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Draft National Education Policy: A great step forward in restoring Dharmic civilizational values with a modern context

The long-awaited National Education Policy (NEP) is finally out in draft form for public opinion before finalisation. Former HRD Minister Prakash Javdekar, who has often been a target of ridicule due to his apparent lack of initiative in detoxification of our syllabus from leftist influence, deserves compliments for presiding over and enabling a comprehensive, excellent and forward looking National Education Policy document that addresses most of the problems plaguing our education sector today and turns the direction of our education system towards core Dharmic civilizational values in a modern day relevant format.

The new Draft NEP is a big step in the right direction, with several dramatic changes that can potentially revolutionize education in our country if implemented properly. This is the first of a series of articles that deep-dives into various aspects of the NEP.

Changes in Right to Education Act

The Draft NEP acknowledges the several problems with RTE Act in its current form and suggests major modifications to this controversial and draconian Act.

The good:

  • Extension of RTE Act to pre-primary early childhood education has been limited to public education system only. “It will be obligatory for the public system to provide appropriate quality and infrastructure”.
  • Loosening of input restrictions of the RTE: “regulations on inputs will be limited to ensuring safety of children, access and inclusion, non-profit and minimum learning outcome standards”. This is a big step forward in protecting small and low-cost high-quality schools from elitist and unsatisfiable requirements under the current RTE.
  • Clause 12(1)(c) (25% free seat reservation in non-minority institutions) to be reviewed: For the first time, the government acknowledges that this clause has failed in its purpose and will be reviewed, and if on review it is decided to continue the 25% free seat reservation, it will be made applicable even on minority institutions that don’t serve primarily their minority group, and all efforts will be made towards timely settlements of dues.
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The bad:

  • Extension of the Act up to 12th Grade
  • The act should ideally have been abolished and repealed as it has utterly failed in almost all its objectives.
  • A firm stand should have been taken on implementation in all educational institutions irrespective of their majority / minority status, instead of hiding behind the fig leaf of “misuse of minority status”.

Elimination of hard separation of educational steams

In what may turn out to be a lethal blow to Leftist hegemony on humanities Draft NEP has also opened up various creative dimensions in students who were compelled to choose only selected streams after 10th grade thereby limiting their creative sides. The hard separation of arts and science streams, as also curricular and extra-curricular activities will be abolished. For example, techies can now also formally pursue their interest in music or history simultaneously and obtain a legitimate degree or diploma in both subjects.

Language and literature

As per the Draft NEP, “When possible, the medium of instruction – at least until Grade 5 but preferably till at least Grade 8 – will be the home language/mother tongue/local language. Thereafter, the home/local language shall continue to be taught as a language wherever possible. High quality textbooks, including in science, will be made available in home languages as is needed and feasible.”

The Draft NEP vindicates the stand of activists who have been struggling for the language they speak at home to be made the medium of instruction. The relevant portions deserve to be reproduced here:

  • English has no advantage over other languages in expressing thoughts; Indian languages are very scientifically structured, and do not have unphonetic, complicated spellings of words and numerous grammatical exceptions; they also have a vast and highly sophisticated ancient, medieval, and modern literature in the Indian context
    Since Independence, the economic elite of India have adopted English as their language; only about 15% of the country speaks English, and this population almost entirely coincides with the economic elite.
  • The elite often use English as a test for entry into the elite class and for the jobs that they control. This attitude has kept the elite class and the jobs they control segregated from the economically weaker sections of society, which contain many hardworking, smart, high quality, highly skilled, and educated people who happen not to speak the language of the colonists and current elite.
  • It has created an unnatural aspiration of parents for their children to concentrate on learning and speaking languages that are not their own.
  • Most advanced countries use their own native languages as the languages of interaction and transaction, and it is suggested that India works towards the same, or its rich language and cultural heritage, along with the rich power of expression, may slowly be lost.”

Some other notable steps suggested for promotion of native languages include:

  • Enhancement of local language with the reading and analysis of uplifting literature from the Indian subcontinent, ancient to modern.
  • Fun course on “The Languages of India” in Grades 6-8 in which students will learn about the remarkable unity of most of the major Indian languages, their origins and sources of vocabularies from Sanskrit and other classical languages, as well as their rich inter-influences and differences, and also learn to speak a few sentences in those languages.
    All students in all schools, public or private, will take at least two years of a classical language of India in Grades 6-8, with the option to continue studying the language through secondary education and university.
  • Excerpts from works of great Indian authors, classical and modern, in all Indian languages, suitably translated into the medium of instruction, will be incorporated as relevant throughout the curriculum across all subjects in order to expose students to great inspirational writings of India.

