Why the New Education Policy needs a Newer Outlook
The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled. This fire can only be kindled with the help of the weapon of knowledge. This weapon of knowledge can only be launched with the support of education. All great nations are built on the foundation of an educated society. It is the true indicator of economic prosperity, development and progress.
India has historically been the centre of knowledge, learning and education. It boasted of excellent teachers like Chanakya, Aryabhatta, Sushruta and Charaka, who made rapid advancement in mathematics, sciences and philosophy. People from around the globe descended to the prestigious ancient universities of Takshashila and Nalanda. Following the tradition of learning through recitation, many volumes of Vedic texts, elaborating on numerous aspects of philosophy and science, were handed down from one generation to another.
However, the remarkability of the ancient Indian system declined with repeated invasions, conquests and subjugations by various tribes, European powers and finally the British. Though the British introduced many Western concepts of learning and education, the need of the revival of the indigenous system of education was always felt. Great thinkers and scholars like Swami Vivekananda, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Rabindranath Tagore attempted to restore the Indian system of learning to its past glory. It was expected that the Indian government formed after Independence would re-establish the ancient Indian system of learning, drawing from all religions and cultures.
Yet, after Independence, grassroots education was not given importance. Our first mistake was to not expand primary education and instead build elite centres of wisdom like the IITs and IIMs. An important lesson was learnt: the expansion of higher education should not be at the expense of providing basic education to all. Therefore, strengthening primary education should be our prime focus.
At the pre-primary and primary level, relevant lessons in speech and writing should be first imparted in the mother tongue. Studies have shown that the child learns faster in his/her own mother tongue than through a foreign language. Furthermore, as the brain develops fastest at this age, classical languages and English should be taught in order to ensure holistic growth. This stage is critical because it seeks to incentivise the pursuit of education. These incentives help in attracting people from diverse socio-economic backgrounds to the school. The most pioneering effort to convince parents to send their children to school was the Midday Meal Scheme. This scheme should continue at an even larger scale, ensuring clean and healthy meals to millions of children. Teachers play the most important role at this stage to establish the pupils on a firm footing. They need to be kind, cooperative and caring. These qualities would be imbibed by the young and curious minds, ultimately moulding them into exceptional citizens.
If primary education lays the foundation for future progress, then a robust secondary education ensures the construction of a tall structure. Core subjects such as Mathematics, English, Science, Social Sciences, Hindi and regional languages should be taught by experienced teachers. It is important to inculcate discipline and punctuality in students at this stage. Relevant projects, class exercises and homework should be given to facilitate better understanding. Technology can help as a tool to teach effectively, with the use of smart-boards, projectors and tablets. It is usually seen that the quality of teaching in urban areas is better than that of rural areas. This anomaly needs to be addressed by encouraging educated youth in the rural areas to take up the job of a teacher. It is sheer irony that everyone wants a good teacher, but nobody wants to teach. A major factor is the salary paid to teachers, which is less than satisfactory. Teachers’ salaries need to be competitive enough to motivate educated and passionate youth to take up teaching as a career.
We are swiftly moving towards an age where technology will power our lives more than ever before. Therefore, it becomes critical for students in the secondary level to learn to code in computer languages. As employment opportunities become rare and highly competitive, emphasis should be given to vocational and skill-based professions such as carpentry, plumbing, masonry et cetera. Many students develop a liking for extra-curricular activities such as sports, music and art. All efforts should be taken to further encourage such pursuits. A committee overseeing such activities should be formed in each school to ensure that interested students participate in state and national level competitions of their respective interests.
As students move into higher secondary classes, the level of competition increases exponentially. This translates to a great amount of pressure and burden on the student. It is usually at this stage when students are required to opt for a course of study of their choice. This is a very significant phase which moulds the future career of the students. Hence, it becomes very important for teachers to guide them and conduct aptitude tests to enable them in making an informed choice. Olympiads, inter-school competitions, science fairs and literary competitions also help the students to identify their hidden potential, apart from being highly informative and enlightening.
Almost all courses offered by universities today shortlist students on the basis on an entrance exam. It has been repeatedly observed that the syllabus of higher secondary examinations varies vastly from the material and questions asked in entrance exams. Coaching classes, which have sprung up in every city and town, exploit this wide gap to their utmost advantage. They become exclusive centres, often charging exorbitant fees, leaving out a huge section of students who are unable to afford their bills. Studies show that majority of the students selected on through such entrance exams receive coaching in addition to their curriculum at school. This wide gap can only be filled if efforts are made to align the curricula of the higher secondary standards with that of the questions asked in entrance exams. Such an approach would also serve as a good reason to include vital subjects like logical reasoning and general knowledge, which are frequently asked in entrance exams but unreasonably omitted in school exams.
The above measures should strengthen the basic framework of education, enabling all sections of society to gain foundational literacy. The next important step would be the transformation of colleges and universities. Many of the courses offered in universities are distanced from the needs of the society. Newer, multi-disciplinary courses should be offered to tackle the problems of the twenty-first century. Subjects such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, crypto-currency and nano-surgery should be researched deeply not only by scientists and technical experts, but also by legal and economic academicians. There is a severe shortage of funds for research in Indian universities. Endowment for premier research institutes like IITs and IISc is paltry when compared with their global counterparts. Therefore, a National Research Fund should be setup with an extensive corpus, having experts of every field on its board. Private donations from alumni and corporates should be encouraged to provide a stimulus to research. Professors of universities should be able to balance teaching and research to provide a rounded blend of activities.
Education should not be restricted on the basis of age. India faces a massive problem of adult illiteracy, which can only be eradicated by adopting novel means. We can setup educational camps like health camps, which would go on for a month and would aim to provide basic literacy and numeracy to illiterate adults. New-age technology like videos and live-streaming can be used to provide education in remote areas. We can employ innovative methods such as a ‘Teach Studio’, where qualified and interested teachers can record their lectures, segregated as modules. These videos can then be shown in a ‘Learn Studio’, where both school children and adults alike can learn by way of these recordings. The respective state governments would need to play a bigger role to ensure the success of such projects, as they are closer to the grassroots.
It is time that the political leadership and socio-economic elite of the country realise that it is only education which can boost India to the forefront of the fourth Industrial Revolution. We need to view education as a strategic investment and give it the status of an infrastructure project of immediate significance. The New Education Policy should enable future students to move away from rote memorisation and cramming, and instead focus on applied learning, critical thinking and encourage them to let their imagination run free. India’s pool of young people is the largest in the world. Armed with the tools of education and a liberal mind, our youth can become a force to reckon with. In every epoch of humanity, knowledge represents the aggregate of what is created and discovered by previous generations, to which the present generation adds its own. Now, executing an effective education policy to expedite the pursuit of knowledge may be our biggest contribution for future generations.
*Anant is a first-year BALLB student at Gujarat National Law University. He has a love for research and academic writing. He is the editor-in-chief of Praxis Forum.