NEP-2020: Will Private schools decide on policy matters?

The comprehensive guidelines on NEP implementation should come from the School Education Department, not private schools which are arbitrarily trying to change the academic norms
School children during morning assembly in a Srinagar school. [Representational Image]
School children during morning assembly in a Srinagar school. [Representational Image] File: Mubashir Khan for Greater Kashmir

While the implementation of the National Education Policy (NEP) by the J&K government is in its initial stage vis-à-vis school education, a few ‘influential’ private schools in Kashmir have started making things complicated for parents and are resorting to making changes in the academic norms as per their wishes and whims.

The NEP-2020 will replace the existing 10+2 school system with a new 5+3+3+4 pattern. Besides, the age group for the Right to Education (RTE) is now 3 to 18 years, as against earlier 14 years.

As per the NEP, the age of the child should be 6+ years in class 1st primary which earlier used to be 5+ years.

Plainly speaking, the norms governing age bar for the students has to be followed from the next academic year when the first batch of students under NEP will be admitted at the primary level. For this, the schools have to increase the age bar at the time of kindergarten admissions, which, however, cannot be done retrospectively. It has to be done prospectively, beginning from the new academic calendar starting March 2023.

However, some of the private schools in the Kashmir Valley have, on their own, without taking the government on board, started taking policy decisions and decided to split the kindergarten class of the already-enrolled students into LKG and UKG, thus increasing one-year of the kids.

The parents are being called for meetings and convinced to cooperate with the school managements’ decision, which the parents have refused to do.

No doubt the age bar should match the policy document but the question is: who is the authority to take such a policy decision? If at all it is a requirement to split the kindergarten class into LKG and UKG for the students who were enrolled in the schools in the last two years, the order explaining the rationale behind the move has to be issued by the government and it has to be uniformly applicable to all the private schools.

The schools cannot on their own change the norms. Yes, they can change the age limit or introduce a class from the new academic session, but they cannot change these norms for already-enrolled students.

The point is that the guidelines have to come from the government and the schools should not be allowed to do it on their own for their own vested interests. Before the implementation of the NEP-2020, the students were enrolled in Nursery class at the age of 3 and would subsequently enter kindergarten at the age of four and first primary at the age of 5 years. All these students would reach class 10th at the age of 15.

But as per the NEP-2020, the age of the student should be six years in class first primary for which the government has to determine a proper age of the kids for their admission in the Nursery and kindergarten class.

The question here is: which batch of students will be determined as the first NEP batch? There has to be complete clarity from the government and no private school should be allowed to take the policy matter decision on its own.

Over the years, the age of the child to be adopted at the time of admission has remained a big issue.

Actually, the School Education Act 2002 (Amended in 2018) stated that the age of the child in class 1 should be 5 years and in this Act the J&K School Education Department (SED) did not regulate the age of the student in Nursery or Kindergarten section.

But the NEP-2020 which was approved by the Union Cabinet on 29 July of 2020 replaced the previous National Policy on Education, 1986. The NEP-202 has clearly stated that the age of the child at time of admission in class 1st should be 6 years.

Even if the NEP policy was launched in 2020, there has to be some policy decision to declare which batch of students has been enrolled under the policy so that these students will follow the same rules and regulations.

The government has to decide whether students admitted in 2021 and 2022 were admitted under NEP or they will be treated as a non-NEP batch.

The government has to take the decision to clear the ambiguity and to avoid any move by the private schools to exploit the situation and take advantage of the ambiguity, mainly for unjustified financial gains.

Parents, on the other hand, have been left perplexed by the management of the private schools who are forced to keep their kids, enrolled in the schools two years ago, in kindergarten for two years.

“If there is no clarity from the government regarding previous batches why are schools confusing us and want us to waste one precious year of the students,” said Muhammad Abbas, an anguished parent.

“Whatever the decision is taken has to be taken by the government and not the schools to run their own business out of it. We will not accept any such decision of the schools unless there is an order from the government,” the parent said.

The parents said that the implementation of the policy decision has to be notified under a proper order which will clarify whether the policy has been implemented from 2020 batch or it will be implemented from the next batch of students whose admission in Nursery class has to be done in March 2023, as per the government decision.

“Schools can't do it arbitrarily as per their wishes and whims. They (schools) should not confuse us,” the parents said.

As the anger and animosity is brewing among the parents, the school functionaries say the move was initiated to avoid any problems faced by the students at the time of their registration in JK BOSE for class 10th examination.

“It is not about any business or charging fees for one more year. We are trying to streamline the process. For this, the school has to make its efforts as well to provide classrooms and teachers as well. There is no business in it,” a school functionary, whose institution called in parents for “interaction”, claimed.

“We have already faced problems in the JK Board after they stopped students from appearing in class 10th exams because of the age bar,” he said.

However, the JK Board officials said the students who are already enrolled in the schools have to go ahead without any changes in the academic norms.

“There is no such guideline or any proposal from JK BOSE to stop students who have been enrolled in the schools during the last two years. The parents can come to the Board office for any clarification,” an official at JK Board said.

The official said the condition that a student be 16 years at the time of registration of class 10th examination will be counted for those students who will be enrolled as per NEP norms from next academic session.

“The people dealing with the issue in private schools are befooling parents. We have only stopped those students from appearing in class 10th exams who are only 13 years old now. But we did not stop any student who is 14 or 15 years old at the time of registration for class 10th examination,” he said.

Such instances clearly indicate the hidden agenda of the private schools who want to run the business and earn money under the garb of implementation of NEP-2020, many parents believe.

“They want to run business and fleece parents by taking one year of tuition fees, transport fees and other money which these schools have been doing in the past as well,” the official said.

The private schools have started convincing parents to add one more class- UKG, for their kids. But the parents are vehemently opposing the decision saying that it will add unnecessary burden on their kids.

“We do not understand why they want to make changes for the kids who are already enrolled in the schools during the last two years. If at all it is mandatory to make changes, such changes must be made for the kids getting admission in the schools from the next batch to be admitted under NEP,” said a parent while accusing the school management of unnecessarily harassing the parents.

The parents have been told that the move was initiated after taking proper consent from the Director School Education Kashmir (DSEK).

But the DSEK outrightly turned down the claims made by the private schools, saying that there are no issues about the admissions done till last year.

“We convened a detailed meeting with private schools and did not decide anything about what private schools have started doing to the students. We don’t know what they have done till last year, but from now onwards they have to follow the age bar as per NEP-2020,” DSEK Tasaduq Hussain Mir told Greater Kashmir.

“The parents should give us a representation and we will process that accordingly. There is nothing to worry, parents should not panic at all,” he said.

To conclude, the administrative department of the School Education Department must immediately clear the air on this important issue so that the panicky parents heave a sigh of relief.

The private schools should not be allowed to make policy decisions which must come from the administrative department and should be binding upon all to follow.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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