National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 is the first policy that I have ever read in my adult life. There are several strands in the NEP from Foundational Numeracy and Literacy to what a B.Ed program will/should look like in the coming years. The government is also envisioning a common entrance exam by a new department called the National Testing Agency. This would be applicable for graduate and undergraduate courses.
Having been a part of an organization that works in the field of math and science education, I naturally saw myself diving deeper into the Foundational Numeracy and Literacy (FNL) bits of the policy. Additionally, since Aavishkaar’s work is largely with teachers and I have had the opportunity to converse with teachers from varied backgrounds and institutions, the section about teachers also interested me. Hence, in this piece I will be attempting to pen my thoughts, opinions and reflections on these two components.
Foundational Numeracy And Literacy
The ASER 2018 report stated that more than 75% of government and 60% private school 5th graders were not able to solve a division problem. Owing to this, when we look at the NEP 2020, I would say that the government has recognised and articulated the problem that the country is in pretty well.
The policy documents states, “the highest priority of the education system will be to achieve universal foundational literacy and numeracy in primary school by 2025.” We are in the year 2023 and the 2022 ASER report shows a decline in the percentage of grade 3 students being able to do at least subtraction from 28.2% in 2018 to 25.9% in 2022.
Aavishkaar has some interventions in government schools in the nearby villages. There, it is working on building foundational numeracy in both primary and middle school students. The current levels of fluency in and understanding of the concepts is very poor among students of all grades.
Luckily, there are several organizations who have recognised the issue. In their interventions, they have stated focusing on foundational numeracy and/or literacy. Some organizations that I am aware of, are Aafaaq Foundation, LIFI, Ibtada and CSEI. They are working in Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh respectively.
The NEP also greatly talks about reformatting the assessments. This is in order to discourage rote learning and increase emphasis on building conceptual understanding. My experience with students both teaching and assessing opened my eyes to reality. Students, regardless of the kind of school, grade or gender largely suffer from a phobia of mathematics. They come from a place of belief that math is tough. And they are not equipped enough to do it. Over the course of sixteen months working in the field of STEM education, I have recognised that the phobia is born out of two major factors:
- Lack of conceptual understanding that leads to rote learning
- Lack of familiarity with the concepts in their daily life
I am very eagerly looking forward to the new examination format (whenever it comes). Some things I would like to see are questions being more application-based, contextual and testing for conceptual understanding. Such a format stops being about “how much knowledge does the student have?”. Rather, it focuses on “how much understanding has the teacher built in the student?” and “what are the gaps to be conveyed going forward?”. In order to achieve this, I envision the assessments to be very contextual to the students’ language, society and geography. This is a challenging task for a country as diverse as India.
Speaking of assessments, the policy specifically and repeatedly mentions that it wants to reduce the number of students who are availing external tuition. The fact that tuition has increased has been attributed to the format of the assessments and not competencies of the in-service teachers which was very surprising. The NEP also mentions that taking coaching classes as the ‘harmful’ effect of the current format of assessments. Doesn’t the need for external coaching come from the lack of understanding which in turn leads to a need for another source of learning? Which brings me to my second focus area.
Firstly, the weightage given to the in-service teacher development section in the policy is scarily low. Of what’s there, we can start with the mention of the following statement “the high respect for teachers and the high status of the teaching profession has to restore so as to inspire the best to enter the teaching profession”. I fundamentally have an issue with this. Does this mean people should take up a profession only because others view it as ‘high status’? The NEP also mentions that incentives will be provided for teachers to take up roles in remote schools. One example was that of housing near the school. I think it is a good value addition but again, makes me question how they are viewing teachers.
Why can’t better professional development be an incentive? Do we go with the assumption that this is what the teacher wants?
Having seen schools in remote areas where a single teacher is working with all grades, the proposed idea of school complexes seems interesting. The teachers will be switching between schools and working with a larger set of students.
One big piece that has always emerged in my conversations with teachers is how burdened they are with admin work. Some teachers have also shared stories where they had to pick completing an urgent admin work over conducting a class. This has been the most common complaint among teachers, again from both private and government schools.
The NEP mentions that “to prevent the large amounts of time spent currently by teachers on non-teaching activities, teachers will not be engaged any longer in work that is not directly related to teaching. In particular, teachers will not be involved in strenuous administrative tasks and more than a rationalized minimum time for mid-day meal related work. So that they may fully concentrate on their teaching-learning duties.”
I had the opportunity to have a chat with a few teachers from government schools in Himachal Pradesh. And the narrative of admin work burden still remains. I am not sure about the steps taken to change this. The NEP does not mention any target for this either. These are some of the key elements of the NEP that stood out to me. Yes, the article is based on the mindset and experiences that I come from and hence is opinionated.
Overall, reading the NEP gave me a better understanding of different stakeholders in the education sector as well as has helped me connect the work I have been doing for the past 16 months to the overall system in the country. It has also sparked in me the desire to understand the nuances implementing such a heavy policy and the time, effort and capital that will go into the same. It also gives me hope – of a better classroom and future!