How does Sikkim's proposed Education Reform Commission aid students in the state?

How does Sikkim's proposed Education Reform Commission aid students in the state?

On July 29, 2020, the Union cabinet approved the National Education Policy, 2020 replacing the decades-long National Policy on Education, 1986. The policy was introduced with a vision to promote several changes in the Indian education system – from school to college level; be it the requisite understanding of education or how education is approached by the facilitators.

The New Education Policy is a comprehensive framework to guide the development of education in the country. The need for the policy was first felt in 1964 when congress MP Siddheshwar Prasad criticized the government for lacking a vision and philosophy for education. Under such circumstances, the first education policy was passed by the parliament in 1968. Usually, a new NEP comes along every few decades. India has had three to this date. The first came in 1968 and the second in 1986 under Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi respectively. The NEP of 1986 was revised in 1992 under the Prime Ministership of P V Narasimha Rao. The NEP 2020 is the ‘third major revamp of the framework of education’ released under the Prime Ministership of Narendra Modi.

“The policy is based on the pillars of access, equity, quality, affordability, accountability and will transform India into a vibrant knowledge hub,” tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi soon after the New Education Policy was unveiled.

Additional Chief Secretary of HRDD, G.P. Upadhyay says, “If you ask me, education is a subject matter of discussion. Everyone has their own opinions and views about it. Many people remark that the education is not good, the teachers are not doing properly and children who are coming out of the system are not good enough, which is not false though. But then if we observe properly, we are all product of the same system. So, is the system is not functioning properly? True. Is the system is completely useless though? No. Does the system require to be reformed? Yes.”

He further stated, “Every policy so far has contributed to the education system but with the passage of time, the need was felt for a new policy to be constituted that would take the children away from rote learning and help emphasize on conceptualized learning. There is a test known as PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) which is the largest international comparative study of education in the world and that aims to empower school leaders and teachers by providing them with evidence-based analysis for their student’s performance. It measures students’ knowledge, skills and competencies. Our country India had participated in PISA in 2009 where it stood 72nd among 73 countries. Our performance was quite low at that time. India is all set to participate again in PISA this year, after a gap of over a decade.”

“So, the need for NEP 2020 was being felt for a very long time and the policy took almost five years to become known. It was initiated in 2015 and being discussed at various levels. It was continuously refined and information was gathered and finally, now the policy has been issued.” 

NEP 2020 in Sikkim

Sikkim located in the northeastern part of the country in the eastern Himalayas is the second smallest state in India. This moderately populous state boasts concerning the seriousness of the state government towards the education sector as having awarded the highest priority to the sector by providing an outlay of almost 20% of the state’s budget and records having shown much progress, and exhibition of excellent performance by the students. Sikkim has revealed a significant increase in the literacy rate over the past years. As per the details from census 2011, the literacy rate in Sikkim stands at 82.20% whereas, in 2001, Sikkim stood at 68.82%. 

The education system in Sikkim is also cleaved into different ranks just as it stands for other Indian states – Primary school, Secondary school, College, University and Diploma / Degree / Certificate Professional courses.

The Chief Minister of Sikkim, Prem Singh Tamang on August 15, 2020, declared that the state government will initiate an education reform commission to siphon a comprehensive policy coinciding with the New Education Policy (NEP). After unfurling the Tricolor at Manan Bhawan on the episode of 74th Independence Day, he hailed the National Education Policy, approved by the Centre, saying it provides an overarching vision and comprehensive framework for both school and higher education sector.

“The state government will set up a Sikkim Education Reform commission to draw a comprehensive policy and strategy in line with the National Education Policy, 2020,” he remarked.

Upadhyay explained that the Sikkim Education Reform Commission is a vision of the state Chief Minister, Shri Prem Singh Golay. “He sensed the need for an apex level body which consists of people from various environments like the government, the academia and also some from the society to guide the department with reference to keeping a quality check and also in moulding the education scenario.”

