Dr Bijaya Kumar Sahoo, advisor to the Odisha government and founder & chairman of SAI International Education Group, talks to The Daily Guardian on how Covid-19 has impacted India’s education system, especially in the rural areas, and the way forward. Excerpts:
Q. Most schools are running digital classes but do you think this will suffice?
A. Technology will always be an enabler in the teaching and learning process. We were already using technology in our classrooms as smart-classes; however, the difference today is that students are not there in the school for that we had to take the classrooms to the homes of the children with the aid of digital technology. This is the new normal and the future of education will be blended learning with an ideal mix of online and offline teaching and learning process.
At the Odisha Adarsha Vidyalayas, the Odisha government-run CBSE, English medium schools, one in each block of the state, we have imbedded technology in the teaching and learning processes by using all mediums, starting from Zoom and Google Meet virtual classes, reaching out to students through WhatsApp, cell phones, YouTube. We have been able to cover 60-70% students as most of our schools are present in most interior and forest covered remote areas of the state.
Q. What are the current challenges before schools especially in rural areas?
A. As per the ASER survey report 2019, almost 90% of rural children in the age group of 4-8 years have started going to school. But at the same time the report also indicates that more than 50% of the students in 5th standard attending rural schools are not capable of reading a second standard textbook and are not able to solve simple mathematical problems. While when we talk about the education scenario during the pandemic in the rural areas is a little unprecedented and the Covid times have surely unmasked the state of affairs in various states of India. The school shut down has impacted the economically weaker sections of the society. After recovering from the pandemic, the second huge challenge for the students will be the completion of course. The time of the lockdown will take the student back to knowing nothing. The less privileged school children have minimum access to technology even in the 21st century. It is difficult for schools to bring in online learning platforms. For the reasons of minimum grants to set up technology enabled remote classes and the inability of students in remotely accessing online platforms.
Q. The primary and pre-primary students need parental guidance during e-classes. What should be done so that young students don’t miss learning during the pandemic?
A. Since we have moved the classrooms into homes, parents are taking up the primary role in ensuring that the e-classes are conducted seamlessly as a facilitator of e-learning. Yes, indeed students need parental guidance during e-classes. Much has been spoken about raising the EQ (Emotional Quotient) in children, but now is the time to introduce DQ (Digital Quotient) among the parents as well as the children. DQ is the awareness and application of existing and emerging digital technologies, capabilities, practices and strategies and how to be friendly with it. In the digital world the DQ will play a major role in shaping the future generation.
Q. Schools are facing a financial crisis. Meanwhile parents too are unable to pay fees for their children. What should be done to find a middle ground?
A. The pandemic has brought about a financial crisis for everyone, including the institutes; however, they need to be maintained so as to keep them ready to welcome the students when the lockdown is lifted. Normally the fixed cost of schools is 85% to 90% of the revenue; we all need to be mindful of the fact that private schools are not funded by the government and survive on fees collected from parents. Parents also have their financial crisis, loss of jobs and loss in business, etc, so there needs to be a middle path. A path on which both parents and schools can walk hand in hand. There needs to be an atmosphere of positive co-existence of partnership between parents and the institutions for the bright future of the students.
Q. What changes do you suggest in current policies to ensure better learning in schools?
A. I feel India has a long way to go to transform the education system. A few changes, I feel, that can bring about a change are:
1. Not just rote learning: More focus should be given on blended learning rather than on rote learning; the emphasis should be on head, heart and hand than on reading writing and arithmetic;
2. Student-centric learning: The teaching should be from the students’ perspective and the teacher’s role should shift from a mere a teacher to a learning curator who will enable learning and guide the students in the right direction;
3. Changing assessment system: This will allow students to follow their passion without the fear of failure and they will be assessed based not just on the marks obtained but on the various other factors such as their logical and analytical skills, their creativity, their aptitude, their skill sets which may vary from student to student and not make it look quantified;
4. Experiential Learning: Learning with experience or learning through reflection of doing, by applying the theory to get the realworld experience. This will help students comprehend topics and also help them retain them.
5. Integrating AI into education: Covid has proved that learning is possible even while staying at home. AI-augmented learning is the need of the hour in the education system so that learning becomes uniform and equal for both urban and rural children.
NEP 2020: Imparting global outlook without negating Indian ethos
It is for the first time in independent India that a sincere and serious effort has been made to usher in far-reaching transformations in India’s educational system.
India can become a true knowledge society and economy only when it comes out of the shackles of Lord Macaulay’s Westernised education system so deep rooted in our country. It is for the first time in independent India that a sincere and serious effort has been made to usher in farreaching transformations in India’s educational system. This new National Education Policy (NEP), announced by the government, is geared towards preparing our students for meaningful and satisfying lives and responsible citizenship roles with a global outlook but rooted in Indian ethos.
