Dr Amitava Datta casts a critical look at some of the general features of the DNEP as well as how it is going to affect the school and the college / university education.
1. Remarks on some general features of Draft National Education Policy 2019 (DNEP19)
One of the important ideas in DNEP19 is the suggestion to form conglomerations of several academic bodies of a particular type. However, if a large fraction of the bodies belonging to a conglomeration is not viable, they will certainly affect the overall efficiency of the group adversely. Throughout this section, we discuss how the weaker institutions can be individually uplifted with relatively modest investments before fully implementing NEP 2019, which requires expensive and resource consuming structural changes. A few specific recommendations of DNEP19 for different stages of education will be analyzed in the next section. The Indian Constitution and several government policies and vision documents, including DNEP19, have often emphasized the importance of inculcating scientific temper. Yet our society is still plagued by unscientific ideas and superstitions. A discussion on inculcating scientific temper in an effective way is also included in this section. A summary of the discussions in sections 1 and 2 will be the content of the last section.
1.1 Before implementing the New Education Policy (NEP) one must have a clear idea of the current state of education in India. The DNEP19 has indeed noted that ‘The strength of any good Policy lies in building on what already exists – particularly the structures and institutions; therefore, this Policy will prioritize on strengthening what exists. However, throughout this report, no serious attempt to summarize the existing education system is clearly visible.
1.2 Of course, other publicly available sources offer glimpses of serious maladies in our education system. For example, Scroll.in dated 14.7.2016 reported ‘The findings of the latest National Achievement Survey for Class 5, published by the National Council of Education Research and Training this week, are predictably grim and show that a vast majority of students about to enter middle school face enormous challenges in reading, basic mathematics, and other subject knowledge. (e.g., )43% of all students scored 35% or less in reading comprehension. Only 11% got 75% or more. Unless the above 11% is, e.g., increased to 75% or more any attempt to introduce highly sophisticated experimentations in primary education will be futile. This goal can be achieved by a relatively modest increment in the number of regular and voluntary teachers, improvement in the infrastructure, the use of new teaching techniques and a more efficient method of monitoring the progress. The Panchayat system and government management at block and district levels should be involved in organizing the voluntary teachers and the monitoring system. Similar weakness in the foundation even at higher stages of education will be discussed below. Taking drastic and expensive steps for excellence ignoring the basic drawbacks of the existing system may, in fact, lead to a national disaster.
1.3 It is especially important to revisit the recently introduced Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) since it may be regarded as the precursor of DNEP19 and several criticisms of the hasty implementation of this system have already been made by many academic bodies. This issue will be discussed in further details in the next section.
1.4 The Committee noted that the current education system solely focuses on rote learning of facts and procedures. Hence, it recommends that the curriculum load in each subject should be reduced to its essential core content. This would make space for holistic, discussion and analysis-based learning. (from draft NEP 2019). Similar observations have also been made by many earlier committees on education reform. Yet no concrete change in the mode of learning has been suggested by NEP 2019 or any earlier policy document (see the next section for further details).
1.5 Stiff resistance to any attempt to improve the mode of learning and half-hearted policies of the government have further nurtured this archaic mode of rote learning. A case in point is the fate of the UGC NET examination. This national level examination tests the overall knowledge of a person, aspiring to join the higher education system as a teacher or a Ph.D. student, in his subject. The experts agree that it is not possible to crack this examination by rote learning only. However, since its inception, the success rates in all such tests have been miserable. As an example, we present some relevant statistics on UGC NET December 2018.
“A total of 6,81,930 candidates had appeared for the UGC NET December 2018 exam. Out of these, a total of 44,001 candidates have cleared the exam for the post of Assistant Professor only and 3883 candidates got qualified for the post of both Assistant Professor and JRF.” (from the UGC Website).
Extremely low success rates observed over the years strongly suggest that the method of teaching followed by the institutions of higher education, except for a few with very high standards, is indeed heavily dependent on rote learning. Instead of serious attempts to improve the mode of teaching in relatively backward institutions, our government succumbed to pressure from different influential quarters. The rules were modified so that persons with a Ph.D. degree need not qualify in national level tests like NET and GATE. Success in a qualifying examination for entering the Ph.D. program locally arranged by the university concerned should be enough. Obviously, the standard of this locally organized test will widely vary and, in many cases, may be substandard compared to the national level tests. Unless an appropriate method of teaching, keeping rote learning at the minimum level, is devised and national level tests are reintroduced even partial success in introducing ‘holistic, discussion and analysis-based learning’ is impossible. It can be realized by gradually changing the pattern of college-level examinations by the one that is used by NET, GATE, IITs, IISERs, and IISC systems and introducing intense monitoring system both at the state and national levels. Unless this goal is fulfilled for 60-70% of the colleges the ground for implementing NEP2019 will not be fertile.
