Approval by the Cabinet of the Union of the PM SHRI Schools Program comes at a time when the school system is in disarray. Teachers appear to be caught in a time warp post-pandemic and children’s anxieties are rising due to the shift to online classes during the public health emergency and then back to normal schooling. Confused school principals and parents struggle to close learning gaps. Where do we go from here? Perhaps towards a pedagogy based on activities, toys, art and projects and inclusive learning methods that integrate sport and give space to professional learning.
Four national curriculum frameworks emphasized inquiry, creativity, discovery, problem solving, decision making and joyful learning. How does the NEP 2020 and the new NCF that should soon come into play differ from previous initiatives? Essentially in the weighting they give to the above elements of classroom learning. The 14,500 PM SHRI schools could become the agencies of change envisioned by the new policies. But it will take commitment, hard work and progressive thinking. These schools will need to find ways to reverse learning losses and ensure life outcomes that positively impact the country’s economy, especially in how the country uses its demographic dividend. We need to find new ways to understand not only what children learn, but also how they learn. In India, 250 million children are out of school and several million are in school but unable to learn.
Hopefully, the PM SHRI schools will attract significant investment from the Center as well as state governments, apart from the separate budget allocated to them to upgrade their facilities. These schools promise to encompass all aspects of the NEP. Each region will have PM SHRI schools that will support and mentor other schools in their vicinity. A wide range of learning experiences, good physical infrastructure and appropriate resources will be available to students. A variety of pedagogies and assessment systems will be used alongside the introduction of vocational education. Links with skills advisors and local industry will be established to provide employment opportunities for students graduating from these institutions. The schools will be energy efficient with natural agricultural plots, they will be equipped with rainwater harvesting systems and will allow the study of traditional practices that respect the environment. The community and elders will be involved in activities such as career counseling and mentoring. Parents will also be trained to become in-home mentors. The school will become after-hours community centers and converge with existing programs including PM Poshan, Samagrah Shiksha and Ayushman Bharat.
If these “ideal” schools achieve even a quarter of their goals, they will make a significant difference to the educational landscape of the country. However, improving the quality of education is not only extremely difficult, but also an expensive proposition, especially in countries with large socio-economic gaps. Years of underinvestment in high quality teachers, training and resource materials have led to cycles of poor learning. Breaking them won’t be easy.
As a document, NEP 2020 is inspiring. However, it will remain on paper if teachers are not motivated to work hard. Currently, poor status, low pay and inadequate working conditions deter talented individuals from entering the profession. As good as these “rising schools” are, they will not become meaningful centers of learning unless teachers are trained in the new methodologies outlined in the NEP. We still do not have enough institutes with a program that trains teachers for the schools of the future.
Poor teaching is the product of systemic deficits that make the teaching profession unattractive to large numbers of talented people. For PM SHRI schools to be successful, a teacher training program must be in place to train educators in the teaching practices offered by the NEP. As far as principals are concerned, there is a great leadership crisis.
Perhaps the next initiative of the government should be a “PM TRI” program – Teachers for Rising India.
The author is President and Executive Director of Education, Innovation and Training DLF Schools and Scholarship Programs