CSIS

Centre for South Indian Studies

NEP 2020: Good, but can be Better

Below is feedback on draft NEP which was finalized and released in 2020. The NEP is a welcome change. It is much awaited and long overdue. It is one of the most important areas where a fresh outlook and policy is long awaited by the nation and we are happy that the government has acted on it and published for public feedback.

However, it is also an area where expectations are varied and high. As India slowly comes out of a colonial shadow, and attempts to rediscover herself, education and learning processes become extremely important in her identity and aspirations. Thus, while we understand that an education policy meant for future can address only limited requirements, it is important to see whether the fundamentals required for a great and bright future are addressed, and not just whether the visible defects of the present system are being addressed. Whether the foundations are laid for a future evolution in the right direction, rather than whether all the right things are incorporated, is the perspective from which we viewed the policy.

The feedback enclosed is on the draft policy released in 2019, and the sections referred in the feedback are from the draft. However, most of the feedback holds good in the final policy and we deem it prudent to retain the feedback.

Introduction

This is a feedback on the Draft National Education Policy 2019 (https://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/Draft_NEP_2019_EN_Revised.pdf).

It is heartening to see the draft of education policy. It is one of the most important areas where a fresh outlook and policy is long awaited by the nation and we are happy that the government has acted on it and published for public feedback.

However, it is also an area where expectations are varied and high. As India slowly comes out of a colonial shadow, and attempts to rediscover herself, education and learning processes become extremely important in her identity and aspirations. Thus, while we understand that an education policy meant for future can address only limited requirements, it is important to see whether the fundamentals required for a great and bright future are addressed, and not just whether the visible defects of the present system are being addressed.

Purposes of Education and Policy

It is stated in the vision that the policy seeks an India centered education, however much of the outlook and specifics of policy both appear to draw overwhelmingly from the prevalent western models. How so, we try to explain in comments on specific sections. The structure of policy itself, as it appears, to be a post-colonial structure.

The purposes of education while evident, need to be spelt out because that sets the background for the priorities visible in the policy. As it appears, the policy document itself sounds more like a list of wishes and commandments, with no clear and established bases that can be revisited later.

An India centered education policy would seek to establish first, the bases for education and knowledge, the purposes and means. The premises and assumptions, their rationale needs to be spelt out even before embarking on the mission of framing a policy. Then it becomes a scientific, refutable and a methodically modifiable document with a scope for evolution and improvement. This has truly been the Indian spirit towards knowledge and compiling texts.

Emphasis on Literacy

Chapter 2 of the draft NEP focusses on foundational literacy and numeracy. This focus appears to be simply a continuation of the past, and not reflect a vision for future. It also is a case in point, of assuming the goodness of literacy without stating or establishing the premise for it.

For a historic perspective, it needs to be noted that literacy came into emphasis in India during the post-feudal age when the ability to read and write was a protection against exploitation and a means for individual employability, and it served other such basis purposes.

And back then there was criticism from seers and scholars on the focus of literacy and its disproportionate prominence in education and knowledge. For example we can cite Ananda K Coomaraswamy’s Bugbear of Literacy (http://www.worldwisdom.com/public/viewpdf/default.aspx?article-title=The_Bugbear_of_Literacy_by_Ananda_Coomaraswamy.pdf). Education and gaining of knowledge happen in several modes and literacy especially the written mode was only important in one phase.

As time progressed, technology evolved greatly and the importance of literacy too diminished, while knowledge of language and abilities to communicate have increased.  Thus there is a greater possibility today, and it will only increase with time, to disentangle education, learning and knowledge from literacy.

This change needs to be considered while framing policy for future education and means for education identified on a broader basis than tying it down to literacy-centric methods.

Few examples to cite:

  1. Today there are means to get text read in audio, and the ability to read is not as vital and indispensable as it was some time ago.
  2. Similarly the ability to write has also greatly diminished in importance with digitizing and technology makes it easier to type or even use a touch screen.
  3. The nature of signature and its importance has greatly changed, and individuals can validate their approvals through biometric and other means. This means that written signature is today not as important as it was some time ago.

