Kochi: The draft document of the National Education Policy-2019 says that the NEP-2019 envisions an India where every child in the age of 3-6 years has access to free, safe, high quality, developmentally appropriate care and education by 2025.
Studies tracking student learning outcomes clearly demonstrate that children who start out behind tend to stay behind throughout their school years.
At the current time, there is a severe learning crisis in India, where children are enrolled in primary school but are failing to attain even basic skills such as foundational literacy and numeracy. A major part of this crisis appears to be occurring well before children even enter Grade 1.
Far too many 6+ year olds are en-tering Grade 1 with very limited Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE), the draft document says.
Supervised play-based education, in groups and individually, is considered particularly important during this age range to naturally build up the child’s innate abilities and all-important lifelong skills of cooperation, teamwork, social interaction, compassion, equity, inclusiveness, communication, cultural appreciation, playfulness, curiosity, creativity, as well as the ability to successfully and respectfully interact with teachers, fellow students, staff, and others, it says.
It is important that children of ages 3-8 have access to a flexible, multifaceted, multilevel, play-based, activity-based, and discovery-based education. It also becomes natural then to view this period, from up to three years of pre-school (ages 3-6) to the end of Grade 2 (age 8), as a single pedagogical unit called the “Foun-dational Stage”.
It is necessary, therefore, to develop and establish an integrated foundational curricular and pedagogical framework, and corresponding teacher preparation, for this critical foundational stage of a child’s development.
While providing some essential cognitive stimulation, play, and day care, most Anganwadis have remained relatively light on the educational aspects of ECCE, it notes, calling for strengthening them.
In addition to problems of access, quality related deficiencies such as developementally inappropriate curriculum, the lack of qualified and trained educators, and less-than-optimal pedagogy have remained major challenges for many if not most existing early childhood learning programmes.
The policy therefore focuses on developing an excellent curricular and pedagogical framework for early childhood education by NCERT along with trained workforce and infrastructure.
The numerous rich traditions of India over millennia in ECCE, involving art, stories, poetry, songs, gatherings of relatives, and more, that exist throughout India must also be incorporated in the curricular and pedagogical framework of ECCE to impart a sense of local relevance, enjoyment, excitement, culture, and sense of identity and community.
To reinforce the public system’s commitment to provide quality early childhood care and education to all children before the age of 6, the draft policy suggests that ECCE be included as an integral part of the RTE Act.
The mandate of the NCERT will be expanded to include the development of a curricular and pedagogical framework for early childhood education, in accordance with the above principles and guidelines. It calls for co-locating angawadis with primary schools, co-locating pre-schools with primary schools where possible and building stand-alone pre-schools.
All anganwadi centres and pre-primary schools will be linked, if not physically then formally/pedagogically, to a primary school in the area, as the lowest rung in the school complex.
All aspects of early childhood education will come under the purview of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), in order to ensure continuity of curriculum and pedagogy from preprimary school to primary school, and to ensure due attention nationwide to the foundational aspects of education.
A detailed plan outlining the operational and financial implications of the integration of early childhood education with the school education system will be developed. A committee of cognitive scientists, early childhood education experts, artists, and architects will be formed in each state (or locality) to design spaces, within the funding allocations, that are truly inviting and inspiring places for pre-schools and anganwadis.
Another objective outlined by the draft policy is that by 2025, every student in Grade 5 and beyond should have achieved foundational literacy and numeracy. Teacher capacity also plays a central role in the attainment of foundational skills.
Currently, few teachers have had the opportunity to be trained in a multilevel, play-based, student-centred style of learning that, according to extensive ECCE research is so important for students in early grade school, particularly in Grades 1 and 2.
A further factor in the crisis in many areas relates to teacher deployment.
One aspect of teacher deployment (or lack thereof) - which sometimes forms a barrier to play-based, multilevel, and individualised learning - is the Pupil Teacher Ratio, which in some disadvantaged areas, often exceeds 30:1, making learning for all much more difficult in these areas.
ECCE - while being an extremely important stage in a child’s development on its own - is also a key to ensure grade-school-preparedness. Once access to ECCE is instituted across the country, the problem of school-preparedness - and of students falling behind so quickly in grade school - will be greatly mitigated for future generations of students, the draft policy says.
The draft further says that however, for all those students who are already in grade school, and who remain currently at the centre of this crisis, a mission-mode dedication to remediation and enabling all students who have fallen vastly behind to catch up will be required most urgently and on a national scale. Because of the depth and severity of the problem, teachers cannot be asked to go at this alone - a large scale nationwide effort and dedication will truly be required, which will involve the community as well. Students themselves can be a first major resource in this regard. Studies around the world show one-on-one peer tutoring to be extremely effective for learning - not just for the learner, but also for the tutor.
