Indian Education Needs Remodelling

What is education? Answer to this question is multifaceted. Some say that it is the process of acquiring knowledge, skills, values and habits. Swami Vivekananda rightly said that, “Education is the manifestation of the perfection already in the men.” Mahatma Gandhi said that, “Education is the basic tool for the development of the consciousness and the reconstitution of society”. However, recent moves by our policy and decision makers try to belie this belief, as these moves seems aimed at taking India back to the old ages.

Education is a journey, which gives the art of living, not just the livelihood. It makes us learn how to nurture our life and be more creative. Education makes us understand our conflicts. Thus, education is not merely learning of facts but is to train our mind to think. Education systems must provide opportunities to each and every individual to learn through experience and should help to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills.

However, in India the education system has evolved in a completely different manner. Instead of focussing on critical thinking, expressing new ideas and debating and writing critically on any issue, our students are forced to learn through the rote route.

This concept of education goes back to the British colonialists, who wanted an army of clerks with basic understanding of the language and mathematics, to support their administrative system. However, this concept got roots in India and instead of focussing on developing mental and critical thinking faculties of the students and promoting research, our education system tuned into one where you amass degrees by cramming.

Educational Advance in India

Education and the right to education is one of the fundamental rights of our country’s citizens. It is compulsory for children aged between 6-14 to have an education. Over the many years, especially after independence, India has managed to increase its literacy rates to nearly 75% by 2021, and some states even boast of 100% literacy rate.

Most important focus in the recent decades has been on enhancing infrastructure, incentivising enrolments in schools by providing benefits such as midday meals etc. The private sector with government support has played a significant role in the expansion of the Indian education system and improving its quality. But it can also be credited with corporatising the education system, thus making education accessible to a privilege few.

In the research domain, India lags behind many countries. Our universities and colleges lack a multi-disciplinary approach to stimulate enquiry-based research skills. Absence of a proper framework for developing industry linkages with academia to promote research, further limits the faculty and students to work in this area.

We can perceive that most measures are more on paper with no tangible results evident. In 2004, the then UPA government had imposed an Educational Cess of 2% on every transaction in the country. In a three year period this cess generated 32,000 crore rupees. But how this amount was used, nobody knows and if one asks then vague answers are given. In fact if this amount had been used prudently, we would have a well-equipped and well-staffed middle-level school functioning in every village of the country. Similarly, for the last ten years, every taxpayer is bound to pay a 1.5% education cess on his total income tax. Where this money goes, nobody knows.

Tinkering With School Syllabus

Last year, in a completely uncalled for move, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) revised its syllabus for students of Classes 9th to 12th in the name of handling the stressful situation of teachers and students in view of the continuing Covid-19 pandemic, and in the name of rationalising the syllabus.

Some of the important chapters that have been deleted include: Federalism, citizenship, nationalism and secularism from class 11th political science subject besides India’s foreign relations with neighbouring countries and citizenship, besides Social and New Social Movements chapter in India from class 12th political science paper. Demonetisation from class 12th Business Studies paper. Colonialism and the countryside colonial cities and understanding partition from class 12th History subject have been deleted.

The irrational exclusions smacks of a political tone, aimed at keeping a large and young part of the population unaware of these issues. We should not forget that depriving the young generation of its right to increase its knowledge base is not only authoritarian but it might also boomerang. Most of the deleted topics form the foundation of democratic societies and students need to learn about these to enhance their knowledge base.

National Education Policy 2019 and 2020

The national educational policy came into force in the year 1968 to make education accessible to masses. It was aimed to strengthen national integration through a unified culture of learning. Since then constant measures have been taken to reform the Indian education system to provide better education services in the country, the latest being the National Education Policy (NEP) 2019 and 2020.

However, if we analyse critically the NEP 2019 and 2020, the overall intent and decision maker’s mindset, in tandem with the moves taken last year, will be clearer.

A critical study of the 484-page NEP 2019 reveals an issue deserving of wider, more heated debate. The words “secular” or “secularism” are not found anywhere in the NEP 2019. Though a clear reference to secular education was vital to be seen as the base for these ambitious reform proposals.

The absence of the word “secular” in the NEP 2019 becomes all the more pronounced when seen in contrast to the earlier policies of mentioning secularism as a core Indian value for the Indian education. The omission of the words “secular” and “secularism” in the NEP 2019 is ominous, along with the frequent affirmation of its aim of inculcating constitutional values in the education system, making it doubly odd.

The NEP 2019 was launched last in its new avatar as NEP 2020, but many of the contentitious isssues still remain.

