Draft National Education Policy-2019 | Cluster University, Srinagar Conference recommendations

The draft national policy on education is in public domain for more than a month now. Institutions, educators, intellectuals and the people have been putting forth their suggestions in this regard.The School of Education, Cluster University, Srinagar on June 29, 2019 also took upon itself bringing people together at IASE, Srinagar for discussion and suggestions how the policy is going to affect us in the coming years. Since the policy is quite overarching, spread across school education, higher education, teacher education encompassing research, governance and other key curricular and pedagogic areas, therefore, it is imperative to flag issues of concern. We require seeing the document in light of the previous policies, and how it proposes to restructure education to guide us towards the future. We know education is not, and cannot be neutral; therefore,we always require dissecting the ideology the any document is based on. There could be competing ideologies in education wrestling for the front birth, and perspectives too to how we see these ideologies in proper light; whether the document is forthright or diplomatic in the proposing the recommendations, whether the document shows inclusive and progressive spirit towards knowledge and education, or exclusive and greater puritanical predisposition.These, among others, are the various lenses that could be held in-between this document and ourselves so that we get a broad spectrum vision of the draft policy document. The people on the panel, among others, were Dr Farida Khan, Prof. Nadeem, Prof. Madhosh, Prof. M. Y Peerzada, Prof. Yasmeen, Dr. Parveen Pandit, Prof. Gul Mohammad Wani, Prof. Baqal, Prof. Rajeev Ratan, Dr. Seema, Mohammad Rafi, Prof. Manzoor Ahmad Parray, Syed Fayaz, Dr. Arif, Javed Banday, Ajaz ul Haq, Dr. M.S. Allie, Prof. B.A. Bhat, Prof. Munawar Syed, Fazl illahi, Naseem ul Gani and Aijaz Abdullah.

General suggestions:

There are certain general points that could be taken as a prelude to the suggestions that came up during the seminar. These general points are:

1.            What constitutes knowledge of India: Chapter 11 ‘towards more liberal education’ goes thus: ‘Departments of languages (especially Indian Languages), literature (especially Indian literature), music (including carnatic, Hindustani, folk, and film), philosophy (especially Indian philosophy, including Buddhist and Jain philosophy), Indology and the study of India, art, dance, theatre……..”

The document completely bypasses the philosophies and literature of medieval and modern periods.“Knowledge of India” must be taken as a synthesis of all cultures and peoples who made India their home from ancient, medieval and modern times. The document elsewhere rightly highlights unity of knowledge across disciplines, cultures and races. The document in section 4.6.9 titled ‘knowledge of India’, furthermore, smacks of‘fundamentalism’ in knowledge and education by prefixing Pythagorean Theorem, Fibonacci numbers, and Pascal’s triangle as ‘so-called’. It is true that there is a need to give credit to our philosophers and scholars of yore but the way it is put in the document sounds unhistorical.

2.            The document in ‘Liberal arts approach to higher education’ advances the argument thus,“Since the times of Nalanda and Takshashila or even earlier, the history of higher education in India recognized the holistic aspect of all human knowledge and enquiry as fundamentally connected…In this context, several institutions of higher studies across the world have implemented what we today characterise as liberal education through an array of different disciplines…”

It seems the document seeks to have a greater philosophical than scientific approach to education. The advent of science, we now know, has lead to shrinking of space for philosophy in knowledge and education. The emprico-rational juggernaut in the shape of science has changed the whole scene on the planet. While as human beings became widely modern and tech savvy yet the base of humanness in the human beings became greatly constricted. Although, early Indian thinkers have been always highlighting a broad based education directed towards development of complete human being, yet the proliferation of science and its methods lead to greater super-specialization in knowledge, and, by consequence, fragmentation of human being and his/her life.Science has succeeded and failed at the same time. The document proposes the liberal arts approach to bring completeness and holism in knowledge and man but the question that remains is: will it (liberal arts approach), in some manner, dent further progress in science. The document is not fully sure about it as it emphatically states, “even though such conclusive assessments are yet to be available through studies, including systematic research in India…”

3.            In the area of languages it calls English language as the language of ‘economic elite of India’ and on the other hand says, “where relevant, history-changing Sanskrit writings will be suitably integrated in various school subjects as well as in literature and writing classes”(emphasis added). What and how the document desires to change history through the medium of Sanskrit language is the area of concern.

4.            Though the document is replete with the terms and statements like creativity and critical thinking and weaning children away from rote-memorization, yet it makes this weird assertion too, “…if and when rote learning is used, it will always be pre-accompanied by context and motivation, and post-accompanied by analysis, discussion, and application.” Needless to say that whenever we provide context to learning and accompany it with analysis, it does not remain rote-memorization at all.

Suggestions for School Education:

5.            The concept of school complex consisting of one secondary school and all neighbouring pre-primary schools should be applied in the state of Jammu and Kashmir with some caution keeping in view the varied terrains and harsh climate conditions especially winter season. During the sessions 2015-17 some initiatives in the State were taken in this regard under “clusterization of schools”. The initiative although helped in pooling of resources and optimum use in many such clusters but in hilly and difficult terrains it did not achieve good results. Even in some urban areas many of the ‘cluster heads’ i.e. principals of higher secondary schools claimed getting overloaded in the areas where a cluster comprised of huge number of primary and middle schools. Furthermore, integration into clusters sometimes creates an urge to merge schools which could be detrimental to the universal access.

