The New Education Policy 2020 has rightly tried to broaden the basket of courses taught in Indian schools. Its overall aim is to inculcate multidisciplinary learning across subjects that were previously neglected, including various arts. But to do this, India needs qualified teachers. Edtech can help.
Education is fundamental for achieving full human potential and equitable national development. The purpose of the education system is to develop good citizens capable of rational thought and action, possessing compassion and empathy, courage and resilience, scientific temper and creative imagination, with sound ethical moorings and values. It should aim to produce engaged, productive and contributing citizens for building an equitable, inclusive and plural society as envisaged by our Constitution.
India’s erstwhile education policy had existed since 1986 and was revised in 1992. In this policy, the syllabus was focused on textbook learning. Only specified subjects such as Mathematics, Sciences, Social Sciences, English, Hindi, Computer and General Knowledge were allowed at the primary school level.
For years, academics and scholars have debated the need for change in the system. Many have often said that the system needs to promote additional subjects which focus on skills and vocation. Students need to be given vocational training from an early age. They should be given access to classes that focus on real-world skills and holistic development of the child’s mind and personality. This is especially crucial in the age of start-ups and technological innovation. In the modern knowledge economy, the Indian labour force needs to have both creative thinking and knowledge.
School systems in developed countries allow students to gain such skills that go beyond bookish learning. In the United States, students have the choice of learning subjects other than science and mathematics, such as ethics, behaviour study, psychology and sex education – all as part of the main curriculum. Music, dance, drama and art are not just treated as hobbies but as subjects which students can learn and pursue as a career, per their choice. In India, however, most students do not get access to this wide range of learning opportunities.
The New Education Policy 2020 has tried to bring some change into this curriculum. As per this new policy, the extant 10+2 structure in school education will be modified into a new pedagogical and curricular structure of 5+3+3+4, covering ages 3-18. Currently, children in the age group of 3-6 are not covered in the 10+2 structure, as Class 1 begins at age 6. In the new 5+3+3+4 structure, a strong base of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) from age 3 is also included, which is aimed at promoting better overall learning, development, and well-being.
The ECCE focuses on multi-level, play-based, activity-based learning, comprising of the alphabet, numbers, languages, colours, shapes, sports, puzzles, logical thinking and problem solving, drawing and painting and other visual art, drama, dance, music and poetry. The curriculum also focuses on ethics and behaviour and cleanliness skills. The overall aim of ECCE will be to attain optimal outcomes in the domains of physical and motor development, cognitive development, socio-emotional-ethical development, cultural/artistic development, and the development of communication and early language, literacy and numeracy.
The policy also hopes to reduce the syllabus which students used to previously memorise a day before the exam, instead including more logical thinking and activity-based learning. In the 5+3+3+4 structure, the first five years will be known as the foundational stage, which includes three years of Aanganwadi learning, followed by Classes 1 and 2. The preparatory stage, from Classes 3-5, will be an extension of the ECCE-based syllabus, which will include textbooks.
The middle stage comprises Classes 6-8, which will focus on concept-based learning across different subjects, including arts, humanities and sciences. In this stage, teachers will also emphasise on multi-disciplinary ‘cross-learning’ to explore relations across different subjects. The final four years of high school will comprise of multidisciplinary study. The policy aims to do this with a focus on critical thinking, attention to the student’s aspirations, and greater flexibility and choice between subjects.
On the medium of instruction, the policy has said that regional languages and mother tongues will be ‘promoted’, instead of English. This has received a lot of flak from various academics and scholars. If students will not be learning English from an early age, they will find many global opportunities inaccessible.
However, the policy has expanded the basket of languages to include foreign languages, such as Korean, Japanese, Thai, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian – offered at the secondary level (Classes 9-12). This will help students enrich their knowledge of the world and improve global mobility according to their interests and aspirations. Yet, the absence of Mandarin (the Chinese language) will likely have negative repercussions.
Yet, despite these aspirations, the government has failed to present a plan of action to execute this policy. Education inequality between rural and urban India, as well as the lack of infrastructure, will affect access to quality teaching in the new subjects for many students.
To fulfil the new education policy, the government has to start with the development of infrastructure in rural areas. Appointing teachers and training them is a difficult task. This new policy will require teachers to be equipped with the knowledge of all the new subjects included in the policy – and in rural areas, finding such teachers will be extremely challenging.
Online education and Edtech (or education technology) platforms could provide a potential solution. There are plenty of online platforms such as Coursera that offer courses in the many additional subjects that have been included in the policy – and some of these platforms even offer certificates. But they are not part of the formal education system. In order to bridge the gap between rural and urban schools, and improve teaching capacity, the government should either create its own Edtech platform to cater to schools across the country, or engage with platforms that already exist.
The workforce of the future requires capabilities that go beyond bookish learning. Indian schools should give their students a more holistic and multidisciplinary training.