‘Outdated syllabi, dismal infrastructure, poorly trained teachers among major issues affecting school education’

The draft National Education Policy (NEP) 2019 may contain some well-conceived suggestions, but on the whole it has many drastic recommendations that would damage, rather than improve, the entire fabric of education system, said top scientific bodies in the country.

In a document released early this week, three topmost science academies in the country — Indian National Science Academy (New Delhi), Indian Academy of Sciences (Bengaluru) and National Academy of Sciences, India (Allahabad) — said the draft policy does not make a compelling case for why radical alterations need to be carried out to the fundamental structure of the education system in the country. The Ministry of Human Resources Development unveiled the draft education policy on May 31 and invited public comments till July 31.

“An alternative approach could be to add novel elements to strengthen existing diverse academic structures that have evolved organically, in some cases over a century, while adapting to the diversity and region-specific realities of the Indian education eco-system, the academies said. At “multiple places”, they said, the draft policy contains prescriptions and assertions that need a revisit and re-evaluation.

Against semester system

The scientific community does not particularly agree with the government on introducing a semester system in schools, clubbing last four standards starting with 9 into one slab and imposing the three-language formula on below the class of 6.

“In its present form, draft NEP, despite being a policy document, is a strongly prescriptive document sweeping aside many key elements of the education system that have evolved by natural selection over a long period of time,” the scientists felt.

With democratisation of knowledge and availability of technology for easy access to information, the draft should have focussed more on how to teach and not only on what to teach.

“While an adequate exposure of ancient Indian educational traditions and institutions is desirable, this may be limited to the need to teach students about significant ancient Indian contributions to early developments in sciences, mathematics, medicine, engineering, agriculture and the fine arts. In addition, it would also be advisable to include instructions on geo-heritage, archaeology, palaeontology and biodiversity of India (in both marine and terrestrial realms) to provide a wholesome view of India and its natural heritage,” the apex science bodies observed.

Outdated syllabi

According to them, some of the major issues holding back school education include outdated syllabi, poor or even non-existent infrastructure, poorly trained teachers with abysmally low pay and very harsh working conditions and political interference in syllabus setting, teacher appointment and administration.

The science academies felt that the entire education system has become subservient to “success” in “public examinations”, such as the school-leaving examinations, or the entrance tests for seeking admission to institutions of higher or professional education, at present. These examinations, by and large, are only rewarding short-term memory and basic learning of concepts per se is compromised.

The focus of the policy should be to minimise such limitations of the examination system, they said.

With regard to higher education, the academies felt the classifying higher education institutions (HEI) into research universities, teaching universities and teaching colleges will “perpetuate the damaging distinction like the one we already have between the research institutes and universities.”

Similarly, they said, the freedom sought to be given to private HEIs offering professional courses to set their own fee structure is unjustified. The academies were also opposed to the idea of introducing four-year B.Ed courses because it would limit higher education potential of the students who are pursuing such courses.

Research funds

The academies also wanted the government to clear the cloud around the creation of national research fund (NRF), an idea that they welcomed as such. But they said the NRF mentioned in the draft NEP and that in the Union Budget early this month do not “look the same”.

In her maiden Budget speech Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said research funds available with all research agencies would brought under the NRF, which the academies would be a bad idea. “Bringing all funding streams under a single monolithic umbrella is fraught with problems,” they observed.


By Loknath

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