Growing up, I had a poster in my room which bore the Mark Twain quote: "I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." The line articulates what all of us have experienced, that one’s real education happens outside school, in the real world.
And yet, to school we must go, even as internationally there is a rising trend of parents going in for home schooling.
The National Education Policy 2020 aims to overhaul India’s education system, right from pre-school to the university level. The most fundamental change is doing away with the present 10+2+3 structure to a 5+3+3+4 one.
This translates into a four year undergraduate degree, with the option to transfer credits to a different institution and an emphasis on the interdisciplinary approach.
The breaking down of ‘streams’ (Arts, Science, Commerce) is potentially the most significant proposal in the NEP. Very often these streams acquire a gender bias. For instance, I wanted to take Arts in standard XI but couldn’t do so because in small towns the thinking is that Arts is for girls. My school was an all-boys one. The girls’ schools in Allahabad did not offer Commerce. A student who has taken science might be interested in taking a paper in Psychology or Political Science or even advanced Literature.
In college in Delhi, I knew students who had chosen Physics in their first year, but as the year went on they became more interested in Philosophy.
This is not unusual. In Oxford, Physics and Philosophy are a standard combo. But in DU, under the previous system, the student would have to drop a year and reapply the next year. The teachers allowed the student to sit in on Philosophy lectures. But it was a year down the drain for no good reason. All this might soon be a thing of the past.
The three-language formula has raised some concerns. The proposal to do away with English till standards V or VIII will be debated. Most surveys show that in government schools the majority of parents would prefer it if their wards were taught in the English medium, even in schools that offered a dual medium of instruction. On the other hand, the advantage of this policy is that it allows one to learn one’s mother tongue in a formal setting. A tribal child can now learn her own language (in addition to Hindi and English), a language that might disappear otherwise.
In education, the more things change, the more they remain in school. My uncles attended government schools in Mumbai in the 1950s and 1960s. They were introduced to English in standard VIII.
The first introduction to the alphabet came via a simple rhyme: ‘Happy, happy shall we be/When we have learnt our ABC.’ The NEP harks back to that time. In the Protestant school I attended, we did Sanskrit for four years, alongside Hindi and English. We were always learning three languages.
Similarly, the new focus on ‘vocational skills’ like carpentry is not new. We had a period called ‘manual’ for three years in middle school. I did carpentry, which involved cutting out a T from a plank of wood. I was terrible at it.
Some commentators have tried to turn the NEP into a Left versus Right debate. This is misleading. That one should be taught in one’s mother tongue is not a thought exclusive to the Right. Take the example of Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, just behind Khan Market, where the Khan Market gang sends its children. They’ve long had policy of teaching all subjects in Hindi till standard V.
There is a proposal to make evaluation simpler. The policy proposes: "Any student who has been going to and making a basic effort in a school class will be able to pass and do well in the corresponding subject Board Exam without much additional effort."
So passing an exam will not be such an uphill task. And yet, it was the present government which had scrapped Kapil Sibal’s policy of no exams till standard VIII. In higher education, the MPhil degree will be scrapped. One goes straight from a Masters to a PhD programme.
There have been murmurs of protest about this. Several students would like to pursue their chosen discipline, say Sociology, up until the MPhil level.
They might not have the wherewithal or time or inclination to pursue a fullfledged PhD. The MPhil is valuable because it allows the student to specialise with an emphasis on research and field work. The NEP envisions getting more students into the fold of higher education.
In India, it was never a big deal to get a university degree. Many students of Allahabad University — where my father taught — who had enrolled in the English literature course, could barely speak a word of the language, forget about getting the finer points of TS Eliot’s ‘Wasteland’. Even now, seats in engineering and medical colleges go abegging.
The proposal to attract foreign universities to Indian shores has failed in the past. Finally, the word ‘holistic’ appears a few hundred times in the NEP draft. The bureaucrats who wrote it will definitely benefit from a writing workshop.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)