What is strikingly unique about NEP is the extent and magnitude of consultations that were carried out before finalising the education policy. Stakeholders from across the country — nearly 2.5 lakh gram panchayats, 6,600 blocks, 6,000 urban local bodies, 676 districts — were consulted for their feedback. The draft NEP was translated into 22 languages. Consultations were held with the state governments and members of Parliament. In JNU too we held a one-day workshop on draft NEP and had consultations with faculty members. Our feedback was sent to the MHRD and we are glad that some of our suggestions were positively considered. Therefore, I have no doubt in my mind that this NEP is clearly a democratic outcome of the collective efforts of all the stakeholders.
The NEP is very exhaustive with futuristic approaches to uplift and transform the education in India. NEP deals in detail with all aspects of education in India right from school education to higher education, from quality of teaching learning processes to high quality research in universities, from teacher training to governing structures of educational institutes, use of technology, promotion of indigenous knowledge systems and many other important issues that confront education in our country. However, I would like to focus on how NEP addresses a few important issues that are close to my heart.
Let us first see how NEP caters to the disadvantaged sections. We know from National Statistical Office (NSO) reports that about 12 per cent of girls drop out of school to get married and another 32 per cent for domestic reasons. Nearly 35 per cent of boys drop out for financial and employment reasons. We must end this trend of dropping out from school. There are three ways in which NEP aims to address this issue of drop out. First, by making efforts to incentivise the meritorious students belonging to SC, ST, OC and other socially and economically disadvantages groups. Private HEIs will also be asked to play a role by offering larger numbers of free ships and scholarships. Second, NEP encourages HEIs to offer Open and distance learning with a target to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio to 50%. Third, and this is the most important aspect, is the integration of vocational education and multiple entry/exit points. Depending on the family or financial situation, students will have the opportunity to take breaks in their education and come back to complete their education. Further, NEP outlines the establishment of alternative and innovative education centres to help students who drop out of school are brought back to education, particularly the children of migrant labourers.
Swami Vivekananda said, “The men and the women are the two wheels of the society. Hence, we need education for the females as we need for the males.” Unfortunately, even decades after Independence, we still do not see a larger participation of girls in higher education. To enable more girls to be part of higher education, the NEP proposes that the Government of India will develop a ‘Gender-Inclusion Fund’ to build the nation’s capacity to provide quality and equitable education for all girls. The aim is to make sure every girl in the country is part of the schooling system and high proportion of the in higher education by fostering gender equity and inclusion. Here, educational institutes too have to play a proactive role by engaging with the civil society to adopt best practices and inculcate girl’s capacity for leadership. NEP envisages that all schools develop appropriate mechanism to eschew discrimination, harassment and intimidation of women and girls. The NEP suggests that the gender inclusion fund will be made available to the States to address local context-specific impediments which come in the way of providing access to good education to female and transgender children. To prevent drop out and provide suitable and safe environs, free boarding facilities are planned to be built for students who from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds and particularly for girls. The idea is to ensure that every student who will come of school is proficient in at least on skill.
One important segment of our society on whom we have so far not paid significant attention in making them enabled workforce is the people with disabilities. NEP has given a great emphasis on establishing resource centres for learners with severe or multiple disabilities at village/ block level to provide skills to these learners. There is also a proposal to develop a common Indian Sign Language in addition to encouraging the local sign languages. To the students with disabilities, language-appropriate teaching-learning materials will be provided so that they can seamlessly integrate into the school eco-system. If differently-abled students in school education can progress to higher education with financial support from scholarships for talented and meritorious students as planned in NEP, it will create greater opportunities to them to be part of India’s economic growth.
The emphasis given by NEP to impart early childhood education in either mother tongue or in one of the local languages will have a far reaching positive impact on students and their thinking process. It is well known that the choice of language for instruction in early years of school education decides educational outcomes. Research shows that learning outcomes are best when education is imparted in a language familiar to the early learners, which invariably happens to be their mother tongue or local language. NEP aims to raise the status of all Indian languages and their literature. There is strong endorsement of the three-language formula in the education policy which will enhance national integration. If advanced countries can preserve their languages in the face of internationalisation, why can’t India preserve its truly rich languages and literatures?
The plans mooted by NEP for introducing holistic and multidisciplinary education with emphasis on flexibility make it the best and truly the first National Education Policy that India has ever envisioned after Independence.
The writer is Vice-Chancellor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
NEP 2020: Explained in 20 points
1. 10+2 board structure is dropped.