1.6 It should be emphasized that rote learning also flourishes due to a ‘principle of least action which both teachers and students in the average institutions at all levels of education have been forced to follow. Memorizing notes distributed by the teachers or available in the market is the easiest way of clearing the examinations for the students because access to more comprehensive learning is not available in the regular classes in an average institution. On the other hand, it is physically impossible for the teacher to deliver ‘holistic, discussion and analysis-based learning’ because of the backbreaking teaching load ( e.g., in many colleges regular major and minor courses in a subject are taught by two/three fulltime teachers with the help of a few part-timers) and additional administrative works as required by the employer. It is curious to note that while DNEP19 emphasizes on short courses designed for teaching the key concepts, CBCS has introduced heavy courses, which under the present circumstances will only reinforce rote learning. Moreover, many students opt for higher education not because of genuine academic interest but simply because no better choice was available to them. The presence of such students creates avoidable extra loads in the higher education system. The above difficulties can be removed-at least partially- by introducing relatively modest financial help and administrative changes before implementing the more ambitious NEP 2019. Therefore, the government must strongly focus on speedy introduction of various channels of vocational training after secondary education with immediate effect so that the above extraneous loads on higher education do not impair the path to excellence envisaged by the NEP-19. It is gratifying to note that the NEP has already observed that ‘this Policy aims to provide access to vocational education to at least 50% of all learners by 2025. Unless the above points are properly addressed rote learning will merrily continue.
1.7 Throughout this draft a new trend is visible. It recommends the merger of a number of academic institutions of the same type at all levels of education. For example, it is proposed that Anganwadis be merged with primary schools, School complexes, which ‘typically consist of 10 – 20 public schools are formed and, finally, ‘the current 800 universities and 40000 colleges will be consolidated into about 15000 excellent institutions. In contrast to the modest changes proposed above these changes are expensive and resource consuming, and careful considerations are called for before implementing them. The positive aspects of this approach are that a few good institutions can provide leadership and guidance to relatively less privileged ones through sharing of teachers and other resources which may improve the latter class in the long run. On the other hand, an overwhelming load due to managing the affairs of a group of substandard institutions after may ruin some existing premier institutions which were doing very well on their own. Given the current rather dismal standard of our average educational institutions, the best policy, to begin with, would be to select a few institutions at different levels of education which can provide the leadership and form clusters around them by including a few relatively backward institutions in the same locality. The performance of such clusters should be closely observed for a period of not less than five years. If significant improvements in the overall academic standards follow, then the number of such clusters may be gradually increased. It should also be borne in mind that such mergers beyond a certain number may also increase administrative complications nonlinearly making the functioning of the cluster quite inefficient. Many of the ambitious recommendations of the draft policy may be first tested via pilot projects as sketched above. It is also worth pointing out that the idea of upgrading all institutions in the country to the same level of excellence is a utopia which has never been realized in any country. It is much more pragmatic to offer a sufficient number of fellowships, scholarships, bank loans, etc so that deserving students from the backward areas may easily get the opportunity of studying in the centers of excellence.
1.8 Beyond the high school level, all predominantly technological or professional (like law or hotel management) courses should raise at least 30% of the gross expenditure for running the course through tuition fees, consultancy, etc after an initial period of three years. Close collaborations with the Industries should be encouraged. However, a significant amount of the money thus saved should be spent by the government for improving the school education, education for differently abled students and adult education. For the departments of basic sciences, humanities, and fine arts the corresponding amount should never exceed 15%.
1.9 According to the Constitution of India,” to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform” is one of the fundamental duties of the people of the Republic of India. In the course of time several National Education Policies, National Frameworks for School Education, etc have also emphasized the importance of developing the above qualities through our education system. In spite of this, superstitions and unscientific ideas plague every corner of our society even today. The main reason is that the word scientific temper is merely mentioned several times as a ritual in textbooks and other relevant documents. Its significance has never been unambiguously explained. The draft NEP 2019 also discusses the importance of the above values in some details, but several ambiguities still remain. For example, it states that “Evidence-based reasoning and the scientific method will be incorporated throughout the school curriculum – in science as well as in traditionally non-science subjects – in order to encourage rational, analytical, logical, and quantitative thinking in all aspects of the curriculum.” It says “For example, in history, one could ask, what are the possible historical scenarios consistent with the known archaeological and literary evidence?” Unfortunately, literary evidence has often been misused in recent times. Confusion begins when mere mentioning of something from mythologies, which may be important assets of our literature and culture, is promoted as a piece of historical evidence. The DNEP19 must not appear to support the above confusions.
