Elements of a Vision for an Education Policy

10 Aug

The NEP as drafted does not present a grand vision for the Future of Education in India. It needs to deliver overarching goals and a sense of what Indian Education must look like in the future. This vision must be a distinct step ahead of what we see today – else why is the NEP of any value – and the document then must continue to unfurl the vision and define guidelines to that vision. That is a policy.

Here is a guideline with examples of the components of a vision that needs to be crafted by a new Education Policy.

Vision

A document like the NEP must carve a vision for the future of education for a country that is clear enough to become a guideline to crafting annual or regular national education strategies. It must set out goals that are aligned with national interests and ambitions. The vision of a national education policy must include pragmatism such as the imperatives of the demographic dividend – or burden and it’s natural consequences on the economy (the need for jobs and entrepreneurship) and on Foreign Policy (the need to export unemployment by sending Indians abroad to work. It must acknowledge the grand curve of history and its consequences, both positive and negative and call for a path towards the future good of the nation via constructive education policies.

A National Education Policy is the setting out of the ecosystem of the future of education and derives from national ambitions to power national aspiration.

The NEP 2016 therefore needs to include the following, amongst others:

  1. A setting of a time frame. If the duration of the Guideline is upto 2020, 2030 or 2050, it is expected to carve a different grand arc.A duration of upto 2020 is a medium term view that will focus on operational issues and urgent needs.

    A duration of 2030 will ride on goals set for the nation in other documents and the SDGs (the only thing mentioned) to lead the education system to alignment.

    A duration of upto 2050 will give the scope for a truly visionary document that uses education to seed a transformation for the better for the country. All three are essential. (Again, a policy is a guideline, a longer vision does not stop the next policy from being crafted at any time in the future)

  2. A setting of Vision led Goals. Based on the duration selected the NEP document needs to define a grand vision for education that will drive strategies and actions.A policy upto 2020 would seek to set out medium term educational systems goals in terms of (a) Outcomes – such as employability, skills, capabilities, attitudes etc.  (b) resource optimisation (c) accountability (d) information and data (e) Capacities and growth trajectories (f) Networks (g) Reach, Outreach and Influence (i) Funding to ensure equality of opportunity, (j) Investment in education for Soft Power and more.

    A policy upto 2030 will be driven by the Vision Document already drawn up and set goals in alignment and support of that vision.

    An Education Policy of upto 2050 will have to see beyond the demographic inflexion point and build in goals for (a) High Quality and value added outcomes, (b) Progression pathways post universalisation, (c) Funding sustainability and universal funding, (d) Governance and diagnostic governance operations, (e) Global positioning, and more.

  3. A definition of all the Stakeholders and how their interests will be protected and nurtured. To speak merely of students and teachers is to stay at the generic level, and to only mention stakeholders based on popular policy pressure at the time of writing (e.g. disabled) is inadequate. India is a diverse country and has a range of learners. And Teachers. The Education policy needs to identify their rights and role in the system.Only as an example, take learners. From average learners to those who are less able to learn, from tribal learners to the hyper connected city dwellers, from the extra talented mathematicians and sportspersons to those who try and try again, from those who dropped out to those who raced ahead – the policy has to include all. And if one type of learning cannot suffice for all, thenthe policy has to lay down a guideline that provides the same standards, the same opportunities and the same level of support to all the diverse circumstances.

    An education policy includes its administrators, its researchers, its teachers and more. Each needs their role placed in the overview, and their growth path charted for the vision duration of the document.

    As an example, (and there are others), what is the future of libraries in India? (The teacher education system seems to have received an upgrade akin to  Finland. That system relies heavily on public infrastructure such as non school and school libraries) Where do physical libraries continue to have a future – and do they need a revival or should they be scrapped?
    Do school libraries have a role in the community?
    Can community libraries actually begin to work and have a role in schools? (For example, as a part of a research based pedagogy that should be recommended)
    Do digital libraries and physical libraries need similar strategies or are there no synergies to be gained from a combined policy?
    Can one set of librarians serve both? How do digital and physical libraries map to extending the curricula and encouraging curiosity and discovery in students?
    Does a librarian support a teacher?
    Does a library policy engage with schools or run in parallel as part of the lifelong learning systems?
    Do librarians then work as information officials only or engage with other areas too, such as assessment and support?
    Are they governed by the District Education Officers or do they form an autonomous network?

    (Unless questions like these are asked by the policy makers, and until they know where the answers lie, who is held accountable for this delivery, they will never know if there are policy gaps at the ecosystem level. Worse, they will not know the cross connections and the possible synergies, or dissonances within their own policy) 

    This is a sampling of the range of questions that need to be asked to identify stakeholders and have policy guidance to determine future purpose, funding and solutions.

