Vocational education will be a key highlight of the middle school stage where ‘fun-courses’ on gardening, pottery, carpentry will be introduced

It was year 2017. In a small corner of Tripura, responding to what an earthquake is, a student of Class 6 writes in his EVS answer script: “Earthquake is when my mother blows the shawnkho (conch), beats the kashor-ghonta (brass gong) and ululates, even when she’s not in the thakur-ghor (worship-room). Earthquake is when we are alerted to run out of the house and instructed to not hide under big trees or furniture.” Technically, this response may be taken to be ‘incorrect’ as it does not follow the regular definition or meaning of ‘earthquake’ as given in EVS books. But what feels astonishing as well as promising about the entire episode, is the fact that this child was imbibing things from his direct experience, within his family and community. He could amalgamate the cultural landscape with his learning, and most importantly, he did not resort to the ‘rote memorisation’ technique of learning which most children his age did.

The reference to the above episode is aimed to throw light on the hopes and aspirations unveiled by the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, announced this year on 29 July, by the ministry of human resource and development, government of India. NEP 2020 is being hailed as a historic policy that was long overdue, and a number of debates and discussions on its viability have either taken place or are forthcoming. As someone who is about to complete a short stint of just three years in the school education department of the state, this write-up is an attempt to understand certain aspects of this new policy relating to school education and also to bring to the fore the key issues which need to be addressed while implementing the policy decisions in the schools of Tripura.

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This comprehensive policy is based on the strong pillars of access, equity, quality, affordability, and accountability that not only speaks about the holistic development of children, but also emphasises on going back to our roots. As a prologue to this new age policy that focuses on the development of the educational scenario of the country, the ministry of human resource development (MHRD) has been renamed as the ministry of education (MoE). The 66-page policy is divided into four sections covering school education, higher education, and other key areas of focus such as adult education and online education, and implementation respectively.

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An educational institution is a child’s second home where s/he expects good care, comfort, and a sense of security. One of the most important reforms of NEP 2020 is the revision of the structure of school education. The existing 10+2 structure of school education has been replaced in the NEP 2020 by a 5+3+3+4 structure, wherein emphasis has been laid upon the foundational years of a child. This foundational stage consisting of five years has been termed as early childhood care and education (ECCE) for children between ages 3 and 5, to be taken care of by the anganwadis (rural child care centre). Here, a child will first complete a three-year pre-school learning to make himself/herself ready to attend Classes 1 and 2. The pre-schooling as well as the primary schooling stage is a melting pot of various approaches where children will learn the basics of early literacy and numeracy with the help of art-integrated techniques, story-telling approaches and other play and activity based approaches as deemed appropriate by the teachers. The ultimate goal is to make the learners attain foundational literacy and numeracy as well as to develop and nurture the qualities of compassion and benevolence towards fellow learners.

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Another key highlight of the policy is the ‘decanonisation’ of different streams of learning in the secondary stage. NEP 2020 says that there will be no rigid separation between academic streams. This is indeed a welcome initiative that will certainly work towards eliminating the age-old hierarchy in the educational scenario of our society where a particular stream of learning is associated with high intellectual capacity and other streams are considered less intellectual or employable. Also, as a part of experiential learning, the NEP also lays special emphasis on vocational education, otherwise considered ‘inferior’ to mainstream curriculum.

Vocational education will be a key highlight of the middle school stage where ‘fun-courses’ on gardening, pottery, carpentry et al will be introduced, and it is hoped that by 2050, at least 50% of learners shall be skilled in vocational crafts which in turn might enable them to make a career in those fields. Also, emphasis has been laid to do away with rote memorisation techniques of learning by reducing the content in the curriculum. Instead, the focus shall be on building competence of the learner so that the performance is automatically taken care of. This includes developing the critical and analytical abilities of the learners who would ultimately contribute to the nation-building process with their innovations and novel ideas.

NEP 2020 also seeks to promote multilingualism with special emphasis on the mother tongue of the learner. It clearly says, “Wherever possible, the medium of instruction until at least Grade 5, but preferably till Grade 8 and beyond, will be the home language/mother tongue/local language/regional language.” Hence, efforts will be made to prepare study materials in a bilingual mode to enable the learners grasp the content easily.

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The policy also seeks to bring changes in the assessment system of learners. It aims to redesign the progress card which will be a “holistic, 360-degree, multidimensional report that… will include self-assessment and peer assessment, and progress of the child in project-based and inquiry-based learning, quizzes, role plays, group work, portfolios, etc., along with teacher assessment.”

