Besides the pandemic, the year 2020 will be remembered for ushering in the new National Education Policy in India after a period of 34 years. What is that one crucial reform which has the potential to impact the life and careers of Indian children the most?
The National Policy on Education 2020 has filled the 74-year-old gaping hole in Indian School education by introducing formal learning in school from ages 3 to 8 years, the most critical period of brain development of the children. A number of annual learning surveys and studies had revealed that a ‘learning crisis’ was brewing in the Indian schools where children despite regularly being promoted to the higher stages were not learning the basic literacy and numeracy skills and had very low comprehension levels.
The reason for this was that the crucial years of brain development were not a part of the formal school system. Research tells us 85% of human brain development takes place up to the age of six years including the critically important domains of language, cognitive and socio-emotional development. Neglect of these crucial developmental domains in early childhood was leaving life-long deficiency in the associated skills and behaviours which was adversely affecting their academic performance in later years.
The critical importance of appropriate care and stimulation of the brain in the early years for healthy brain development and growth of the learners made it imperative for the government to formally introduce early childhood care and education policy with the uniform system of age-appropriate, play-way, child-centred, system of learning based on empirical research on pedagogy.
The new school structure by NEP2020 includes the newly added Foundational Stage for the first five years of the school life i.e. ages three to five years. This subsumes the first two years of the erstwhile primary stage. Therefore, the Foundational Stage comprises of three years of pre-primary (Nursery, KG and Upper KG) and two years of primary (Classes I & II). This provision aims to curb the detrimental trend of the downward extension of primary curriculum to pre-primary classes that was resulting in over-load of teaching-learning content causing extreme stress and overwork to the early earners who were expected to master reading, writing, and numbers operations at pre-primary stage.
The NEP proposes to implement uniformly, in state-run and privately-run schools, a child centred ECCE curriculum that prepares children for rigours of formal curriculum of reading, writing, arithmetic, and EVS in subsequent Preparatory stage. This is done by providing strong foundation of a holistic, multi-faceted discovery-based learning experience that develops all aspects of the learners personality from cognitive to social, emotional, creative, and physical. The NCERT will be the nodal body for formulating the National Curricular and Pedagogical Framework for Early Childhood Care and Education (NCPFECCE) for children up to the age of eight.
NEP also proposes to set up Gender Inclusion Fund and Special Education Zones to ensure that no child is left out of the school system, especially the girl child and children from socially marginalised and economically disadvantaged groups. Another meaningful proposal aimed at bringing the most vulnerable children into the formal education system is to add breakfast to the existing mid-day meal programmes.
Vision of ECCE
‘ECCE ideally consists of flexible, multifaceted, multilevel, play-based, activity-based, and discovery-based learning about, e.g., alphabets, languages, numbers, counting, colours, shapes, indoor and outdoor play, puzzles and logical thinking, problem solving, drawing/painting and other visual art, craft, drama and puppetry, music and movement.’- NEP2020
Flexible Learning gives learners the freedom and choice to learn according to their intelligences, aptitude, talents, and interests and at learn at their own pace.
Multifaceted learning means going beyond the traditional focus on cognitive domain through learning of three Rs. Places equal focus on all facets of the learners personality by giving equal weightage to socio-emotional domain as the cognitive domain. Taking cognisance of the challenges of life in 21st century, ECCE also focusses on developing the 21st century skills – the 5Cs: communication skills, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and character building. It is hoped that this would prepare learners to better adapt to the VUCA world of 21st century and lead a happy, balanced, and stress-free life.
Play-based learning – makes learning a fun, pleasurable and collaborative experience. Reading, writing, and number operations are integrated with indoor and outdoor games, sketching, colouring, singing, and dancing. Children enjoy an active, fun-filled learning process.
Activity-based learning- ensures active engagement of learner with concepts and instructional materials. Learning is hands-on and experiential, providing learners the opportunity of learning through manipulation of materials and objects.
Discovery-based learning– encourages leaners to inquire into new concepts by building upon their prior knowledge and experiences. The learners learn to use their critical thinking, imagination, and creativity to establish connections between the ideas and construct new knowledge.
Mother Tongue & Multilingualism
The NEP2020 strongly reinforces the need to use of mother tongue as the medium of instruction in the early years. Language should facilitate learning and not become an impediment to it. Research shows that learning in mother tongue not only makes it easier to understand the curricular content but also develops better thinking and communication skills, to the extent that children need not be taught those skills and concepts again as a part of other languages and subjects. Also, when mother tongue is the medium of instruction it helps children learn other languages easily and develop a well-defined personal, social, and cultural identity.
The NEP also encourages teachers to be bilingual by using child’s home and local language in the class. Based on empirical research findings that have shown children capable of learning a number of languages simultaneously, NEP recommends introducing early learner to multiple languages in their formative years.
Taking cognizance of the current learning crisis in schools, NEP highlights the need to ensure that children must be effectively taught the basic language and numeracy skills in the Foundational and Preparatory stages. Foundational literacy and numeracy are imperative to a successful life and career therefore, the play and activity-based learning experiences must focus on strengthening child’s skills of reading, writing, speaking, counting, arithmetic, and mathematical thinking. Calling ‘foundational literacy’ a national mission NEP provides that at the culmination of class III, a school-based assessment will be conducted to assess the foundational literacy and numeracy skills of all the learners. The standards for this will be established by a new national assessment centre, PARAKH (Performance Assessment Review & Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development).
Assessment of Learning
NEP2020 clearly makes a shift from ‘rote memorisation’ to ‘competency-based assessment’. The aim of the assessment now will be ‘for learning’ instead of ‘of learning’. The formative nature of the assessment will help learners to continually build their knowledge and skills through a variety of ongoing activities and assignments that will keep the teacher and learner both informed of the learner’s progress. The aim of assessment will be to go beyond testing the content, to testing skills- such as reading writing numeracy, mathematical thinking, and higher order thinking skills of the learner along with their communication and collaboration skills.
The importance of early childhood education cannot be emphasised enough. These are critical years for child’s growth and development throughout life. A balanced and holistic ECCE curriculum paves the way for child’s successful academic performance at higher levels in school and college and emotional well-being in all relationships. By adding ‘foundational stage’ to the formal school system, the NEP2020 has laid foundations of holistic, fun-filled, stress-free, uniform, child-centred learning for all early learners in India. The impact of this crucial educational reform will be visible in the coming decades as considerably enhanced demographic dividend due to a young, proactive, literate, skilled, adaptable, and globally competent working population.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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