  4. A clear understanding of the Ecosystem, mapped out as a network (not selected mentions as in the current document) and the vision for the future of the ecosystem.For example, the institutional framework for higher education does not currently include an ombudsman that is independent of the operational regulators. This is essential for stakeholder management, a transparent sense of fair play and has implications for India’s entry ticket into the global education arena.

    Again, another example, the funding agency and the operational regulation of higher education lie with the same body, The UGC (University Grants Commission). This needs to be reviewed as part of the policy in light of the new goals and ambitions of Higher Education in India. It may well decide to continue with the same but there needs to be a robust argument to continue with a system that clearly violates the basic principle that any institution cannot be its own regulator, and an institution that serves the general public must have an independent regulator that represents the public interest.

    Similarly, in school education, examples abound. An institution that creates a cadre of support staff independent of the academic upgrades to teacher training institutions is a dire need and a clear gap. This new cadre needs a different pathway – and policy guidance that is responsive to the dire shortage of both quality and quantity of teachers and the complete absence of professional support staff.

    It is incumbent upon the NEP to create institutional solutions to the core needs on the ground, and to set checks and balances on such institutional frameworks.

    Again another glaring example:  there is a clear need for an independent data and research institution that seeks to identify and conduct diagnostic research to create evidence for policy making. This is different from the think tank that is generally suggested in the current draft NEP, and has often been discussed in education circles. A think tank would be a part of the requirements as it will test new boundaries and old efficacies.  But cannot be the data and education research body that will form the spine of the accountability and governance system within education. The state of current research in education is pathetic and the NEP must specifically guide the type and scope of bodies required in the institutional ecosystem that will be required to meet this need. Till these institutions and bodies start delivering quality comprehensive education research, both policy making and decision making will be as lost in the clouds as it is today.

    The NEP must discuss and direct the larger issues of public service of institutions, the institutional framework and the adequacy (or gaps) in the current educational ecosystem. For example, there are institutions that are clearly not performing to modern standards, and their review mechanisms need to be upgraded. The means to identify, and indeed replace them are often in place, having being driven by market needs. This implies an overlap in functions. The NEP needs to be a guide towards a strategy that will either (a) upgrade, or, (b) eliminate, or (c) merge these institutions in an appropriate context driven mechanism. Often institutions have outlived their usefulness but are not easy to get rid of in a system that protects its own bureaucratic frameworks. Often new institutions are required, and older ones need to be redefined. This is also what the NEP should be directing by asking the right questions at the institutional level.  

  5. The NEP must guide Governance systems not just as an agglomeration of inspectorates but as a system of constructive improvement toward the national goals of education (which it must lay out, as stated above). This virtuous cycle of building for growth not just in metrics but also in scope, reach and global approbation (yes, that sadly must be a goal in the medium term if we are to be honest) among others must be guided by the NEP. The Governance goals, its institutional frameworks, the responsibility for operational mechanisms must all have solutions emanating from a National Education Policy. The current proposals are excellent but do not drive paradigm change – which is the purpose of good governance. These must not be driven by judgements but must only direct better outcomes for the next cycle. There is a distinct attitudinal change that must be driven by the NEP, and it has to drive via governance mechanisms. And this must be led right upfront with the shift outlined in the vision itself.
  6. The NEP must also lay out a Vision to direct the Processes of education,from which many of its later recommendations can be drawn. Without this overarching guideline it is difficult even for the makers of the policy to test themselves for internal consistency, or indeed, to know if they have been ambitious enough in their recommendations. The processes of education systems are at the core of what we do, and this is the only proxy for quality and service delivery in any interim analysis. Indeed, it is the only thing that is tangibly observable and objectively measurable – which is why for the longest time it was used as a measure for quality. While we have advanced quite a way from that in education theory globally, there is little Indian evidence in place yet. Till such agreements on outcomes, goals and even value add are arrived at, it remains essential to retain a certain focus on processes. These are also the pathways for delivering education reform or directed interventionsnot just for education but also for health and more.A clear and complete process map that clearly identifies structural, contextual and occasional roadblocks is a minimum. Currently there are entire parts of the education ecosystem that are not part of the process map as visualised by government agencies.

    For example in service teacher training, or CPD (Continuous Professional Development) processes are mapped only for teachers paid by the government. There is no mapping of CPD for private schools, and no tracking of any such training or upgrades. Thus the complete absence of in-service training for teachers of budget private schools and other small schools such as the Ekal Vidyalayas (Single teacher schools) goes completely unnoticed. There is no provision, no process for such training even though these schools are subject to seat appropriation etc. under the Right to Education Act. A National Education Policy must not restrict itself to a Government System Education Policy. (Though to be fair it has not, but large chunks are missing due to poor mapping, both static and dynamic)  Even for government in service teacher training there is little focus on the process mapping, its evolution, revision cycles, feedback effectiveness and planned systemic shifts. This gap has ensured that on the job teacher training in the country remains inadequate as its process has not been mapped fully. This is but one example, others abound under the radar. The NEP needs to direct the overarching goals, no more. And guide the right body to the task of  mapping processes and their improvement cycles.

