By Mr. Vardan Kabra
Co-founder & Head of School
The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 lays out a progessive vision for education in India. Prime Minister Modi summed up the vision succinctly when he said “The NEP focuses on learning instead of studying and is based on critical thinking rather than curriculum with a special focus on passion, practicality, and performance.” The policy emphasizes the importance of 21st century skills such as creativity, problem solving, cultural awareness, empathy. Vocational courses and coding with emphasis on Artificial Intelligence are required to be introduced from middle school itself
Recognizing that skills and concepts are more important than content, the policy calls for a significant reduction of the curricular content across grades. Examinations are expected to focus on the key concepts so as to reduce the burden of rote memorization. Allowing students to take board exams more than once, and over a period of 4 years, as well a single entrance examination for college admissions will significantly reduce the stress and burden due to high stakes examinations. A subject selection that goes across streams will allow students to explore a range of subjects rather than narrow streams.
The importance of Early Childhood Education (ECE) is recognized and mandated for all Indian children from the ages of 3-6. A National Initiative for Proficiency in reading with Understanding and Numeracy (NIPUN) is being launched to ensure that all students achieve foundational literacy and numeracy by Grade 3. To ensure that the focus is on learning outcomes, students will be tracked using a 360 degree progress tracking tool called PARAKH (Performance, Assessment, Review and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic development). All Indian students (in government and private schools) will be assessed in Grades 3, 5 & 8 on foundational learning.
This outstanding vision needs a significant amount of innovation and change of focus in all stakeholders in the process: the government, parents, students and schools. As PM Modi said, “... the government, its interference in education policy, its impact, should be minimal.” To make the NEP vision a reality for 47% of Indian students who go to private schools, private schools need to be empowered in many ways. This is especially true for the 8.5 cr or 70% of the private school going children who study in low-cost private schools who struggle with meeting foundational learning outcomes necessary for any further learning. At the other end, there’s a huge gap between supply and demand for good quality private schools. This requires new schools or significant investment of money and human capital into private schools.
The NEP has already proposed review of the input-based norms which focus on infrastructure which should allow schools to focus on delivering learning outcomes. However, the not for profit status for private schools remains a huge barrier to entry for high quality capital and people. The innovation that is required to make the NEP vision a reality will become possible only if investors can expect a reasonable return on investment, and if good quality people can hope to get good compensation as teachers and administrators. Allowing schools for profit will also bring in intense competition for existing schools, which will force them to up their game and at the same time keep the fees predictable for parents. To ensure that low-income families also get access to better quality schools, the government can fund students through education vouchers or direct benefit transfers. Along with school report cards which cover learning outcomes, safety norms, fees predictability this will allow parents to make informed choices, while making schools compete for these students.
We need to think of private schools as partners in providing the quality of education that the NEP envisions, for which they need to be empowered. As PM Modi says, “(the NEP) belongs to everyone. The people need to take the collective responsibility to implement the policy in Letter and Spirit”.