Another example of confusion is the text:
“All stages (of school education) will heavily incorporate Indian and local traditions, as well as ethical reasoning, socio-emotional learning, quantitative and logical reasoning, computational thinking and digital literacy, scientific temper, languages, and communication skills.”
Some Indian and local traditions- e.g., praying to some supernatural forces to end a draught-are certainly not compatible with logical reasoning and scientific temper. This should be unambiguously clarified in the text although the cultural values of such traditions may also get due respect.
1.10 One of the fountainheads of unscientific views is the often-asked question ‘Can science explain everything? The answer is obviously no. In fact, an affirmative answer should never be entertained because that would mean the end of science! But one cannot deny the fact that the phenomena which were attributed to supernatural forces even a century ago are now easily understood scientifically. This remarkable progress of science is never emphasized in the usual textbooks and other relevant documents like the preamble of a syllabus. In the new approach, it should be mandatory to stress this point in all approved science textbooks with various examples from the history of progress in science.
- Comments on some specific recommendations by the DNEP19 for different stages of education.
2.1 School education
Some of the new ideas in the DNEP19, if implemented realistically with patience, hold promise for far-reaching consequences for the education system. This section contains observations on a few topics recommended in DNEP19.
2.1.1 Improvement in pre-school education ‘would be implemented by improving and expanding the Anganwadi system and co-locating Anganwadis with primary schools. Successful implementation of this program will help the students from the disadvantageous sections of society as they will get more time for acquiring ‘foundational literacy’. However, the magnitude this task is so overwhelming that implementing it satisfactorily with regular teachers and poorly paid Anganwadi workers may not be feasible. In addition to making the salary of the Anganwadi workers reasonable, a pool of nonconventional teachers consisting of the guardians with some education, say up to class X, and local youths need to be created. A national team of volunteers may also be formed to augment the workforce (for example high school students may help during the vacation time, NGOs may be involved). Successful teachers may also be involved after retirement. This nonconventional workforce may also help to teach the lower rungs of the regular primary level education.
The following measures may make the nonconventional workforce efficient
i) Development of novel teaching methods suitable for pre-school and primary school students,
ii) the persons involved who are not professional teachers should be offered a short course and their teaching skills should be tested,
iii) some honorarium should be paid to the volunteers which is not negligible for a person belonging to a lower middle class/ poor family,
iv) constant monitoring by the guardians’ committees and the Panchayat system should be enforced in addition to the usual government mechanism for monitoring.
2.1.2 The recommendation to ‘extend the coverage of the Right to education (RTE) Act to all children between the ages of three to 18 years is impractical. The existing RTE Act already ‘provides for free and compulsory education to all children from the age of six to 14 years. Did it make a strong impact on the quality of school education especially at the primary level? A saner approach would be to significantly improve primary and middle school education by fulfilling the goals of the existing act before replacing it with a more ambitious act which involves huge additional expenditure and human resources. Moreover, it is not at all clear why students from relatively well-off families who may enjoy better pre-school education from family members should be brought under the RTE act. Of course, poor students should be getting free education even at the pre-school level. As discussed above most of the students above the age of 14 should be encouraged to join some vocational education to find paths for future employment. The same argument holds for the students who continue in mainstream education and are likely to find a successful career. Of course, it is assumed that there shall be adequate scholarships, fellowships and bank loans for supporting the poor students above the age of 14.
2.1.3 As repeatedly mentioned in the DNEP19 the success of our cravings for excellence in education critically depends on the teachers and their proper training. Unfortunately, the current B.Ed course for training school teachers is almost obsolete. The only known new development in recent times, that I am aware of, is an increased duration of practice teaching. However, the method of evaluation of the students and the would-be teachers continues to follow the same old method. The computer revolution in teaching has completely bypassed the B.Ed program. If all institutions offering the B.Ed cannot provide computer literacy to their student nodal training centers should be created by the government so that would-be teachers have enough expertise in using graphics, animations and other modern tools to improve their teaching. B.Ed Students who can develop novel methods of teaching should be offered incentives. The four-year integrated B.Ed program proposed in DNEP19 will be better equipped for introducing modern methods of teaching because of its longer duration.
