The NEP-2020 has proposed multidisciplinary and holistic education to ensure unity and integrity of all knowledge, which in itself is a great challenge
It is indeed refreshing and inspiring that the Ministry of Education shall also deal with skill development and entrepreneurship. It would enable the Ministry to take a more comprehensive view on the implementation strategies for the National Education Policy (NEP-2020). In fact, the Education Ministry must envision close coordination with the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs, as also with that of Women and Child Development. The NEP-2020, presented to the nation a year ago, had created an environment of high hope and expectation. In spite of the devastating COVID-19 crisis, the policy was widely analysed in numerous webinars with great enthusiasm. With skills and entrepreneurship coming to education, one could be confident the challenge of interweaving the three together and developing a comprehensive school education curriculum would receive utmost priority. Higher education would also be working on these lines and collaborating closely with the institutions dealing with the school education and teacher education.
The NEP-2020 has proposed multidisciplinary and holistic education to ensure unity and integrity of all knowledge. This in itself is a great challenge before curriculum developers, syllabus designers, authors of the textual materials and evaluation experts. In this exercise, skill acquisition and entrepreneurship development has to be organically interwoven. All this could be achieved if, along with enterprising young academics, experts capable of envisioning the emerging requirements of the labour market and knowledge-creating sectors are also closely associated. That’s what Gandhi wanted when he pleaded that education must bring out the best out of “Body, Mind and Spirit’ or, alternatively, “Head, Hand, and Heart”. This is how China and Korea succeeded in uplifting those below what we call in India the “poverty line”. Such an education would give dignity to one and all. One of the well-respected minds of the last century, John W Gardner, had emphasised this over seven decades ago: “An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher. The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity, and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.” As we rue the decline in the quality of the products from our schools and universities, we must comprehend from Gardener’s ideas how the trend could be reversed.
The beginning could simultaneously be made on two most significant fronts: Preparing a curriculum for school education that responds in requisite depth, total transparency and covers a 360-degree horizon for action and activity. It must be “rooted to culture, committed to progress”, as per the indications in NEP-2020. It makes serious attempts to obliterate the distinction between academic and vocational streams and also coalesce skills and entrepreneurship, irrespective of the stage of learning. The strategy of preparing such curricula has to be very different as it has to respond effectively to the state of employment, deficiency of skilled work force and traditional apathy to entrepreneurship. The process could be made more comprehensive if it incorporates due emphasis on discipline, commitment and work culture. If a learner finds adherence to regularity, punctuality and commitment to the profession among teachers, he would just accept it, internalise it and will need no tutoring on it. Now that the Education Ministry would work on “re-establishing teachers”, it has a great chance to reverse the unacceptable trends in work culture, wherever these exist. The policy mandate is really challenging: “The teacher must be at the Centre of the fundamental reforms in the 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 shape our next generation of citizens. The new education policy must help recruit the very best and brightest to enter the teaching profession at all levels by ensuring livelihood, respect, dignity and autonomy, while also instilling in the system basic methods of quality control and accountability.”
Most people do not make a distinction between teachers and teacher educators. The process of re-establishing teachers must begin in teacher preparation institutes. It is not tough to understand that the quality in every sector of human activity is a direct product of the quality of teacher educators, work culture and the social and professional credibility of such institutions. Any improvement in this area would require urgent action on the observations of the Justice JS Verma Committee, made in 2012 and reproduced in NEP-2020. It would also need an incisive analysis on how the idea of restructuring teacher education contained in NEP-1986/92 could not deliver the desired results.
In a nutshell, the process of education aims at preparing a complete person. It could be best understood in the following narration: In his book of 1932, Remakers of Mankind, Carl Washburn writes that when asked “What is your goal in education when India obtains self-rule?”, Gandhi answered: “Character-building. I would try to develop courage, strength, virtue, the ability to forget oneself in working towards great aims. This is more important than literacy; academic learning is only a means to this great end.” Character formation was the strength of the traditional Indian system of knowledge quest. Shall we have a sincere fresh look at it?
(The author works in education and social cohesion. The views expressed are personal.)