The NEP expects every teacher to develop a comprehensive perspective on life and living and follow an application-based module
For over six decades, one has never witnessed such a strong projection of the national resolve to implement a policy. This rare privilege goes to the National Education Policy (NEP), 2020. The President of India addresses the nation, the Prime Minister addresses twice within a week, the Union Education Minister and his team seem busy 24X7, conducting and guiding national-level webinars on specific topics that would require new initiatives and action at the implementation stage. It’s evident that the nation has realised that for equitable growth, progress and development, it has to be “education, education, and education.” India is now determined to create a pool of teachers who would not only be degree-holders but possess “personalities.” These would be people imbued with a comprehensive multi-disciplinary and multi-dimensional perspective.
In fact, the new approach to teacher preparation would expect every instructor to develop a comprehensive perspective on life and living. They would internalise the higher goals of education. The focus, henceforth, would be on them believing in Sarva Bhut Hite Ratah. And as was the ancient tradition, they would be life-long learners, yavadjeevait adhiyate viprah. It is, in a sense, a revolutionary recommendation that by 2030 all teachers would be prepared in multi-faculty colleges and universities through four-year integrated programmes. As one goes through the various sections of the NEP, this expectation becomes evident to everyone.
The objective of achieving scharyatwa would require a strong support system that must emerge from the establishment and society. There are clear indications to ensure that: “In order to improve and reach the levels of integrity and credibility required to restore the prestige of the teaching profession, the regulatory system shall be empowered to take stringent action against sub-standard and dysfunctional Teacher Education Institutions (TEIs) that do not meet the basic educational criterion, after giving one year for the remedy of breaches. By 2030, only educationally sound, multi-disciplinary and integrated teacher education programmes shall be in force.” This objective of restoring the credibility of TEIs is achievable. The National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) had, during 1998-99, successfully exercised this authority, and certain well-known but sub-standard teacher preparation programmes were closed down. Once teacher educators accept this responsibility, they could transform the entire system. Let them never forget that the recommendations on teacher education arise from the expectations and aspirations of the young. But somewhere besides these is also the hidden pain and anguish which was recorded – with a heavy heart – by late Justice JS Verma: “A majority of stand-alone TEIs – over 10,000 in number – are not even attempting serious teacher education but are essentially selling degrees for a price.” One could mention it only with immense pain, as the first chairperson of the NCTE said, that all these 10,000 institutions selling degrees were certified by senior teachers, teacher educators, professors and other academics. The policy has done its part, no more stand-alone colleges. Now it is the responsibility of teachers, teacher educators and professionals in the field to ensure that in future regulatory mechanisms are not trivialised.
This policy suggests alternative regulatory structures, which would transform the manner in which future multi-disciplinary teacher preparations institutions and universities would emerge. The responsibility of teachers at every stage would grow multi-fold as autonomy would be the in-thing. When one goes through the various general recommendations in the policy, one finds serious concern for drastic change in teacher education in content and pedagogy, and the need to achieve an attitudinal transformation among aspiring teachers. It is now learning, learning and more learning. Examinations shall no more be days of nation-wide anxiety and widespread tension. The focus of assessment in schools shifts to application of knowledge gained and internalised.
The present pattern of examinations was transplanted in this country by alien rulers. It had been discarded in Britain much earlier but we still adhere to it in India. Teachers, and teacher educators, have a tremendous task ahead in implementing curriculum load reduction, to ensure that textbooks and textual materials are neither deficient on new knowledge nor too overloaded with obsolesce content. Teaching and learning shall become more interactive, and much would transpire outside the closed classroom. Skill development and bringing in vocational education elements early in schools would require TEIs absorbing them in their own curricula. Those who know the story of Richard Feynman would find it much easier to visualise its great transformative and inspiring impact on the system as a whole. It would be possible only when the promises to ensure the assured recruitment process are put to practice, and the assurances on the professionally acceptable teacher-student ratio is implemented without any aberrations. One must not ignore considerable dilution in the quality of education and decline in the acceptability and credibility of schools funded by the public. The policy realises this.
The ancient Indian tradition of knowledge quest spreads over four stages: adhyayan, manan, chintan and upayog. And its relevance is eternal. It is the essence of the process of transfer of knowledge to generations ahead. Every teacher, henceforth, would be expected to comprehend the essence of Indian philosophy of education that finds reflection throughout this policy. Let me recall three sentences of Sri Aurobindo; first being that the process must begin with “from near, to far”; and hence the mother tongue medium and other aspects. His second principle was that “nothing can be taught.” Every active, alert and vibrant teacher shall have to grasp its essence. It is “learning the treasure within.” It is the perfection within that the child is discovering, and teachers are assisting, supporting, guiding, and much more.
When Sri Aurobindo states that the “mind must be consulted in its growth,” he is emphasising how pertinent it is to “know the child.” It is the comprehension of these basic principles that has led to the restricting of the school education system to 5+3+3+4. The most significant is the addition of initial three years, after the age of 3. India would need very specialised teachers for this age group.
A couple of years ago, India had anticipated the importance of open and distance learning. That experience comes very handy as the global attention diverts to online learning. Creation of digital platforms and e-content had already begun in full swing and has come handy during the corona crisis, as children are confined to their homes. The pedagogy is undergoing unprecedented change, teachers associated with schools will have to gear up to learn new skills. While tools and techniques shall change – sometimes beyond recognition – the pedagogical principles would remain the same.
(The writer works in education and social cohesion)