2.2 Observations on undergraduate teaching
2.2.1 Here a detailed stock-taking is essential since drastic changes have recently been imposed on this sector from above in the form of Choice Based Credit System (CBCS). In principle, this change is an excellent idea. But are the existing institutions prepared to meet the challenges of the new system? The main changes consist of replacing the annual examination system by the semester system and in principle, the students have the freedom to choose the subjects they wish to study rather than following a rigid curriculum. Common sense would immediately suggest that significant development in infrastructure (e.g., more classrooms and laboratories) and more teachers are essential for successful implementation for this ambitious program. The first point to be stressed is that no agency either at the state level or at the UGC level has provided any additional financial assistance to fulfill the above requirements. Because of this bad precedence, all academic institutions will regard any future educational reform as a ploy to impose additional workload without creating the conditions conducive for the proposed reforms. Moreover, the new curriculums are so heavy that the number of class hours has been drastically increased. As an example, it has been estimated that according to the new norms the number of teaching hours per week in a major subject which involve (does not involve) laboratory work will be 118 (96). If a college has five full-time teachers per subject (which is an optimistic scenario; in many cases, the number is smaller) – each of them will have to teach approximately 24 hours per week! Is this the right environment for nurturing ‘holistic, discussion and analysis-based learning’? Although UGC had required a minimum number of teachers for running the CBCS, they have later admitted that this condition could not be fulfilled in many cases. At least in West Bengal, the freedom of a student to choose a course remains on paper only. The facility that a student with a major in a science subject can select an elective paper in humanities or arts is still a mirage. CBCS has been running for 1 or 2 years in most of the colleges. According to some experienced teachers, the hasty implementation of CBCS has heralded unprecedented chaos in undergraduate teaching. It is also worth recalling that some reputed institutions like the University of Calcutta and the Jadavpur University had opposed the hasty implementation of CBCS.
2.2.2 There are several reasons for the above lengthy discussion on CBCS. If fact CBCS is the precursor of the more ambitious and, consequently, complicated ‘broad-based liberal education proposed in the DNEP19. So far, the reference to CBCS in DNEP19 is restricted to a single sentence. Only a thorough review of CBCS can reveal the ability of the colleges of average standard in India to implement education reforms appropriate for the 21st century. However, this must be based on the maximum possible direct interactions with the teachers and the students. This is very important for fully appreciating the ground realities. Appropriately designed questionnaires may be sent to different colleges and universities for this purpose. This is much more important than a few meetings of a high-level committee.
2.2.3 It is inconceivable that the teaching standard and grading of all the institutions in our country will be uniform even if all the drawbacks of the CBCS, some of which have been discussed above, are removed. Appropriate UGC NET/GATE type national level entrance tests for all postgraduate programs must be reintroduced. This is particularly important if all the undergraduate colleges have the authority to offer degrees.
2.2.4 Good training programs for undergraduate teachers are practically non-existing. The existing UGC refresher courses follow totally haphazard and arbitrary schedules and choice of subjects. Quite often the latter choice neither helps to improve the teaching ability of a teacher nor does it help his/ her research. This program should be revamped by introducing broad guidelines at the national level and an efficient monitoring program. A reasonable fraction of the lectures should be devoted to developing improved techniques for teaching a particular subject. Nodal centers for exposing the teachers to expensive advanced experiments in the refresher programs should be set up. If required, these centers should also help the colleges and the universities to set up and maintain advanced laboratories. Incentives must be given to the teachers who design attractive experiments for the nodal centers. Most of the above comments are also applicable to postgraduate teachers training.
2.3 Postgraduate teaching and research
A major concern here is the mushrooming of new institutions offering postgraduate degrees at the state level. The new state government universities are relatively better off, though not ideal, in terms of the number of teachers and infrastructure. Most of the undergraduate colleges upgraded to offer postgraduate teaching are substandard in terms of these facilities although there are a few dignified exceptions. The main reason is that no additional faculty or new infrastructure was provided by the state government in most cases.
The classes are somehow managed with the help of part-time teachers. How these institutions received approval from the UGC is indeed mysterious. These comments are mainly on the basis of such institutions in West Bengal which we are familiar with. However, the new state government institutions offering postgraduate degrees in all states require thorough scrutiny before including them into the CBCS or NEP2019.
There is no program for teachers training at this level. We have already commented on the totally useless UGC refresher programs. All premier institutions in the country should collectively introduce such a program where only renowned teachers will teach. The Departments of Education of the central and State governments should provide all possible support. Appropriate national level tests should be introduced for all students willing to join any postgraduate program.
Some programs like practice teaching with proper evaluation should also be designed for improving the teaching skills of would be PG teachers. Such programs can be conducted by using Skype and other inexpensive modern communication technologies. These programs should be open to Ph.D. students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculties. A grading system at the national level for the Ph.D. students and their theses will also help to improve the Ph.D. program.
