Decoding NEP 2020 for private unaided schools-II making schools future-ready

Our aspirations are our Possibilities.
        -Robert Browning

The NEP 2020 helps the schools take a giant leap forward by re-configuring the classes into key-stages of 5+3+3+4 years from ages 3-18. These stages, purely curricular and pedagogical in nature, are aimed at optimizing learning. The reconfiguration of stages is more logical than the previous division in view of the developmental and learning needs of the students.

The key thrust behind this curricular and pedagogical restructuring across all stages is to move away from the traditional rote-learning method and ‘learn for real understanding’ and ‘learning how to learn’. It gives equal importance to all the stages of schooling by customizing each with age appropriate curriculum, learning goals, and pedagogy. For schools and teachers this division is more practical and workable, facilitating child-centered lesson-planning based on the pedagogy recommended for each stage by the NEP.

The provisions of pedagogical and curricular restructuring are explained below to help schools understand how this will enable them to manage the current learning challenges faced by their learners and the positive impact this reorganization will have on the teaching-learning processes and learner achievement.

1. Foundational Years (5yrs)-

Ages 3 to 8 Years will cover 3 years of early education comprising Nursery, LKG & UKG along with 2 years of classes I & II. The NEP 2020 formally inducts early childhood care and education (ECCE) into the Indian education system with a recommended informal, flexible, multilevel, play/activity-based instructional approach that focusses on domain-based learning outcomes, informal assessments through observations, inculcation of healthy habits for life and positive socialization of the young learners with their peers.

Implications for Schools: Although most private schools have well equipped early childhood units however, they are marred by curriculum overload due to extremely high parental expectations which schools are unable to resist for the fear of losing students. The children suffer mentally and physically when schools follow conventional pedagogy and make them read and write beyond their natural capacity. A large number of early learners also end up with psychological issues and psychosomatic ailments when they fail to match up to these unreasonable demands. This harrowing childhood experience affects the entire academic trajectory of the student.

However, with NEP2020 prescribing the play-way approach, the private schools would be in a better position to rationalize the curriculum and introduce age-appropriate pedagogy to remove the pressure, stress and anxiety on the early learners that were caused due to unreasonable expectations to perform beyond their normal capacity. With the child-centered approach at the heart of the learning experience the teachers will be able to allocate equal time for social-emotional development, creativity through arts and aesthetics and also focus on physical growth of the child. This process will be further facilitated by the use of mother-tongue and local language as the medium of instruction in the foundational years. All these factors would go a long way in strengthening the foundational literacy and numeracy of the young learners.

2. Preparatory Years (3yrs)- ages 9-11 will cover classes III, IV & V. NEP2020 prescribes a more formal yet interactive classroom teaching in the preparatory years with play, discovery and activity-based pedagogy. A structured subject-wise curriculum will lay down strong academic foundations at this level through teaching of languages, science, and mathematics and holistic development through inclusion of art and physical education etc.

Implications for Schools: This staggered learning plan that has divided the erstwhile primary years into two different stages, envisages a greater and more independent engagement of learners in the learning process in classes III-V through discovery approach of learning which basically involves ‘learning by doing’ through exploration of environment and manipulation of objects and materials to learn by problem solving. This is in total contrast to the previous emphasis on memorization and rote-learning that got children high percentage and grades up to class V, but resulted in poor learning outcomes as revealed by a number of academic surveys conduct by NCERT as well as NGOs such as Pratham.

3. Middle Years (3yrs)- ages 12-14 will cover classes VI to VIII. In this phase of schooling NEP2020 talks of specialized faculty, meaning subject-wise teachers for learning abstract concepts in sciences, mathematics, social sciences. NEP recommends a hands-on experiential learning approach for conceptual understanding, also encouraging learners to explore topics across disciplines for holistic understanding (inter-disciplinary approach).

Implications for Schools: Eclipsed by the hype of board-exams for classes IX and X, the middle years have always been the most neglected stage of school education. The NEP highlights this stage by envisaging greater academic complexities in the middle school curriculum through introduction of abstract concepts in all subjects to lay down strong academic foundations for the next and final stage of schooling.