This implies that the assessment will no longer be just a competition of getting ‘good marks’ on answer scripts. This age old desire/pressure of scoring good marks in the examination reminds me of a little anecdote by Prof. Arunodoy Saha, an eminent educationist and writer from Tripura, included in his memoir titled Chalar Pathey (1997). While the author was in the United States (US) for his PhD degree, to his surprise he found that the assessment/evaluation system in that country was that of ‘trust’ and not of ‘distrust’ as we might find in our country. For instance, he writes, in India, a teacher assumes that out of 100, a student has scored zero, and as the teacher goes through the answer script, the learner is accorded marks based on his/her answers. In the US, the scenario is just the reverse. The teacher assumes that the student has already scored 100 out of 100, and if s/he makes any error, then some marks will be deducted. The difference between these two approaches is the outlook of the teacher towards the learner (Saha, p. 55). It is therefore hoped that the change in the assessment system in this new age policy will help eliminate undue examination pressure on students and that they will enjoy the learning process rather than be overpowered by it.

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Regarding the three-language formula, the discretion lies with the state government to introduce a particular language in the state. For Tripura, considering the need of the hour, the teaching and learning of Kokborok may be introduced at an early age even for those learners whose mother tongue might be Bangla or Manipuri. If possible, there should be a certificate course for teachers whose mother tongue is not Kokborok, so they could at least learn the fundamentals of the language. A working knowledge of Kokborok will be useful if they get posted in areas where the number of Kokborok speakers is more compared to other languages. This will not only instil a spirit of cultural exchange among the communities in the state but will also enrich the knowledge base of the speakers. But the notion of learning through one’s mother tongue is not without limitations. English is still considered the global medium of communication and most interviews and examinations in the country are still being conducted in English. So the importance of English education cannot be denied altogether.

While the students in the urban areas may have access to English education (may be through availability of coaching centres), the students living in the rural/remote areas may not have access to English education or be able to develop English language skills. In that case, the department/school authority should ensure that there are arrangements for dedicated classes to help these learners acquire proficiency in English communication, along with proficiency in other Indian languages.

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The department of education, government of Tripura, has already initiated the formation of a special joint task force to facilitate the dissemination of the NEP 2020 in the state. While the policy measures look very promising, care must be taken at the time of implementation of those in Tripura, considering the learners who come from diverse socio-economic-cultural backgrounds. Regarding the implementation of the ECCE policy measures, the anganwadi workers/teachers of Tripura must be given adequate training in the effective management of the preschools, maintaining proper health and hygiene, providing healthy and nutritious diet to learners, instilling social skills among learners et al. Also, they should deal with the young learners with compassion and empathy. For this, a special monitoring and review committee may be formed.

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During the implementation of the NEP 2020 policy measures in the schools and colleges of Tripura, guidelines should be prepared for the promotion of gender sensitization and environmental awareness at all levels of the teaching-learning process

Speaking of the introduction of vocational courses in the middle school stage as mentioned in the NEP, eminent local artists of Tripura may be invited as resource persons to various schools so that they could enrich the learners with their experience as well as give them hands-on training in the desired craft. Regarding the inclusion of ‘local’ content in textbooks, SCERT, Tripura has already been working towards achieving this goal of introducing local history and geography of Tripura in the social science textbooks of Class 9 in the schools of the state.

During the implementation of the NEP 2020 policy measures in the schools and colleges of Tripura, guidelines should be prepared for the promotion of gender sensitization and environmental awareness at all levels of the teaching-learning process. For this, the department should train teachers to help develop attitudes that promote gender equality. Also, measures should be adopted to create an inclusive environment where a special child is treated equally like other children in the classroom because empathy and compassion are the need of the hour, especially during this critical phase which we are currently going through.

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We are living in difficult times hit by a strange and powerful pandemic. The teacher community of Tripura is gradually adapting itself to the new age changes in terms of delivering online education during this Covid-19 crisis. Amidst a few hits and misses, teachers of the state have accepted this challenge and are becoming tech savvy by participating in video conferences, and are regularly conducting live online classes on various platforms. Hence, it is hoped that they will work sincerely and carefully for proper implementation of the NEP 2020.

(Sukla Singha is a PGT English teacher at Kirit Bikram Institution. The author can be reached at shukla.singha85@gmail.com. Views expressed are personal)

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