2. New school structure will be 5+3+3+4.
3. Up to 5 preschools, 6 to 8 mid-school, 8 to 11 high school, 12 onwards graduation.
4. Any degree will be 4 years.
5. 6th standard onwards vocational courses available.
6. From 8th to 11th students can choose subjects.
7. All graduation courses will have major and minor (example: science students can have Physics as major and Music as minor also. Any combination he can choose).
8. All higher education will be governed by only one authority.
9. UGC AICTE will be merged.
10. All university — government, private, Open, Deemed, Vocational, etc — will have the same grading and other rules.
11. New teacher training board will be set up for all kinds of teachers in the country, no state can change.
12. The same level of accreditation to any college, based on its rating college will get autonomous rights and funds.
13. The new basic learning programme will be created by the government for parents to teach children up to 3 years at home and for preschool 3 to 6.
14. Multiple entries and exit from any course.
15. Credit system for graduation for each year; student will get some credits which he can utilise if he takes a break in the course and comes back again to complete course.
16. All schools exams will be semester-wise twice a year.
17. The syllabus will be reduced to core knowledge of any subject only.
18. More focus on student’s practical and application knowledge.
19. For any graduation course if the student completes only one year he will get a basic certificate, if he completes two years then he will get a diploma certificate, and if he completes the full course then he will get a degree certificate. So no year of any student will be wasted if he breaks the course in between.
20. All graduation course fees of all universities will be governed by a single authority with capping on each course.
A much-needed change to meet 21st-century challenges
Embodying the great legacy of Indian tradition, inspired by the vision of Mahatma Gandhi, and committed to the Constitution, given by Dr B.R. Ambedkar, the new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 seems well-prepared to meet the global challenges of the 21st century. This is a significant change in the Indian educational policy owing to the changing needs of the country and the world, after 34 long years.
NEP 2020 is a democratic policy, coming into play after wide consultations from stakeholders from every nook and corner of the country. Another important development and the need of the hour is the renaming of the Ministry of Human Resource Development to the Ministry of Education. With the term ‘human resource’, one conceives human beings as physical resources devoid of human sensibilities and ‘sanskars’ (values). However, the term ‘education’ retains all the qualities of a human being including physical, cultural and of course psychological.
Perhaps the most revolutionary feature of NEP in terms of formal school education is to have regional languages as a medium of instruction till at least 5th grade or preferably till 8th grade and beyond. English will now be taught only as a subject. Researches of educational psychology as well as UNESCO Report 2008 suggest that one can cognise and communicate better, faster and easier in the mother tongue. Besides, it will prove to be a boon in strengthening Indian languages and culture.
Additionally, there won’t be any special distinction between academic curriculum, extracurricular activities and vocational education in schools. Vocational instruction, rather, will be an integral part of the former. Also, from grade 6, children will be trained in coding which is an efficient means of futureproofing them. Vocational education will continue to be a part and parcel of university learning too, a useful move to prepare the youth for selfemployment and entrepreneurship.
Inflexibility in stream separation at the higher secondary level has been done away with instead students will now have the luxury to choose two unrelated subjects. For instance, Majoring in Chemistry with a Minor in Performance Studies. A student of Science or Commerce will have the opportunity to study the Arts and Humanities as well. This system will continue at the undergraduate level too. Another major feature of NEP is the introduction of special incentives and provisions for meritorious SC, ST, OBC, women, ‘divyangs’, and EWS students. Efforts will be also made to provide larger numbers of fellowships and scholarships to these sections in private sector higher education institutions (HEIs), besides the public one.
At the higher education front, NEP opens doors for new possibilities. Apart from flexibility of streams, where students of Science, Commerce or Humanities would be allowed to study each other’s subjects, or inclusion of vocational education in college, a salient feature of the bachelor’s program is a multi-entry and multi-exit scheme. Currently, we have a three-year bachelor’s degree. In case a student is unable to complete said degree and has to leave mid-way, more often than not, money and hard work go in vain. Now even after completing one year or two years, if required, a certificate or diploma will be given. She or he can complete the remaining studies by coming back within a time limit. After three years of study, one will get a bachelor’s degree.
NEP however, has parlayed a four-year bachelor’s degree, a ‘Bachelor with Research’ degree, a necessity for those interested in pursuing post graduation and/or PhD. Such a four-year system has had positive effects in developed countries like America, Japan, and Korea etc. NEP also provides students the freedom to leave a course in between and take admission in other courses.
NEP also emphasises on holistic and multidisciplinary education. All single-disciplinary institutions such as Law, Agricultural studies, Rural Studies et al, will be converted into multi-disciplinary institutions. Premier engineering institutes like IITs will move towards a holistic and multidisciplinary direction with greater coordination of arts and humanities, an important step towards interdisciplinary research. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) of the USA, one of the best Global HEIs, is a good case in this context.
