By Prof Sunney Tharappan
Aug 21: I owe the title to William Shakespeare. He wrote the two famous lines and had Juliet utter them about Romeo.
‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet’.
The lines came to my mind when I read reports about the new National Educational Policy (NEP). It took thirty-five years for the Central Government to bring up a new policy. The 1985 NEP made a marked difference from the previous education policy. The change in the name of the ministry from Ministry of Education to Ministry of Human Resource Development also happened simultaneously. The thrust of the policy was that all centres of education should become human resource development centres. The present government has decided to go back to the original name. One asks oneself whether the change of name would matter at all.
The National Educational Policy 1985 was an attempt at redefining education and it gave importance to primary education. By the time the laws were enacted and rules and regulations made, the government had changed. V.P. Singh, the new prime minister appointed a committee headed by Acharya Ramamurthy to consider the changes that were necessary in the NEP. Acharya Ramamurthy, a highly respected Gandhian, brought out a white paper titled ‘Towards A More Humane And Enlightened Society’. I distinctly recall sending him a fifteen page write-up on the needs. However, the government moved away very soon and nothing happened to the Commission which also automatically closed itself down. However, the next government did take interest in the designed activities.
The emphasis was on primary education and I remember that Karnataka was one of the selected states to be funded for developing competencies in teachers of primary schools. Rupees forty crores were allotted for the development of teachers from four districts, Mandya, Kolar, Belgaum and Raichur. Over 204 officials of District Directorates of Public Instruction of the four districts were deputed to our institution to undergo learning and development interventions to empower themselves as Facilitators for offering training to over 37,000 primary school teachers of the four districts.
A little before this, our institution organised learning and development interventions for 1,000 primary school teachers simultaneously in eight taluk headquarters of the then DK district. The major thrust of the intervention was to influence the teachers not to offer corporal punishments to school children. An entry study showed that 52% of the teachers believed in corporal punishments and according to them without such punishments the children could not be reformed. However, after the training programme, the percentage diminished and 100% of the teachers recorded their faith that corporal punishment was not necessary. Since then, there had been several learning and development interventions organised for primary school teachers by our institution, all of which showed that they are capable of being influenced, provided they are taken through practical learning and development instead of receiving lectures.
Prof. Hrishikesh Senapaty, Director, National Council of Education, Research and Training, made a statement to Pratigyan Das that was published in the Times of India, immediately after the new National Education Policy was accepted by the present Central Government. He said that the focus of the NEP is on the development of competencies. The matter is worthy to be noted. I am delighted that a top official refers to competence development; otherwise we hear from people who matter only about skill development.
Competence development is the major issue in education. Most people speak about skill development which is not enough. Competence development would matter. Competence is a condition of having both conceptual clarity or knowledge and the skills to use them. Animals may need only skills, but humans need competence.
However, a casual perusal of the new National Educational Policy tells us that it has not given enough importance to the learning and development of teachers. Undoubtedly, the ideas of stressing on outcomes instead of inputs, creation of critical thinking, development of creative skills and basic skills of mathematics and language in primary schools have to be appreciated. However, to achieve this, there is a great need for several strategies, methods and techniques to be adopted. Conceptualising and describing them on paper as objectives or goals or end-results are always easy. What matters is how to reach out to these sectors and who should do it.
This leads one to the question of primary school governance, in which the teachers are the most important. As of now, teacher abilities are inadequate, though the intention to serve may be there. Fifty percent of primary schools in the country are in the private sector, many government schools do not have an adequate number of teachers and if teachers are appointed, the work done is either unsatisfactory or caught in red tape. Gurucharan Das, global corporate and a serial writer makes the following statements in an article that he recently published. One out of four primary school teachers do not attend to their work and out of the others who do, one is incapable of teaching. There are about twenty-five crores of children in India who attend primary schools. Half of them are in government primary schools and many state governments do not have enough officers to administer these. Even if there are teachers, they are not trained enough to develop the student’s resourcefulness.
