An astounding 34 years since its education policy was last revised, India is again at the cusp of a glorious and historic reform with the announcement of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020.
Timely and progressive, NEP marks a monumental development in the country’s education system.
Issue of medium of instruction:
- The medium of instruction has been a way of perpetuating class and caste structures in India. Accepting this reality will help us make sense of the language policy since Independence as well as the New Education Policy 2020 (NEP, 2020).
- NEP 2020 has many positives, including not making Hindi compulsory in South Indian states.
- The pedagogically relevant and politically sensitive issue of the medium of instruction, the policy seems to follow the well-trodden path.
- It says that the mother-tongue or the regional language would be the “preferred” mode of instruction till Class 5, possibly Class 8.
- Over the years, while school enrolment has increased, the quality of education in bhasha schools invariably government schools has deteriorated. At the same time, most students from the well-off sections have opted out of them.
- This shift from bhasha schools to English-medium schools first happened in the metros, then in middle-level cities and has reached the villages now. The bhasha schools have begun drawing children from the Bahujan Samaj.
Basha schools (regional languages) children suffer from two handicaps:
- First, the extremely poor quality of education in most bhasha schools — with exceptions in states such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
- Second, such children rarely have a tradition of education in their families and find it very difficult to compete with their peers who have a much better financial background, better education and proficiency in English.
- But the benefit of expanding education is that such children, who would not ask for a better deal earlier, are now making their demands clear.
- One remembers the agitation in 2014 when the Hindi-speaking students were arguing that the higher education system is loaded against the bhasha medium students, especially at the UPSC level.
- There is a conflict between what the educationists say — one understands the subject best in the mother-tongue, we as a nation should not lose such a multitude of languages, studying in the English-medium leads to gaps in the understanding of one’s own society and what the parents think is necessary for the economic survival of their children.
- So, parents send their kids to English-medium schools as soon as they can afford it. The bhasha medium students do not get the coveted jobs and the disparity between the two widens.
- In fact, the document, iterated over the last few years, is an ode to the ideals of public policy, factoring in voices of every stakeholder from experts to teachers and the common man.
- It is informed by insights from 2.5 lakh gram panchayats across the country.
Concerns that need to be addressed:
NEP 2020 does not tackle the issue of inequity that arises out of the medium of instruction.
The document pays lip-service to the promotion of bhashas, but the policy will end up reinforcing the status quo. The English-medium schools will continue as they are, rather more of them will sprout.
But the agitation of 2014 could be a harbinger of the possible political unacceptability of this “manner of doing things”.
One could let all students study English from an earlier age. Admittedly, this goes against the basic principles of education, and the non-elite will face more problems in studying English.
But an exposure to basic English from a very young age in bhasha schools through rhymes, simple sentences could make learning the language later much easier.
Making special funds available for English-teaching at panchayat or zila parishad level schools could also help. These could be some steps in making school education somewhat more egalitarian.
The challenge is to implement this policy in letter and spirit. There is a need to create comprehensive, efficient and realistic guidelines and framework.
Moral and Basic education is the need of the hour:
In sum, the NEP will strengthen the fundamentals of moral and basic education and provide opportunities for equitable and qualitative development that is sensitive to local cultural contexts and global possibilities.
This, in turn, will lead to the development of an innovative, analytical, just and aware Indian consciousness expediting the development of a prosperous and self-reliant nation (Aatmanirbhar Bharat).
As with every policy, the real test of NEP will be translating it to action.
Backed by expeditious and effective implementation in sync with its spirit, NEP could shape the lives of our future generations.
Through a robust education system, leveraging the full potential of its demographic dividend, India has taken a giant leap towards establishing itself as a knowledge superpower.
The policy aims for the all-round growth of every student in scholastic and co-scholastic domains and emphasises educating the students, teachers, and parents to nurture their potential to serve the nation.
Its flexibility allows learners to select their preferred field of study and subsequent path in life following their academic and professional inclination and interests.
The policy will prove extremely beneficial in dismantling hierarchies and barriers between different knowledge streams by providing easy and accessible methodologies.
It will promote co-curricular activities and learning techniques in professional and academic streams. This will pave the way for a new multi/trans-disciplinary education system.
The NEP will help to replace the rote method of learning and examination-based education with a system based on conceptual understanding that aims to hone the student’s analytical skills.