that were incorporated in the policy for evaluation of students, has already begun in 2020's examination papers (CBSE) containing 10% such questions. A gradual increase of such questions on reasoning and application will annul the practice of learning by rote, until competency-based questions make up 50-60% of the examination by 2025-26. It means the current class VIII students will appear class XII board examination with full reformation in 2025-26 session of examinations. Meanwhile CBSE will also be reformed and revamped by 2025-26. The scenario of Assam to conduct secondary level examination poses a difficulty as there is a board for conduction of school education up to class X and a Council for Higher Secondary Examinations (AHSEC). As secondary level of education up to XII is being proposed to be an integrated course, it demands a single board to be operational and the merger of this two boards is imminent with clear cut functionality. It may be named as Board of Secondary Education, Assam (let the word 'higher' be used for tertiary level of education). A legislation will be needed for this purpose with assignment of conduct of examinations, training/ orientation of teachers for examination purpose. Publication of text books and distribution may have to be entrusted to this merged organization (Development of text books is to be retained on the hands of SCERT). Timeline of the merger also have to be planned before class IX students start the new course proposed by NEP 2020.
ASER reports pointed out severe learning crisis throughout the country: a large population of students in elementary school has not attained Foundational Literacy and Numeracy. A mission mode program to mitigate this problem is being worked out in NEP 2020 suggesting several innovative steps. By 2025, every student in class V and beyond is to achieve FL & N. It means the action be initiated in class I level from 2021.
Teachers Training Curriculum is to be developed by National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) by 2022 and to be adopted by universities offering B.Ed degrees from 2023 onwards. A course is proposed to be developed to train Anganwadi workers in pre-school education in 2021, with course completion expected by 2024. To start with, from 2022, one year 'Balvatika' programs will be initiated at Anganwadi & preschool canters along with a 3-month preparatory module for class I learners. In the second phase, in 2023-24, another year of pre-primary education will be added through primary school and Anganwadis, thus integrating the first five year of education as envisioned by NEP. There is a huge financial implication of implementation of ECCE and FL & N Mission which are to be rolled out by 2021 – 22 and states and UTs are to include allocation of funds for this in the budget plan of the current year.
To monitor the progress of learners, National Achievement Surveys are proposed to be conducted in 2021, 2023 and 2025 to test the language and mathematics skills of class III students. State Achievement Surveys are proposed for the years 2022, 2024 and 2026.
It is a recommendation of the policy to stop selection of para-teachers or contractual teachers by 2022. It is encouraging to note that Assam Government has advertised for 5043 elementary school teacher vacancies (DEE) and 5746 High school teachers by DSE in the months of September and October respectively in 2020. Let us hope that appointments will be made prior to 2021 Assembly election in Assam though these are long standing vacancies of schools, leaving aside creation of new posts as necessary - only in LP level there are more than 3000 single teacher school.
According to U-DISE data, Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) for classes I to V is over 95%. There is a progressive lowering of GER from UP to Secondary level in India (about 52% in class XI) revealing a significant dropout after class V. In absolute number it is more than 6 crores who remain out of school. It is taken as a top priority and proposed that by 2030, the GER is to be 100% at all levels of school education – a challenging task ahead. Also the GER in higher education in Bharat is around 26%, which is to be raised to 50% by 2035, the plan of which is pronounced in NEP 2020.
While the policy is timely and its objectives are noble, it calls for transformational leadership not only at centre but also in state and UTs to bring about the far reaching changes visualised to galvanize education system to attain global standard.