Will the policy work as designed for the last child or institution?

An educationally-sound* appreciation and analysis of the Indian NEP (National Education Policy) is perhaps the best window to understanding the human development challenges in what is demographically going to be the most populous country in the world, with the youngest population, intensively and extensively diverse, middle-class educational ethos, entrepreneurial culture, etc.

The first dimension of evaluation of Indian NEP is whether the policy work as designed for the last child or institution? An education policy that is not made for ‘the last child, family, community, or school’ is not good for any child, family, community, and school; that is the nature of education – the most critical social infrastructure. The developmental imperatives, processes, and resources for all children are exactly the same; for example, the same set of intelligences are to be nurtured, and ideally, to the same ‘base level’ for all (though the expression of the ‘base levels’ may be different among children).

To the point, an education policy must provide the most extensive, global, context-free goals, means, and resources, which can then be customised for children, families, communities, and schools based on their own imperatives and resources. A policy not made for the last child, or institution will not be duly extensive, applicable, and resourceful. By default, such a policy will also be inherently deficient for all others.

On another plane, it is not very difficult to realise that schools are designed to ‘teach, address, manage’ homogeneous groups of students, incapable of addressing diversity. It is embedded in the very DNA of the school system as the first few decades of the schools (later part of the nineteenth century) was such that all the children were educationally homogenous – they all were first-generation learners. Now the dynamics have changed (unfortunately, the school capabilities have not) – a classroom can have a gamut of learners spanning the first-generation to the sixth-generation learners, with three generations of learners not uncommon in a classroom. It all boils down to an implicit yet pivotal question – if schools could only gear up for one homogenous group of students, then what group it best be? Pertinently, it has to be the group of first-generation learners. The education system optimised for effective teaching of first-generation learners concretises the resource-led foundation for other learners.

NEP is not in good faith in that – it is comprehensively unrealistic for a good majority of students, and schools, leave alone the ‘last child, or the barely resourced low-cost private school, or government school.’ A glance over a few tens of pages of the policy would surprise one and all with the demand it makes on every school for a whole gamut of changes and resources that are daunting even for well-resourced schools. The goals that the NEP sets for the nation are nearly impossible to be aimed at and sustained by schools. 

Any social infrastructure has two non-negotiable imperatives, and education is no exception –

(a). ‘Same quality’ universal access to all, and all are free to top up.

NEP presents all of the policy as a monolithic new thrust, and it is cluelessly silent to creating a subset of itself as being the minimal bar of compliance, one that is assuredly realisable by the last of the schools. Non-compliance will be the norm, and subsequent underachievement is seeded in the policy itself.

A full disclosure – NEP calls itself flexible, but that is in terms of the pathways it allows, but the pathways are rigid by themselves; for example, there are a few exit points in undergraduate education, but the ‘full undergraduate’ education is rigidly four years long, to be sat through lectures; there is no flexibility of self-learning, faster track options – the same size fits all.

NEP has no words on how may the universality of the ‘same quality’ be observed. Is it about what every Indian child would have educationally attained by the end of various grade bands, come what may? It is imperative that we rather dilute the ‘same quality’ outcomes to the point that it is a very small set of developmental identifiers, the ‘same quality’ is a certain identity of being an Indian, but we must ensure it is achieved by 100% of students.

NEP is not real in seeking universal educational goals. It is too teacher-centred, a western-world legacy of the school system (which has roots in the socio-economic contexts of those societies); too dependent on the ‘system’. We, in India, cannot afford to be teacher-centred at all; we are very diverse, on many dimensions, and in ways no other country can even imagine. We need a significant local resource generation, and that has to be parents and the local community. NEP is all lip service when it comes to the role of parents and the community in educating children. We have to innovate.

(b). The ‘same quality’ must be a quality that is agreed upon, a baseline cherished quality.

NEP fails to indicate what ‘quality of education’ is at its core, and how this ‘quality of education’ must be evaluable by parents, college students, and society at large. 

To be correct, quality education is the contemporariness of education for children. And what is contemporary for a child in Grade V today? Preparing for and working in the late 2030s. What does NEP say about living and working in the 2030s in general, and what is the aspirational life and work for Indians in the 2030s? Nothing. Short of this envisioning, ‘quality of education’ is all in the dark – undefinable, immeasurable, or even worse, misleadingly represented.

Of course, no one knows what the 2030s are going to be like. So, what does NEP say we must do in such a scenario? It is silent. What we always do in such circumstances is go back to the basics, and do our best in what are the foundational and essential needs in all kinds of situations. What are the basics for educational achievement for all? Read, Write, Listen, Observe, and be Ethical, and get these really well for every child. Fortuitously, this is far easier because every family, community, and school is increasingly getting closer to ‘same quality’ global resources for the aforementioned basics.

However, NEP proposes to go the other way – do a lot of things in schools! It does not appropriately acknowledge that children are the product of their environment; without a larger agenda, discourse, and investment in social rejuvenation, children will remain prisoners of just today’s environment – a disastrous scenario in these times of transformational changes.

There is another profound reason for resting the entire system on the needs and the best interests of the ‘last children’. The school education is such massified that there is little unique about the individual schools, teachers, textbooks, exams, ‘progress reports’, time tabling, teacher training, inspections, ‘board exams, and their outcomes’, government policies, and not to be forgotten – the ‘parent pool’, etc. Stark as it may come across, what is ailing the systemic reform of K-12, across the globe, is the lack of mass-applicable and scalable ‘new K-12’. Schools are indeed the most universally alike factory every created by us. However, we don’t know that, or school administrators and leaders do not want us to know the same, and it may be their best-kept secret.

NEP does not qualify to assure parents, society, and the nation of educational quality; it is too diffused


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