The recently released draft National Education Policy (NEP) kicked off a political storm when it proposed a three-language formula across the country, with Hindi as one of the languages. The report was subsequently modified under pressure from the southern states, to give state governments the authority to identify the languages. However, the language policy was not meant to impose, but to sharpen the faculties of children, says Dr K Kasturirangan, former Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), who led the team that authored the draft report.
What was the thinking behind such a major overhaul of education?
The fact is that this policy comes after 25 years. Much has changed both in India and also globally on various aspects - social, economic, industrial, technological, cultural. And then there is this question of technology development internationally which was not a part of the consideration in the context of the various education policies and is a very important component of every national and international endeavour, including for education. Then there is this question of the fourth industrial revolution that is around the corner and lot of industrial technologies and business requirements have come up. A good society addresses in advance these questions in a developing country, in this fast moving world, to be an economic power and lastly, of course, it is about sustainable development as we being part of the global community, and part of the United Nations, we should make sure that our education is aligned with the outcomes expected of us, as per the sustainable development goals.
What do you think are the major challenges to implementing this because far reaching changes have been suggested which involve huge investments and quality human resource deployment?
Challenges…as you know, we have a very transformational agenda for school education. Then we have undergraduate education which we want to overhaul along with higher education. We have to strengthen not only the quality of higher education, but also make sure we have a strong research component. We have addressed this in the context of creating a National Research Foundation, and to top it all, we need a governance system which is not exactly what we have currently. We need to restructure the system so that the new policy is brought to fruition through a structure which makes it possible. They are bound to pose challenges in terms of type of restructuring the governance it involves.
The university system has to undergo changes in the way we bring in autonomy in the financial, administrative and academic areas and then we have to change the current curricula and pedagogy at the undergraduate level, integrating conventional mainstream education - science, engineering and other professional courses along with liberal arts, humanities and social sciences and so on …so that is going to be an integration of multiple disciplines, an integration of coherent force, curricula and the corresponding pedagogy. Although we have done remarkably well on school education over the years, there are areas that need serious correction.
Realistically, how much time do you think all of this will require?
We have put a 10-year time-frame to carry this out in its totality. There are two reasons: one is that it needs time for one system to evolve into another system in a graded fashion. Number two, we need to invest money into these and that kind of a resource we need to build up over a 10-year period till the operation of the policy on the ground. You need to do it in a phased manner. At the same time we need the capabilities to carry out this policy direction on the ground, like how do you evaluate students, train examiners, and things of that kind. So there are a whole lot of changes we need to bring in. We need 10 years and then provide another 10 years to see the direction it’s going in and if necessary, fine-tune the policy.
The report speaks of multilingual education in many places. Why this stress on languages?
Good point. I think that language as perceived in the few days that this document has been in the public domain, people have picked up the three-language formula. If you look at the section in the document, this is not the purpose at all. First and foremost let me tell you that there are several dimensions to languages. In a plural society there is a richness related to regional languages, the local languages, classical languages as well as modern languages. The importance of language learning is fundamental - you need language to communicate. The second thing is if you have language you can communicate a culture. It brings a healthy view of culture. The third thing has a scientific basis, between age 3 and age 8, 85 per cent of the child’s brain develops, sufficient for the child to have the ability to learn many languages. Of the three languages, one can be the mother tongue, the second can be the local language and learning to read, write and speak some more languages can stimulate the part of the brain that deals with languages and stimulate the neural networks in the area, you try to make sure that the tissues in the area grow faster. If you learn more languages, it will impact the growth of the brain.
But many children resent the fact that they have to learn so many languages
Language can be made into a joyful experience as far as learning is concerned. The section in the report dedicates a paragraph to bringing in joy in learning. I think we need to change the strategy, the pedagogy finally and correspondingly, the curriculum, to make sure that learning becomes a joyful experience.
Generally we observe that the vision of a policy does not get translated completely at ground level, where implementation is in the hands of people who do not get the importance of it
I quite agree. Firstly, we must have a massive programme of awareness, and also a system to create this kind of a capability. We need to pursue this with a missionary zeal in coming years. I think it is possible for a country that has put a spacecraft on the moon and is now thinking of putting a human being in space. It is certainly a very challenging task but not impossible. We have to work in cohesion, so many different streams have to come together to take this document from a dream to a ground reality.
There is great emphasis on the liberal arts…what prompted this?
In the modern era, we live in an era where we should know more and more about the multiple dimensions of a knowledge system. Today undergraduate studies are all restricted to some domain knowledge. The knowledge we want in the current context is for you to have knowledge to comprehend broader aspects of national and international endeavours including professions and jobs in the fast changing scenario that you are facing. Then you can have the ability to understand, comprehend and ally and come to the right choices. The broad spectrum of knowledge provides you with the capability and encompasses art, craft, mathematics, humanities, and social sciences.
The broader scenario of undergraduate education where you try to learn and integrate knowledge of liberal education …the first and second year well focused…less in the third and fourth years, it is a four-year undergraduate course. Then over that you build up something of your interest.
For example, you want to be a physicist; you do a major in Physics. And also if you want to have one more major, say in Mathematics, and you can have a minor which is more related to philosophy in a liberal context. These are the kind of choices, and sensibility in choices, that education will provide, so you have the ability to scan the whole spectrum to make creative choices between different subjects. This is the essence of liberal education. The idea ultimately is that you are able to make a flexible choice depending on your location, jobs, and things of that kind.
The second point I want to stress on is that in four-year undergraduate education, the first year if you want to bridge the education at that point in time, you need to have some basic knowledge about some vocation or profession. If you want to quit, you quit with a certificate, or you can get a diploma after the second year. In the third year you quit with a degree and the fourth year you finish with research or honours. In this kind of system, in your later years, you can continue your studies; you can come back and complete your studies. If you have quit in the second year, you can come back to the second year later. This gives flexibility and entry availability at different points.
There is a challenge here and it is not from the system. It is from the parent community that puts pressure on children to focus on academics. Unless this changes, implementation of proposals with respect to arts and languages will be difficult.
I see that there are more and more reasons to take a community based approach, decentralised in some way, so that it does not become a unilateral decision making system. We want the community to help you. Certainly the parents are responsible. We want the parents to help you, the media to help you, the intellectuals and local leaders to help you.
- News Research Department