Passing the two-year anniversary of the launch of India’s National Education Policy 2020 (NEP), which brought in a slew of interesting features unknown to the Indian education system, it is a good idea to take another look at the key pillars of the policy which replaced the existing educational policy of India released in 1986 . As India is gradually progressing towards a knowledge-based economy with spurt in white collar employment, it is also important to prioritize skilling and vocational education, as general academic education may not be the “one model that fits all.” The thrust on general academic education and the lack of accessible and quality Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses and infrastructure is forcing a sizeable chunk of students to undergo the rigmarole of general academic education until 10+2 grade.
Core Changes Under NEP 2020
The revamp of school education to new pedagogical and curricular structure of 5+3+3+4—beginning at age 3 which recognizes primacy of the formative years from ages 3 to 8 in shaping the child’s future—is impressive alongside the introduction of 21st century skills and coding. In context of higher education, the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI)—single umbrella regulator for all higher education institutions, excluding law and medicine, first proposed under Draft Higher Education Commission of India (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act) Bill in 2018—seems to be a step towards reducing the number of regulators. While the Bill replaces University Grants Commission (UGC), it does not include any provisions regarding disbursal of grants. Presently, the Government is working on a new draft which will be aligned with NEP, 2020.
A more flexible curriculum with an attempt to break away from the siloed approach of Humanities, Commerce and Science streams in high school with a provision to transfer if it can be operationalized well on-ground will open several doors for students by providing them choice to pave their own unique learning pathway and opt for relevant internships.
At the same time, there is a need to ensure that necessary financial resources are made available without complex procedures and processes. A special purpose vehicle (SPV) needs to be created to ensure that the funds for NEP are available and that the implementation process is not delayed further.
Social and Emotional Learning: Key Life Skills
The criticality of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is embedded in the human brain, which is endowed with a superpower termed as ‘neuroplasticity’, which allows it to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life based on training. According to Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), the key elements of SEL are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making
For this very reason, it is crucial that adequate emphasis is laid on SEL both at school education as well as higher educational institutes. Pratham’s Annual Status of Education Report (ASER): Early Years, 2019 report reveals limited skills that children acquire in SEL and its consequences from the study carried out in 26 districts across 24 states and in 14 languages. pointed out the urgency in the need to integrate life skills within school curriculums in India. Further, the NEP included SEL as a key tool in aiding the education system to “develop good human beings capable of rational thought and action, possessing compassion and empathy.”
Under the NEP, constitution of a ‘Gender-Inclusion Fund’ to build the nation’s capacity to provide equitable quality education for all girls and transgender students, if rolled out carefully can help enhance access to education and also presents an opportunity to touch upon SEL.
Some states, namely Delhi and Uttarakhand, have now introduced curricula that focus on improving the mental well-being of children via sessions on mindfulness, critical thinking, problem-solving and relationship building, among others but it is far from being mainstreamed and continues to be considered “elite.” SEL can also be woven into the fabric of a school’s curriculum with the help of trained educators which help make academic lessons more personal and relatable to students, students may be more inclined to participate.
The modern labour market values non-cognitive skills at par with cognitive skills and often considers it to be an icing on the cake for good reason. The World Bank in STEP Skills Measurement Surveys acknowledges non-cognitive skills, wherein measures of grit, which has been shown to have an impact on life outcomes, and measures of time and risk preference are included, as well as questions pertaining to how individuals think and take decisions. Specific social and emotional skills specifically managing emotions, setting and achieving goals, feeling and demonstrating empathy, developing and maintaining positive relationships, and making responsible decisions are some of the skills recognized by USAID in programme design and implementation for children and youth.
In a Nutshell
The implementation of NEP must aim to integrate life skills within school curriculum with identification of SEL activities, expected outcomes and periodic evaluation. The objectives of education in today’s world are to transfer social heritage, physical, mental, moral, cultural, vocational and character formation, entrepreneurship development, employability, citizenship training and adequate investments in SEL will help accelerate learning outcomes in students and pave the way for a responsible community.