  7. Structural Changes: A new National Policy is  not just an opportunity for disruptive changes, it is almost imperative that it explores current challenges and suggests structural solutions.
    For example, the MHRD is divided between school and Higher education departments, and skills has gone to another ministry. Tertiary lags for want of funds and mentorship though it is an easy structure that can cut across many educational gaps. The current structures down the line are deeply embedded but do not necessarily meet the needs and goals of an NEP that goes up to 2030 or even 2050. The division of departments reflects a dependance on educational levels as the pathway to administer education. However, this may not be the only way to look at it.
    Another example: Children are expected to join age appropriate classes regardless of their talents, abilities and accomplishments, while their levels might be more appropriate especially after age 8/class 3. This will remove the very troublesome question of detention or no detention – a side issue that had come centre stage because it was being approached via disciplinarian structures that have no role in today’s education.

    Teaching to a level, individual progression pathways, cross subject pathways (why restrict students from learning new subjects), HE capacities in schools, schools sans walls – these are all structural issues that need a second look and must be led via guidance from a New Education Policy. Old structures have not worked, it is time for the new. The NEP must create a grand vision for these that will lead to meeting individual aspirations and national goals.

  8. Vision for a People. While education may look like a business, it is so only because it has been reduced so. Students have been reduced to products that enter the system like raw materials, are processed by standardised factories isolated from the outer world during their shift hours and then churned out like standardised goods whose price is measured in marks.This reduces education to a business of trading in marks. With a clear and shamefully visible secondary market, and derivatives. Charging fees or ownership do not reduce education – they are access and funding issues outside the core of education and can be dealt with separately via good governance design and implementation.  The business of education is to not be a business of trading marks for a seat in the next stage but a space where each individual achieves their own potential. The New Education Policy must present a vision for people who are offered solutions to achieve their personal aspirations to their best potential – and must foster mechanisms to do that without being trapped in ‘sausage’ factories.Education is not mere schooling or college. Nor is the Policy called School and University Policy, it is an Education Policy.
  9. An Educational Philosophy. This probably comes first. Does the NEP for 2016-2050 merely stand on the shoulders of the past, or does it create for a future of growth and prosperity? Does it seek excellence or does it seek quality for all? Does it seek to create an economy or a civilisation? Each of these questions, and more are essential – the first then leads to answers for the curriculum, the second to access and funding solutions, and the third to setting up pedagogies and governance (accountability) structures.Such grand questions are the task of an Education Policy, and they must then proceed to build the connect with the classroom for each of these. The above three questions are merely illustrative, not comprehensive.
  10. A Vision within current Global Context. For Scope and  Linkages. And thus for Networks and Reach. And Partnerships. Does the NEP seek to educate for the globe, for the cities, or for the villages – what is the scope of the Education envisaged? Which Global and local futures are to be served by this Education? Here is an example. Does the NEP seek to educate for Survival, for Sustenance or for the Seeker? What do global challenges decree?
    Survival-> build local ecosystems, include farming, building, safety in curricula at primary and middle school. School and Higher Education to include compulsory life saving skills.  HE to include Intelligence, Critical Pathways and CodeWork as part of core requirements.
    Sustenance -> Create disciplined cadres of workers via standardised core curricula, short projects and clear goal focus via rewards/incentives.
    Seeker -> Create journeys of discovery in primary schools, more open schooling systems, learning across levels, peer learning digital pedagogies, invest in open ended research at schools and universities etc.)
    As you see, asking these questions in light of global challenges leads to completely different interpretations of policy direction and investments. The Education Policy must take a view on Global Futures and create a vision and guideline for education investments. 

    The NEP must tackle these questions in a world filled with war, and other new challenges. With the second largest population in the world, India’s education policy has global linkages. The grand issues of globalisation vs. xenophobia have arrived in the classroom today and the solution cannot be via jingoism, which only serves to add to the list of things to be resolved via education.

    If the Indian Education system is to be designed for global citizenship (look at the diaspora data, trends in students going abroad for higher education etc.), then the education system needs to pivot towards that. If India is to be the nation that survives in peace while the world is at war, then again the education system needs to teach survival, negotiation, flexibility, patience and critically – networks. Each of these are issues that are real, immediate and must be tackled at the national level. The only forum where these can be done in a meaningful manner is in a National Education Policy – where meaningful guidelines for pedagogy, curriculum and assessment can be crafted. The new realities of the world have to translate to new tools taught in the classroom.

 

This is a subset of constructive comments on the one aspect of the NEP. There are other parts available that provide guidelines on the glaring gaps in the NEP. Critical amongst them are the lack of a Tertiary Education Policy (look at the demographics!) and the lack of a Digital Education Policy (Scale requirements and Digital India notwithstanding) that must lead to Digital Pedagogies being adapted to context.

These are available on request.

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