Schools have been at the heart of human development, enabling the evolution of modern and smart cities, transitioning from a farm-based economy to a knowledge society. There are positives and negatives about such a transformation, particularly when it happens in a relatively shorter period of about 20 years.
With the COVID pandemic outburst, the schools were shut down, the teaching-learning processes moved online, and the systems started to align with newer pedagogies.
While the schools have struggled to weather the storm with unused infrastructure, and have had to invest in technology or increase their spending on moving to the use of education technology, we also hear a lot about teachers getting laid off, facing salary cuts, or having had to cope with unpaid salaries. That has left a large pool of teachers unemployed. Additionally, they have had to retrain to align with a new paradigm in education that is strongly technology dependant: preparing for education in the ‘new normal’.
When the COVID times are over, the same schools would have to attract teachers back, if they have to continue delivering education.
One can understand the dilemma of most schools. Their only revenue is fee collection. I am referring to schools that are ethical and transparent. The teachers’ salaries and other expenses and overheads have to be incurred irrespective of the revenue.
The ministry and the departments of primary & secondary education impose fee restrictions to ensure that the parents can afford continuing to educate their children, albeit online. Some parents refuse to pay the fee or postpone fee payment. That’s okay, because parents have also come under economic pressures; they may have reduced incomes, lost jobs, facing cuts in pay, etc. Since online learning is prevalent now, they have to provide their children with laptops/devices and a stable internet connection. That is an additional investment. This puts additional financial pressure on the parents.
Every child in this country has the right to education, and it cannot be denied, as it is a fundamental right. So, my question is who will give the way?
Is it to make private school education survive? The NEP mentions that private schools should be run by philanthropic organisations. The NEP also outlines all the good ideas and best practices ought to be followed, which will mean additional investment, training the teachers, and retaining them. It is recommended that every such private, un-aided school is paired with a rural or semi-urban government school that is deprived of basic facilities and teachers. While many socially responsible schools already do it, I am not sure if all schools have the ability to do this.
The NEP also talks about gender equality. Yes, very much needed. In urban societies, the goal of achieving gender equality has progressed a lot. ‘Educating the Girl Child’ project has also made a positive impact.
Let us shift our focus to underprivileged areas, villages, hamlets, and tribal areas: the social problems of female foeticide, child marriages, early marriages, and many such issues of the social underpinnings of certain less fortunate parts of our socio-economic fabric. The NEP 2020, which is about inclusivity and universalisation of school education, and the ‘No child left behind’ policy, are all goals and societal aspirations that we will have to meet.
While I am very optimistic about the National Education Policy — as it makes a great read, is a fantastic work, and is a great collection of best practices that should be implemented — I believe it will never be easy at all. The plan is very well researched and comprehensive. This is the first time I have seen a policy accompanied by timelines.
Who will fund this? Will the Government fund it, or encourage a PPP model (complicated), or will it be ‘fend for yourselves’?
I hope there will be more details and announcements that will come forth to clear the grey areas. Let us look forward to it with… a little bit of optimism!