He further added, “The state government has been very much supportive of the policy. Once the Education Reform Commission is constituted, it is expected to guide the department because generally, we might feel we’re doing good but a third person who is not involved in the department can enlighten us in the best means the areas that require refinement. The National Policy is enforced all across the Nation but Sikkim has some peculiar issues. So, the SERC will be completely focused on the issue related to Sikkim. The commission will be headed by the Chief Minister himself. We have the approval but the body is yet to be constituted.”

“The NEP (National Education Policy) 2020 has many elements which need to be implemented within a certain time-frame. For instance, the policy calls for foundational literacy and numeracy for the primary children which are to be attained by 2025. It also entails school complexes, which is a cluster of schools that will function as a complex. There they’ll share the resources and manpower including teachers. This is the chief recommendation. 

As of now, we have already started working on school complexes. So far, we have managed to construct around 109-110 clusters in which some clusters are big with 17-18 schools while some are small with 1 or 2 schools. We’re now trying to rationalize that. You see, it’s not just about having a group of schools but there are various minor ingredients that we are required to be acted upon. One of the major issues is; who will be heading the cluster? We cannot simply let anyone become the head. The person needs to be competent and intellectual enough to coordinate and direct the cluster.”

“We’ve also had consultation concerning the implementation of foundational literacy and numeracy for primary children. We have brought in the revised textbooks for classes 1 up to 5. 2020, we issued new textbooks for classes 1, 2 and 3. The revised textbooks for class 4 and 5 will be issued after the errors are rectified. We are yet to frame but currently our state Sikkim is going to be the first state to validate the policy.”

Change in Evaluation

The policy also focuses on reforms regarding examination and evaluation. According to the policy, board exams will be made easier testing, “primarily core capacities” rather than rote learning. Besides, NEP implements standardized school examination to be taken in grades 3, 5 and 8 to track the progress of education throughout school years rather than just at the end. Subjects like music and sports will not be considered “extra-curricular” but will be put on the same platform as other academic subjects as science and commerce.

Upadhyay states, “It will reform the way examination is conducted and evaluation is processed. A body called ‘Parakh” will be constituted which will work solely on the exam reforms. SCERT (State Council of Educational Research and Training), Sikkim is also a part of the body.” 

NEP for higher education

NEP is all set to overhaul the fragmented nature of India’s former higher education system and instead bring together higher education institutions into one large multidisciplinary university, colleges, HEI clusters or Knowledge hubs. All higher education institutions will be regulated through a common body known as the Higher Education Council of India.

Upadhyay states, “At present, every higher education institute is affiliated to a particular university. In such a case, a university single-handedly has to supervise, let’s say 60 colleges, or even more. Accordingly, with the new policy, this system of affiliation will be discontinued and each college will be strengthened so that they can award degrees and become an institution in itself. But having said that, the institution must tick mark all boxes under the criteria.”

He also said that the government also has several scholarships with various prototypes and requirements that aim to provide support to the children who come from poor family backgrounds where the parents/guardian cannot finance their education. “Many times, not all children eligible to receive the scholarship receive it and sometimes the given money isn’t enough. The scholarship demand is always more than supply. You see, financing education is already a big challenge for the government. There’s no doubt that there is a need for a more efficient process to administer the scholarships and many things are being refined. However, if it requires additional funds in the part of the students, we will find ways and means to help those who are truly in need of financial aid.” 

He suggests that once the higher educational institutes metamorphose into independent growth centres then they must acquire resources and devise a system via which they can create a pool of funds that will help the students who need the funds. He further states that each institute must identify and keep a record of such students to make the process of fund distribution fair and satisfactory for all.

He further stated “Prior to 1975, higher education was almost non-existent in Sikkim. The first college in Sikkim, Sikkim Government College Tadong, now known as NBBDC (Nar Bahadur Bhandari Degree College) was established in 1977. Since then, I believe we have come a long way. Even so, there are various issues related to the infrastructure which are definitely being addressed by the government. I’m very much sure soon none of the colleges will operate on rented apartments and they’ll all have their own premises. These are things that require a lot of money and time. It will take time, but the government intention is very clear concerning this.”

