Prioritize Elementary Schools

After rigorous public consultations and deliberations the New Education Policy 2020 has been made public. The 484 draft policy was prepared by Mr K Kasturirangan Chief Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) which took him 4 years to complete this process. Mr Kasturirangan is said to have consulted over  two lakh suggestions from 2.5 lakh gram panchayats, 6600 urban local bodies and 676 districts from 2015 to 2019. The new policy is believed to transform and revolutionize education sector by 2030.

Considered as vision document for Atam Nirbar and self reliant Bharat its implementation at ground zero level is matter of concern throughout India, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir. By providing blue print, drafting and nomenclatural changes only, sometimes these well researched documents are hardly put to practice

Structure

New pedagogical and curricular structure of school education (5+3+3+4): 3 years in Anganwadi/pre school and  12 years in school. Children will enter the school at the age of 3 years and the first 5 years will lay the foundation or base thus named foundation stage, multi level play and activity based learning, during this stage the children will pass 1st and 2nd class. 2nd  stage is preparatory stage; children will be of 8 to 11 years of age and will step 3 classes from 3rd to 5th, education will be imparted mostly in mother tongue or regional language no restriction on English as well. The mid-day meal programme will be extended to pre-school children. 3rd  stage is middle stage – covering children of 11 to 14 years and more abstract concepts in subjects of computer code, vocational/technical course, mathematics, science, social science ,arts and humanities. 4th and the last stage of school education will be secondary stage covering the age group of 15 to 18 years and classes 9th to 12th. These four years of study are intended to inculcate multidisciplinary study, coupled with depth and critical thinking, examination semester wise and option of foreign languages as well.

Analysis

 Access to free, safe, high quality early childhood care education at  Anganwadi /Pre-school remained a distant dream throughout India in general, and J&K in particular. Foundation and Preparatory stages are most crucial in the development of children, because more than 90% of brain development occurs at this stage and this is the stage where we are lagging behind.  As per J&K’s  education profile there are 14171 primary schools, 6665 upper primary schools 1194 high schools and 597 higher secondary schools. Official figures reveal 1400 schools functioning in rented shabby rooms with a student population of over 32000 and still others as haunt houses. What kind of reform do you expect when the school is functioning in a rented room, surrounded by factories, grocery shops and three teachers simultaneously teaching three classes  in one rented room? What outcome can we expect  when the children are not provided proper class room facility, leave aside basic facilities like drinking water, toilet, playground and feasible external environment ?

Amalgamation of Anganwadi centres and pre-school is welcome step but the situation is grim when it comes to Jammu and Kashmir. There are around 41% Anganwadi centres out of 29599 centers which have no toilet facilities. The Anganwardi centres are also grappling with the shortage of supervisors, Anganwadi  workers and helpers. The total strength of children enrolled in the Anganwadi centres in J&K is 798450 including 410165 children between six months and three years and 388285 children between three and six years. Pertinently Government of India through School Education Department provide  meals in the Govt. run schools under national flagship programme Mid Day Meals (MDM) scheme with a view to enhance enrolment, retention and simultaneously improving nutritional levels among children.  Combining  these will benefit in improving standards of implementation, overcome the shortage of supervisors, workers and helpers and fill up the infra structural gaps at foundation stage of children. Education is a long term investment from parents, thus parents prefer to admit their wards in private schools, some of which have been turned into business centres. Although Government provides free education to children under Right to Education Act, mid-day meal, free uniform, free text books, direct benefit transfer to students and various kinds of scholarships,  still government education sector lags behind private sector by varied number of reasons. A few to mention here are government schools are safe house of blue eyed persons for getting employment as teachers. In past, for a district cadre post, like teacher, many under qualified boys and girls managed to get job as Govt school teachers. This was because of mohalla, village or ward based merit without any interview or written examination. Educational Institutes should be made accountable, dead wood phased out for overhauling Jammu and Kashmir for future generations. 

At Higher Secondary level 52 subjects are taught apart from vocational subjects. There are well developed courses for the students. Suggestions for introduction of new subjects like ethno- medicine, creative writing, legal studies, heritage crafts, graphic design can also be introduced. Our 597 Higher Secondary Institutions are not well equipped to cope up the expansion. Combination of secondary and senior secondary institutions should  be avoided in future. Higher Secondary Schools should get graded and accredited annually by a team/council constituted by Government and the points added to the credit of the head of the institution concerned for promotion purposes.  This will provide academic ranking  at Higher Secondary level on the pattern of NAAC accreditation given to universities. Implementation of transfer policy should be enforced in letter and spirit. Teaching staff engaged in duties other than education like election duty, census duty, covid-19 duty and most importantly in the institutions for non teaching practices like providing and receiving admission/examination forms  must be avoided. We see silver lining in regulation of fee by private schools as promised by New Education Policy 2020, vocational training, demand driven curriculum. This is highly appreciated.

Conclusion

We hope that this time we will not have to face administrative apathy or political interference in transforming education sector in Jammu and Kashmir. New Education Policy 2020 is not a magic wand, it will take time to rectify and reform the education sector. Govt’s primary target should be the elementary schools and I would suggest that most efficient people should be posted in these schools to make sure our future is safe.

The author is lecturer Botany at Government Higher Secondary School  Pakhar Poar Budgam.