Today is the birthday of Edward Witten, an American physicist and a seemingly interesting reason behind some of the clauses of our New Education Policy.
He is a pre hand example of our new policy which liberates a science student to have Physics as Major and say Music as minor. This policy has done away with a rigid separation of disciplines. The blurring lines between liberal arts and sciences can pave way for some new-age skills at modern workplace that go beyond the silos created by a technical only or a liberal arts-only approach.
This move of flexibility in the National Education Policy is aimed at building skills in the students' subjects of interest as they grow up to think and decide. The syllabus will be reduced to only the core knowledge of any subject and emphasis will be laid on experiential learning and critical thinking. The policy also signals the end of rote learning as it brings in assessments based on application of core concepts and introduces skills from grade 6 onwards, enabling every child to have at least one skill at the end of school education.
This policy articulates a desire to break away from shallow memorization of a vast syllabus to the application of core concepts even if those are a small number. Removal of board exams for class 10 shall take off unnecessary stress from school children and may bring a change in the mind-set around the rat-race to just get marks. Quite a few years back, I was surprised to see a student on an Indian Television show scoring 85 % in the secondary board exam and yet not sure what the graph of a linear equation should look like.
Far from that, the students qualifying the otherwise prestigious exams mostly appear diffident while making general worldly opinions other than those in books. In the movie named 3 idiots, the hero Ranchhod had indeed made similar submissions to the Virus of education system personified by the college Director. The experts as well as experienced lot of people have for long been critical of the prevalent education system in the country. Thankfully, the opinions expressed through print and electronic media as well as the chain of movies on career making seem to have significantly shifted the priorities of the policy makers before they could prepare the new draft. India's global ranking in terms of educational standards slipped to 93 in 2014.
The soaring number of students preferring to study abroad needs a deep introspection. As for instance, the offers of admission to post-graduate studies for Indian students in U.S.A had risen to 25 % for 2013-14 compared to a 9 % increase for other countries. Till now, the Indian Education System has been predominantly of British Raj origin. British education became solidified into India as missionary schools were established during the 1820s. Similarly a dense network of Universities was established with a curriculum based on instruction in English. By 1890 some 60,000 Indians had matriculated, chiefly in the liberal arts or law. About a third entered public administration, and another third became lawyers. That same old way and syllabus was followed with only some superficial modifications. Although we can boast of having the IITs, IIMs and some of the best law and medical colleges, the fact remains that India's contribution to the world of innovation is close to none.
Our education system should therefore focus on churning out not just engineers, but also entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, writers etc., all of whom are influential in the development of the economy. India's education system, originally designed by the British for the affluent class, will now have to cater to the needs of common people. To date, India has had three education policies. The first one came in 1968 with a focus on the learning of regional languages. The second one came in 1986 with an emphasis on universalisation of elementary education, eradication of illiteracy and skill development in the age group of 15-35. The draft was further modified in 1992 and this is the third one in place. This is not to say that previously we were wrong but this time we are more right.
Dr. Qudsia Gani is Assistant Professor, Department of Physics, Cluster University Srinagar