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NEP 2020 commendable but Govt machinery status makes implementation uncertain: GK Swamy


Thursday, 01 October 2020 | PNS | Dehradun

As the government makes tall claims about the National Education Policy 2020, many like educationalist GK Swamy believe that with a failed government machinery to implement the provisions, the new education policy will fail to transform education in India. “The National Education Policy 2020 is a beautifully written document- 30 pages of the 63-page document are dedicated to some very fine ideas about how education is to be transformed but I have serious reservations about the implementation of these ideas, partially because the government machinery is not working and there is a silence about how to make the government machinery work. So while the new education policy is giving a sense of purpose to the goals of education, the government is yet to address the question of how these ideas will be implemented and how the government will take forward this intention. I doubt that with the current set-up the government can actually deliver these intentions to the country,” observed Swamy in an online interaction with The Pioneer. Founder and mentor of Purkal Youth Development Society, Swamy is credited to be a change leader for transforming lives of children from the poorest of remote rural villages in Dehradun by bringing quality, holistic English medium education to these disadvantaged youth in the PYDS school that he started along with comprehensive support for good higher education. Drawing from his twenty-five years of experience of working for the education of the poor, Swamy pointed out that the shoddy state of public education in India will have serious negative implications for the country and this is an area that requires serious and urgent attention. On what ails India’s government education system, the octogenarian highlighted lack of passion, expert leadership, well-trained teachers and accountability for learning outcomes as the biggest problems. “A good school is run by somebody who is passionate about education. And this passion comes from those who fund school, those who direct and govern the school. I wonder how much passion exists in the government because the officers who head the education department are given that charge for a short term, so a person is heading public works department one day, then for a few months or one or two years he handles education. But education is not something you can just walk into and dabble in, particularly when you are at the top position where you have to guide, direct and create a vision. Education is something that you learn over time through your interaction with children and every child is different. One must know how to kindle and maintain the fire of learning in every child and if the person at the top has never been a teacher, you cannot expect any positive change to happen. Also we need to do something about training teachers seriously. When we talk of government schools in India, the first thing is how shall we make teachers in government schools more educated about how learning happens so that their goal is not just to present information but to make sure that children comprehend and retain that information and can translate it into knowledge and learning for a meaningful life. Additionally, teachers need to be made accountable for results. Offering solutions, Swamy had these three suggestions for the education minister of Uttarakhand, “A serious professional who has risen through the ranks must begin to head the education department with a long-term permanent tenure. I don’t think a generalist can really handle it. Secondly, schools must become PPP partnership instead of being entirely run by the government and the government should limit its role to measuring student-learning outcomes and provide financial support to the private sector. The private sector partner should be given the freedom to decide operational and infrastructural inputs while the government must measure the results by continuously assessing performance and outcomes using well established tests that provide reliable results of learning levels of children in each class and the government should grade schools on the basis of these results. The government should give incentives to the staff of schools linked to these learning outcomes and also disincentivize if learning outcomes slip. Thirdly, there has to be a strict overseeing of the school’s performance on a daily basis by involving parents in monitoring the daily running of schools as no one can be more concerned about the education of students than their parents.

Another important aspect, while the NEP 2020 will continue with the three-language formula, Swamy believes that not using English as the medium of teaching will out children at a disadvantage in their upward mobility in today’s globalised world. And the reason for doing so is perhaps political, he surmises.

“The aspiration for learning English is very high and well established. But a certain section is fighting it because they do not want a foreign language to be our lingua franca. But take the example of Singapore. Singapore consciously decided that they would take English as the lingua franca although they had the choice of Malay or Chinese or Tamil, which are the languages of the three most dominant communities in the country. Research has strongly established that if you do not spend 30 to 35% of your waking life in the language in which you want to acquire proficiency then that language will never become the language in which you can achieve academic excellence or in which you will begin to think. Much of the world’s higher learning and international business today is in English; therefore we need to give an immersive experience of the English language to a child. Suggesting a balance, he said,

“Till class 2 teaching in the language used at home is a great idea but we have to transit from that.  For classes third, fourth and fifth, teaching can be bilingual but sixth class onwards learning must happen in English so that children get the immersive experience with the language that they need in order to become adept in it. I think the government did not want to raise any political storms so the National Education Policy 2020 very conveniently and very vaguely talked of the three- language formula but we need to settle this quickly,” he said.

Recalling the scenario when he came to Purkal twenty-five years ago, he shared, “The biggest problem at that time was that these poor villagers did not believe that education made any difference to anybody’s life. There was also strong gender bias. But children who studied at PYDS and then went on to make prosperous careers outside these remote hamlets while supporting their families financially have served as success stories that have changed attitudes. Now there is a community of people in 42 villages who believed that good education can make a significant difference to lives and who understand that their children can make a big difference to the family’s future.

Also, boy students at PYDS saw the men in their families suppress women at home, so they were quite convinced that it was their right to feel superior to the girls and they could not tolerate a situation where a girl was doing much better than them in class be it academics. After coming to PYDS with time they learnt this lesson in life that a girl is as good as they are and it all depends on how much time and effort you put in the practice of whatever you are trying to do.”

As the conversation drew to a close, Swamy who is brimming with energy, passion for social change and ideas on how to transform education shared his mantra for good health, “The four components of a good living are at least eight hours of sleep, good balanced nutrition, physical exercise and importantly to live for a purpose of helping others. To live for others is quintessential not because it is a great thing to be charitable but because it is at the core of your own happiness, satisfaction and for your own evolution in life.”

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