While there have been these advantages that diminish the importance of literacy, there are also changes in the nature of fraud and exploitation that individuals need to guard against, and a different order of “literacy” is required for future which has little relation to the ability to read and write.

Literacy, Teaching and Examination System

Learning can happen in audio, visual or kinesthetic modes. Over time the focus on visual mode has been disproportionate. Time is ripe for a due and proportionate focus on audio mode of learning, which was prominent in India in the past and is going to be in the future world. In what ways audio is superior to video mode in learning, we discuss in the subsequent section.

Literacy has brought prominence to visual mode of learning, and lack of vision is compensated with braille. However, in a mode of learning where sound is primary, lack of vision ceases to be a major handicap.

Technology makes it possible to undo the undue importance attached with writing skills. Texts can be heard in audio mode instead of reading. Writing is an unnecessary overhead and a distraction in learning process, and the sooner the education system minimizes its relevance the better it is for making learning process learner-friendly.

Examination system can also be made more robust, effective and purposeful by making the system audio:

  1. Examination can be audio and the exam session audio-recorded for probity. If storage is not a constraint, it could also be video. Re-evaluation of the same session is always possible in case of a grievance, or even a re-exam.
  2. This makes examination more about what the individual student knows rather than a generalized question paper. An answer paper can be written by memory or copy, without actual understanding of the subject. Audio in contrast, reveals a lot more qualitative and subjective details of the student’s actual command on the subject than an answer paper.
  3. This also leaves scope for follow up question on what the student knows within the stipulated time, thus grading the students better for their learning, their readiness for application of the knowledge.
  4. Examination duration significantly comes down in an audio mode, as the measure of thoroughness is known through small breadth and very few depth questions unlike a written exam.

Thus, a good use of a technology takes us closer to an Indic way of teaching, learning and examination, and at the same time makes it more effective.

In many institutions written tests are taken as preliminary, clearing which qualifies candidates for an interview where more subjective evaluation happens. The need for this diminishes if the previous graduating places have personal level evaluations done and their score can directly count towards preliminary rounds.

Pedagogy and Shaping the Being

Indic pedagogy needs to be duly considered while framing a policy around pedagogy. While the draft NEP states the importance of an all-round development of the being, it buys into the western model that diminishes the importance of rote learning. The beauty of Indic pedagogy is that it places every aspect of learning in the right perspective and proportion. We will touch upon two important aspects of it, to indicate how the NEP aligns/deviates from it:

Audio vs Visual mode

The ability to read and write also relates to visual mode in a way. As per our seers, while visual mode is powerful in making an impression in the external world, but deep knowledge and inward development of the being relate more with audio mode. Thus while eye is powerful in the outer impressions, ear is far more powerful in the inner world of the being.

Sound has a deeper relation with the soul than light. As a being takes birth in a human body, sound is heard much earlier than opening of the eye. And while the being departs from the body, sound is lost much later than vision. Corresponding to a subtler element (space), sound is a more subtle principle and acts deeper on the being than light which corresponds more to form.

Thus while developing a being, the ability to learn through audio mode, getting examined in audio mode, and hence an oral imparting of knowledge is extremely important.

Memory and Analytical Skills

Indic knowledge systems place a great emphasis on training the memory in the early phases of learning. This is because, a well trained memory enables the being for a far wider and deeper learning than one with instant processing abilities. A good memory also relates to quicker grasp eventually.

The important thing to note however, is that memory is trained by imparting what is supposed to be a permanent knowledge for the child, what the child needs to remember for life for shaping one’s character and worldview. Training of memory involves remembering what is of permanent value, ability to discriminate what is not to be remembered, ability to create links in mind to recall what is indirectly and what is directly remembered and so on.

The main problem in present education system is that it does not impart anything that is of permanent value in the childhood. Thus there is no good purpose served by rote learning, and in fact it is corrupting memory with information of temporary value.