In contemporary India, which has seen a sharp rise in caste and religious violence, the curriculum and teaching methods in Indian classrooms clearly have a key role to play in making caste and religious prejudices in society irrelevant and out of times. The challenge is to find fresh and creative ways of making young minds grasp these difficult contemporary social realities.

You have to understand that you can’t hide history by giving it a new twist. Even in countries like the UK there are demands to teach the medieval history to the school students again. If you feel that by hiding the truth on your controversial decisions you’ll be able to befool people or hide your misjudgements then you are wrong, as the history will ultimately judge you, whether you like it or not.

(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He writes on issues related to Muslims, education, geopolitics and interfaith)

Indian Madrassas – A Need for Reorientation

The first institute of Islamic Madrassa education was at the estate of Hazrat Zaid bin Arkam near a hill called Safa in Makkah, where Prophet Muhammad was the teacher and the students were some of his followers. After Hijrah (migration) to Madina the Madrassa of ‘Suffah’ was established on the east side of the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi. The curriculum included understanding of The Holy Qur’an, Hadith, fara’iz, tajweed, genealogy, treatises of first aid, etc.

Current Challenges

Ever since their emergence, the Madrassas in India have persisted with a curriculum that has seen few changes. The fact that literally, lakhs of Muslim children acquire their primary, and perhaps their only formal education, in these Madrassas where only literature and Islamic studies with a cursory knowledge of social sciences thrown in, are taught, should be a matter of concern not only to their parents but also to anybody concerned with education in any manner.  The format of education imparted to the students of Madrassas ought to be modified keeping in view the shifting demands of the job market – a concern that can no longer be under-played.  And this is perfectly possible without an erosion of the cultural and religious identity.

Developing suitable answers for today’s dilemmas requires an examination of the essentials of education. Education involves transference to others, of knowledge and values accumulated by mankind. Even though schools and teachers have been part of the process of education for hundreds or even thousands of years, it is the spirit of enquiry that has enriched mankind with knowledge.  We learn through reading, experience by watching others and by observing the world in general.  Inculcating a spirit of scientific enquiry in students will perhaps be the best manner of propelling them on the path of learning.

Even though this may be the general agreement, it is a fact that in this country particularly, whenever an attempt is made to institute any profound change, a resistance begins to act from its very inception. The critics flinch at the vision of a Madrassa system where modern education would jettison religious knowledge and make education “worldly” and “impersonal”.

It is a matter of satisfaction to note that of late, some Madrassas, have realised the significance of modern education, and have introduced teaching science, English and Computer skills in their curricula. For example the two largest Madrassas in India, Darul Uloom-Deoband and Nadwa-tul Ulema-Lucknow have braced themselves to be the harbinger of change and have introduced English language teaching and computer skills as part of their curriculum. But both have not been able to bring about any noticeable improvement in the quality of education they impart to their students.

It is often argued that if modern education is so sensational, why hasn’t it brought any notable improvement to education in the few Madrassas that have adopted it? In reality, in spite of modern education being imparted, thousands of Madrassas don’t have a well-formulated curriculum, and/or couldn’t implement it even if they wanted to, as they don’t have sufficiently trained and proficient staff.

MILAP Programme

During the last ten years or so, Madrassa Education in India has been a subject of interest, debate and prominence both in the educational and research circles, in media and of course the civil and political discourse. Based on different research studies and the demand for Capacity Building of Madrassa in India, an NGO of Delhi-Minorities Initiative for Learning, Advancement and Partnership (MILAP- started a Capacity Building Programme for Madrassa Teachers and Students, which later became known as MILAP Programme.

The Capacity Building of Madrassas Programme (CBM) was based on inputs from madrassa teachers, administrators, religious scholars and educationists. The two-day consultative workshop held in 2008, deliberated over the needs, requirements and aspirations of madrassa teachers and students, how modern educationists could supplement their inputs and how a better cohesive programme could be tailor-made for the Madrassa audience.

The MILAP programme for Madrassa teachers focused first on identifying the areas which needed intervention from modern educationists and secondly, how to evolve the correct training for the participants. The same set of principles also applied to Madrassa students programme.

Based on the initial consultations with religious scholars and Madrassa administrators, one of the key strategies to improve the quality of education offered in Madrassas was designed to develop new, and strengthen existing tools and skills to equip Madrassa Teachers to enhance the overall quality of the teaching-learning practices within their Madrassas. The CBM programme was designed based on a “professional development/coaching model”. This was intended to help address the gaps in teaching-learning practices. The CBM programme was offered to Madrassa Teachers and Students across India, and so far, has been organised in New Delhi, Aligarh, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Pune and Guwahati. 

