India woke up to an announcement of sudden lockdown on March 24, 2020 just around the same time as the rest of the world (including USA and UK). All educational Institutions closed down in India while in some cases it was viewed as an advanced announcement of summer vacation before academic year completion, in others there was a lot of confusion about when to conduct end year examinations. The CBSE issued circular 34/ 2020 on May 14 th that included a framework and guidelines for conducting end year examinations. Following this, the NEP was launched on the 29 th of July 2020 by the honourable prime minister. This included several learning reforms and support programmes that were then enhanced and renewed again in 2021.
Today, I wanted to recap the last year of my academic journey and analyse the success and failure of NEP in 10 CBSE board recognised schools – including DPS (3 schools with a student strength of more than 15,000), and Pallavi (7 schools with a student strength of more than 14,000) schools – at Hyderabad, Telangana, India.
On March 25 th an emergency meeting of all the heads of the above-mentioned institutions was conducted, and all the IT professionals were alerted to pool resources to support the needs of remote instruction. Teams were tasked with identifying the best remote communication platforms (in addition to the platform such as Microsoft Teams and Google Meet that we were already using), mechanisms for dissemination of learning material, conduct of online quiz programmes, and technical and other support for remote parents and students. The three DPS schools had an advantage, because they cater to students whose parents come from a higher economic strata, while the seven Pallavi schools cater to students whose parents come from a mostly middle and lower economic strata. The joint team was also tasked with identifying plans that would work for all students across these 10 schools and socio-economic backgrounds.
That was the beginning of a transformation of teaching and learning, and the expectation was that we will complete the annual calendar year using a phased introduction of online classes through Teacher, Parent, Student orientations. The entire IT department was asked to use free online and a homegrown ERP portal to manage results, report cards, circulars and messages to parents, following which we transitioned to the paid version of best available platforms such as Google and Microsoft classrooms.
Several offers of support arrived from various IT companies and educational business portals. The CBSE, NCERT and Ministry of Education, Govt.of India soon announced several easy support learning materials and launched CBSE help lines. This included DIKSHA, training programmes for competency-based education, student support learning platforms like Swayam, and NPTEL online courses to enhance the online transformation.
In this article, I would like to list a few programmes that were implemented successfully during the 2020 and 2021 academic years. Firstly, we implemented several programs for our faculty leaders that included continuous facilitation programmes for principals and teachers. These included programs from CBSE and NCERT along with our own research programs, and were highly successful in keeping our faculty leaders engaged, and boosting their morale.
The second initiative was reaching to most of our students with/ without internet connections in urban and rural areas using mobile phones and mass media. We actively pursued one-on-one contacts, support for flexible timings, and leveraging CBSE recommended portals of Radio and TV channels. Finally, we pursued a collaborative approach to developing engaging learning material, worksheets, and assessments. We also ensured the integration of Physical Education, Art, Music and Dance along with the subjects, and also focused heavily on balancing the mental, physical, social and emotional issues. This collaborative approach resulted in a high degree of satisfaction for parents, students and teachers, and our projects such as Chitram (at DPS) received multiple accolades and were shared with other schools too. The fact that we were able to include the history of dance and music, and their integration with Maths, and social and science projects was widely appreciated.
We ensured that we leveraged local language wherever possible, and the use of story as a means for education along with a human library of science projects at the national level (agriculture weather predictions for seeds and sowing) and received strong appreciation for this approach. Our Preprimary student assessments leveraged parental involvement and this was a big hit with parents. As one instance of a success story, all four of our special needs children from Nadergul DPS, who took farming as a subject of skill, have appeared for class X and are sure to pass in flying colours.
Additionally, we included in the curriculum practical topics such as the development of personal savings and financial investment to all students in grades 9 and 10. We initiatied a Happiness curriculum in the form of stories for students, Yoga for parents, grandparents and students. We heavily leveraged peer educators, Pallavi and DPS warriors/ crusaders, parents and students’ groups, IPS officers, ‘She’ groups, Child rights activists, social service groups of parents, IT professionals, VIHE, to ensure that we could use all available resources available to us.
To keep up with issues of emotional and mental health such as aggressiveness, tantrums, anger management, emotional outbursts, teenage issues - students, teachers and parents were constantly provided support from counsellors. We also developed learnings from my involvement with the CBSE help line. As a result, the Academic year 2020-21 became an “ACTION PACKED” Year for management, leaders, staff and students.
I also want to discuss some observations about NEP 2020 that are still under progress and need additional review. The digital divide and learning gaps, despite all efforts by private organizations like ours (highly progressive), need to be seriously reviewed and systematized. There is an emerging area of research in this space all over the world that also seconds our observations (made in NCEE and OECD talks, webinars etc), and needs to be used to develop appropriate reforms and bridge courses for the 2021-22’ session.
We also need to focus aggressively on providing equity to support the inclusion of special needs families. In an economically strapped state like Telangana where special needs and divyangans (due to consanguine marriages) are prevalent, peer, voluntary parent and neighbour groups need to be closely involved in developing any solution.
I also want to especially callout the Teacher community that had to survive the onslaught of pressure, develop a new understanding of technology, had to transition to working from home, all while dealing with deferred salary payments or reduced salaries despite the work load. They have provided yeoman’s service during this period while making a transition into this online world with MOOCs, and remote education. Several new initiatives to support the growth of the teacher community need to be developed and reinforced.
Though NEP advocates and reinforces a bilingual education policy, in Hyderabad and other places, use of the regional language is deeply unpopular even for Pre-primary students. Parents disapprove of schools that do not prepare students for competitive examinations. There are still several large technology gaps, especially for first generation learners and several tools for bringing them at par with other students are required. The cost of online platforms needs to controlled, and the major distractions of the online world with the extensive use of electronics need strict monitoring and adherence.
Lessons from the CBSE help line and Manodarpan counselling made me realise that during this period of the pandemic, students in rural areas experienced severe learning gaps and a widening digital divide. While the Atmanirbhar yojana became popular, there is very little information on the actual gains accomplished.
I was really very happy to hear and see the launch of AI for all, SAFAL, and inclusion of sign language. I am also very interested in developing novel skill orientation programs that include help from mature workers like those from encore.org. However, all the new initiatives need a lot of orientation for parents and students to accept and gain momentum.
Despite all these challenges, for the first time in my 30yrs of teaching and academic life, I have seen changes happening at a super-fast pace in the field of education. I really look forward to the realization of these policies towards the advancement of universalization of education.
Dr. SUDHA TURAGA
Mrs.T . Sudha
Director DPS and Pallavi Educational Institutions Voluntary Counsellor Manodarpan and CBSE