Thus the curriculum for primary education, apart from introduction to alphabet and numerals, should have poems and epics from traditions that have permanent value. This alone justifies the training of memory and rote learning, and only thus we realize its true value and importance.

Analytical skill is a second order skill and needs to be trained as part of secondary and higher school education, after a basic training of faculties like memory. That has a fair coverage in the draft NEP though improvable.

Protecting Innocence

The danger of exposure that Indic education systems knew and the modern one ignores, is the killing of innocence and thus ability of being to development of deeper and pure knowledge.

Current education system aims at exposing child to the world and making the child worldly wise from the earliest stage, but this has been a low priority in traditional Indic education. The reasons are eminent. India always had a strong family and social fabric, and exposure of child in early years is limited to certain environments where deeper foundations are sought.

The idealism required for shaping lofty characters is possible only by protecting innocence in younger age. Conviction in goodness, purity and divinity is the foundation for lofty characters. The reason present day education churns out mediocre and smart but not lofty citizens is that it destroys innocence in the name of creating exposure and makes the being cynical, while trying to be pragmatic. However this does not merely teach one to be pragmatic with situations, but fails to impart the bases for making fundamentally right decisions unimpacted by practical constraints and also the knowledge required to address the practical constraints towards the ideal.

Whether it is gurukula or any other traditional institution, it grades the exposure of child to the world and begins with imparting permanent knowledge that needs to be remembered for life. This includes the highest ideals, conviction in correctness, vastness of self, learning to learn. Training memory early on is also important in this sense. It is on such platform that the temporary worldly knowledge is gained, through gradual exposure in secondary and higher education. The learner thus is fully equipped to not only look at the world in more profound, non-superficial ways but also to optimally reconcile the pragmatic with the ideal.

There have been many suggestions on moral education, but that is driven more by a hunch of what is missing in present education. The root of the problem remains that it lacks right balance of permanent and temporary knowledge, outward and inward knowledge, gradation of exposure. The solution also, lies in framing an education policy that addresses these.

Teacher and Student

The quality and importance of teacher started greatly diminishing in Indian education around 1980s, and 1990s. We had Jnanpeeth award winners and great scholars in academia, making humble living as government school teachers before that.

There are several reasons for it –

  1. Teaching was about imparting knowledge and learning was about gaining knowledge. Neither was about examinations as focus, and the quality of teachers and students produced was not mediocre. In contrast we see mediocre teachers today teaching as a job and students studying for examination scores. When examination becomes less written and more oral, this focus will change but it is also important to ensure the learning and teaching processes focus on knowledge and diminish the importance of scores. Scores need to be bi-product rather than the end product of learning. There are two end products of learning: (a) knowledge and ability to apply it in life (b) character and outlook shaped by the knowledge.
  2. Expelling of regional language teachers by introduction of English, made education about livelihood and not about learning or teaching.
  3. More important and politically inconvenient to state is the hard fact that substandard teachers are recruited because of various anti-merit and anti-knowledge state policies. One of them is reservations, a form of state imposed casteism, state sponsored caste discrimination. Another is making education about employability, money and muscle and lack of knowledge focus. Teaching standards, teaching ethics, teacher quality have all greatly diminished to the point that government schools are no more respected or trusted for education. As a result parents of all economic classes seek admission for their children in costly private schools, causing the need for yet another wrong initiative like the RTE.
  4. The criteria for teacher recruitment can only be the below. Absence of these is a disqualifier and presence of any additional criteria resulting from state imposed policy is a detriment in education. Sadly much of the below is missing in post colonial educational policies –
    1. Knowledge in the subject and being invested in knowledge as the primary pursuit in life
    2. Motivation in teaching and ability to teach in methods that appeal to learners
    3. Ability to generate interest in subject, longing for learning and curiosity among students
    4. Ability to shape the outlook and character of students
    5. Ability to independent thinking and evolve policies and methods for learning and teaching
    6. Ability to identify the right student for the right level of knowledge and being invested in a continuous improvement of one’s own and the students’ knowledge levels
    7. Ability to teach with passion and be dispassionate while making judgments about qualifications and performance.
    8. Ability to keep one’s own ideology out of the way of imparting knowledge.
  5. Teachers today lack the liberty to frame the curriculum, both because the education policies are state dictated and because teacher quality is not high. As we learn from epics, teacher is the final authority on knowledge and needs a greater liberty to subjectively teach students based on the abilities to grasp, passion and what is required for each student to face life better. While it is a responsibility of the state to create such recruiting norms, it is also necessary to ensure such liberty and empowerment to the teachers as we see Bhishma granting to Kripa/Drona or Dasaratha granting to Vishwamitra/Vasistha.

