By Vineet Nayar,
Restructuring school education with the 5+3+3+4 approach as per the NEP 2020, accompanied by the policy’s key focus on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy skills, helps to chalk out the future of Indian Education System, quite clearly on the black board.
The New Educational Policy, which recognises that children’s ability to read and perform basic Math tasks is quite low as identified by several studies, proposes to take corrective measures to establish basic foundational skills in children by the age of 6. As would be any parent or teacher’s expectation, the policy agrees that children should gain competence in performing basic reading and writing tasks by the time they reach grade 3 and basic numeracy skills by grade 2. If we can achieve this, let’s say in the next 5 years, children should be able to use their learning within the classroom to identify with real world situations in a more cohesive manner.
Giving itself 5 years to achieve universal foundational literacy and numeracy in primary schools, the government lists some key elements for the implementation of this policy- creating state-wise targets, employing teachers with local language proficiency and upskilling teachers with professional development programmes. There are also plans to push curricular activities that focus on these areas accompanied by assessments that track every individual’s progress.
The focus on foundational literacy, which has two key arms – reading and numeracy, is necessary because it provides the basis on which higher education is built. While education is key to improved livelihood opportunities, strong foundational literacy is critical for growth of age-appropriate cognitive skills. Any gaps within the education system cannot be bridged unless the base on which the higher education pyramid rests its weight, is made entirely fool proof.
Even the NEP rightly recognises that students fall behind foundational literacy targets within the first few weeks of Grade 1. A gap this severe is likely to be further exacerbated by the pandemic. The policy, thus, suggests a three-month, interim ‘play-based school preparation module’ for all Grade 1 students, which include activities focusing on learning alphabets, sounds, words, colours, shapes, in a way that involves collaborations with peers and parents. Interestingly, the NEP also suggests the creation of a National Book Promotion Policy to ensure the availability of books. If we could practically open community libraries and book donation camps in every village and school- it would help children immensely and also be a sustainable solution in the long run.
Building on the findings of the NEP, it can be said that there are five key focus areas that need attention for the targets of this policy to be achieved. These include (i) pedagogical innovations, (ii) curriculum revamping, (iii) revisiting assessment, (iv) restructuring teacher training and (v) implementation & monitoring modalities.
Broadly speaking, there are two prongs to ensuring the success of this policy – learning content and effective administration of delivery. Learning content can again be divided into two categories: curriculum and pedagogical tools. The absence or ineffectiveness of either prong will greatly hinder the achievement of the policy’s vision. Instead, the two share a complementary relationship. Thus, radically altering either component is unlikely to help. For instance, some of the methods that can be employed to make better use of existing resources is to launch modules for early grade learners in pre-school, based on stories, songs, and rhymes that are derived from English and Math content that is already in use in grades 1 and 2.
Another strategy is to incorporate frugal technology in the delivery of lessons by teaching in the LSRW format- listening first, speaking next, then reading and finally writing. For instance, using simple yet innovative tools to ignite classroom transactions by using a rechargeable audio device that offers carefully researched lessons accompanied by fun songs; board games that are aligned with workbooks, and a social app which offers teachers a digital platform for learning. Additionally, integrating virtual learning tools used during the lockdown such as- animated lessons and gamified quizzes, with existing physical textbooks and workbooks can go a long way in building a kind of recognition and reinforcement of lessons.
Beyond the curriculum, what needs close monitoring is the constant upskilling and professional development of teachers by offering them training modules, capacity building programs, continuous flow of feedback and reviews as well as rewards and recognition for best practices and success stories.
Learning materials by themselves are unlikely to generate any miracles unless they are accompanied by solid and dynamic delivery by teachers who can create a link between the classroom and the outside environment. Teachers and children should look at the classroom as an ‘energetic’ and ‘positive’ space which reflects a sense of progression and creativity for students and invokes a cohesive learning environment created by teachers. However, all blame cannot rest squarely upon teachers’ shoulders. The task of making learning easy is a worthwhile goal for a community. Teachers are likely to encounter challenges – often seemingly insurmountable – but they are likely to get by if a nudge of support and open channels of communication are readily available.
Thus, while clearly the NEP’s focus on foundational literacy suggests that the policy has its heart in the right place, for the tree to bear fruit, everyone must water this plant one step at a time.
(The author is former CEO, HCL Technologies, and Founder Chairman, Sampark Foundation. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)