The traditional three-language formula will be maintained. However, the current practice of the third language being a foreign language is set to change. As per the Draft NEP, “A choice of foreign language(s) (e.g. French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese) would be offered and available to interested students to choose as elective(s) during secondary school. Such an elective would be an elective and not in lieu of the three-language formula.”

Promotion of Sanskrit and other classical languages

As per the Draft NEP, “Facilities for the study of Sanskrit, its scientific nature, and including samplings of diverse ancient and medieval writings in Sanskrit from a diverse set of authors (e.g. the plays of Kalidasa and Bhasa), will be made widely available in schools and higher educational institutions.”

Some notable features include the following:

  • Integration of “history-changing Sanskrit writings” in various school subjects as well as in literature and writing classes (e.g. Bhaskara’s poems on mathematics and puzzles, the incorporation of relevant Panchatantra stories in ethics classes, etc.).
  • Sanskrit will be offered at all levels of school and higher education as one of the optional languages on par with all Schedule 8 languages.
  • In addition to Sanskrit, the teaching of other classical languages and literatures of India, including Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Odia, Pali, Persian, and Prakrit, will also be widely available in schools.
  • Original stories of the Panchatantra, Jataka, Hitopadesh, and other fun fables and inspiring tales from the Indian tradition will be introduced into the curriculum.
  • Excerpts from the Indian Constitution will also be considered essential reading for students.
  • Highlights from the lives of great Indians such as Mahatma Gandhi, Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Swami Vivekananda, Guru Nanak, Mahavira, Buddha, Aurobindo, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Tagore, Dr MS Subbulakshmi, S Ramanujan, Dr C.V. Raman, Dr Homi Bhabha etc and all Bharat Ratna awardees shall also be included in the curriculum along with heroes from all over the world such as Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela.
  • Indian literature and traditions containing deep knowledge in a variety of disciplines will be incorporated into the existing school curriculum and textbooks. Topics will include Indian contributions to mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, psychology, yoga, architecture, medicine, as well as governance, polity, society, and conservation.

Inculcation of scientific temper and evidence based thinking

As per the NEP, “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. For example, in history, one could ask, “What are the possible historical scenarios consistent with the known archaeological and literary evidences?” In music/physics, one could ask, “What frequencies of notes should be used in musical scales, given that notes with resonant frequencies are the ones that sound good together to the ear?” In ethics, one could ask, “What are the positive benefits to society if every individual always acts according to certain ethical principles?”

This is a major departure from the existing system that imposes only one world-view on the student and will encourage the student to look at available materials and decide for themselves based on the evidence and on rational thought.

Indian music, arts and crafts as an integral part of education

The Draft NEP proposes that very student from the Foundational stage onwards will have basic exposure to the notes, scales, ragas, and rhythms of classical Indian music (Carnatic and/or Hindustani) as well as in local folk music, art, and craft in a hands-on way; they will have exposure to both vocal and instrumental music and be strongly encouraged to take up at least one such art more deeply even if they plan to specialise in some other field.
The Policy recognises the importance of schooling systems developing excellent communicators and lays down various strategies for students to develop communication skills.

Vocational training

The Draft NEP proposes that basic knowledge of various livelihoods and life-skills (such as gardening, pottery, wood-work, electric work, and many others) be taught at the Foundational and Elementary level.

It provides for local artisans and practitioners to be hired as tutors by schools or school complexes for teaching each of these skills, and sharing of tutors across multiple schools in the proposed school complex (more on this later). It also provides for Vocational courses to be offered to all students in Grades 9-12 in secondary school in addition to more traditional academic courses.

“Students will have plenty of choice regarding the curriculum, being allowed to mix and match academics with skills education, with sports and arts, and with soft skills training” as per the Draft NEP. This is likely to enable a revival of traditional arts and crafts that are slowly dying out for want of patrons and practitioners.

Incorporation of ethical and moral principles and constitutional values

The Draft NEP proposes that traditional Indian values of seva, ahimsa, swacchata, satya, nishkam karma, tolerance, honest hard work, respect for women, respect for elders, respect for all people and their inherent capabilities regardless of background, respect for environment, etc. will be inculcated in students. The process and the content of education at all levels will also aim to develop Constitutional values in all students. A one-year course on ethical and moral reasoning will be required for all students in Grades 6-8. This addresses a major lacuna in our modern education system that keeps children deprived of moral and ethical values and does not expose them to traditional Indian way of thought, which is the Duty-based approach that starkly contrasts with the Rights-based approach prevailing currently in modern society.

The NEP provides for basic training in health, including preventive health, mental health, nutrition, sex education, personal and public hygiene, and first-aid to be included in the curriculum, along with scientific explanations of the detrimental and damaging effects of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. It also provides for a course for all students in Grades 7 and 8 on Critical Issues facing humans in their communities and around the world. In this class, students would learn about current issues that they will likely need to face and hopefully address in their futures as adults.

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