As the world's largest democracy is at the threshold of celebrating the 72nd year of being a Republic, India has come a long way in pushing the boundaries of its education sector helping learners to grow and develop a broad range of competencies and skills in and out of schools and universities.
It is hard to imagine that during our lifetime, there will be another moment in history like CoÂvid-19, when the pivotal role of education in the economic, social and political prosperity and stability of countries will be so obvious and well comprehended by the general population.
The Indian Constitution upholds its citizens' Right to Education as a Fundamental Right and has provisions to ensure that the state provides education to its citizens, making it incumbent on part of the federal governments and local bodies to ensure that every child within the age group of six to 14 years gets education in a school in the neighbourhood.
But the biggest challenge that has presented itself before the federal governments has been to ensure academic continuity for children across strata, in a year spent battling a global pandemic.
The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the educaÂtion sector globally and India was no exception. Countrywide lockdowns were enforced and classes remained suspended indefinitely. This forced educational institutions, from schools to universities, to shift to online methods of teachÂing and evaluation.
Where some federal governments should be lauded for their efforts in making education acÂcessible through digital means, the sudden and unexpected transition to online classes blatantly exposed the unpreparedness of educators and students alike, and exposed the vast digital diÂvide in a country fraught with an ever-expanding socio-economic divide.
But despite all odds, the year 2020 has been the 'annus mirabilis' for several reasons.
To avoid a complete breakdown of the learning process, schools, colleges, technical institutes, universities and even coaching centres, scrambled to board the online bandwagon. Online education has offered many benefits such as bringing educaÂtion to students within the comforts of their home, eliminating strict schedules and long-distance commutes to attend classes, thereby ensuring greater flexibility. It has also presented teachers with the opportunity to explore innovative methÂods of teaching and assessment.
Dr Arindam Banerjee, Associate Professor and Deputy Director (Dean) - MBA programmes diÂrector - student recruitment, SP Jain School of Global Management, Dubai Campus says, "All these events led to the adoption of online mode of teaching and learning as the preferred way. While schools, colleges and universities remained closed, students moved to online mode as an alÂternative to their regular classes. With physical coaching and training centres remaining closed, India saw the emergence and massive growth of online education platforms such as Byju's, SimÂplilearn, Educart and Dexler education. But as always, the largest democracy in the world under the able guidance of a willing prime minister not only was able to handle the immediate issues at hand but also curated the visionary plan for a sustainable long-term education policy."
In contrast with the above, is the inequity in imparting online education where teachers may not be well-versed with creating digital content, and conveying it effectively online. Lack of conÂtinual feedback and active student participation in turn reduced effectiveness of teaching.
Many school and college students seem to value in-class physical learning experience more than a virtual one. Additionally, science and techÂnology programmes often include laboratory sessions and field trips to complement theoretiÂcal studies, which aspect of learning is severely limited in online education. Compounded with this are glitches of interrupted power supply, inÂtermittent or complete lack of internet connectivÂity, and for masses with limited livelihood, the unaffordability and inaccessibility to digital deÂvices hinders seamless learning.
In this context, Dr Rajesh Mohnot, head of finance department, College of Business AdminÂistration, Ajman University observes, "EducaÂtional institutions in India need to have equally effective digital learning management platforms and more importantly students need to be reÂsourceful enough to have access to laptops, inÂternet and other essentials."
Dr Mohnot goes on to say, "Though online education has been in place for quite a long time now, factors like fascination for physical classes, networking and socialising have been forcing people to abstain from online education in the
This compelled people to adopt ways that would minimise the loss of learning so that the youth could be brought back to the mainstream.
"We don't deny that there have been some operational issues, more critical among them was less-proctored form of assessment yet the jourÂney continued with the spirit of learning and improvising," adds Dr Mohnot.
Annie Mathew, principal of Gulf Model School, said, "There were the initial hiccups for all conÂcerned even among the school communities as they moved to remote learning. It was particuÂlarly tough on teachers as they had to quickly turn tech-savvy and master many apps they hadn't been aware of. But there was role reversal as stuÂdents took to technology like fish to water and guided their teachers."
