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Notes on NEP (New Education Policy)

March 12, 2022

काव्यशास्त्र  विनोदेन  कालो
गच्छति  धीमताम
[The wise men would spend their time in learning poetry/ music, culture/
science or language]

व्यसनेन  च  मूर्खाणां, निद्रया,
कलहेन  वा||
[On the other hand, fools waste their time in bad habits, sleep or fights]

Does the wise man choose the arts because
he is wise, or does he become wise because
he chooses the arts? Do the arts educate?

Keeping these words in mind I want to look at the New Education Policy that proposes to have a large artistic footprint.

What is good about the New National Education Policy, 2020? It is undoubtedly an ambitious pan Indian overhaul, envisioned to cost up to 6% of India's GDP. It appears to be a body, mind and soul project. Celebrating interdisciplinarity, it employs digital and AI capacities in its template. This is a dimension that exponentially augments the possibilities of outreach, expansion of the imagination and evoking interest among syllabus creators, the teachers who will teach it and the children who will be covered under it, though policy makers and planners will need to be cognizant of the fact that the digital cover across India is uneven. The NEP aims to enhance skills, critical thinking and the matrix of values. Values feed into making a good human being and a better citizen. It is part of the soft aspects of nation building, which most development planning, even in India, tends to ignore. We are fortunate that within seven decades of the birth of the nation, we are getting a chance to address this aspect, once again. One of the most interesting aspects of the NEP is that STEM, Humanities, and the Arts find equal space in it. This stress on the arts has been formally and statutorily introduced for the first time, in such a well-considered and respectful manner.

The NEP provides us with an opportunity to look at the issue of arts in education through many a lens, including lenses not used before. I have two streams under which I would like to develop my argument of the lenses.
i) Introducing age-appropriate Arts awareness and learning for every class (AAAAL)

ii) Using of Arts as a segue (AAAS) into all subject learnings- language, history, geography, biology etc
A) In the first point of age-appropriate arts awareness and learning (AAAAL), we will need to carefully, creatively and imaginatively develop study material keeping the goal of good human being, better citizen and nation building in mind. At present there is an acute paucity of suitable material. To build a body of teaching tools, the already existing archival material from Doordarshan and CCRT may be trawled, to garner from their archives and digital collections, the best artistic examples, keeping the overall, age-appropriate design. These are assets that already belong to the government. I recommend going in for an imaginative, expansive interpretation of the dance curriculum rather than a tightly prescriptive one as the diversity of India will require things to be more flexible.

i) Care must be taken to avoid the following pitfalls-
1. Material must be age appropriate with the focus on the first age group on local. So instead of being prescriptive, ideas must be offered like the reflection of elements of nature around them (so songs and dances about the earth, sky etc), the environment and geographical forms around them (rivers, mountains, plains etc), shapes and patterns that they see - circle and square, straight line and curved lines in dance movements, animals and their movements. Local teachers will find local songs, dances, images etc to illustrate these points (It can be suggested how to go about it, but one pattern being suitable to all is far-fetched).

2. So the child can in the second phase move to the region and be made aware of the two ideas of culture - Culture with the big 'C' and culture with the small 'c'. Culture with a big C- represents that part of culture which is most visible. Some visible forms of culture include dance and music, festivals, holidays, art, popular culture, literature, and food. When learning about a new culture, the big C cultural elements would be discovered first; they are the most overt forms of culture. When you spell culture with a small c- it reflects the routine aspects of life, such as the things people know, believe, and do within a culture scape. It includes styles of communication, conceptions of time, and notions of beauty, goodness, and rightness. Normally the child at this stage is aware of the world around him and so a regional spread is a good idea. At this point, ideas of classical, folk, tribal, rural, urban can be introduced.