Reforming education for teachers

Upadhyay says that the policy not only aims to change the education scenario but also looks forward to improving the skills of those facilitating the education – the teachers. He goes on to explain that the two-year B.Ed. (bachelors of Education) and D.El.Ed (Diploma in Elementary Education) course will be discontinued and teacher’s education will be moved into multidisciplinary universities, and the minimum degree qualification for teaching will be a four-year integrated B.Ed. Institutions such as DIET (District Institute of Education and Training) previously offering (D.El.Ed.) will be offering short term refresher courses for the in-service teachers.

As per the policy, Furthermore, the National Council for Teacher Education is expected to come up with a framework for reforming the curriculum of teacher education. There is a possibility that this might curb the major problems of the absence of teachers from public schools and ensure quality education to the students.

The policy states that the teacher eligibility tests (TETs) will be strengthened to inculcate better test material and the scores of the same will be taken into account for recruitment purposes. Within this policy, the teachers are offered local, regional, state, national and international workshops as well as online teacher development module to sharpen their skills and knowledge. 

He further adds, “At present, the B.Ed. colleges across the country that have been initiated specifically by the private sectors with poor infrastructure, they will be shut down. And the B.Ed. degree which we are determined to offer will be along with a combination of courses. Various private B.Ed. colleges awarding the degree for money and not concentrating on the curriculum will be dismissed. We’ll ensure that we only have ethical and obligated B.Ed. Colleges in the state.” 

“I believe the policy has come at the appropriate time but education takes time. It is not that you do something today and tomorrow you get the result. It takes months and years of trial and errs. In order to see the impact of the New Education Policy, we all will at the least have to wait for two or three years and for the full impact we’ll have to wait almost a decade. Hence, the timeline is already given. I’m confident that the policy is going to do only good. I urge that we all should be really optimistic about the policy and endeavour to implement in full truth and honesty.” 

Nishant Chhetri, General Secretary of Sikkim University Student Association (SUSA) feels that the setting up of Sikkim Education Reform Commission is a welcoming initiative. He believes that a state like Sikkim should have a proper and well-established education commission wherein the bureaucrats of the concerned department must be visionary and solely dedicated to his duties. He suggests that the focus should be more towards vocational and technical courses and the commission should try and have its own State Board of Education with a full-fledged, well established Sikkim State University, with almost all the disciplines.

“The education fashion in Sikkim is quite monotonous with very few disciplines to pursue. Our state lacks a professional and technical course which needs to be explored more for future demands. The policy calls for an investment of more than 6% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in the education sector. This is a welcoming initiative but the prime focus of the concerned authorities should be towards “quality rather than quantity”. The education department, in particular, must try and maintain the teaching standards as per the rules pronounced in the policy. As a student, we have faced a lot of problems in the existing education system, especially in the Higher Education system. We have repeatedly witnessed the focus of the concerned department being deflected in various occasions. At present, the quality and the facility that is being delivered to the students are substandard and crummy. The student-teacher ratio is not justified. A lot of students lack the opportunity to pursue higher education, even if they wish for one. This isn’t because they lack the skill or proficiency but because Sikkim lacks its own higher education institutions”, said Chhetri.

He further added, “The New Education Policy has definitely garnered new concepts and curriculum as per the future needs nevertheless, I stress that the authorities now need to buckle up and fully work towards the implementation of the policy. If executed with utmost discipline and sincerity, NEP 2020 can become a revolution in the Education System of Sikkim. The policy has the potential to add more dimension in the existing monotonous education system of the state,” Chhetri stated.

He also said that the worldwide pandemic and subsequent lockdown has become an eye-opening experience for all of us. He advises that the government must also focus on the digitalization of the education system.

“NEP 2020 is ambitious in nature and can become “one-time solution” for many existing problems within the education system, but as said earlier it totally relies upon the execution. The autonomy of institutions, use of regional language, multi-dimensional course and unification of governing bodies can become a turning point. However, witnessing the current education scenario in Sikkim, the state will surely face a tough time implementing the policy, especially in the grass-root level. I do not believe that Sikkim is prepared enough to face these drastic changes that accompany NEP 2020. But, I do hope that someday we will see a completely new, well-established education in Sikkim.” 

By Mahima Grace Rai

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