3.1. There is no alternative to uplifting the standards of the existing average institutions, which abound all stages of education, above a certain threshold. The DNEP19 recommends the formation of conglomerations of several academic bodies of a particular type, centered around leading institutions, which will eventually become centers of excellence. However, if a large fraction of the participating academic bodies in a group is weak, which unfortunately is the present scenario, they will certainly affect the overall performance of the group adversely. Before fully implementing NEP19 a large fraction (say, 70% or more) of the average academically backward institutions should be raised above a certain nationally defined standard. This can be done using relatively inexpensive methods primarily dependent on modern technologies in communication and other areas (Section 1, item 7, p-3).
3.2 In the meantime the feasibility of some of the new ideas in DNEP19 should be tested by pilot projects (Section 1, item 7).
3.3 In order to provide a sufficient number of teachers required for the revamped pre-schools as suggested in DNEP19 and the regular primary schools, a properly trained pool of non-conventional teachers must be formed (section 2.1, item 1).
3.4 The DNEP19 recommended the elimination of rote learning from our education system and the introduction of ‘holistic, discussion and analysis-based learning’. This can be achieved by improving teachers’ training. But it also important to reduce the teaching and administrative workload of the teachers who will require more time for implementing the new method of teaching (Section 1, items 4,5,6).
3.5 The recently introduced CBCS system should be thoroughly reviewed before integrating it with NEP19 since there are already many serious complaints against it. The main objection is that no additional manpower or new infrastructure (classrooms, laboratories, etc) was provided for this new system in most cases. The impractical curriculum leads to back-breaking teaching loads in an average college. This is in conflict with the concept-based teaching recommended by DNEP19. The ‘cafeteria type and interdisciplinary approach to learning’, which allows a student to choose the subjects of his study with maximal freedom, could not be introduced due to paucity of the above resources. If these shortcomings can be eliminated the CBCS may indeed help the smooth implementation of NEP19 (Section 2.2, items 1-3).
3.6 Since properly trained teachers are essential for the success of NHEP19, the existing teaching programs for high school teachers should be modernized. Special efforts are required so that the teachers can successfully use computer graphics, animations and other attractive modern aids to teaching (Section 2.1, item 3).
3.7 Good teachers’ training programs are currently non-existent at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Such programs should be devised. Expenses can be significantly reduced by using modern communication techniques like Skype to run part of the training programs. The four-year Integrated B.Ed program as proposed in DNEP19 may be the right platform for modernization of school teaching(Section 2.2, item 4).
3.8 If the undergraduate colleges with uneven standards enjoy degree awarding authority, national level tests for admission to all postgraduate courses should be introduced (section 2.2, item 3).
3.9 The importance of inculcating scientific temper in society has been emphasized in our constitution and many national policy documents including DNEP19. DNHEP19 made a significant step forward by explicitly mentioning that this concept can be applied to subjects like history which are usually not regarded as a science. However, our society is still a hot bed of superstitions and other unscientific ideas. The reason is that scientific temper is mentioned in textbooks and other relevant documents as a ritual. Its significance is never explained. In order to remove this lacuna text books and other relevant documents must introduce a section by illustrating this concept with examples from the history of science and scientific methods. (Section 1, items 9,10)
The following friends and colleagues helped me through discussions and sharing of written materials:
Professor Anirban Kundu, Dept of Physics, Univ. of Calcutta;
Professor Debajyoti Choudhury, Dept. of Physics and Astrophysics, Univ. of Delhi;
Professor Debasish Aich,Dept of Physics, Kharagpur College, Kharagpur;
Professor Indrani Kar, Dept of Sanskrit, Scottish Church College, Kolkata;
Shri Mantu Kumar Das, Principal, Goaltore College, Goaltore, West Bengal;
Professor Supratim Das, Vice Principal and Prof of History, Scottish Church College, Kolkata
Professor Sujoy Poddar,Dept. of Physics, Diamond Harbour Women’s University, Diamond Harbour,
Professor Soumitra Banerjee, Dept. of Physics, IISER Kolkata and
Professor Upendranath Nandi, Dept. of Physics, Scottish Church College Kolkata.
Professor Amitava Datta, FNA was a Professor of Physics at Jadavpur University (1981-2008), Kolkata, India and the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Kolkata (2008-2013). He is an INSA Senior Scientist at the Dept. of Physics, Univ of Calcutta (2013-continuing).
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author
The other articles in this series can be found here.