A further help must come from the local community. Educated members of the local community who are also passionate about teaching - and aiding in this crisis - will help by holding remedial classes.
Teacher vacancies will be filled as soon as possible, especially in disadvantaged areas and areas with large Pupil Teacher Ratios or high rates of illiteracy, with special attention given to employing local teachers and female teachers.
Finally, the nutrition and health (including mental health) of children will be seriously addressed, through healthy meals and the introduction of counsellors and social workers into the schooling system.
Dedicated mathematics and reading hours every day for Grades 1, 2 and 3, and an additional writing hour for Grades 4 and 5 would be arranged.
The National Teacher’s Portal (DIKSHA) will have a special section of high quality resources on foundational literacy and numeracy. These resources will be collated from across the country and will be used.
A Remedial Instruct-ional Aides Programme (RIAP) will be instituted initially as a temporary 10-year project to draw instructors - especially women - from local communities to formally help students who have fallen behind. A National Tutors Programme (NTP) will be instituted across the country to enable high-quality peer tutoring among students.
Parents will be asked to meet with their children’s teachers at least twice every year, and even more often if they wish to do so, or as needed, in order to help track, encourage, and optimise their children’s learning.
Ensuring proper teacher deployment and teacher conditions, and a Pupil Teacher Ratio under 30 : 1 at every school. Bringing children who have dropped out back into the educational fold and preventing others from dropping out.
Consolidating existing stand-alone primary, upper primary, secondary, and higher secondary schools - especially those that may have too low an attendance to be sustainable on their own, into composite schools/s-chool complex whenever possible, is another goal.
Transport facilities, such as school buses, organised walking grou-ps, paid walking escorts, or a transport allowance, will also be provided as appropriate, especially for younger children, girls, and children With Special Needs (CWSN) to ensure safe transport.
Supporting hostel facilities, monitoring of students’ attendance, those who may fall behind, tracking out-of-school children, second-chance education programmes for long-term out-of-school adolescents, enabling multiple pathways to learning and extension of the RTE Act to include secondary education are proposed in the draft NEP-2019.
It says that curriculum and pedagogy are transformed by 2022 in order to minimise rote learning and instead encourage holistic development and 21st century skills such as critical thinking, creativity, scientific temper, communication, collaboration, multilingualism, problem solving, ethics, social responsibility, and digital literacy.
A new developmentally appropriate curriculum and pedagogical structure for school education: 5 + 3 + 3 + 4 design, is contemplated.
n 5 years of the Found-ational Stage: 3 years of pre-primary school and Grades 1, 2.
n 3 years of the Prepa-ratory (or Latter Primary) Stage: Grades 3, 4, 5.
n 3 years of the Middle (or Upper Primary) Stage: Grades 6, 7, 8.
n 4 years of the High (or Secondary) Stage: Grades 9, 10, 11, 12.
Interactive and fun classrooms, reorientation of the content and process and reduce curriculum content to enhance essential learning and critical thinking are part of the new policy.
Students will be given increased flexibility and choice of subjects to study across the arts, humanities, sciences, sports, and vocational subjects. There will be flexibility in course choices. There will be no hard separation between ‘arts’ and ‘science’ streams, or between ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ streams.
Since children learn languages most quickly between 2-8 years, and multilingualism has great cognitive benefits for students, children will be immersed in three languages early on, from the Foundational Stage.
Learning science bilingually, foreign language offerings in secondary school, exposure to languages of India-modern and classical, incorporation of relevant excerpts from great works of Indian literature, study of Sanskrit, inculcate scientific temper and encourage evidence-based thinking are contemplated in the new curriculum.
The new policy argues for music and art experiences in the early years, taking up at least one art for deeper study in school, technology use for bringing the arts to more students, interaction with local artists.
School education will develop scientific temper, aesthetic sense, communication, ethical reasoning, digital literacy, knowledge of India, knowledge of critical issues facing the community and the world. Incorporating physical education, mind-and-body wellness, and sports into the curriculum will start at the foundational stage.
It will incorporate games, puzzles, and problem-solving activities into the curriculum.
Inclusion of local and tribal knowledge systems in the curriculum and textbooks and course on critical issues facing the community, the country, and the world for all students in Grades 7-8 are envisaged. Course on current affairs for all students in Grades 9-12 is another proposal.
(To be concluded)...