"Thus, assessment and analysis of assessment data became easier with assistive technology while it became more challenging for teachers to prepare for interactive and engaging classes," adds Mathew.
In the process, rapidly digitalising India was ranked highly among 'Break Out Economies' in the global charts. The third edition of the Digital Evolution Scorecard developed by Tufts UniverÂsity's Fletcher School in partnership with MasÂterCard ranked India 'fourth' among those who prioritised improving mobile internet access, affordability, post-Covid economic recovery and long-term transformation.
INDIAN NATIONAL EDUCATION POLICY 2020
On July 29 2020, the Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020), replacing the erstwhile regime under the NaÂtional Policy on Education 1986 [modified in 1992 (NPE 1986/92)], which primarily focused on issues of access and equity. However, a major development since the last Policy of 1986/92 has been the Right of Children to Free and CompulÂsory Education Act 2009 which laid down the legal foundation for achieving universal elemenÂtary education.
NEP 2020 aims to pave the way for transforÂmational reforms in school and higher education systems in the country. By introducing NEP 2020, the Government of India has demonstratÂed its commitment to promoting India as a libÂeral country for education reforms towards a complete overhaul of India's long awaited educaÂtion sector from grass root to tertiary level.
NEP 2020 inter alia aims for universalisation of education from pre-school to secondary level with 100 per cent Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in school education by 2030. The NEP envisÂages that the extant 10+2 structure in school education will be modified with a new pedagogÂical and curricular restructuring of 5+3+3+4 covering ages 3-18. It also proposes an open schooling system.
Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education to be raised to 50 per cent by 2035, 3.5 crore seats to be added in higher education. MultidisciÂplinary Education and Research Universities (MERUs), at par with IITs, IIMs, to be set up as models of best multidisciplinary education of global standards in the country.
The National Research Foundation will be creÂated as an apex body for fostering a strong reÂsearch culture and building research capacity across higher education. NEP 2020 emphasises setting up of Gender Inclusion Fund, Special Education Zones for disadvantaged regions and groups. The new policy promotes multi-lingualÂism in both schools and higher education.
CLARION CALL FOR INCREASED GOVERNMENT INITIATIVES AND GREATER UNIFORMITY
Education being a concurrent subject, both the centre and the states will work together to inÂcrease the public investment in the sector to reach six per cent of the GDP at the earliest.
Throwing light on the benefits of this new policy, Dr Arindam Banerjee explains,"The new policy promised introduction of in demand skills like coding from Grade 6 onwards. The policy further highlighted the introduction of a unified regulator for higher education institutions, sevÂeral entry and exit options in degree courses, withdrawal of MPhil programmes and common entrance exams for universities."
The Government also announced that from 2021, the National Test Agency in India would be conducting the JEE Main four times instead of two. Dr Banerjee underlines, "This would proÂvide applicants the option to apply for one SesÂsion (February) or more than one Session (March /April /May 2021) together and avail the flexibilÂity in paying the examinations fee accordingly."
Defining the New Education Policy 2020 to be a 'change-maker', Sangita Chima, Amity School Dubai opines, "This has increased India's rankÂing in the Worldwide Educating for the Future Index (WEFFI) 2019, to 35th, with specific strides in policy environment and a perspective on future-oriented skills."
"Excellent timing brings with it a challenge of quality implementation, strategic leadership and resource development. The NEP policy highÂlights four key reforms - curricular changes that will build strong foundation skills, improving the quality of learning across all levels of education, shift in assessment processes and the need for systemic transformation," adds Chima.
She further notes, "Perhaps this 'pause' will give everyone the time for an evolution to this new formula. Mindset has been redefined and it is receptive to reimagine a change in the educaÂtion landscape of India."
Experts acknowledge that emerging from the global pandemic with a stronger education system is an ambitious vision and one that requires both financial and human resources. But they are opÂtimistic and argue that articulating such a vision is imperative to guide the future of the country.
"The new pedagogical structure, the multidisÂciplinary approach, the de-compartmentalisaÂtion of academic and vocational streams and the universal access at all levels will go a long way in putting the Indian education system at par with the best education systems in the world," highÂlights the veteran educationist Annie Mathew.
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