6.            The draft talks about Instructional Aids Tutors, Local Community and Volunteers, National Tutors Programme, Remedial Instructional Aids Programmes drawing instructors from the local Community looks like a ‘giving up’ approach on the part of policy makers, where things are left to volunteers, undermining the RTE-09 and the our State’s concern towards universalization of elementary education that makes education responsibility of the State. Besides this, teaching being a specialized job needs highly trained teachers, who create an appropriate leaning environment. Teaching today is not mere imparting of knowledge, therefore, teachers need to be well grounded in teaching-learning. Furthermore, the draft makes a mention of ‘remediation’ which in the present times is taken quite derogatory giving an impression of a ‘disease requiring cure’.

7.            It goes without saying that extending the upper and lower ambit of RTE-09 to ECCE and secondary is a very welcome recommendation of the draft policy however it needs the required amendment in the RTE act.

8.            Mandatory classical languages at school level, as suggested in the policy, is not practically feasible. However, if necessary, in some cases, it could be made optional.

9.            The three languages formula has failed miserably in Hindi Speaking states. The need is to have a language policy and not just a language formula. Language must help a child in meaning making that comes usually by way of mother-tongue as medium of instruction. Three language formula should not in any way mean forcing Hindi or other languages on children. The valley needs to focus more on Kasmiriand other local languages which are slowly losing their existence.

10.          The new break-up of school education into 5+3+3+4 is a better break-up than the present 10+2 system only if appropriate teachers are deployed into the four levels that have been created. The idea of general line teachers runs contrary to this and the government needs to look at the issue holistically so that appropriate teachers are made available. This break-up would require states to train teachers on large scale with focus into ECCE, preparatory, middle and secondary areas. It will surely bring good and qualified teachers for 9th and 10th grades as the teachers from higher secondary schools could be deployed to teach the whole four year bucket.

11.          In response to the NAS and other surveys have brought alarmingly poor learning levels to the forefront at the school level however the draft lays over emphasis on literacy and numeracy which could bring drudgery back to the learning process particularly at foundational and preparatory stage. It has already brought greater burden on children against the recommendations of “learning without burden”.(YashPal Committee Report). Furthermore, addition of workbooks to advance literacy and numeracy too may add burden, and there are studies too showing use of workbooks becomes quite uncreative.

12.          To improve access and prevent dropout in girls, it is suggested that alternate timings need to be introduced, since girls are made to babysit and do household chores during early daytime, and boys work in farms. It must be, however, ensured that children are not involved in child labour.

13.          The testing agency NTA as stated in the draft could challenge the state autonomy in Education. If this agency is established then the tests should be conducted on the lines of NET and SET without compromising the state autonomy in education.

14.          The draft suggests common curriculum for all schools including schools managed by different cultural & religious groups which goes against the fundamental rights mentioned in the constitution of India i.e. Educational and Cultural Rights. There is a need for freedom in curriculum designing but SCERTs should take care that compromises are not made with regard to textbook development.

15.          Vocational bias at earlier stages (Class 9th-10th)sometimes weans children away from broad based education. It will help us to produce good artisans and workers but care must be taken so that over emphasis on vocationalisation should not turn schools into mere workshops.

16.          Allowing multiple Boards of Assessment (BOAs) is likely to cause undesirable dilution in the assessment process.

17.          The draft talks about tenure track system of hiring teachers and on a later place talks about placement of teachers as early teacher without tenure, teacher with tenure, proficient teacher, expert teacher and master teachers. The terminology needs to be revisited.

Suggestions for Higher Education

18.          Creation of RSA shall lead to centralization of Indian Education. Keeping in consideration the pluralistic nature of the Indian Society there is a need for greater decentralization.

19.          Giving NRF the whole charge even to decide funding for important areas of research looks very parochial. Research works bottom-up not top-down and the choice of research must be left to the researcher not the funding agency.

20.          The autonomy given to the institutions must be made clear because the document seems to emphasise centralization and decentralization in the same breath.

21.          The national policy must emphasise greater inclusiveness in the ‘knowledge of India’ and departments in higher education and levels of school education must be openedkeeping in view the diversity and plural nature of India.

Suggestions for Teacher Education:

22.          Since the draft policy suggests shifting the teacher education to the multi-disciplinary institutions, therefore, there is an urgent need to set up proper mechanism in order bring greater rigor and focus in the programme, otherwise the idea could quite well become counterproductive in as far as convergence of theory and practice is concerned. It is true that the present standalone TE institutions have become hamstrung due to limited disciplinary bases, therefore, multi-disciplinary approach could be the solution, but there is an apprehension that it may lead to dilution of the professional nature of the training programme.

23.          The draft highlights the importance of new structure of 5+3+3+4 and aligning TE to this new structure, however, the state urgently needs to come up with appropriate TE courses for these levels. As of now we do not have courses beyond B.Ed. and M.Ed. whereas and courses other than B.Ed and M.Ed. are successfully offered elsewhere in India.

24.          Teacher Education being quite different from other professional courses works well in an annual system than the semester system. The B. Ed. and M.Ed. courses have theory and practical components well interspersed and integrated over various levels, as such, the break-up of the semester system hampers this theory-practice unity.

25.          The idea of introducing part time or online programs in teacher education need to be revisited as the efficacy of army of teachers produced through distance mode has been questioned earlier as well. Such programs were closed in some of universities because the rigor and focus required in the teacher preparation gets lost through the distance mode.

Taking into consideration the above suggestions the experts and educators in the State need to review this draft national policy and see how a similar policy could be devised for the J&K State keeping our own context and milieu in mind, together with the earlier policies including the draft policy of 2019.

Dr. Seema Naaz is Principal IASE, and Fazl illahi is  faculty member, IASE, Srinagar.