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The new education policy(NEP) is on the anvil.  A fancy website invites citizens to participate in its formulation. Consultations and meetings are being held from village to State level. Every one and anyone is invited to the show i.e the drafting of the education policy that will steer the lives of our children for the years to come. Wonder why I feel a tad discomfited. This is the future of our children and hence of our country we are talking about.

Last week a prominent TV channel aired a kind of curtain raiser to the draft that is one is told to be unveiled soon. The Drafting Committee is headed by a retired and respected bureaucrat. He candidly shared some of the salient features of the NEP. I must say there was nothing earth shattering. Actually much of it felt sated an jaded. As a man becoming his age the Chairman of the Drafting Committee talked with a certain nostalgia of values and stories heard at Grandma’s knee but even Super Granny is no match to You Tube and its pals. We all agree we need to reinstate values and teach ethics and so on but all this has to be version Century 21! And therein lies the trick.

What truly saddened and shocked me was the suggestion that Public (private + rich) Schools should take on the task of ‘helping’ Government (poor) schools. To me this sole statement was enough to realise that once again we had headed the wrong way.

Seems like we as a nation and a society thrive on division. Division creates barriers. Barriers are never good. More so in education as to my mind education is the sole path to transformation. Education has to offer a level playing field. The moment you advocate one kind of  school helping another the battle is lost. We have enough division lines be they religion, caste, social background and so on. School could and should be the space where all these are obliterated. Looks like this education policy has not had the courage to do so. Our children have lost the battle. They will have again have to wait long years. I wait for the day when India will have a common neighbourhood school for everyone to walk to. Am I waiting for Godot?

During the show what transpired was a sense of confusion mostly due in my opinion to the overload of suggestions and submissions that the Committee had received and that they probably felt needed to be looked at. Now you will agree that there are many stakeholders in Education and each will view the problem from their perspective. To give you a small example we at pwhy have to battle with parents who ask us to ‘beat’ their children if they do not do what is asked of them. It is an extreme example but I guess you get the point.

For the policy makers it looks good to have mass participation and probably is also a sound election ploy. Everyone from village to state is involved. The question that needs to be asked is whether each of them have the interests of children at heart and the ability to view the problem in its entirety. I would tend to say no.

The question is not as overwhelming as it seems. Sometimes one simply needs to look at already existing policies and tweak them according to the needs to the day.

I have always been terribly impressed by the FOUR PILLARS OF LEARNING enunciated in 1996 by Jacques Delors namely : Learning to Know, Learning to Do, Learning to Live Together, and Learning to Be. A sound education policy would be one that adapts these Pillars to the reality of the day and gives them equal space at all levels of education from pre school to higher education. This comprehensive education does not stop at imparting knowledge and skills but goes a step further to integrating them within the society in which the child has to live and not forgetting to development of the child itself.

Education today cannot be viewed in isolation. More so when families are losing the role they once played. Today school plays an important role in forming the child as a person and a citizen. Moreover education today has to keep up with the other sources wherein the child accesses knowledge – the Internet for example – and be in a position to steer the child in the right direction. Today it is no more EITHER OR but how to combine the two in the best manner possible. It is a huge challenge but one we must take had on for the sake of our children.

I agree that values learnt and Nana’s knee were invaluable but today these are passé. Simply reintroducing moral studies with the stories we learnt from would be laughable. What is needed is a huge makeover and coming up with stories that would talk to today’s children. 

When I look at the books the children study from, and believe you me I have done so umpteen times when I wear the Maam’ji cap and help with Popples’s homework, I wonder how they can hold the interest of the net savvy kids of today. Books need to be rewritten but by people who understand children and accept who they have become. Someone needs have the courage of spring cleaning all lessons. Do our kids really need to learn tables till 20 now that we have the decimal system? A good way would be to assess what we actually remember and use and what we have forgotten. In some countries calculators are now accepted in examinations, maybe we should do that. An error in calculation is no reflection of a child’s intelligence.

When I sat for my IAS examination,  I had a job and was a young mom. I was willing to study subjects and comprehend them but was aghast to know that I was expected to learn a plethora of statistics for the viva voce. These were annual production stats that lost their relevance when they year ended. There was no way I would do this. Needless to say many told me that I would never make it. The day dawned and after a few niceties the Chairman of the Interview Board, without looking up asked me what the steel production of India was and I simply answered that I did not know. He asked a few more questions and got the same answer. He finally looked up and asked in an irritated tone what did I know. I looked straight into his eyes and answered him that I knew the names of all the yearly publications that carried this information and would as a responsible officer ensure that these were available in my office. A huge laughter across the room told me that I had succeeded.

Education is meant to build confidence in every child. That confidence is what will make her walk the right path even if she has to walk it alone. 

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To the manor born