(Written by Anita Karwal)
An over-enthusiastic head of an urban school that I once visited told me that she took great pride in the fact that during school hours there was always pin-drop silence in her institution. I was aghast. Such pride in a culture that takes the joy out of being a child, a culture that sees indiscipline in the animated chatter of children as they play, collaborate, express their ideas and help their peers shows how far some schools may have digressed from the path of real education.
Gijubhai Badheka, better known as the educationist who helped introduce Montessori methods to India, wrote in his brilliant work, Divya Swapna: “The school culture we have in our country demands that the thousand and one things of children’s interest ranging from insects to stars, be considered irrelevant to classroom study. An average teacher works on the assumption that his job is to teach from the textbook and to prepare children for the examination. He does not perceive that it is a part of his responsibility to develop the child’s curiosity. Nor does the school provide conditions in which the teacher could fulfil the responsibility.” This book was written in the 1930s but strikes a chord even today.
If the goal of school education was indeed to prepare children for examinations, there was no need for the country to run 15.07 lakh schools, with 96.86 lakh teachers and to enrol 26.43 crore students. All we had to do was to prepare rigorous SOPs and kunji-like textbooks, hand them over to children at their homes and ask them to appear on designated dates at examination centres to showcase their powers of memorisation.
Examinations are not the final goal of a rewarding learning experience. They are, at best, one of the multiple milestones to be crossed by a child on her path to holistic growth and development.
The National Education Policy, 2020, uses two interesting phrases: “No hard separations” and “elimination of silos”. These terms are, of course, used in the context of areas of learning. However, they have implications in almost all areas of education. As the country begins to work on implementing the policy, it is imperative to understand these phrases and their implications. Here is an example. NEP 2020 requires the achievement of common standards for high-quality education in all schools — that is, removing differences between public and private schools — through the setting up of a State Standard Setting Authority (SSSA). Similarly, it requires a continuum of learning from pre-school to higher education.
The most significant implications of the removal of “hard separations”, however, are at the classroom level. The barrier of language needs to go first by introducing the mother tongue/language spoken by the child as the medium to understand numeracy and all other items of knowledge, particularly in the foundational years. Pedagogy can no longer be disconnected from the child and will have to be activity-based and experiential, facilitating cognitive growth through story-telling, art and craft, sports and theatre. Classrooms need to move away from the typical seating plan — all the children facing the board — for them to be more joyful spaces. The seating plan will have to be flexible — sometimes in a circle, but often in groups. Schools will need to embrace a variety of teaching and learning materials and methods — toys, puppets, magazines, worksheets, comic and storybooks, nature walks, visits to local craftspersons.
NEP 2020 seeks to break a dogma: Testing only what is written in the textbooks. A lot of research shows that an enabling environment is one in which a child is constantly learning — to collaborate, think critically, solve problems, be creative and articulate. The end of the year examination results do not reflect the full potential or uniqueness of a child. Therefore, we need to look beyond examinations and look at assessment only as a means of learning. With the force of the NEP behind us, we must plan to have less curriculum but more in-depth knowledge, less content but more competency, less textbooks but more diverse learning, less stress but more joy, less assessment by the teacher but more self and peer evaluation. And finally, fewer silos but more connections.
The writer is Secretary, School Education and Literacy, Ministry of Education