Children and education: why policy matters

Anjali Noronha

This year, 20th November, marks the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This is the day in 1989, when the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was opened up for signatures and ratification. The Convention outlines, through more than 45 articles, the basic rights of every child to a dignified life. As some of you may know, the New Education Policy draft 2019 is under finalization.

As teachers, we deal with children and must be concerned with policy directions that concern children and education, both national and international, which in different ways circumscribe the world of the children we deal with. Hence, both the International Convention of the Rights of the Child, as well the new National Education Policy (NEP 2019) are of interest to us.

In this article, I will look at the New Education Policy through the lens of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, particularly their right to education, identity and to linguistic rights. I will also try and introduce the readers to the articles on child rights and the New Education Policy we bring to you in this issue of Teacher Plus.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes that a huge number of children across the world and particularly in developing countries are at risk in different ways and education can only be ensured once other risks to life, lack of nutrition, abuse and exploitation, and their safety are mitigated. This includes the rights to their identity and to family and culture. Teachers need to be aware and concerned about the contexts of their children and the children around them so that they can impart an education which makes the children under their charge aware and empathetic. Within education and cultural rights, the Convention requires that children have the right to education in their own languages and also participate in the development of their culture. In her article on the rights of the urban deprived child, Saba Khan tries to bring out the extreme conditions and abuse that children of the urban deprived face, thus keeping them far from even the right to identity, leave alone education.

The New Education Policy (Draft) consists of IV parts – School Education, Higher Education, Additional Key Focus Areas and Transforming Education. There is also an Addendum on Making it Happen which is essentially about implementational aspects.

Chapters 1 and 2 mark a seminal shift in India’s education policy. They introduce the much needed foundational stage for ages 3-8 as a continuum and focus on early literacy and numeracy. Professor Venita Kaul’s article underlines the crucial importance of this stage and the challenges that face its implementation. In chapter 4, pedagogic framework is outlined. It attempts to give all subjects a new perspective. Dr.Jayasree Subramanian outlines and critically analyzes the perspective of mathematics in school education in her article. Chapter 5 talks about the continuous professional development aspect of teacher education and chapter 15 on the teacher preparation aspect. Dr. Sushama Yermal gives an overview of teacher education and its challenges. Professor Madhu Prasad critically reviews a crucial aspect of implementation, the proposed management of education, policies on inclusion and privatization of education pertaining to Part IV.

In this article we will focus on two things – I look at chapters 2, 3, 4 and 6 as they pertain to the inclusion of the marginalized child. Secondly, I look at language education, especially aspects of language rights and education.

Inclusion of the marginalized
Chapters 3 and 6 of the New Education Policy attempt to address some of the issues of the rights of the impoverished and marginalized children as related to the child’s right to education. Chapter 3 is about reintegrating dropouts and chapter 6 on equitable and inclusive education.

Article 28 and 29 of the Convention pertain to the right to education –
Every child has the right to an education. Primary education should be free and compulsory. Secondary and higher education should be available to every child. Children should be encouraged to go to school to the highest level possible. Discipline in schools should respect children’s rights and never use violence.

Children’s education should help them fully develop their personalities, talents and abilities. It should teach them to understand their own rights, and to respect other people’s rights, cultures and differences. It should help them to live peacefully and protect the environment.

India ratified the Convention in 1992 and in 2009 passed the Right to Education Act. Hence, the NEP reflects many of the considerations of the Convention. However, ground realities are much slower to change. One of the reasons could be the lack of clarity and ambiguity in the recommendations in the Policy.

The most welcome policy move is to extend the RTE up to class 12. While chapter 3 recognizes that there are dropouts and this needs to be addressed, it focuses on increasing access to secondary education alone. We all know that the issue of universal primary and elementary education is far from addressed and a large percentage of children at these stages are either at risk or are dropping out. There is nothing in chapter 3 that addresses the issue of dropouts at the elementary stage. The causes and remedy are reduced to lack of infrastructure and transport, whereas we all know about the socio economic factors of employment, income, and taboo of girls studying with boys at the secondary stage. While there is cognizance of the need for flexibility of pathways to learning, no concrete ways of ensuring equal quality but multiple pathways seem to have been conceptualized.

The flexibility of pathways appears to be continued in chapter 4 on curriculum and pedagogy with suggestions of the offerings of mixed streams rather than just science, arts and commerce. However, it is unclear as to how this will actually be made a reality. In addition, in section 4.9, there is an over burden on exams with a minimum of 15 papers needing to be cleared over 10 subject areas – if any specialization is sought, the number of papers will be more than this – whether this will reduce or further enhance dropouts, remains to be seen.

