The National Education Policy (NEP) is the biggest overhaul of the Indian education system in decades. Traditional Indian education system emphasized rote learning and memorization at the expense of understanding, critical thinking, experiential learning, and creative thinking. The National Education Policy is the first serious step towards moving away from this anachronistic education model.
NEP seeks to eliminate rote learning. Instead of memorization, it’s designed to help students think critically and creatively, and learn through experience. The aim is to teach students the skills that will help them thrive in the 21st century.
Educators will play the single largest role in realizing the vision set forth by NEP. NEP in 2020 stated that ‘Teachers truly shape the future of our children – and therefore, the future of our nation’. However, as things stand today, teaching in India is in some ways off from helping realize NEP’s goals.
While teachers are responsible for teaching children, many lack the knowledge, skills, and motivation to teach effectively. For instance, an inspection found that many Teacher Education Institutes (TEIs) lacked adequate infrastructure and an astonishingly high percentage – 99% – of those who enrolled in these institutes passed. Even more worrying was the result of an official government report which revealed that, on average, 85% of teachers couldn’t pass the Post-Qualification Competency Test (Central Teacher Eligibility Test).
The reason for this situation is two-fold. Teachers often endure exploitative employment conditions. They’re unable to follow a structured curriculum and must teach in an ad hoc manner. In addition, their compensation is inadequate. On the teachers’ side, absenteeism is a problem, and many lack sufficient knowledge and skills, as well as professionalism and commitment. While the easy way out would be to blame teachers for the shortcomings of the education system, NEP takes a more nuanced and holistic view of teaching and teachers.
Specific to the quality of teaching and low motivation among teachers, NEP holds that the system is to blame. This is linked to the manner in which teachers are recruited and deployed and the conditions under which they have been traditionally made to work. NEP, therefore, seeks to empower teachers and the teaching profession by restoring the high respect and status accorded to the profession in the past. By doing so, it expects to make teaching a profession that attracts bright young minds who’re knowledgeable and committed to their work.
Putting plan into action
Under NEP, those wanting to become teachers must enroll in four-year integrated BEd programs. The program will integrate a BA or BSc degree with the BEd degree, thereby creating a dual major bachelor’s degree. In addition– to attract the brightest minds–NEP will also offer other entry points into the teaching profession.
That’s not all. Universities have been mandated to carry out cutting-edge research to enhance their BEd programs. Teachers will be able to enroll in short-term courses to move into specialized areas of teaching and leadership and management roles. To increase the prestige of the teaching profession, all who enroll in PhD programs must take credit-based courses in teaching/education/writing/pedagogy. These courses shall be in the same fields as the candidates’ PhDs. And finally, only those who qualify for the Teacher Eligibility Test (TET), successfully take a demonstration class, pass an interview, and have knowledge of local languages shall teach in private and government schools. Already, the University Grants Commission has announced that it will train 15 lakh higher education teachers under the National Education Policy 2023. A total of 111 institutions across India have been selected as part of the UGC’s Malaviya Mission-Teacher Training program.
These are just a few steps being taken under the aegis of NEP to empower teachers – there are many other steps; however, another – which isn’t yet included in NEP – ought to be considered for the reasons mentioned.
In this century, language and English proficiency will dictate success
In India, those who have a good command of English undoubtedly enjoy better career prospects than those who don’t. Across India’s competitive corporate world, a good command over English is often the key prerequisite to success.
Often, many who graduate in highly technical fields from the IITs and other premier engineering institutes immediately pursue an MBA upon graduation. Thereafter, their career trajectories are as much determined by their capacity to communicate well in English as by their proficiency in the subjects they specialized in during their under-graduation. Indeed, many competent engineers are held back by their inability to communicate in English while their less competent peers – those who’ve not had a problem expressing themselves in English– effortlessly climb the corporate ladder.
Emerging technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and generative AI will further increase the language’s importance. What one can do with these technologies will matter more than what one knows. To interact with AI, people will need to communicate with it and to begin with, English will remain the most effective and popular way to communicate with AI. Additionally, there is a need for a nexus between education and the fourth industrial revolution.
In today’s so-called global age, English represents a medium of interconnectivity. Proficiency in the language profoundly influences individuals and communities worldwide. English is an instructional language and international medium of communication in many countries where English is not the mother tongue. That is why learning English is significant among non-native English speakers. Mastery of the English language helps individuals compete with native English speakers and other foreigners. In today’s global education sphere, English language is learnt through meaningful approaches such as problem-based learning, project-based learning, and the integration of authentic contexts to enhance learners’ English acquisition.
In a world that’s saturated with information, knowing English is proving more and more vital to making sense of the world. Already, the ability to distinguish between what’s useful information and what’s chaff is getting difficult. Such differentiation often hinges on the ability to read, write, speak, and think critically in English as most new information is and will continue to be created in English. Going forward, how our teachers and educators relate to this is important and will also define their ability to engage with their students in class and equally importantly, equip young learners to engage with the world.
The author is Managing Director, Cambridge University Press and Assessment, South Asia.