Experiential learning is essentially ‘learning by doing’ to build conceptual understanding and skills. This process involves guided practice, reflection, observation, evaluation. It accelerates learning, improves retention because it amalgamates all domains of learning – cognitive, psychomotor and affective in the learning process. Adoption of an integrated and inter-disciplinary approach of learning will ensure more meaningful, holistic and cohesive learning experience for the students.

4. Secondary Stage (4yrs)- ages 15-18 will cover classes IX to XII in two phases, IX and X in the first phase and XI and XII in the second phase. This is the most significant academic restructuring that prioritizes learners’ life aspirations by giving them greater flexibility and choice of subjects in deciding their career preferences at the secondary stage.

The NEP2020 talks of dissolving the silos of science, commerce and humanities streams on one hand and academic and vocational streams on the other, by offering wider and more flexible subject combinations to the learners. The NEP describes this stage as four years of multidisciplinary study, which means that if you wish to learn chemistry with geography, physics with economics, biology with history or mathematics with music you will be able to make such choices.

Implications for Schools: The 10+2 stage is currently characterized by stress and anxiety due to the pressure of Board exams being the gate-way for college admissions. The NEP 2020 hopes to mitigate this by providing a wider range of subjects at the Secondary level with flexible permutations and combinations for students to choose as per their interests, choices and career aspirations.

NEPs strong thrust on vocational education, is aimed at skilling Indian students for the job-opportunities in 21 st century work space. NEP 2020 hopes to give learners opportunities to build their repertoire of skills through industry-integrated, innovative vocational courses and entrepreneurial skills. For preparing their learners to work in the VUCA world, the schools could additionally develop in them 4Cs of 21 st century skills -Critical thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Creativity.

NEP allows students to take a sabbatical at the end of class X for exploring their choice of careers probably through apprenticeships/ internships and later rejoin school at class XI. The induction of older students rejoining the school after a gap year or two would alter the learning environment of these classes to more open, flexible, hybrid and professional models to learning.

The pedagogy of vocational courses requires replicating authentic work-place scenarios for experiential learning. The schools will have to invest to meet curricular, pedagogical and infrastructural requirements of vocational courses on the lines of successful vocational educational training (VET) models of UK, Germany and Australia. This would inter-alia make these courses popular and hike their demand among students. For schools this would also mean hiring professionals as part-time contractual faculties to help learners be trained by working professionals in the field.

Teacher Professional Development

Effective reorganization of classes into the new key-stages is not possible without capacity building of teachers in the recommended experiential, inter-disciplinary pedagogy. The schools would have to take teachers through a process of unlearning the traditional pedagogy to re-learn how to teach through the recommended experiential learning approaches that encourage observation, experimentation and critical thinking by learners and also draws upon their prior knowledge to make connections and learn. Teacher-learning will have to be more regular than occasional events during holidays. These will need to be organized as in-house discussions, demonstrations, micro-teachings and peer-reviews instead of lectures by experts or an occasional workshop. Teacher-Resource Centers should be set-up in every school to keep the focus constantly on quality of teaching-learning in the classroom. Teachers should be encouraged to research their own practices for reflection, review and self-assessment. They should be encouraged to present papers and publish their action-research at educational conventions to generate awareness and discussions on effective pedagogy.

In Conclusion

This National Policy of Education represents combined aspirations of millions of Indian educators collected, compiled, analyzed and encapsulated into this 66-page document. The blueprint for implementation of the NEP2020 in the school sector will be soon prepared by NCERT in the form of National Curriculum Framework-2021 and launched in the first half of 2021. However, the real responsibility of its implementation in our schools lies with each one of us, simply because for Inidan educators NEP is the blueprint of our work, our dreams and our aspirations. Failure to implement it will be our loss- the loss of a promising future that we could help our learners create for themselves!

(More provisions of NEP2020 will be discussed in the subsequent blogs by the author).

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.