Teaching and learning in the 21st century are filled with challenges and opportunities. Technological advances are affecting our lives in every sphere; information is available at the very touch of a button. Social media has permeated our children’s lives. In this transiting stage, teachers provide the foundation on which learners can build learning competence and futuristic skills to face the future.  In the audio-lingual and structural method, language acquisition was thought to occur through a process of habit formation like drills and repetition. In the 1960s however, Noam Chomsky’s theories of competence and performance in language learning gave rise to the communicative approach.  The focus was accorded to the use of language rather than the rules of grammar. In our country, new textbooks emerged, based on task-based activities for listening-speaking skills in addition to reading, writing and grammar.  Reading and listening are considered receptive skills as compared to the productive skills of speaking and writing. With time, however, language teaching came to be compartmentalized into silos of reading, writing, grammar, listening and speaking. 


NEP 2020 brings to our attention many of the lacunae in our pre-existing teaching-learning scenarios. It may be interesting to study some of its features in this respect:

A marked emphasis on conceptual understanding represents a  distinct moving away from rote learning and memorization.   The reading of static texts in the classroom, followed by simple comprehension questions seeking responses based on  ‘copying from the text’,  does not allow for cognitive development  Once the learner is released from imitation and mimicking, it provides space for the learner’s creativity and critical thinking skills to come to the fore.  Text material with exercises and activities that lead onto research, discovery, critical analysis, personalization may be more rewarding for the 21st-century learner.  For example, the textbook series Grow with Creative Skills provides a dialogue-filling activity based on the famous Canterville Ghost story by Oscar Wilde. Here the learner is expected to imagine and construct the dialogues when the ghost goes back to ghostland and describes the rude behavior meted out to him by the humans of the haunted castle. The task requires a learner to critically grasp the nuances of the reading text, and personalize it through her/his creative faculties. 

Flexible, multi-faceted, activity-based inquiry-method learning has been given due weight in NEP 2020. The takeaway from this points to a direction where distinctions between listening-speaking, reading-writing gives place to holistic learning and a cross-curricular approach.  In teacher-centered classrooms, the speaking skill as taught often has little authentic communicative value. It is generally limited to each student parroting a similar structure with a few words changed in each construction.  An interesting example of a multi-faceted approach may be cited once again from Grow with Creative Skills: First, the middle school learner is asked to follow a set of origami instructions to make a bird. Based on the given model, he writes his/her own origami instructions for the pictures provided of how to make a paper boat. In the third stage, the learner uses the help points given to write---  how s/he can put up an audio-visual presentation of making a paper boat for young learners.    Here the skills of comprehension, critical thinking, innovation,  communication and technological application become completely integrated towards definitive learning.

Communication skills, both speaking and writing, prepare the learner for their career goals outside the classroom.  It also equips them to fit into the social structure via the necessary life skills such as cooperation, teamwork, resilience.  Language learning becomes the vehicle for imparting ethics and human values too like empathy,  courtesy, the democratic spirit and scientific temper. In a global world gradually closing in through instantaneous interaction, respect for diversity has to be built into the English learners from an elementary level. Tasks, activities, images should be geared towards removing the biases inherent in the immediate environment.  The teacher should be particularly observant that gender, class,  caste and color stereotyping does not creep in unobserved.


Teamwork is an important skill that learners need to develop for their future careers. For teamwork to be effective, It is necessary to build up the skills of collaboration and responsibility. This also enables the teacher to undertake these activities without undue noise or confusion in the classroom.  Leadership roles can be inbuilt into these tasks with the teacher taking note that every student gets a chance to participate equally.


Indeed, with the quickly changing employment landscape and global ecosystem, it is becoming increasingly critical that children not only learn but more importantly learn how to learn. Education thus, must move towards less content, and more towards learning about how to think critically and solve problems, how to be creative and multidisciplinary, and how to innovate, adapt, and absorb new material in novel and changing fields. Pedagogy must evolve to make education more experiential, holistic, integrated, inquiry-driven, discovery-oriented, learner-centered, discussion-based, flexible, and, of course, enjoyable.”  NEP 2020.


ELT expert and author