Undergraduate Education Reforms for Meghalaya

By Sumarbin Umdor

“A major change introduced in the NEP 2020 is the extension of the scope and flexibility of the present Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) by allowing students to pursue UG courses in more than one core discipline (such as option of two major or one major and one minor) with other elective papers comprising of ability enhancement and skill courses.”

In the last few weeks, this column has carried a few articles on the New National Educational Policy (NEP) 2020. Continuing the discourse on this topic, in this article we take a closer look at some of the issues and challenges in implementing key provisions of NEP 2020 for the Under Graduate (UG) courses in Meghalaya. There are close to 80 thousand UG students in the State enrolled in about 80 colleges and other higher educational institutions, and improving the quality of education of this segment of our education system is of utmost important for progress of the State and the society.
The foundational pillars of the NEP 2020 are Access, Equity, Quality, Affordability and Accountability with special emphasis on the socially and economically disadvantaged groups, and it is aligned to the goal of quality education for all as per the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The new education policy has set a goal of universal access to education by raising the target of gross enrollment ratio (GER) across all levels of education (100 percent GER target for school education by 2030). It aims to address the deficiencies in learning outcomes by overhauling the existing curriculum and pedagogy along with changes in the educational governance structure. It seeks to replace the present education system with one that is learner centric, a curriculum that is less in content and more devoted to critical thinking and inquiry-based learning that will produce empowered students with skills and values suitable for the 21st century.
A major change introduced in the NEP 2020 is the extension of the scope and flexibility of the present Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) by allowing students to pursue UG courses in more than one core discipline (such as option of two major or one major and one minor) with other elective papers comprising of ability enhancement and skill courses. Further, it allows students multiple entry and exits options at the completion of every year (with appropriate degree) of the proposed 4-year programme with credit earned at each stage accumulating in the Academic Bank of Credit. The CBCS for UG courses was introduced by the Union Grants Commission (UGC) in 2016 to make higher education in the country more learner centric allowing students freedom to choose a core discipline with electives from other disciplines.
In Meghalaya, CBCS has not yet been adopted in the UG courses offered by colleges affiliated to the North Eastern Hill University (NEHU). Few years back colleges had shifted from the annual to semester (six month) session and accordingly the curriculum was revised. However, the whole exercise was undertaken in a perfunctory manner ignoring the UGC minimum course curriculum for CBCS. For example, the total number of core papers for UG (Honours) taught in our colleges is only eight along with six other elective papers as against 14 core papers and two discipline electives along with eight interdisciplinary electives as per UGC model curriculum. Further, currently the electives offered by colleges are restricted only to few combinations in the same stream of the core subject.
The adoption of CBCS for UG courses is therefore a first step that needs to be undertaken here in Meghalaya which is however not without its challenges. First is the issue of single stream colleges (there are quite a few even in Shillong) where subject combinations will be limited only to the same stream as offered by these colleges with no scope of making subject combination interdisciplinary. The increase in number of papers to be taught in each subject as per UGC guidelines (core and elective papers) will also be another challenge for colleges with limited number of teachers (many with only three full time teachers in a particular subject) and those running more than one session in a day (morning, day and evening in some cases).
Then there are colleges that have all the three streams of Arts, Commerce and Science but are not offering interdisciplinary electives to students. While it may not be possible to offer complete freedom for students to choose any combination of subject from all the three streams due to limitation of classrooms and other infrastructure, some relevant combinations across the three streams will have to be introduced to make the UG course in the state truly interdisciplinary.
An important feature of the NEP 2020 is the emphasis on skilling of young people by making vocation and skill courses as part of the curriculum starting at secondary schooling and continuing up to post graduation level. According to ‘The Future of Jobs Report 2020’ (World Economic Forum), by 2025 85 million of existing jobs may be lost and replaced by 97 million new jobs centered on wide range of skills from decision making and creativity, to social, emotional and technology skills. While skill courses are very much needed for our UG students, only few colleges (mostly in Shillong) are in a position to offer soft and technical skill courses. Skill courses will therefore have to be offered mainly through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) platform such as Swayam for which colleges will have to create the necessary ICT and related infrastructure.
Here the State government will have to step in and utilize the centrally funded Rashtriya Uchchattar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) fund to support colleges in creating an enabling infrastructure for students to have access to the online courses. In the long run, planning and coordination will be needed for creation of skill courses relevant for students of the State such as those related to hospitality and tourism sector, financial literacy, waste management, indigenous entrepreneurship, to name a few.
Another provision of the NEP 2020 is the four-year UG degrees with the fourth year devoted to research. In the present situation, there are only few departments in selected colleges that are in a position to guide students in research as they lack experienced faculty and infrastructure (laboratory, library) to undertake and guide research. A roadmap therefore needs to be prepared for a transition plan from the present three to a four UG programme in which initially leading colleges of the State are nurtured to evolve into teaching and research colleges, ultimately transitioning to fully autonomous degree awarding institutions as envisages in the new policy. One of such colleges can be identified as a future State University.
The new education policy also calls for adoption of continuous formative assessment that provides regular feedback to teachers to improve teaching and learning achievement during the process of instruction on the basis of evidence of student understanding and performance. This calls for a multi dimensional approach to assessment with equal emphasis on both formative and summative assessments. Colleges will have to shift to 50: 50 internal and external evaluation patterns to allow ample scope to teachers to use a range of tools such as projects, works, paper/seminars/poster presentation, group tasks, field work, and case studies as part of comprehensive assessment, as has been proposed by UGC committee on Evaluation Reforms in Higher Educational Institutions (2019). Awareness and training will be needed to orient teachers to the new assessment approach.
Next, we examine the NEP target to increase the GER in higher education to 50 percent by 2035. For Meghalaya, this will be a tall order to achieve given that the present ratio is only at 26.1 percent with that of the ST population at much lower percentage (23.6 percent) This would entail substantial increase in the capacity of existing colleges and also establishing new institutions particularly in the five educationally backward districts of the state namely East Garo Hills, Jaintia Hills, RiBhoi, South Garo Hills, West Khasi Hills (as on 2021).
The changes proposed in NEP 2020 will require a concerted effort and full support of the State government and NEHU (affiliating university in the state) in mentoring and building the capacities of our colleges so that they eventually emerge as autonomous institutions offering high quality education and conducting meaningful research. A suitable time frame will be needed to prepare colleges to implement the changes with strong mentorship and adequate financial support. Unfortunately, UG programmes in the State are not getting the required attention due to them considering their important role in deciding the future prospects of young people of the Sate. This calls for much more involvement of the State government through a council for higher education that will be responsible for planning, co-ordination and monitoring the development and maintenance of academic standard of our colleges and other higher education institution in the State.
(The writer teaches economics in NEHU)