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Five challenges that will determine success of NEP 2020

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India took a giant leap forward by launching the New Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) on July 29, three decades after the last major revision to the policy in 1986. The NEP 2020 advocates three key thematic developments: One, a move from content-driven pedagogy that inspired rote learning to conceptual testing; two, a 360-degree assessment covering educational, mental, and physical well-being of the students, and; three, an experiential approach through vocational skills, mathematical and computational thinking, and new-age skills such as coding and data science.

The motivation is to make Indian learners truly future-ready, and global citizens. The Government of India seems intent in rolling out the vision in terms of curriculum revision, teacher-training, and equipping schools for ICT-enabled and assessment-driven evaluation over the next few years. This is critical for India to truly reap the demographic dividend through re-skilling, vocational training, and job creation.

The objective is noble, and the policy is timely. However, the success and pace of implementation will depend on how successfully the government can scale five key challenges.

Curriculum And Content

The NEP calls for curriculum and pedagogical changes. The boards which conduct examinations will need to re-think how they assess students and what the learning content rubric should be. School textbooks will need realignment too. Given that 87 percent of K12 learners in India are in the schools with annual tuition fee of less than Rs 12,000, these changes will need to be easily cascaded across tiers of schools.

Teacher Availability

Over 250M-plus students are estimated to enrol in K12 schools in India by 2030. At a teacher-student ratio of 1:35, India would need an estimated 7M-plus teachers to address this burgeoning student population who will need to have graduated through the defined B.Ed programme for 12th pass, graduates and post-graduates for four, two and one year respectively.

Teacher Skilling

Teaching is one of the low-paid professions in India with an average teacher earning around Rs 200,000 per year. Given these constraints, experiential learning, and concept-oriented teaching, versus the currently prevalent printed content-oriented teaching will be tough.

A comprehensive National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education has also been announced in the NEP in addition to Teacher Eligibility Tests (TETs) to create a talented and curated pool of educators who can impart quality education to the students. However, the current pool of educators needs to be orientated towards these teaching techniques.

Until the structural constraint in teacher remuneration is not corrected in the education ecosystem, the NEP implementation in spirit and form will stay challenged. Rollout of such a curriculum could produce unintended academic results for underprivileged learners who will now not have books or other supplementary aids to fall back on.

Technology At Scale

Digital infrastructure of similar scale will be needed using digital classrooms, remote expertise-driven teaching models, AR/VR tools to bridge gaps in physical teaching and laboratory infrastructure, uniform assessments across schools even in remote villages, career counselling and teacher training aids.

Evaluation Infrastructure

Under the NEP, examinations are being advised to transform towards a culture of assessment with continuous tracking of learning outcomes, a focus on higher order and foundational skills, and AI-based software progress tracking to enable students to make optimal career choices. Continuous assessment requires schools and teachers to innovate on evaluation approaches and assignments that are thought-provoking and require students to apply themselves.

Compared to theory-based-examinations that have unilateral questions and answers that are easier to administer and score, holistic assessments would require educational boards and institutions to invest significantly in creating these assessments and practice assignments. Of the 1.5M-plus schools in India, 75 percent are run by the government at a very low to no annual fee structure. Of the remaining 400,000 private schools, about 80 percent schools fall in the category of ‘Budget Private Schools’ charging Rs 500-1,000 per month, leaving a mere 15,000 (less than one percent of total schools) that can support the necessary infrastructure required for conceptualising and conducting such assessments.

The NEP 2020 drafting committee has undertaken a comprehensive process that considers state/UT governments, global best practices, expert opinions, field experiences, and stakeholder feedback. In the more affluent echelons, privately-owned Edtech is already taking a large part of the education spend away from the formal education systems.

The vision is aspirational. The implementation roadmap and rigour will determine whether this truly fosters education-for-all and job creation.