I suppose I would believe Gurucharan Das. In the mid-nineties, I was a member of a committee for checking the veracity of claims put up by an NGO on their claims of conducting participatory conceptualisation, and for this purpose, the committee visited a tribal school in an interior region of Nasik, Maharashtra, in an area filled with forests; in fact, our driver very often got down and cut down bushes for the vehicle to move forward. At that school, most children lived on a wheat chapathi, a green chilli and drinks from fermented water of mahua flowers which they collected from the forest. During our visit, we realised that the single teacher in that school visited it only on Saturdays. It would surprise any reader to know that this teacher was visiting that school not simply to sign the attendance register for the whole week but more importantly to collect the interest of the money that he had loaned out to the tribals. Then it was one rupee per week for five rupees. No tribal borrowed more than ten rupees. One can only hope that now things may not be as bad as then. All the same, one should also know that a quarter century may not be enough to change benefitting behaviour, unless there is a strongly intervention with new discipline.
The NEP 2020 has not said much about the private English Medium Schools and there are no regulations that are mentioned in this section, including any capping on the fees collected. Studies conducted have proved more than once that Indian private schools charge moderately. Of course, there are the elitist schools which are exceptions and it is here that some capping may be needed. Also, there are many English medium schools where the students do not speak English at all. So, the NEP needs to be expanded while the laws, rules and regulations would be made. It is no surprise that there are English medium schools where the teachers themselves don’t have the fluency to speak English.
The teachers in the government primary schools have to be empowered if the objectives that are laid in the NEP have to be achieved. There is a great need for conceptual clarity in offering learning and development. Adult learning is slow and setting aside time for skill development is not a choice for an already employed person. Further, it is important not to stop at skill development; it should lead to competence development.
It does not matter whether the name of the University Grants Commission is changed to Higher Education Commission or different boards or commissions under it. What matters is how it is administered and what it does. With education going the same way as Macaulay would have envisioned it, with great emphasis on English as a medium of instruction, the desire of the people to make their children get educated in English is ever increasing. Gone are those days when only affluent children attended English medium schools or colleges. These days, even a casual worker’s children - the parents will do everything possible, including selling their land or other belongings to ensure a place for their kid - also get admitted to English medium schools. During 2019-20, two and half crores of children in the country have moved out from government primary schools and joined private schools as per the government’s own statistics. The alienation that would happen to children from these sections can play havoc with the educational processes and the outcomes can be disastrous.
There is also a reference to the making of a culturally-oriented syllabus with special reference to Indian culture. With a globalised world and employment without specific locations; the reference here is to the online work that is being done from home these days and the home being far away, in another country even; trying to influence young minds with old world rituals and customs based on orthodoxy and unscientific beliefs of the past may produce contradictory results and make people regressive. For most people, it is difficult to differentiate between adherence to rituals and customs on one side and human values on the other. Also, this reference to the creation of a syllabus based on Indian culture may lead to manipulations and the very idea of global solidarity may suffer. Youngsters who graduate from schools or universities have to work in different countries or work from one’s own place with people from other countries and they may need to learn about different cultures of the world. The curriculum and syllabus should be such that it should lead to a global culture, beyond the narrow limits of one’s own, of course, without losing the grip on one’s own culture for which the best place to learn is one’s own family, not necessarily the syllabus of an academic course.
One redeeming thing about teachers, be it at the school level or the collegiate, is that they are the least corrupt among various professionals. One may argue that they are so because they don’t have many opportunities for indulging in corruption. Say what you will, but the fact remains they are the least corrupt. There is also a large amount of essential goodness that is with them. Therefore, developing the competence in the teachers to achieve what the new education policy has envisaged is important. One only hopes that the framers of laws, rules and regulations to implement the NEP will concentrate on the development of teachers. All concepts and possibilities listed up, what matters in education is the quality of the deliverer. So, you may call by any name the ministry, the NEP or the UGC, there is a great need for enhancing the qualities of the teachers who are the deliverers.
Prof Sunney Tharappan, is Director of College for Leadership and HRD, Mangaluru. He trains and writes and lives in Mangaluru. Email: email@example.com