Chapter 6, on equitable and inclusive education, while recognizing the factors of poverty and social discrimination as major causes of exclusion, does not recognize children’s problems emanating from economic impoverishment, displacement, migration, conflict and other socio cultural conditions. It also does not seem to indicate any convergence with other sectors of government like employment, urban and rural development planning, etc., to ensure prevention or mitigation of these issues and therefore seems to implicitly assume that educational provision will be able to address the issues of the deprived child, irrespective of what is happening outside to further her/his deprivation.

Language and multilingualism
Language is one of the major barriers to the inclusion of the deprived child. Language is a strong marker of identity. Excluding a child’s language is excluding his identity from the classroom. Inclusion of her/his language as the medium in which education is transacted, not only recognizes her/his identity but strengthens it. Building on NCF 2005, which brought to centre stage the multilingual perspective on education, the New Education Policy 2019 has recognized the importance of the child’s language both in the foundation stage and later in the chapter on curriculum and pedagogy, on the importance of language development in the context of multilingualism. This is in accordance with Article 30 of the Convention which says –
In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin exist, a child belonging to such a minority or who is indigenous shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of his or her group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practise his or her own religion, or to use his or her own language.

While in some ways, the NEP seems to have strengthened this right, it has, however, by using phrases like ‘when possible’ allowed for non-implementation –
Home language/mother tongue as medium of instruction: When possible, the medium of instruction – at least until grade 5 but preferably till at least grade 8 – will be the home language/mother tongue/local language. Thereafter, the home/local language shall continue to be taught as a language wherever possible. High quality textbooks, including in science, will be made available in home languages as is needed and feasible, e.g., via the Indian Translation and Interpretation Mission (see P4.8.4) or its State counterparts. In cases where such textbook material is not available, the language of transaction between teachers and students will still remain the home language when possible, even if textbooks are, e.g. in the State/regional language.

Such a phrase of ‘if and when possible’ is not used in the context of English, for example. Sanskrit also is proposed as a language right from the foundational stage!! While multilingualism in India has developed through multiple trajectories, there is an undue emphasis to see the connection of all languages to Sanskrit, thereby undermining the role of the local languages in nourishing the major languages. This again could lead to a marginalization of minoritiy languages.

There is much in section 4.5 that can be enhanced to strengthen Indian multilingualism, particularly of Indian indigenous languages. However, a closer reading sees the emphasis shifting to English, Sanskrit and other foreign languages. While in the last two decades there has been much work by state governments and organizations on the development of local languages through a multilingual pedagogy, none of this finds mention in the Policy; only Alliance Francaise and Samskrita Bharati (for Sanskrit) find mention!

There is a lot of emphasis on language and literacy throughout all the stages of development, particularly the foundation stage, with a separate chapter – chapter 2 – dedicated to literacy and numeracy. However, clarity in pedagogical directions is missing, even though there are statements to the effect of the approach being conversational.

Much has been said about the three language formula, so I will skip it here. However, it will be appropriate to point out a major lacuna here, that is the lack of attention to the pedagogical and curricular approaches to language as a medium of instruction as distinct from learning a language. This needs to be worked on seriously, as the comprehension of different kinds of language for different subjects in the medium(s) of instruction need to be paid attention to. The acceptance of bilingualism for subjects like science is welcome, we hope it can and will be extended to other subjects like social sciences and maths.

Being a 484 page document, with a lot in each chapter, which again is contradicted or watered down in others, it makes it difficult to decipher the actual policy implications. Earlier policy documents have been more succinct and categorical, (less than a 100 pages) facilitating implementation. It is up to us as teachers and parents to extract and get the required focus on crucial elements, so that the dream of a universalized robust education is fulfilled.

In conclusion
The main purpose of education is the development of the child, and the life of the child is determined by a host of socio-economic, political and cultural factors. In India, childhood is extremely differentiated – the reality of the urban deprived child being very different from the reality of the urban elite, the reality of the rural labourer migrant family very different from that of corporate farmers. This has led to education also being extremely differentiated with the education provided to the rich, however fragmented and destructive, becoming aspirational to the poor as well. This places a great responsibility on both the education policy maker and the educator to straddle the sphere of making education contextual and inclusive, at the same time building awareness of other very different realities.

Neither education nor education policy can serve their goal without taking cognizance of and connecting with other aspects of economic and social life, and this the NEP 2019 fails to do in ample measure.

The author has a background in economics and has recently retired from Eklavya Madhya Pradesh, where she has for nearly four decades worked on curriculum development, teacher education and National Educational policies and plans. She can be reached at [email protected].

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