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National Education Policy 2020: An expert's view on classrooms of the future

From mother tongue as the mode of instruction to the 5+3+3+4 assessment model, educator Ameeta M Wattal weighs in on NEP 2020

Gurgaon: Students wearing anti-air pollution mask as protective gear as pollution reached hazardous levels in the classroom. Photo: PTI
Gurgaon: Students wearing anti-air pollution mask as protective gear as pollution reached hazardous levels in the classroom. Photo: PTI

The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, released on Wednesday, has been polarising. It puts a great emphasis on language—stating that the medium of education until class 5 will be the mother tongue of the student—as well as changing structures such as the 5+3+3+4 assessment model, more reliance on tech and a focus on vocational education, among other overhauls.

As politicians on both ends of the spectrum battle it out, Mint spoke to an educator about the key changes and what it means for schools and students across the country. “The problem is, on TV channels, they give you a 20-second byte, and they give everyone else a 5-minute byte. So the whole narrative gets hijacked," says Ameeta M Wattal, principal, Springdales, Pusa Road, New Delhi. Edited excerpts from an interview about the policy, its implementation and the effect it will have on employability, inclusion and higher education.

There is a lot of talk about the NEP 2020 from various quarters. As an educator what are your key takeaways and how does it impact students?

I believe this is a wonderful opportunity for really looking at this whole discourse that has been going on for years about 21st century skills, ensuring they are embedded, and so on. I think for the first time, we're really bringing in 21st century out of only conversations and into the classroom. And you can’t possibly do 21st century skilling through rote learning.

At one level, we're looking at creating a future of learning where the child is at the heart of research-based, individualised understanding—the whole concept of global citizenry, inclusion, project based learning, learning at your own pace, bringing in children earlier so that gaps are filled between the Haves and the Have-nots.

An important part for me is vocational education. This country does not need unemployable graduates. What is happening across the board is children miss out just because they can’t get into professional courses, which focus only on either law or hotel management or medicine or engineering or Chartered Accountancy, and everyone doesn’t have it in them to do these. We are not a community that has considered vocational education important, but bringing it into schools from class 6 will ensure that we dignify the whole understanding of labour.

Much is being said about mother tongue being the medium of instruction until class 5. Language in general has found mention in several places. How will this change the way students learn and what is the effect it has going forward?

It's not immediate. There is too much happening with the pandemic and the online lessons, no schools open, so no one is going to push it right now. It's early days. We are such an impatient lot. No one has even got their head around the policy—there is the fine print which says that a child cannot be forced to learn a language.

In metro cities, there are children who speak many languages. How would you implement this in a classroom of 45 children where there are Bengalis and Gujaratis and Tamilians and Andhraites?

Ultimately, the states can do what they want with it, education is part of the concurrent list. It's a very flexible document. It's flexible legally—the state has the right to say. So if Tamil Nadu says I will teach Tamil and English, fine, you can’t stop them.

What's your take on the 5+3+3+4 pedagogical structure? When is it likely to come into effect and how will it impact the board exams?

The ‘4’ is classes 9-12, we always had that, then one ‘3’ is classes 6-8. the other ‘3’ is classes 3-5. Then, the ‘5’ is class 2, 1, prep, nursery and pre-school. There was a huge gap in government schools—they would start at the age of 6+ in class 1, whereas the other private schools started at 3+. Now you will start looking at it from 6+ and there is nothing wrong with that. If you're looking at models like Finland and Canada, children only enter formal schooling at 6 or 7 years of age. Before that they’re involved with play way, early child care, experiential learning, social and emotional learning. It's to engage them and make childhood joyful.

In my school right now, we don’t have exams till grade 9, and that too perforce because of the CBSE. But at least I know that in any group discussion that my children goes through, they have an understanding of Mandela, Gandhi, an understanding of world politics, because there is enough space given to them to learn and reach out at so many levels.

We talk about testing in classes 3, 5, 8 and no testing in classes 6 and 7. So you're looking at constant formative assessments going across the board. It's the same pattern we were looking at when we were doing a continuous comprehensive evaluation.

How do you think higher education will have to evolve based on the changes in school curricular structures?

If you're doing concept studies, they are interdisciplinary. So if im teaching mathematics, I’ll explain angles and triangles by saying let’s go to Maharaja Agrasen Baoli and identify the angles and triangles there. For homework, I ask students to see where perpendicular lines meet in their homes, and so on. The whole world becomes the lab of the student. There is a living learning—this means the coaching centres have no role to play any longer. The whole competitive mould of 98-99% will dissolve.

The universities will then have to change themselves. These things cannot come in at the click of a button. But they will come in because there is so much dovetailed into the universities—they will have to change their methodology of entrances, their systems of subject selection. We've said there wont be standardized subject schemes like PCM, PCB etc. A child can take physics and music, but universities don’t recognise this. So they will have to evolve.

What are your major concerns going forward?

We will have to change the way teachers are being trained. They will have to be of a different quality—teachers will have to keep taking exams at every stage, which is a good step, it's like the army.

There’s also so much emphasis on digital and tech, because we are going to get into this hybrid mode. And if it’s hybrid, the teacher has to keep evolving on a daily basis—it's like Toffler’s Future Shock. Even as I speak today, there’s an app that could be created tomorrow morning. A teacher will constantly have to train in how to make learning more human, more interesting, worldwide, creative. And tech is a fantastic tool for that.

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