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The road ahead with NEP 2020

Srishti Paliwal

Research and Design Consultant

The National Education Policy 2020 has set an ambitious goal of achieving universal foundational literacy and numeracy for primary school children by 2025. This means that by the time children reach grade 3, they will be able to read a grade 3 language textbook and attain basic addition and subtraction skills.

The average performance of grade 3 students in the National Achievement Survey (NAS) assessments of 2017 for language, math and EVS was 65%. For grade 5, grade 8 and grade 10, the average performance was 55%, 46% and 38% respectively. NAS findings also state that one in three students in grade 3 cannot read small text with comprehension and one in two students in grade 3 cannot use math to solve daily life problems. This is the learning crisis that the new goal aims to solve.

The NEP 2020 document hints at an increase in education expenditure to 6% of the GDP, however, this financial impetus cannot alone fuel progress. We need a unified emphasis on country-wide implementation and data monitoring practices.

Simple Education Foundation has been working with primary government schools in Delhi for the last 4 years in an effort to build sustainable teaching and learning practices. The organisation believes that building the capacity of existing teachers and principals to lead transformational classrooms and schools is the only way to improve public education. The schools supported by SEF have consistently shown remarkable growth in foundational numeracy and literacy in the last few years. Every year, more children are able to read closer to their grade level and do basic mathematical operations.

The road to growth was laden with systemic challenges that the SEF school teams faced in early years of intervention. One can safely extrapolate these challenges to most government schools in the country.

  1. The ‘Illusion of learning’: The goal of learning and teaching was syllabus completion and a complete notebook was an indicator of learning. Children who could not read basic words but had ‘completed notebooks’ were thought to have acquired learning.

  2. Lack of data driven instruction: School assessments tested factual knowledge, not skills and marks obtained by students were not used to adapt instructional practices. This spelled a moot case for assessments whose actual role is to inform teaching practices. So even if 50% of the class scored low in basic addition, the teacher would continue to teach carry-over without remediating.

  3. Teachers did not possess the required knowledge, skills and mindsets to identify learning gaps, and neither could they adapt their pedagogy to bridge it.

  4. There was a lack of leadership and no one was held accountable for learning outcomes.

  5. Schools lacked adequate teaching and learning material and other resources to bridge the learning gap.

SEF school teams began solving these problems with a five prong approach which was rooted in trust. Two core possibilities emerge from SEF’s work. One, all teachers and principals want to feel successful and want to see all their children learn. Two, it is possible to accelerate acquisition of basic reading, writing and math skills with the same teachers, principals and the same government school ecosystem in a short span of time. This is however, contingent on the accessibility of relevant support and quality teaching materials.

With SEF’s school support model as a case in point, we can extrapolate several practices that, if implemented by states, can guarantee accelerated learning growth.

  1. Establish teacher and principal mentoring support structures such that they get twice a month on-ground, one-on-one skill and managerial support. This must be relevant to their classroom and school context. Facilitate a community of learning to share best practices.

  2. Basic literacy and numeracy programs must be continuous from grade 1 to grade 5 every year and tailored as per every child’s learning need. A grade 5 student might need support in reading 3 letter words but a grade 2 child might need support in reading paragraphs. Teachers hence, must be trained to provide differentiated instruction

  3. Foundational literacy and numeracy assessments should be conducted every year as third-party benchmark assessments and learning data be made available for public disclosure. Every school receives a report on their yearly progress on student foundational learning. Without a focus on assessments and data, this goal will struggle to create authentic impact

  4. Ensure adequate hands-on teaching and learning material available for teachers along with a facility to print worksheets in school and a functioning computer with wifi connection.

This is the first time in 30 years that foundational learning has been given priority in policy. While it is a much lauded goal on paper, the next step is to ensure that we are ready to implement sustainable practices, collect learning data and hold accountability to achieve universal foundational learning.

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