The quality of input at elementary level has a direct bearing on the quality of output at the university level
“The rest of this Policy will become relevant for our students only if this most basic learning requirement (i.e., reading, writing, and arithmetic at the foundational level) is first achieved” (NEP2020, p8)
The document of NEP 2020, although envisaged to transform the school and higher education multi-dimensionally, is irrelevant if it fails to achieve foundational literacy and numeracy by Class 3. This conditionality of the policy has been set on account of the severe ‘Learning Crises’ that have been found at the elementary level of schooling. The policy says that: “We are currently in a learning crisis: a large proportion of students currently in elementary school – estimated to be over 5 crore in number – have not attained foundational literacy and numeracy, i.e., the ability to read and comprehend basic text and the ability to carry out basic addition and subtraction with Indian numerals.”
This confession in the policy, as such, on one hand outlines the vitality of primary education and on the other hand makes the whole policy conditional. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2017 said that over 70% children in Class 3 do not have basic reading and arithmetic skills. Only 28.1% of children in Class 3 could do simple subtraction, only 27.2% of children in Class 3 in rural India could read a Class 2–level text. It is believed that foundational learning or children’s ability to do basic mathematical calculations or read simple texts by Class 3 forms the basis of future learning.
The restructuring, reformation and rejuvenation recommended in the policy can only be achieved if we are able transform the foundational learning and minimise the learning crisis to the utmost level possible. The highest priority of the education system is to achieve universal foundational literacy and numeracy in primary school by 2025.
The quality of input at elementary level has a direct bearing on the quality of output at the university level. Foundational literacy and numeracy generally involves reading, writing, speaking, counting, arithmetic, and mathematical thinking. The deficiency of these basic competencies up to Class 3 manifests itself in greater struggle/stress in the higher grades and finally ends up with high dropout rates, stagnancy, and incompetency among the students. Competencies are cumulative in nature, that is, particular competencies are definitely to be mastered at the particular level they are set for, and if the same is not done, the learning gaps go on increasing. Thus, partially achieved or missed competencies result in knowledge deficiency. This deficiency at any stage in general and at primary stage in particular has serious repercussions on the academic career of a child/student, besides being one of the main reasons of children dropping out and stagnancy.
This crisis, thus, needs to be resolved so as to ensure smooth career progression of a learner. To this end, the important measures suggested in the New Education Policy 2020 are:
1. Setting up of National Mission on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), on priority.
2. Preparation of an implementation plan by the states/UTs for attaining universal foundational literacy and numeracy in all primary schools, identifying stage-wise targets and goals to be achieved by 2025, and closely tracking and monitoring progress of the same.
3. Filling teacher vacancies and attaining PTR 30:1 throughout the country and 25:1 in socio-economically disadvantaged areas.
4. Continuous Professional Development (CPD) of teachers involving training, support, and encouragement.
5. Increased focus on foundational literacy and numeracy with a robust system of continuous formative/adaptive assessment to track and thereby individualise and ensure each student’s learning.
6. Enjoyable and inspirational books for students at all levels to be developed.
7. Simple but energising breakfast in addition to midday meals to be provided in schools.
With regards to the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, drastic steps need to be taken in order to ensure achievement of foundational literacy and numeracy by Class 3, so that quality learning is enhanced, the dropout rate is minimised, and literacy rate is increased. Besides the remedial measures promulgated in New Education Policy 2020, the Union Territory has to take some extra steps to transform elementary education in general and primary education in particular. In order to realise the objectives of the new policy with regards to the achievement of Foundational Literacy and Numeracy in Jammu and Kashmir, following steps are suggested for consideration at the appropriate level:
• Since the UT has already sufficient number of teachers and schools in place, the rationalisation and rejuvenation of the same, respectively, can serve the purpose to a large extent. SSA schools, wherever possible, should be merged completely and the resource and staff of the schools should be channelised for the development of model primary schools.
• Under SSA, a room for every teacher or for every grade was considered as a norm, besides a primary school within one kilometre of every habitation. With this norm in place, access to school and enrolment increased but quality teaching/learning was compromised with. At present, most of the primary schools are housed either in rented rooms or in three-room buildings, resulting in the clubbing of two or three classes. In these clubbed classrooms only one teacher can teach at one time, leaving the other teachers and classes idle. In this regard primary schools should be provided with at least 5 classrooms besides an office room.
• The Pupil Teacher Ratio (PTR) is defined as the number of teachers for a particular number of students, irrespective of the number of subjects the teachers are supposed to teach. As per this definition and as per SSA norms, 2 teachers for a primary school with enrolment, for example of 30, are considered to be enough. This results in excess workload in terms of the number of subjects to be taught on teachers and consequently, quality teaching and learning can hardly be expected. This scenario demands provision of teachers to particular schools as per the number of subjects to be taught and as such 5 teachers for a primary schools can ensure subject-specific and quality teaching. The same criterion of 5 teachers for a primary school was recommended by a committee in January 2017 when Kumar Rajeev Ranjan was the Director of School Education in Kashmir.
• To make the learning environment attractive the schools should be upgraded and provided with playgrounds, washrooms, drinking water and recreational material.
• The curriculum at primary level should be overhauled and designed in a way that learning becomes a joyful activity and the learners feels glued to it.
• To avoid boredom and home sickness, teachers posted in primary schools, in particular, should be transferred at least after 2 years if not earlier. To develop sufficient degree of competition among the teachers in terms of professionalism and competency, the primary teachers should be incentivised, rewarded, and their accomplishments acknowledged/endorsed continuously.
• To ensure competency-based teaching rather than content-based rote learning, and to develop pedagogical skills among teachers, there should be vigorous trainings, workshops and orientation courses provided in a scheduled and time-bound manner.
The conditionality of NEP 2020, of its becoming irrelevant if it fails to yield the desired goals up to level 3, will be addressed if the steps as envisaged in NEP 2020 and as discussed above are put in place at the earliest. For this, all the stakeholders, from primary school up to university level, should put their heads together and consider it as their collective responsibility to transform, restructure, and rejuvenate the system of education as per the recommendations of the New Education Policy.
—The writer is a teacher at GHSS Khag. [email protected]