Cost of Education

It is a well known problem that private school education is costly today, and state has failed, due to its own regressive, casteist and religiously biased policies, in providing quality education in government schools.

Through any policy the state has not sincerely attempted to fix itself, while the source of the problem lies exclusively with the state’s outlook and policy making.  Instead, in a preposterous moralist posturing, state tries to fix the society through its policies, which is harmful for the society as well as state’s credibility. While the draft NEP does not do much in correcting this, we wish this gets corrected soon.

While there are kneejerk reactions in the form of RTE, they are inherently bad policies and do not address the fundamental problems in organizing Indian education system:

  1. Policies like RTE hurt most, the private schools that intend to provide cheap education to fewer students (and thus have very small margins), and do not impact schools that charge exorbitantly and have a large number of students (and thus have large margins).
  2. While assuming to be about justice, policies like RTE are discriminative on the lines of religion and caste, thus being inherently unjust. Any new policy that is going to be bound by the casteism and religious discrimination (owing to minority privileges and state’s discrimination against majority) inherent in existing state policies, is going to be equally unjust and discriminative. Thus there needs to be a fresh look at the philosophy of policy making.
  3. The way education is systematized in India per post colonial policy and how it is traditionally done does not seem to be evaluated by the state, before embarking on any policy making exercise.

Inherited and Organized Learning

India is an inherited society, not an organized society. The cost of education is lowest in the inherited mode, and highest in organized mode. Thus making education affordable in India is quite easy if state realizes the value of ways of traditional institutions. It is a natural craving of every being to be a fit contender in its environment, and an equally natural craving for experienced beings to pass on the knowledge to subsequent generations. Thus experienced beings have an inherent stake in identifying and grooming the most fit elements in the succeeding generation, to pass on some of the best kept and hard earned civilizational lessons to make the succeeding generations fit to face the challenges of time.

On these principles is created our traditional system of guru-sishya sampradaya or teacher-disciple lineage system. This is not a biologically genetic system, but a cognitive genetic system that is self-sustaining and by its design promotes merit and excellence. There are centers of excellence sponsored by state or wealthy people, which act more as hubs for enriching knowledge. However, knowledge is generated and distributed through small and deep pockets with small economic requirements.

In contrast, organized education system as we see today, is costly by design and the cost only mounts with time. The ratio of actual teaching cost if compared to infrastructure and paraphernalia can demonstrate this easily and the government can conduct study/survey to confirm this intuitive fact.

Experiential learning, early productivity

There is increased focus in modern education to make education more practical, and this involves field trips. However, there is an artificial dichotomy between education and employment, between theory and practice. Traditionally in India, learning process is not purely academic and happens as an imparting of skills from a firsthand practitioner. Thus while being “inherited”, it also ensures education is not “theoretical” and comes as real life knowledge right from the beginning. A gradual induction into work, as an apprentice with the practitioner, ensures early productivity and a total elimination of the problem of theory-practice.

A prolonged theoretical academic learning is not necessary unless one chooses academics as a life mission. It needs to be broken down into the minimal part time schooling for children and a full time rigorous academic modes. Any basic education beyond 2-3 hours a day is a serious overdoing and squandering of time, energy, efforts of the entire society.

