The report of the Committee for Evolution of the New Education Policy – prepared by a team of experts headed by former cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian – is much more than a draft containing recommendations for the new education paradigm in the country. Reading the 230 page report, it becomes clear that it addresses the much wider pedagogical concerns.
Reasoning about why the Indian education system is in a ‘disarray’, the report states, “On the totem pole of the state management hierarchy, education comes relatively low both in status and recognition. This was part of the administrative ethos bestowed by colonial rulers who had no interest in imparting education to the bulk of Indians. This neglect should no longer be tolerated. Education must be given the highest priority,”
While the entire focus of the report remains on two aspects, that is ‘quality' and 'equality’ (equal access to all), it touches many other important themes. For improving the quality “it seeks to create conditions to improve the quality of teaching, learning and assessment, and promote transparency in the management of education”. And in this way, it seeks to ‘restore the credibility’ of the education system.
The report highlights a disturbing fact that while gross enrollment in schools, as also at higher education institutions, has gone up sharply, it has been “accompanied with many undesirable new factors”.
“While the infrastructure facilities in the school system have significantly improved, there has been little corresponding impact on the quality of instruction or learning – on the contrary repeated studies have indicated a worrisome decline in learning outcomes in schools,” the report states.
Analysing the reasons behind this paradox, the report addresses larger pedagogical concerns. With the state failing to provide quality education, there has been an influx of a large number of wholly private or aided schools, even in rural areas, out of which “many of them of indifferent quality; leading up to questions about the quality of degrees, generally obtained in the system”.
Adding to this, the report states that inadequate stress in early childhood has “severely contributed to poor learning outcomes at successive secondary and higher education periods”.
“Serious gaps in teacher motivation and training, sub-optimal personnel management in the education sector, absence of necessary attention to monitoring and supervision of performance at all levels – in short an overall neglect of management issues in this field have contributed to the current state of affairs”, the report states.
It talks about how “outside interference, absence of accountability, unregulated commercialization and lack of standards” that has “increased substantially during the past two decades” has left education sector in India with a “crisis of credibility in terms of the quality of education which they provide, as well as the worth of the degrees which they confer on students.”
One of the scathing criticisms that the Indian education system has been subjected to is that it promotes rote learning. In this regard to the report makes some important observations.
“The main objective of our education system currently, unfortunately, is to prepare the children to do well in the examinations. Classroom behaviour and dynamics are guided by this overarching goal. Our examination system is based on rote memory; questions are asked from text books and students who are able to reproduce what is written in the text books manage to get high scores,” the report said.
It adds, “the Committee understands that memory and recall are an integral part of any education system, but endorses the views of several experts that the focus of education should be more on critical thinking; the examination system should be geared to test understanding rather than ability to reproduce the text-book script”.
The report recommends on a “complete overhaul of examination system which primarily tests only rote memory”. It also stress that “performance of a student should not be judged only by results of the board examinations”, a suggestion that has been put forward by a host of prominent academicians in past.
“Credit should be given to performance in periodic tests and quality of assignments and classroom participation by students. The process of continuous evaluation should be transparent and the results should be shared with students and parents,” read the report.
While analysing a range of issues – that includes the current methods of learning and evaluation, to teaching technique and curriculum – the report suggest host of reforms.
“NCERT needs to focus sharply on increasing the quality of school education; in particular to move to transformation of the curriculum and pedagogy away from rote learning to promote a spirit of enquiry and understanding. For this, NCERT will have to redesign its text books in a manner that teachers become facilitators and co-investigators and encourage self and peer learning,” read the report
It adds, “Successive National Education Policies have referred to progressive transformation of the curriculum and pedagogy away from rote learning, to encourage greater involvement of the thinking faculties of the students in the learning process, and to promote a spirit of inquiry. The school curricula do not as yet adequately reflect changes in this direction. This important core function of the NCERT has to be given greater relevance, applicability and intensity of application.”
The report has tried to address all substructures of the larger pedagogical superstructure. Though it is quite ambitious in its approach, it raises valid concerns and puts forward some very important recommendations.
Following news reports that TSR Subramanian wrote a letter, asking the government to make public his panel’s report, HRD Minister Smriti Irani said early this month that the ministry will not disclose the report’s contents unless it has received views and feedback from all state governments.
While her ministry holds the prerogative of how it deals with the report, the fact remains that the 230 page draft contains much for ensuring a robust education system. And ignoring it won’t do good to anyone.