The policy makers took decades together to actually realize the significance of pre-schooling as an integral part of the broader spectrum of education. Its de-linking from the mainstream schooling was primarily a responsible factor for visible void between private and public sector education systems. The entire elementary education has remained a challenging area in public sector mainly because of very weak or absence of foundation classes. Now, National Education Policy-2020 has brought Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) to the fold of formal structure of education. This is an appreciable pro-academic initiative.
According to the Policy, from the age of 3, children will be part of ECCE which was, hitherto, left to the mercy of Anganwadi Centres with no monitoring or accountability from education side. Pre-schooling is considered to have been imparted already once a child enters formal schooling in class first. But in pragmatic sense of the concept, there was nothing like that. And from the class first, a child faces the trauma of structured syllabus and standard books prescribed for class first students. The illusion of false pre-schooling breaks and makes the child a victim of it for his no fault. There are huge learning gapes and despite that, a child is continuously elevated to the next classes without a solid academic foundation as required to familiarize the contents he is being exposed to. No remedial teaching or continuous evaluation at upper stages helps him out to bridge the gap in academics. He remains weak or ends up as a drop out.
Some years ago schools were asked to introduce KG classes without placing it into the system or structure. That is why; there was no provision of books, uniforms or specific teachers and infrastructure for them. Only a couple of years ago, however, some Model KG centers were established in all the districts of Kashmir in identified schools with better infrastructure and specific teachers. This pilot based proactive initiative was worth to be promoted to infuse a new spirit into the ailing primary sector. Anyway, the NEP-20 is clear that ECCE from age 3 to 5 will be provided through Anganwadis co-located with existing primary schools which would recruit workers/teachers specially trained in the curriculum and pedagogy of ECCE. So, introducing feeding classes with specific teacher-education as a part of the system can be expected to have a definite effect. The NEP-20 is, however, silent about the conceptualization of vibrant monitoring and accountability mechanism viz-a-viz ECCE and entire elementary education. The idea of a separate directorate for elementary education with separate Chief and Zonal Education Officers in every district needs to be deliberated upon. Since the education is a vast department and the focus is mainly laid on secondary classes which subsequently victimizes the elementary sector turning again as a big challenge at secondary level. This vicious circle can be broken only through a focused strategy to be adopted at the elementary stage.
Undoubtedly, the NEP-20 envisages some more structural and pedagogical changes in the school and higher education sectors viz-a-viz vocational education, digital and online learning, research and critical thinking, teacher-education, multiple entry and exit choices, easing of Board exams, focus on regional languages, reducing the syllabus, inviting foreign universities and colleges etc. Various academics and policy analysts have been coming up with their take on different provisions of the policy and contest the vision, innovation, intellectual and academic implications as identified with this 21st century Indian education policy. In this write up, I had two points to express my take on. One is already discussed viz ECCE which is now becoming the structural part of the system and was formally launched too; and second is regarding the re-organization of the School Education Department at regional level. Unfortunately, there is no such suggestion or recommendation in the National Education Policy. This indicates that the modalities it seems to follow on ground and the purposes to achieve are almost within the framework of old policy parameters. There is nothing like re-organization of the department to actually revamp it on the perfectly modern lines. We need a vibrant system to translate the policy vision on ground. The frozen and obsolete rules of governance and organization shall render even the best policies and documents useless. This way, the implementation shall remain a big apprehension even beyond 2040, the year fixed for the complete transformation of NEP-20.
Nearly one quarter of twenty first century has almost gone. The department is still running with old meter and tape. Why shouldn't there be restructuring and re-organization of human resource to make it functionally and structurally meaningful. When the change agent itself is trapped in bottlenecks, how would it free the society from bottlenecks? It needs to be brought on the track leading to the phenomenal destinations. There is a mess in huge human resources. The teachers and the administrators begotten out of them work in a steel-frame rules welded in fifties and sixties of the last century. Some are colonial brands too. The nature of accountability is feudalistic, fearful and fails to yield. There is a lack of in-build mechanism of checks and control- obviously for truants. The system in place is not enough scientific to make the odd one out. The survival of the fittest shall apply itself, if the systemic policy operation is executed.
Promotion is attraction and motivation - a universal phenomenon. With vigor and merit, a choicest teacher enters the department, spends all his potential here, lives whole life in it and performs whatever other assignments given to him apart from his primary responsibility. He finally comes out only as a "Masterji"- now a least respected title in society which is predominantly lived with materialistic considerations. There is almost a halt on promotions in the department. There are no new positions nor any move to effect any change in nomenclature- be that "Headmaster" or "Master". The change is must with new designations and positions. Therefore, the re-organization is a curious case so that the undesired tags attached with teaching community sometimes irresponsibly uttered by those who should not be, otherwise, expected to do so.
The existing promotion mechanism is also unscientific. We have the poorest ways of promotion in the department. Only seniority and required degrees or any non-academic qualification should not be the criteria the department has been doing with. The parameters of delivery, efficiency, performance and administrative acumen need to be put in place somewhere in the system to move towards meritocracy. The results would be different, unprecedentedly different, if merit alone is allowed to triumph over.
To see the education as a strong modern force of change, it itself needs to be changed in all ways, more than that what has been referred in a much hyped NEP-2020 to bring the change at organizational level as well. If the policy makers and think tanks make it so, there shall be least necessity of thrusting the tools of social engineering to bring behavioral, intellectual and cultural changes in society.