As the agony of COVID-19 abates, it’s time for the Govt to invest in kids by focusing on the emerging strategies for educational transformation
Never before have global education systems undergone such stressful times as were unleashed on these — and the entire humanity, in fact — by the COVID-19 pandemic. The children suffered unprecedented restrictions owing to lockdown and home confinement for extended durations; away from their classrooms, friends, classmates and teachers. There is considerable evidence of emotional, mental and neurological impact on children, among others. Learning has also suffered much.
Mobiles, online learning and contact with friends for the lucky few did bring some solace but these experiences had their own limitations and inadequacies. Suffering was common to all, and caring was experienced from all sides. In these tough times, positive vibes and tender, humane aspects were prominently evident all around. That was, and remains, the biggest ray of hope. The pandemic is not yet over but confidence has been regained: Vaccines are available; and human ingenuity shall overcome all adversity, no matter how major a deterrent and of what magnitude the odds are. In the spirit of “We shall overcome”, things shall be put back on rails and start moving ahead maybe with even greater vigour, confidence and assurance. The world’s population in the aftermath of the Coronavirus affliction would require new knowledge and new skill sets and, hence, all countries shall strive to transform their education systems in the face of the emerging post-COVID world.
The world will no longer be the same to which all of us have been accustomed for generations. This is the time for individuals, families, communities, countries and international organisations to envision the measure and magnitude of the transition, be part of it and ensure that the rhythm of civilisational advancement is sustained. Just when the number of Corona positive cases had started indicating a downward trend, media reports about the detection of a new and more dangerous strain in the UK have practically numbed the world. Suddenly, the hope of the impending relief with the arrival of the anti-COVID vaccines has given way to disturbing apprehensions and uncertainty.
A long battle ahead against the invisible, albeit life-threatening, adversary appears inevitable. It would need people of the highest talent, commitment, dedication and spirit of service, and it would need institutions of higher education and research to get ready at the optimum level of their efficiency to serve a global cause. There would be no institution of higher learning that could afford to ignore it in the totality of its functioning.
The ray of hope, one would like to emphasise, lies in the fact that human ingenuity would finally win over. No calamity, violence, war or any pandemic could ever dampen the human spirit to confront it, to explore the man-nature relationship and persistently unearth deeper secrets of nature. This eternal human quest — symbolised by learning, re-learning and unlearning — shall continue with renewed vigour in the years ahead. It would be sustained by the dynamic education policies that would be subjected to serious transformations imposed by the pandemic.
India came out with a much-delayed new education policy that underwent finalisation in the thick of the Coronavirus crisis; thus enhancing its relevance and readiness for a pragmatic, quick and sustained response. The National Education Policy (NEP-2020) presents a lofty transformational vision and strategically indicates how to move ahead. One could scrutinise it for the inclusion of experiences and its potential to comprehend the emerging aspirations and expectations of people. These shall have to be achieved by the education system through enhanced levels of quality, dynamic skill acquisition, appropriate personality development, character building, innovations and research, and everything else that is part of the man-making education.
Going ahead, the NEP-2020 shall be continuously assessed in its epistemological strength on the premise that Swami Vivekananda had put before India more than 125 years ago: “We must have life-building, man-making, character-making assimilation of ideas.” This, he taught us, is the summum bonum of education, an education that aims at developing the an individual’s personality. He firmly deprecated the practice of education that drives into the minds “of the learner a mass of information in which he may develop no interest”. The individuality of every child is to be comprehended and respected as a living and growing up entity with innate capacities and potentialities, which are to be drawn out.
When the “Report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-First Century” was presented under the title “Learning: The Treasure Within”, it accepted the philosophical base that Indian thinkers have propounded since the ancient times. There are no limits to learning and growing up. These elements need to be integral ingredients in the implementation of the NEP-2020.
The Indian education system suffered as it ignored the much-needed transition in strategy at the time of Independence and opted for the convenience of continuing with the transplanted system. In spite of commendable expansion in access and participation, India’s youth had to wade through the dilution of quality, inadequacy of personality development, lack of self-confidence, disturbing levels of inadequacy of entrepreneurial spirit and the spirit of caring and sharing. The gap between the learner attainment and the level required/ expected has become worrisome.
On the positive side, India learnt from its lapses and the NEP-2020 responds to the challenges as it opens its first chapter with the words: “Education is fundamental for achieving full human potential, developing an equitable and just society, and promoting national development. Providing universal access to quality education is the key to India’s continued ascent and leadership on the global stage in terms of economic growth, social justice, equality, scientific advancement, national integration and cultural preservation. Universal high-quality education is the best way forward for developing and maximising our country’s rich talents and resources for the good of the individual, the society, the country and for the world.” The youth of India have the added responsibility of acquiring the highest levels of competence, knowledge and entrepreneurial skills in the global context and requirement. Our global presence would be a great opportunity to put India at the high pedestal on the world’s stage. India’s youth abroad should be responsible ambassadors of its culture, history and heritage.
India needs to uplift its institutions to the level of Taxila, Nalanda, Vikramshila, Vallabhi and suchlike. The NEP-2020 acknowledges it and inspires India’s youth to march ahead on the path of excellence. It recalls the contributions made by the luminaries in the fields of mathematics, astronomy, metallurgy, medical sciences, engineering, architecture, ship-building, navigation and many others. The traditional Indian education system produced scholars, researchers, scientists and philosophers of the highest calibre; whose contributions were indeed astounding for their times, and continue to serve humanity even at this juncture. Can anyone in the modern civilised world ignore the contributions of Aryabhatta, Varahmihir, Bhaskaracharya, Brahmagupta, Chanakya, Patanjali, Panini, Maitreyi, Gargi, Thiruvalluvur and Gautama et al? Their contributions and exemplary dedication and devotion were worthy of acharyas.
The NEP-2020 has prepared the necessary outline and strategy for the same. The challenge of implementation is facing the nation and the extent of success at another milestone would really make a difference. The prime acceptors of the challenges that would unfold at the implementation stage would be teacher educators, teachers and teacher education institutions. They would determine the quality of the persons coming out of the schools and universities.
The NEP-2020 takes a comprehensive view on the role of teachers: “The teacher must be at the centre of the fundamental reforms in education system. The new education policy must help re-establish teachers, at all levels, as the most respected and essential members of our society, because they truly reshape the upcoming generations of citizens. It must do everything to empower teachers and help them do their job as effectively as possible. The new education policy must help recruit the very best and the brightest to enter the teaching profession at all levels by ensuring livelihood, respect, dignity and autonomy while also instilling in the system basic quality control and accountability.”
The effective implementation of the NEP-2020 would be possible only through a transformed work culture that respects the learner, his sensitivities, aspirations and expectations. This can be achieved only with the teachers who are lifelong learners and personally convinced of their role as the builders of “New India”. Only they would be able to transform the learning environment, in which every child who enters the system is well looked after, her/his talent and interests are nourished and nurtured and s/he is prepared to enter the world of employment fully equipped professionally, mentally and spiritually.
(The author works in education and social cohesion. The views expressed are personal.)