The training topics for teachers ranged from ​Indian culture and religions, besides an introduction to constitutional & other legal rights of minorities and human rights. Introduction to different teaching methods. Role and responsibilities of an effective teacher, Lesson planning: Principles and Process. Concept, importance and types of teaching aids for language teaching, particularly English, Sciences, and elementary Mathematics. Besides understanding the socio-economic and educational background of the students, child and educational psychology, understanding the student-teacher communication process and formulating responses based on these inputs. Focus on spoken and written English, besides an introduction to the use of computers and Internet, was a key component of the training.

The Way Forward

To gauge the efficacy of these training programmes, a feedback survey was conducted by an external consultant after every programme and finally collated on an all-India basis. Based on the survey findings and feedback from the organisers of these Training Courses in 11 Indian cities, it could be surmised that there is a huge demand from both Madrassa teachers and students to learn and be acquainted with other subjects (modern subjects) not taught in madrassas.

The Madrassa teachers lack any idea about what modern educational techniques and management are, how lesson plans could help them improve their pedagogy skills, how by learning about the psychological state of their students they could focus more on students individually. The madrassa teachers lack basic skills in subjects like mathematics and science subjects and they are eager to learn these. The introduction of computers was an eye opener for both the students and teachers and they were really anxious to get their hands on the latest technology and for madrassa teachers it was really an eye opener to know how they could use computers in teaching subjects like Hadith and the Holy Qu’ran. Meanwhile, the students groups all across India were eager to improve their personal and communications skills and learn subjects like time management, English speaking and writing skills.

Most of these training programmes were of 15 to 21 days duration, and if during such a short duration, using intensive intervention, outlook of the participants could be changed and skills and topics beneficial to them could be taught to better their skills and personality, then this module could be used to supplement their usual Madrassa teaching and such courses should be organised to help shape their future.

In addition, if the madrassas administration is ready to adapt this module along with the essential religious content, they could take the wind out of sails of the madrassa critics, that madrassas are not ready to change with times. Further, we should understand that Islam is not static but a dynamic religion and we can change the various inputs needed for its dissemination, keeping intact the fundamental principles. This strategy would not only be beneficial but also could be a game changer for the community.

Confidence Building Measures By Government

The MILAP Programme was designed to resemble the key elements from the CBM-sessions and focussed on training the teachers on secular curriculum and pedagogical issues. The objective of the MILAP module was to develop Madrassa/Maktab teachers’ understanding of new educational and pedagogical techniques and assimilate them in Madrassa environment. And to a certain extent it attained its objective very well.

Central bodies like the Ministry of Minority Affairs and Maulana Azad National Foundation could be entrusted to carry forward such successful programmes, whose results have been quantified and documented well.

(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He writes on issues related to Muslims, education, geopolitics and interfaith)

NEP-2020: Reasons To Cheer & To Fear

It is said about India that its economics is easy but sociology is difficult. Every initiative to change, whether good or bad, faces resistance since at least one segment finds its interest or sentiment to be hurt. Any change in this country is not possible until the things reaches its extreme. This is why despite drastic change in labour market world over, it took India almost 34 years to bring New Education Policy to cater changed world scenario.

The NEP-2020 has come at a time when Indian education system is facing extreme deterioration in the standard of institutions of higher learning (as witnessed in the global ranking), high politicization of campuses, rigidity in course structure and passing policy, lack of indigenization of curriculum, consistent fall in the expenditure on education as percent of GDP, nepotism and favouritism in admission/appointment system, dichotomy in the school education, overburdened school students, increasing cost of quality school education, deteriorating ethical and sense of responsibility, increasing privatization, etc.

There are some praiseworthy unprecedented bold initiatives in NEP-2020. First, the pre-primary (pre-schooling) education is very important for toddlers because it provides building block for elementary education. It lays down good foundation to create interest in schooling and makes all-round development of child. Despite its utmost importance, there wasn’t any government policy or regulation on pre-schooling education.

WATCH: NEP 2020 – ‘Include Sanskrit, Don’t Exclude English’

As a result a lot of pre-primary institutions cropped up with arbitrary syllabus and its accessories. In most of the cases, their syllabus was heavier than the nursery syllabus, and fee structure was even higher than primary education, which is the fundamental right of the students. Ultimately, it overburdened the children aged less than 6 and putting unnecessary pressure on the pockets of parents. There have been a tendency among the parents to teach their children everything in advance. However, the recognition of pre-nursery education in the NEP-20, will facilitate the framing of syllabus for the same in a more scientific and communally understandable way by the experts from NCERT. It will also regulate the unfair competition of overburdening students such a tender age, and will correct the historical injustice started in 80s.

