National education policy is just the start

By Varun GandhiA typical school in Bikaner’s outlying villages in Rajasthan often has two classes conducted at the same time in a single room — with children sitting in rows, and one group facing one way, towards a wall with a blackboard, and another the other way. Sometimes lessons can be mixed up, making it hard for any student to understand arithmetic over the din — the teacher may not even come to know.Rural India’s aspiration for quality education has never really been met. It is important to aim high. Currently, GoI spends about Rs 12,500 annually, per enrolled student in 2014 (about 3-4% of GDP). This has been a stated goal for India’s education policy since the 1960s. But only now has GoI made it a flagship target. This has been tied to a target to increase the gross enrolment ratio (GER) in higher education rising to 50% by 2035 (National Education Policy, NEP, 2020).Teacher, Teach ThyselfMeanwhile, teaching has other issues. Sangita Kashyap, a schoolteacher from Madhya Pradesh, who taught at the government Ahilya Ashram School, is rather famous in and around Indore. She has been absent from work, for the last 23 years of her 24-year-old career. She was transferred to Ahilya in 1994, but she went on ‘maternity leave’ and never reported for duty since August 2014.Such are the travails of our teaching system that the new NEP 2020 seeks to fix. In rural India, typically, teachers themselves are no subject matter experts. Often having just a bachelor’s degree — and, if lucky, some teacher training experience. We needto bring accountability to the student teacher relationship. For teachers, we need to train them in modern pedagogy, enabling them to deliver quality education outcomes, while existing teachers should be encouraged to upgrade their skills, all while developing an appraisal system to monitor their performance.NEP 2020 has significant implications for teachers. The minimum degree required for teaching is now a B.Ed degree — with a dual B.Ed degree also on offer. Teacher Eligibility Test (TET) has now been split into four parts — with a focus on foundational, preparatory, middle and secondary school content.Any teachers who wish to specialise in certain subjects will be hired on the basis of suitable TET or National Testing Agency (NTA) scores in those specific subjects.Even those qualifying for TET will be required to appear in an interview, while demonstrating knowledge of the local language. Meanwhile, a range of merit-based scholarships will be launched to motivate local talent to enter the teaching profession, with a focus on preferential employment in their local areas (NEP 2020).Meanwhile, teachers will now be expected to undergo about 50 hours of continuous professional development courses on an annual basis. Additionally, a set of National Professional Standards for Teachers will be developed as a guideline by the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE).Finally, a merit-based structure for tenure, promotions and salary structure will be developed.Even tertiary education is ripe for reform. Ratan Singh works in his family’s gutka shop in the rural outskirts of Barmer, Rajasthan. He started working there since he was 10 years old, and has grown up as the shop has expanded, now serving tea and samosas too, as desert sand heats up to 48° C, the demand for condiments and chai rises, along with opium.He has studied at the same time as well in the local government school, while seeking coaching for PSU examinations in a local centre. But something remains missing. The lack of facilities in Barmer compares woefully to the dreams shown on TV for the large metros.Rebuild Building BlocksLeave aside Barmer, our premier universities are lagging, including the University of Calcutta and Allahabad University. Now they rank beyond 400 in world rankings (QS). Even now, the University Grants Commission (UGC) oversees a few hundred universities and thousands of colleges, stifling openness and creativity. We need a radical and fundamental reorganisation of the entire university structure, withUGC in particular, needing to disassociate itself from academic governance, focusing instead on policy design.NEP 2020 has now set up the National Higher Education Regulatory Council to replace UGC. The dark shadow cast by UGC has now been dispersed, opening up free thinking in universities while reducing micromanagement. Meanwhile, all higher education institutes are now required to become multidisciplinary institutions, with a push to have such institutions in every district.For anyone taking a walk in the village side, the various public facilities are often a descriptor of the state of development in the region. The local public school is often a set of rectangular rooms, filled with some ageing chairs, benches and blackboards, with books and other teaching apparatus conspicuous by their absence. Any such primary school can also be bereft of windows or even doors, with the wallscrumbling, and the roof leaking. Classes, especially at the primary stage, are often overcrowded, with children crammed in, preventing teachers from offering any individual attention.For a long time, in post-Independence India, politics at the grassroots levelin rural districts was driven by the provision of irrigation and access to water. India has now changed, and demands better education instead. Under this government, a new India will arise to take advantage of its demographic dividend.The writer is a BJP MP