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The story so far: In a bid to integrate academic and vocational or skill-based education, Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan on October 19 unveiled the draft report on the National Credits Framework (NCrF) and invited nationwide public consultations and suggestions on the proposed educational credits system.
‘NCrF would be a game changer by opening numerous options for further progression of students and inter-mingling of school and higher education with vocational education and experiential learning, thus mainstreaming skilling and vocational education," Mr. Pradhan said.
He appealed to all educational and technical institutions and regulatory authorities to host public consultations on the NCrF on their website to seek suggestions from citizens, who can also send suggestions to the Ministry till November 30.
Academic credits are a recognition that a student/learner has completed a course or unit of learning that corresponds to a qualification at a given level. Credits quantify the outcomes of learning. In a credit-based education system, a stipulated amount of credits based either on the number of hours of learning or student workload are required to progress from one level to another, subject to assessments such as examinations. For instance, 20 credits are required to complete a semester along with passing exams.
While there is currently no established credit mechanism for regular school education in India, there is a credit system under the open schooling system and a Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) for higher education. In order to “seamlessly integrate” the credits earned through school education, higher education and vocational & skill education, the Centre has drafted the National Credits Framework (NCrF) as an “inclusive umbrella Framework” under the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020.
The Credits Framework also aims to democratise education by enabling learners to earn credits not just through academic education or classroom learning but through co-curriculars, extracurriculars, vocational learning, online or distance learning, recognition of prior learning, and informal learning.
The draft document states that the total learning hours of the student could be creditised and no form of learning would remain unaccounted for; it may include:
The NCrF proposes the alignment of notional learning hours—the number of hours a student will spend to achieve a particular learning outcome across academic classes including preschool, school and higher education.
It proposes that a learner, from class five to doctorate education, should spend 1200 notional learning hours every year in order to earn 40 credits, which, at the school level would mean 600 hours and 20 credits per semester. From preschool up to grade 5, the learning hours would range from 800 to 1000 hours. From grade 5 onwards, 30 notional learning hours would be counted as one credit. The learner would also be able to earn more than 40 credits in a year if they partake in any additional program/course beyond the prescribed 1200 learning hours or beyond the purview of the course syllabus.
Based on the number of years of learning along with assessment, the NCrF prescribes eight credit levels in schooling till higher education. Under this framework, reaching grade 5 would mean the student is at credit level 1, grade 8 would be level 2, grade 10 level 3 and so on. Levels for three and four-year undergraduate courses would be 5.5 and 6 respectively, and the highest level or level 8 would be assigned upon obtaining a PhD.
Notably, credits and credit levels will be assigned uniformly between different areas of learning, i.e. arts and sciences, vocational and academic streams, and curricular and extra-curricular.
As for vocational education, training, and skilling, while the credit levels, learning hours and credits earned in a year remain the same, the forms of learning that nets credits changes. For instance, at credit level 1 of vocational education, a learner without any formal education or prior experience would need to spend 150 to 210 hours in a short-term training programme [theory, practical, and on-the-job training (OTJ)] program or 600 hours in an apprenticeship program. At level 3, a learner would need to be either in grade 9 of formal education or have passed grade 8 with one year of experience in that skill.
Similarly, assignment of credits has also been prescribed for other forms of learning such as online learning, open or distance learning, blended learning, and also for relevant work experience and proficiency in a vocational skill. The NCrF will encompass all the National Qualification Frameworks that determine qualification levels in skill-based, school, and Higher education- National Higher Education Qualification Framework (NHEQF), National Skills Qualification Framework (NSQF) and National School Education Qualification Framework (NSEQF).
All the credits earned by a learner through all the forms, streams, and levels of learning would be stored in the Academic Bank of Credits (ABC), which was introduced earlier this year just for higher education purposes. The ABC would be a digital repository of all credits earned by a student. When introduced for higher education recently, the ABC was envisioned to enable the transfer of credits across higher education institutions. For instance, if a student pursuing a degree in one college wanted to pursue another elective or course simultaneously in another college, their credits would be universal.
Since the ABC would be extended to all forms of learning, it would store credits earned from formal education, vocational education, distance or online education, informal education, internships, and other credited activities, which would create a formal system of credit recognition, credit accumulation, credit transfer, and credit redemption in order to promote distributed and flexible teaching and learning. The credits stored in the ABC would also be useful to a learner who wants to exit the education ecosystem mid-course or degree and use the stored credits to re-enter later.
The multiplication of credits earned with the NCrF credit level will provide the value of credit points a learner has, which can then be redeemed from the ABC while starting a course at any academic or vocational institute.
While launching the draft NCrF, the Education Minister said about the ABC: “An Aadhaar-enabled student registration will take place. After student registration, an ABC account will be opened. The deposit of degree and credits will take place in those accounts. There will be a knowledge locker along the lines of DigiLocker.”
The NCrF aims to blur the lines or remove the “hard separation” between curricular, extracurricular, or co-curricular, among arts, commerce, and sciences, or between vocational or academic streams.
The draft states that learning is a process that takes into account multiple dimensions of “cognitive, emotional, social and physical learning” and for holistic learning, students should be allowed to “choose subjects according to their interests irrespective of the nature of the course (academic or vocational)”. For this purpose, it urges educational institutions or regulators to form new curricula that allow for actual choice-based multidisciplinary learning, where a student has the ability to design their own course structure. For example, a learner in the science stream has the option of taking multiple humanities electives or courses and earning an equal number of credits.
One of the main objectives of the NCrF is to bring skilling and vocational learning to the mainstream, by creating equivalence of a vocational education and skilling program with general education programs with or without any additional academic learning.
There are occasions when learners pursue alternative schooling, home-schooling, or online schooling or have to give up their education mid-way for various reasons. The national credit framework will act as an enabler in this regard and regulators shall be required to define the entry and exit criteria of the programs being offered by them.
For example, a 5th-grade student with total accumulated credit points of 200 over the years and undertaking certain bridge courses is eligible to appear for 8th class exams.Once the student clears it, he will be counted as a grade 8th pass and can continue with 9th grade onward through mainstream education.
The NCrF system also supports educational acceleration for students with gifted learning abilities and recognition of prior learning for the workforce that has acquired knowledge and skills informally through traditional family inheritance, work experience or other methods.
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