NEP targets to invest 6% of GDP in education, a longcherished goal since the Kothari Commission. Overall, NEP 2020 has lofty vision and goals and will prove to be capable of meeting the needs and challenges of India in the 21st century. The only challenge would be its implementation.
Niranjan Kumar is a Professor in the Department of Hindi, University of Delhi.
NEP sounds like a wishy-washy policy
The NEP 2020 is an extension of the ongoing Right-wing agenda and incorporates a lot of what these forces in the country want. None of it is new though — dropping c h a p t e r s , c h a n g i n g textbooks, this has always been in place. This is a complete reversal of Nehruvian ideals, and we had been doing great so far. The talk of granting autonomy to colleges and introducing fouryear programmes is also about a disturbing shift towards privatisation and Americanisation of higher educational institutions, which would work towards excluding the poor.
The shift towards such a foreign neoliberal model is totally unsuited for the majority of the population.
This is also a considerable attack on good central universities in India. The move towards regional languages as the medium of instruction is also doubtful. Moreover, the language of educational materials and skill training has not been developed to accommodate this. Can you imagine learning about nuclear physics in Hindi? Overall, the NEP sounds like a wishy-washy policy.
Aditya Mukherjee is a historian and JNU professor. As told to Poulomi Paul.
Doesn’t seem feasible for a country as diverse as India
How can a single regional language be imposed on students in metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai? The policy does not seem feasible for a country as diverse as India. Our diversity is a strength, not a weakness, and such policies can signal linguistic and cultural homogenisation. The imminent privatisation of educational institutions is also a sign of the government not willing to realise economic disparities in India. If university fees begin to equal that of private schools, then we are not recognising the people who depend on state patronage. So many people can seek education only if the government comes to their rescue. However, some changes like moving from a single-stream approach to a more multidisciplinary approach should be welcomed. Students from disciplines like engineering need to be taught beyond the tools of their trade. They can become better human beings with some knowledge of social studies and humanities. The phasing out of MPhil programmes makes sense too. However, a policy like the NEP 2020 cannot be simply announced or implemented without due debate in Parliament. I still have a lot of doubts about this document.
Habib is a historian and author of ‘To Make the Deaf Hear: Ideology and Programme of Bhagat Singh and his Comrades’. As told to Poulomi Paul
JEE Mains 2020: Easy tips to crack the exam code
Cracking a national-level examination is not a piece of cake. Therefore, you need to stay motivated to pursue the task with all your mind, soul and strength. The second attempt of JEE Mains 2020 is now scheduled from 1-6 September. With tough competition and hard questions, the exam has become a nemesis of India’s future technocrats who want to pursue their education in India’s premier engineering institutes mainly IITs. Here are some tips JEE aspirants can follow to prepare:
Make a proper schedule
All aspirants who wish to crack JEE Mains are advised to make a proper schedule for their days including time for study, breaks and even naptime. A balanced day chart with due time given to rest is mandatory to remain focused and concentrated. When planning out a preparation schedule, it is important that you include your free time, time to play around, enjoy and party, while also including your study schedule. Proper utilisation of your time will only enhance your efficiency.
Structure your syllabus
While structuring your syllabus, keep in mind the different sub-topics of the chapter and the various books that you can use for the preparation of that particular topic. Divide your topics in three zones: weak, moderate and strong. Try to focus more on strong chapters of yours during the last day revision and just read the important concept and formulae of weak chapters. When preparing the timetable, define the duration for completing a topic or chapter. Remember, completing a topic before the set deadline is always a booster.
Make mind maps
This personal obsession of mine has been of utmost help to my students in my decade of teaching. A ‘Mind Map’ is one where one jots down all the equations and theories used in that chapter in the form of flowcharts in a single page.
Revision is the key to success
Revise those questions which were doubtful during the first time. Use different pens to write short notes. Cramming all the equations, theories and questions will not help, understanding the logic and reasoning will. Hence, you should attempt JEE Mains mock tests and solve previous year question papers. On the other hand, do not spend hours on one topic or question either, you will only be wasting your time. If you are stuck at someplace, it is better to seek guidance on the issue or keep it aside for later, so that you can complete the rest of the chapter or topic.
Slow is smooth & smooth is faster
Maintain your calm and let go off every thought except for the question or concept that you are grappling with. This will slow you down but you will gain smoothness. With due time and practice, this smoothness will give you speed and accuracy. This ‘mantra’ too has worked wonders!
The author is a mathematics faculty and heads a Surat-based coaching institute—IITeasy.
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