A part time basic formal education combined with traditional education in various life skills as chosen by parents/students is an ideal practical solution for a productive, successful and fulfilling collective life. Various subjects about common life knowledge are irrelevant in academic mode, and are better learned with direct exposure. For example, subjects like social studies.

We hope the state looks at making education system India centric by studying traditional institutions.

Nature of Curriculum

The draft NEP states an intent towards holistic development. It needs review of the present education system and curriculum that are reductionist in their approach towards education. It primarily breaks down knowledge into multiple “subjects” from primary level and gives partitioned view of life through each.

Indic learning involves holistic development by teaching a single comprehensive encyclopedic text, through which various forms of knowledge taught. This involves a great emphasis on the nature of quality teacher. For instance, through a single text Mahabharata an entire system of life is taught. It is also the case that through a single text like Ramayana various aspects of life are taught by the teacher, not by reading text and its meaning, but by elucidating the various aspects that a single verse can touch upon. Thus education traditionally is very little text centered and greatly about teacher and knowledge.

This is a fundamental change in the way education and learning is approached. It may appear to us very far from present life demands, but it is not really so if we consider the fact that academic learning and life skills are quite divorced today. A single subject teacher of Mahabharata can very well relate life and subjects of permanent value to students far better than the present day formal school can.

It comes down to how well the texts are created for a future education, how the different subjects like language, arithmetic, physical and life and social science are layered and connected to each other by a holistic view of life of the individuals/group creating the texts. It takes seers to create such education, and the state needs to invest in finding such individuals with explicit focus.

However far fetched this appears at present, only such vision can lead to an education that genuinely results in an all round and holistic development of the learners. We hope this is given the attention it deserves in the policy intended for future education.

Language

On the matter of language we have seen the likes of Sri Chamu Krishna Sastry’s feedback and it is not necessary to add much.

However would like to add that training in languages needs to be far more organic than it is in the present schooling system.

While medium of instruction is one issue, the other is the nature and quality of content taught for teaching languages has greatly deteriorated. Teaching classical and epic texts, popular poems is the best way and it needs to be restored. Through 90’s till now a lot of ideological content has been added to curriculum which greatly harmed language learning and teaching. It needs to be understood that language is not just a medium of communication but imparts culture and educates one of native life systems, and the socialist ideological attempt to eliminate native regional culture and traditional roots from language training is squarely behind the deterioration.

Thus an India-centric education would explicitly focus on bringing back to what language teaching should actually be: (a) teaching classics and epic texts including poetry (b) teaching grammar and metrical construction in an organic way (c) removing anti-native overtones in curriculum (d) bringing back focus on aesthetics and beauty of language which is the heart of any language, which also makes it attractive for the learner (e) bringing focus back to the regional idiom and moral-cultural underpinnings taught through those.

While the problem of linguistic states is more in the domain of polity and education ministry does not control it, artificial language barriers can be greatly broken down by bringing fluidity in language education. This is a nation where Carnatic music has more kritis in Telugu and Kannada and sung more by Tamilian experts. Thus, harmony of language and culture is natural to this great nation which is divided and ruled by artificial political barriers. Education system can do much in undoing this harm, by making language education fluid and continuous.

Languages and social studies do not receive interest not just because STEM fetches jobs, but also because the content taught in languages and social studies is biased against Indic culture and poisons the minds of pupils instead of enlightening and beautifying. Good social sciences and good language training brings pleasure in learning, and fills the wide gaps present in the current education system.

Our recommendations on this area are –

  1. There is no need to make any language mandatory
  2. Each language should be imparted in at least two levels, basic (working knowledge and right sentence construction, popular works etc) and advanced (advanced grammar, metrical construction, classics etc). It should be mandatory to take at least two languages at least at basic level, without an upper limit. Any individual with natural flair for languages can choose more languages in basic or advanced. So one basic, one advanced, or three advanced without any basic, are all possible choices.
  3. This will create challenge of teachers early on, but is the only viable solution for the long term that does not result in any conflict.

