In June 2020 the central government came out with the National Education Policy 2020. One of the major highlights of this policy was the remodelling of the school education system from a 10+2 format to a 5+3+3+4 format. The first five years being dedicated to Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN).
In July, the Ministry of Education released the policy document NIPUN ( National Initiative for Proficiency in reading with Understanding and Numeracy) Bharat. It branches out from the objective of achieving FLN. As is indicated from the name and the parent objective, this policy aims at ensuring that children in the age group of 3-9 are provided adequate support to acquire age-appropriate reading and numerical skills.
The policy has been organised into three broad goals. The first one is ‘Maintenance of Good Health and Wellbeing of Children’; the second one is ‘Children Becoming Effecting Communicators’, and the third one is ‘Children Becoming Involved Learners’. The achievement of all these goals has been further divided into six stages, one each for the six years between the ages of 3 and 9. It starts with two years of pre-school, followed by one year of Balvatika – a place for transitioning to formal schooling, and finally grades 1 to 3 as the last three stages. For all these six stages, the policy provides for a set of learning outcomes to be achieved.
Aspects relating to Inclusion
While the policy does recognise the need for creating an inclusive learning environment, the learning outcomes highlighted in the policy are uniform, with no specific provisioning made for children with special needs. It mentions that the reading material provided to children should depict children with special needs as being an integral part of society, but ironically it doesn’t lay down a path for realising such inclusion. Reading this along with the provisions of NEP which exhibit the intention to keep specially-abled children in separate institutions or to have them home schooled, it does seem that the government is just going to offer lip service to the idea of inclusion without doing anything concrete.
Another point on inclusion emerges as we look at the contents of the various goals. As part of the first goal, the children are supposed to learn to describe themselves and others. There is no mention as to whether the children will be introduced to the idea of gender fluidity at this stage or not. This concern is not that we should have imposed a particular understanding of gender fluidity on the children, it is that children might end up being unaware that there is no compulsion to identify only with the two mainstream gender identities. For doing this, it will be required that children are provided with an environment where they can question and discover their own specific gender identity.
If we truly want to achieve a shift in societal approach towards the LGBTQI+ community then this is something that needs to be undertaken. While it might create some tension in areas where this realty hasn’t been allowed to openly survive, that should not stop the administration from taking the first step. Only then will the state truly uphold the right to life for all citizens irrespective of their sexual orientation.
Two stages of assessment have been provided in the policy. The first stage is ‘School-Based Assessment’, which is supposed to be a subjective assessment where the child is evaluated on the basis of the observations made by teachers, parents, and peers. This is meant to understand the specific inclinations of the child, and to make the necessary tweaks to the learning processes in order to make them complementary to the child’s inclinations. The effectiveness of this form of assessment will depend a lot on the kind of investment being made in Teacher training, development, and sensitisation. Considering that the policy doesn’t talk about any extra allocation being made for this purpose and simply says that the budget for ‘Samagra Shiksha Abhyan’ will be reorganised, it is not clear as to how the government hopes to implement this kind/type of assessment.
For assessment by peers, the policy suggests that teachers will be providing assessment tasks to children, which basically ends up being assessment by the teacher being delegated to the peers. As for assessment by parents, the policy does not elaborate on how parents are going to assess the children or how the assessment by the parents is going to be recorded and synced up with other assessments.
The second stage of assessment has been labelled as ‘Large Scale Standardised Assessment’. This will be a MCQ based assessment conducted by NCERT to gauge the achievements of the education system by the evaluation of children on nationally developed standards. Having national standards for basic and universal skills like reading and numeracy might not be substantially problematic, but as the proficiency in a regional language is also being assessed, it will be apposite for NCERT to take in inputs from the regional actors. In addition to the issue of regional languages, context-based questions will also need regional alteration. The policy itself is not very elaborate as to what will be the operating procedure for NCERT while coming up with the standard assessment.
Also, it is important that the pitfalls associated with standardised testing are addressed, primarily the issue that standard tests lead to a very narrow part of the learning spectrum being tested. Not only will standard tests give an incomplete picture of a child’s learning, such tests might also make the child believe that their own specific abilities are not worthwhile. A broader, if possible subjective, test can assess children within their own context and help them in becoming confident about their identity and skills.
Allocation of responsibility and implementation
When it comes to allocation of responsibility and implementation, we find that a top-down structure has been adopted in the policy. All the planning is being done by National Level bodies like the Department of School Education and Learning – under the union Ministry of Education, a ‘National Steering Committee, a ‘National Mission Director’, and a Project Management Unit at the National level. Every plan made at the state level has to be according to the guidelines given by the national bodies and is supposed to be subsequently approved by the national bodies. There are studies that say that a centralised and deconcentrated form of administration is more effective than a decentralised form of administration. While prima facie the system under consideration is centralised and deconcentrated, there is a lot of overlap in functions across bodies and there is no clarity as to who all will be the constituents of the various bodies, so there isn’t a full assurance of actual deconcentration.
Overall, the policy goals are to be achieved by the year 2026-27, with intermittent checks and sub-goals. It has to be noted here that since this is just a policy there isn’t an elaborate mechanism to seek accountability, the only recourse being writ petitions under article 226 and article 32 of the constitution. If instead, this would have been well-rounded legislation, then there could have been a sharper fixation of responsibility, with a relatively more direct route for seeking accountability. It will be appropriate to note here that the central government has been administering education substantially via schemes like Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, and various National Scholarships among others. This does make one wonder whether there is a deliberate attempt to avoid accountability.
The policy has embarked on a task crucial for the upliftment of millions of children across the country, the only issue is that its formulation has left a lot dependent on political will and sincerity, not exactly the things on which we can rely.
This article was first published by The Leaflet on September 6, 2021. You can find it here.
 NIPUN Bharat, p. 111
 NIPUN Bharat, p. 50
 NIPUN Bharat, p. 20
 National Education Policy, p.27
 NIPUN Bharat, pp. 22-23
 NIPUN Bharat, pp. 28-29
 NIPUN Bharat, pp. 145-146
 NIPUN Bharat, p. 181
 NIPUN Bharat, pp, 182-186
 NIPUN Bharat, p.15