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Paving the way to the future

Paving the way to the future
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The basic policy of education in India has more or less remained static for decades. The idea behind it is even older, tracing its history to the education system instituted in India by the British. Naturally, demands for an overhaul, for a change or even a complete redo have been part of the education discourse for a long time as well. In recent years, the growing problem of educated unemployment in India made many consider whether there was something fundamentally wrong with how the institution of education and learning was structured. The idea that education guaranteed a set future was under fire.

Then came the pandemic and much of what was limping by in society was forced to change. We are in the middle of an era of change, one which will eventually shift the way we live in distinct ways. Education has also been affected in the process with worldwide disruptions in learning fuelling the need to find new ways of acquiring and giving education. While debates over the new form of learning continue, the Indian Government this week introduced sweeping reforms to the Indian education system, from "toddler to college". The National Education Policy 2020 is a comprehensive reformation of Indian education that seeks to include some of the best features of education systems worldwide and fit them to an Indian setting. Its major features include setting the age group of 3-6 as pre-school age and de-emphasising the current high stakes, absolutely vital nature of board exams. Higher up, there is a proposal to set up an SAT like university entrance test and the option of a 4-year bachelor's degree at the undergraduate level. The Government has also expressed the intent of giving more autonomy to higher education institutions which will open up the way for foreign players to invest more heavily in India's higher education scene.

A much-discussed stipulation in the new education policy instructs that the medium of instruction until at least fifth grade (preferably eight grade) will be in a regional language that is recognised as being native to India. This change is applicable to both public and private schools.

Overall, skill-based learning seems to be the name of the game in the new education policy. There are real attempts to de-emphasise rote learning in favour of building core capabilities and functional skills that can translate to jobs. As such, from sixth to eighth grade, vocational studies will be mixed into more traditional studies. Specifically, ten 'bagless' days have been allocated during this time period where students will intern with local vocational experts so that a child may not only pick up at least one vocation but also gets familiarised with several others. Extended internship opportunities will also be offered between sixth and twelfth grade and the vocational courses will also be available for online learning. Interestingly, the new education policy also indicates that state governments may encourage the opening of National Cadet Corps wings in secondary and higher secondary schools under the Ministry of Defence.

Changes have also been made keeping in mind the differential access to education and its methods. Indian sign language (ISL) will be standardised across the country, which will allow relevant curriculum material to be

developed. As such, the National Institute of Open Learning will develop modules to teach ISL and also specific modules for teaching other basic subjects through ISL. The policy also underlines the construction of free boarding facilities for the benefit of students hailing from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, matching the standards of Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas. The policy also proposes that school complexes will be re-purposed for adult education courses after school hours. Finally, as expected, digital learning has been emphasised to a great degree in the policy. A dedicated new unit will be created in the MHRD (which itself will likely be renamed to the Ministry of Education) which will handle e-learning for both school and higher education levels. One of their main priorities will be to ensure the quality of alternative education methods in times of drastic disturbances such as the ongoing pandemic.

All in all, the new education policy seems to be targeting a more open, multi-disciplinary education system will enable India to hopefully change from a nation of job seekers to job creators. The addition of vocational learning is a major step in this direction. There is already ample precedent for the success of such a system. Germany's model of including apprenticeship in its education system is world-renowned and is already proven to provide employment opportunities, even in the absence of higher learning. National Education Policy 2020, if implemented correctly, has great potential to transform India's young demographic into the most vital resource for the nation's future.

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