Aesthetics

As Sri Aurobindo says in the short essay “National Value of Art”, sense of beauty and sense of utility are functions of two sides of the mind (right and left). The present education is overwhelmingly about the left function, whether it is about making academic curriculum about job or “application in life”. It totally ignores the beauty aspects of education, which is essential in shaping of being into an original, happy, balanced and non-cynical grown-up.

Aesthetics are not limited to arts, and can be introduced duly into exact sciences. For instance, there is a seeking for elegant, simple, “beautiful” solutions and formulations in mathematics and physical/chemical sciences, a more life-friendly expression of beauty in life sciences.

More than this, sense of beauty and aesthetics is far more organically present in language. Whether it is about construction of poetic prose or poetry or teaching life through beautiful expression, language teaching if properly focused, makes up for this necessary and missing wing.

Apart from language, social studies curriculum needs a complete revamp because the existing social studies is an indoctrination fashioned after western view of India, and is not education of Indian society at all. This deserves a complete concept paper and cannot be discussed within the scope of the present feedback. If we have the opportunity, will be happy to do that exercise subsequently. But it suffices to say an Indic view of life and society needs to be imparted as part of social studies. This also brings back aesthetic focus.

In addition, focus on at least one art-form, be it linguistic skill or poetry or drawing/painting or singing or sculpture needs to be part of regular curriculum with each student subscribing to at least one.

In the framing of curriculum itself, if seen holistically, many subjects come together to teach life and thus one encyclopedic text that has the layers of multiple subjects is the right way to train the being in all aspects. Thus the sense of beauty and holism needs to be present in those framing the curriculum itself, which results in imparting same to the students.

Meta Studies

Meta studies or philosophy of subjects are nearly totally missing in the present education, and seekers of such education go abroad for those. For instance Mathematical Philosophy or Philosophy of Science. There is also a range of Indic subjects like pramana sastra (epistemology) and bodhana sastra (pedagogy) which need to be focus areas. These subjects are extremely important not just as forms of knowledge or missing subjects, but as umbrellas from where a range of other subjects emerge and help synthesis of knowledge. A civilization cannot rise beyond a point if its knowledge is utilitarian. It needs to invest in generation of knowledge, aesthetic, philosophical, scientific, linguistic and technological.

Overall Curriculum

An elastic curriculum, giving scope for students to choose lines of excellence based on their taste and qualification (ruci, adhikara), is what results from the above:

  1. Focusing on a single composite text for teaching multiple core subjects, with specializations on those subjects available on choice. There could be multiple such texts, but each section of students taught just one.
  2. At least one art-form, two languages with scope for choosing more.
  3. Few hours of core syllabus per day, with scope for extended optional learning for other hours.
  4. Focus on training memory early on, analytical skills as second order.
  5. Visual mode to enable deaf/dumb, and oral mode for most of teaching and examination.

One with flair for art chooses more arts and minimal curriculum for others. One with flair for mathematics picks specialization in mathematics apart from core and minimal choice of other subjects. One can also pick just the minimum of everything and not pursue rigorous academics, and instead learn a skill of interest outside the school.

Goal and Conclusion

We are sons of Bharat, the seekers of eternal knowledge. Our nation is mother Bharati, the giver of knowledge. The goals of an education system of such a nation can truly be only the trinity sat-chit-ananda: truth, beauty, permanence. Truth-seeking and thus knowledge is the goal of learning. Happiness comes from knowledge. Knowledge gained should be of permanent value. Knowledge is power.

Thus, knowledge alone should be the goal of education system, with all others including livelihood being subsidiary goals. Getting employed or gaining a livelihood should be an implicit purpose of primary and secondary skill education and all higher education needs to be about happiness in seeking knowledge. That is the indicator of a truly civilized and developed society, and that should be the goal of the education system designed for an aspiring nation seeking to rise beyond the temporary struggle back into its long held position as the knowledge hub of the world, as the most prosperous, civilized and advanced nation.

We hope this feedback and recommendations receive attention from policy makers for their worth. Where our own ignorance is expressed, we seek forgiveness for the same.FacebookTwitterEmailShare


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