3. In the third stage, as we continue with the Local to global trajectory, the student can be introduced to learning an art of his/her choice - like classical music, dance, etc. This is a bit tricky since all schools and locations may not have that access to these more complex forms. Here we need to consider what is our agenda with the arts? Are we for instance trying to teach the student any of the eight classical dance forms? This is a troublesome thought by itself and will dilute the quality of excellence and complexity that Indian arts, particularly its dances are known for. So, to go back to the question of the agenda- I ask again, is it practice, appreciation or a "creative attitude" that we desire in our children? And to push with argument, I ask the second question, towards what end? To create a 'rasika', a 'kadardaan', a 'kalakar' (practitioner) or a 'srijnatmak' or creative being? Iwould like to take a moment here, to clarify what I see as the difference between a 'rasika' and a 'kadardaan'. A 'rasika' is deeply appreciative of the artistic experience, while a 'kadardaan' recognizes that if we were to be more child centric, the right question to ask is what is it that they desire? Here we have a lead contained in the thought that is behind the NEP - Joyful learning. So noting that reduced the quotient of joy should pollute the planning.

4. At the third stage it may benefit the child to be exposed to global arts. This is a suggestion that keeps the ideal of cultural intelligence in mind. Cultural intelligence is about tolerance, respect and understanding of another's culture. This is in keeping with India's ancient wisdom principle- "Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam". Here given the fact that it is hard to access good example of international cultures maybe we could look at being somewhat prescriptive and expose the students to a pre-planned arc of knowledge, using ideas like percussions from around the world, etc, that will not require them to navigate unfamiliar languages. We should look also of going beyond western centric arts.

5. Every effort must be made to get the teaching staff oriented to this brilliant idea. At present, most teachers are oriented towards a STEM dominant, rote learning inclined, marks-oriented form of teaching. They all need to be brought back on to the same page from where the NEP starts in its idealism and vision for incorporating the arts. Without the teachers this is a non-starter project, so we need to invest in training the trainers as urgently as we need to invest in the teaching material and the syllabus.

6. It is true that many artistes may find employment with the new demands that the NEP will create urgently, but not always is a good artiste a good teacher. So we need to think of ways of reverse bridging, how to get the artistes, oriented to the needs of formal school and educational pedagogy. This may require 'special short term training modules' for the artistes so that they can move from the individuality that sense of self ('swa' which gives us 'swara', 'swabhiman', etc) which the artiste requires to pursue an artistic career, and sacrifice it when taking on a school teacher's responsibility.
ii) My second suggestion of using arts as a segue into other subjects (AAAS), extends the idea of joyful learning into other disciplines. How interesting it would be to learn about the First War of Independence, 1857, by learning the popular folk songs of resistance. In fact, the history of songs from 1857-1947 is a wonderful way of following the time line. Let me take the example of the Indian national anthem, and look at how it describes the geography of India. A cursory glance of folk dances of the Himalayan region suggests the similarities between all hill people as the dances are slow, due to the exertion involved in mountains where the air is rarified. In the case of mathematics, Chandralekha's "Lilavati" (This recording is with Doordarshan) can be an excellent introduction into Bhaskaracharya's mathematical concepts. A fine way to introduce complex ideas and do away with ennui and boredom.

I don't believe for a moment that this is the final word on the NEP and what it can do. But it is a starting point. Better minds when they come together can grow these ideas bigger. All I wish to state in this note is that using the arts, dance, music or theatre, is a great way of segueing into dryer subjects like maths, biology, history and geography. The arts reflect ancient Indian wisdom. The arts have been used especially during the Bhakti period to convey messages of newer and different ideas, philosophies and ways of life. The arts make an effective communication tool and serve by themselves, due to their innate nature as a filter and catalyst for joyful learning.This is our big chance. Let us think big and see how we can maximize the use of dance- make it the 'nabhi', creative centre, of all learning.

Dr. Arshiya Sethi, trained in Kathak, has served as dance critic, commentator, institution builder for the arts, having created both tangible and intangible institutions and equities. She has been a Fulbright Arts Fellow (2003-2004) and a post doctoral Fulbright (2016-2017). Her doctoral work has been on the link between politics and dance in the case of Sattriya. She is presently working on the intersection of dance and activism / social justice through her NGO, Kri Foundation (estd. 2003), and has extended her academic work to Indian dance in the diaspora.

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