Second, Carole Banson, a professor at University of Stockholm, in a background paper prepared for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2005 by UNESCO titled The importance of mother tongue-based schooling for educational quality emphasized on the importance of mother tongue for school children. He argued that use of a familiar language (mother tongue) to teach at pre-primary and primary level facilitates an understanding of sound-symbol or meaning-symbol correspondence. As a result learning become most efficient when students know the language.

On the contrary, it takes longer time to understand exact meaning when students are taught in a foreign language. In India, there have been a colonial practice of teaching English (a foreign language) at primary level to quick produce English speaking workforce for the colonial rulers. The practice continued and expanded more rigorously, even after independence. English was being taught to them even at pre-school level. However, the imposition of mother tongue or any Indian language up to 5th standard in NEP-2020 will not only lesson the burden of learning a foreign language but also recue young children from a torturous process of rotting. Further, it will reduce the gap between private and government institutions, and will provide level playing field for rich and poor.

Third, Indian higher education system have been highly rigid. Unlike schooling system, where a student can drop out at any stage and rejoin, higher education system doesn’t allow for the same. If a student joins any under graduation study programme, say, B.A. (Hons) in economics at Delhi University, he/she will have to complete this three years course within a stipulated time period of eight years. If due to some reasons, s/he has to discontinue after the completion of first or second year, s/he is left with nothing. And beyond the stipulated time for completion of degree, s/he cannot be allowed to rejoin.

WATCH: ‘Online Classes Are A Temporary Option’

This is very impractical approach in a country like India, where dropout rates are high in higher education since socio-economic conditions do not allow girls and marginalized section to continue education in one go. They need to take a break to due to unaffordability of fees, take care of their families, job, marriage etc. The NEP-2020 has a provision that if a student discontinues his/her under graduation after the completion of one or two years, s/he will be conferred with a certificate or diploma. Moreover, their credits will be transferred, and they can come back any time to complete their under graduation. This is a progressive move which will benefit a large marginalized section.

Fourth, there isn’t any uniformity in the time period of completion of a research degree in India.  For instance JNU offers an integrated programme of M.Phil./Ph.D. of six years, and a student was is not allowed to do a PhD directly without completion of M.Phil. In many universities students are not required to finish M.Phil. before joining Ph.D. Besides, the programme is of three years. Spending six years for research degrees was wastage of many years during most productive age, which subsequently had high cost on the individuals as well as society.

This issue has been addressed in the NEP-2020 which has abolished M.Phil. in all universities in the country. It will attract talent from the poor sections, who were earlier reluctant to join teaching or research as a career due to long gestation period.

Fifth, the NEP 2020 plans to merge the University Grants Commission and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) to create a single regulator (HECI) for higher education. This could rescue educational institutions to face hassles from multiple regulators. HECI will mainly focus on academic and quality matters related to ensuring learning outcomes, mentoring of institutions, training of teachers and administrators, rather than being a mere regulator.

Apart from some good changes, there are some issues if not dealt carefully, it may impact Indian education system as well as internal security. One of the areas of biggest concern is allowing top 100 universities of the world to open campuses in India. The foreign rule on the country for an extremely long period has made Indians mentally slave, that is why they have the complex that everything made in India or by an Indian is inferior. They will always prefer foreign universities over Indian institutions irrespective of its value. Foreign universities will take advantage of this situation and will earn a lot of money.

Most of the research these top 100 universities focuses on India bashing or on Indian fault lines with a larger purpose to destabilize the country. They will be able to create narratives to suit their funders, which may further create internal security issues in the country.

Similarly, performance-based promotions will benefit only one section/ideology of academicians who has stronghold on most quality publications. It will not allow the other ideas to flourish which will reduce the purpose of establishing institutions of higher learning. Moreover, the merger of AICTE and UGC shall be carried out meticulously with cautions otherwise instead of facilitating it may create another bureaucratic hurdles to educational institutions.

In this way an evaluation of the NEP-20 in the light of challenges faced by Indian education system shows that it has attempted to address some of the problems, some remained unaddressed and some new issue may also crop up if cautions were not taken.

Anish Gupta teaches Economics at Delhi University. Manoj Kumar teaches Statistics and Economics Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi