From Basics to Brilliance: How India’s National Education Policy 2020 is Transforming Foundational Learning and Literacy


In a world that’s rapidly advancing through technological breakthroughs and dynamic shifts, where progress is marked by the relentless evolution of ideas, a country’s true strength doesn’t solely reside in its physical resources. Instead, it’s the intellect it cultivates, the minds it nurtures, that truly define its potential.  

The National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) stands as a guiding light amidst the landscape of transformative reforms, offering a path towards a more vibrant, prosperous, and knowledgeable India. At the core of this comprehensive blueprint for change lies a crucial element – foundational literacy and numeracy. Foundational Literacy and Numeracy are broadly conceptualized as a child’s ability to read basic texts and solve basic maths problems such as addition and subtraction. This becomes the foundation for all future learning upon which other skills are built.  

Offering Foundational Literacy and Numeracy programs to young children is a fair way to make education opportunities equal. Since India has achieved 100% of the Gross Enrolment Ratio at the Elementary Level, students will have greater advantages of these programs. Additionally, when students have a strong foundation, they are more likely to stay in school. This will also lead to sustainable improvement in higher grades.  

G20 Education Working Group 2023: A Global Commitment 

As nations grapple with the complexities of education in an interconnected world, the G20 Education Working Group has assumed a pivotal role in shaping the discourse around inclusive, equitable, relevant, and quality education. In 2023, this group has set its sights on a common goal – to ensure lifelong learning opportunities for all, with a paramount emphasis on foundational literacy and numeracy. The acknowledgment of foundational skills as the bedrock of future success underscores their pivotal role in building capable, confident, and competent citizens equipped with knowledge, skills, and attitudes to succeed in the 21st century. 

A Reality Check: Learning Outcomes in India 

Recent reports, including the National Achievement Survey 2021 and the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2022, have spotlighted a critical concern. The learning outcomes among Indian students from grades 3 to 10 have seen a concerning dip. As per ASER’s study in 2022, the pandemic has aggravated the existing reading ability gap in comparison to pre-2012 levels. It had forced the closure of schools for many months, and the challenge of a massive shift to digital learning delivery coupled and diluted all the efforts.  

The percentage of children in Std III in government or private schools who can read at Std II level dropped from 27.3% in 2018 to 20.5% in 2022. This decline is visible in every state and for children in both government and private schools. Further, the proportion of children enrolled in Std V in government or private schools who can at least read Std II level text fell from 50.5% in 2018 to 42.8% in 2022. Similar trends continue when it comes to basic mathematics like subtraction and division. The percentage of Class III students across India who can at least perform subtraction decreased from 28.2% in 2018 to 25.9% in 2022. Further, the percentage of Class V students who can divide has also decreased from 27.9% in 2018 to 25.6% in 2022. This revelation underscores the urgent need for recalibrating the education system’s priorities and strategies to ensure that no child is left behind in the pursuit of quality education. 


NEP 2020 and Aligned Initiatives: Paving the Path to Universal Foundational Literacy 

The National Education Policy 2020, a landmark reform in India’s educational landscape, places paramount importance on foundational literacy and numeracy. By setting an ambitious goal of achieving universal foundational literacy and numeracy in primary schools by 2025, the NEP 2020 signals a proactive commitment towards equipping every child with the tools they need to thrive in a knowledge-driven world.  

Recognizing the pivotal role that foundational skills play in national development; the Indian government launched the ‘National Initiative for Proficiency in Reading with Understanding and Numeracy’ (NIPUN) Bharat. This mission, aimed at nurturing a generation of students proficient in reading and numeracy, stands as a testament to India’s resolve to unlock its human capital’s full potential. NIPUN Bharat envisions a future where every child, regardless of their background, is equipped with the foundational skills that can pave the way for limitless possibilities. Guidelines for the NIPUN Bharat Mission have been meticulously developed to ensure a focused and effective implementation. The establishment of the National Steering Committee (NSC) further underscores the government’s commitment to transparency, accountability, and collaboration in this mission. 

A robust education system is not just about students; it’s about the educators who shape their minds. The Integrated Teacher Training Programme NISHTHA (National Initiative for School Heads’ and Teachers’ Holistic Advancement) recognizes the pivotal role of educators in this transformation. The program ensures that teachers and school leaders are equipped with the essential tools and knowledge, enabling them to act as agents of change. This empowerment enables them to drive educational reform at the grassroots level. 

Aligned with the NEP’s recommendations, the Vidya Pravesh program, a three-month play-based school preparation program for Grade-I children has been introduced. This initiative provides a nurturing environment for young minds, preparing them for a lifelong journey of learning. Vidya Pravesh program is an integral part of the NIPUN BHARAT Mission of the Government of India and is well aligned to the key competencies and the Learning Outcomes of Preschool 3 (Balvatika). 

In the digital age, technology has emerged as an indispensable tool for education. Understanding this, the DIKSHA platform has taken a leap by introducing a separate vertical for Foundational Literacy and Numeracy e-resources. This integration of technology and education serves as a testament to India’s commitment to staying abreast of modern advancements and employing them judiciously to enhance learning outcomes. 

Challenges and Way Forward 

The landscape of Foundational Literacy and Numeracy in India is marked by a series of challenges. The prevailing rote learning culture within the education system hampers critical thinking and genuine comprehension. Untrained teachers, particularly in utilizing technology platforms for remote learning, contribute to ineffective teaching practices. Overcrowded classrooms, limited infrastructure, and a scarcity of teaching aids diminish the quality of the learning environment. Furthermore, policy and governance frameworks lacking a data-driven approach hinder progress. 

To address these challenges, a multi-pronged approach is vital. Elevating the budget allocation for foundational learning initiatives is paramount to enhancing infrastructure, providing quality resources, and investing in teacher training. Emphasizing teacher professional development by imparting modern pedagogical methods, technology integration skills, and critical thinking strategies is essential. A parallel approach, blending foundational learning skills with 21st-century competencies, can equip students for contemporary challenges. Introducing high-quality children’s literature, involving parents, and fostering community engagement can promote holistic development. Additionally, embracing data-driven policy-making, responsible technology integration, and flexible learning pathways tailored to diverse needs can forge a strong foundation, empowering Indian students for lifelong success. 

–  Ashique Ali, Sr. Specialist (Secondary and Higher Education) ChildFund India

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