Union Cabinet approval PM Shri Schools Scheme It comes at a time when the school education system is in disarray. Teachers seem stuck in a time warp after the pandemic, and children’s concerns are mounting as they shift to online classes during a public health emergency and then pivot to regular schooling. Confused school administrators and parents find it difficult to address learning gaps. Where do we go from here? Perhaps towards a pedagogy based on inclusive learning methods that incorporate activities, toys, art and projects and sports that are appropriate for professional learning.
The four National Curriculum Frameworks emphasize inquiry, creativity, innovation, problem solving, decision making and joyful learning. How will the NEP 2020 and the new NCF, which is likely to come into effect soon, differ from previous initiatives? Especially in weightage they correspond to the above aspects of classroom practice. 14,500 PM SHRI Schools can become agencies for change envisioned through new policies. But it requires commitment, hard work and progressive thinking. These schools need to find ways to reverse learning losses and ensure life outcomes that have a positive impact on the nation’s economy — especially in ways that the nation can use its demographic dividend. We need to find new ways to understand not just what children learn, but how they learn. In India, 250 million children are out of classrooms and many millions are in school, but unable to learn.
Hopefully, PM SHRI schools will attract big investments from the central and state governments, along with a special budget earmarked for upgrading their facilities. These schools promise to have all the elements of NEP. Each region has PM SHRI schools that handhold and mentor other schools in their vicinity. Students have access to a wide range of learning experiences, good physical infrastructure and adequate resources. A variety of teaching methods and assessment systems are used along with the introduction of vocational education. Linkages will be established with skill mentors and local industries to provide employment opportunities to students who graduate from these institutions. The schools are energy-efficient with natural farming patches that include rainwater harvesting systems and enable the study of traditional eco-friendly practices. Community and alumni participate in activities like career guidance and mentoring. Parents are also trained to become home guides. The school will become a community center after normal working hours and will join existing schemes including PM potion, comprehensive punishment and Ayushman Bharat.
If these “ideal” schools achieve even a quarter of their targets, they will make a significant difference to the country’s education sector. However, improving the quality of education is not only a challenging 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 poor learning. It is not easy to break them.
As a document, NEP 2020 is inspiring. However, if teachers are not motivated to work hard it will remain on paper. Currently, poor status, low salaries and inadequate working conditions prevent talented people from entering the profession. However good these “growing schools” may be, unless teachers are trained in the novel methods underlined in the NEP, they will not become meaningful centers of learning. We still don’t have enough institutes with the curriculum to train teachers for future schools.
Poor teaching is a product of systemic deficits that make the teaching profession unattractive to large numbers of gifted individuals. For PM SHRI schools to be successful, there must be a teacher training program to train teachers in the teaching methods proposed by the NEP. As for principals, there is a great crisis of leadership.
Perhaps, the next initiative of the government will be the “PM TRI” scheme — Teachers for Rising India.
The author is Chairperson & Executive Director of Education, Innovation and Training DLF Schools and Scholarship Programmes.