For a holistic curriculum

Print edition : July 01, 2005

The recommendations in the draft National Curriculum Framework 2005 of the NCERT seek to refresh the country's education system and also undo the damage done by the previous government under the guise of textbook revision.

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI in New Delhi

Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh releasing the Seventh All-India School Education Survey report at the meeting of the Central Advisory Board of Education in New Delhi on June 7. He is flanked by Union Minister for Tribal Affairs and Development of North East Region P.R. Kyndiah and Minister for Social Justice Meira Kumar.-ANU PUSHKARNA

THE National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and its National Curriculum Framework (NCF) 2000 were subjects of controversy during the tenure of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. The document, brought out by the NCERT, under the aegis of the Human Resource Development Ministry headed by Murli Manohar Joshi, was aimed ostensibly at reducing the burden of learning on children. But what it did was recommend a rewriting of social science textbooks, primarily history. The rectification process, driven by the zeal of cultural nationalism, saw the virtual withdrawal of history textbooks authored by widely acclaimed historians for the simple reason that they were not ideologically compatible with the views of the then ruling dispensation.

NCF 2000 first provided the broad framework for the dilution of history by making it a part of an integrated social science scheme and then facilitated the removal of "objectionable" textbooks from the syllabi altogether by making the reduction of burden its leit motif. NCF 2000 stated: "In order to make the social sciences education meaningful, relevant and effective, the concerns and issues of the contemporary world need to be kept in forefront. To this end, the quantum of history may have to be substantially reduced."

But with the change of power at the Centre last year, a new NCF has emerged. Union HRD Minister Arjun Singh had wanted a revision of the NCF document on the basis of the 1993 seminal report "Learning without Burden". In July 2004, the executive committee of the NCERT decided to revise the existing NCF. A steering committee consisting of 21 national focus groups and headed by eminent educationist Professor Yash Pal was set up. After going through a process of nationwide consultations, seminars at the five NCERT regional centres and a national conference of rural teachers, and after eliciting public opinion, it came up with the new NCF draft.

NCF 2005 is a document that bases itself, before anything else, on the constitutional vision of India as a secular, egalitarian and pluralistic society founded on the values of social justice and equality. Therein lies its strength and conviction. The aims of education are identified within this broad framework.

Like its predecessor report, it focusses on reducing the burden of learning but its approach is vastly different. Its vision is not limited to reducing the content of education. It reflects a deep understanding of what constitutes India today, and the reasons for the vast inequities and resuscitates the role of education as an instrument of social change. The solutions it offers are inclusive of the socio-economic and political realities.

According to the document, the high dropout rate not only is a symptom of bad pedagogy but raises a question of larger political will to ensure the retention of children and make education equitable from the elementary stage itself. It is critical, too, of the piecemeal approaches of earlier governments to the educational needs of the people, especially of the poor.

There are essentially four guiding principles in the new NCF document: connecting knowledge to life outside the school; ensuring that learning shifts from rote methods; enriching the curriculum so that it goes beyond textbooks; and making examinations more flexible and integrating them with classroom life.

Knowledge is distinct from information and the child constructs knowledge based on his or her creative experience. Recognising that activity is at the centre of a child's world, the NCF recommends that every resource must be deployed to enable children to express ideas, handle objects, explore their natural and social milieus and grow up healthily. It calls for systemic reforms especially if the child's classroom knowledge requires him/her to construct on that knowledge.

Vigyan Bhavan after ABVP members tried to disrupt the CABE meeting.-SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY

The document's approach to reducing the burden of learning is rather radical. Rather than resort to a hacking down of content and textbook material, NCF 2005 suggests what it calls the "softening of subject boundaries" so that children get a taste of integrated knowledge and the joy of understanding. Plurality of textbooks that incorporate local knowledge and traditional skills is what is stressed upon.

In the case of language study, there is a renewed attempt to implement the three-language formula in a bid to preserve the multilingual character of Indian society while acquiring proficiency in English. The mother tongue, including some tribal languages, has been recognised as the best medium of instruction.

Structural changes have been envisaged in the curricular framework, which will eventually form the basis for textbooks and syllabi in the future. Therefore, certain paradigm shifts have been made, not merely to reduce the burden on schoolchildren but to ensure the inclusion of all hitherto left-out groups. For instance, in social sciences, the NCF attaches paramount importance to gender justice and sensitivity towards tribal, Dalit and minority issues.

The NCF's most significant statement is that civics should be recast as political science and the significance of history as a shaping influence in the child's concept of the past and civic identity should be recognised. It says: "The tendency to treat the social sciences as being less important or challenging than the natural sciences or mathematics needs to be questioned."

The stress is not without a context. It has been observed that there is an increasing tendency to denigrate social sciences as a career option and students, owing to peer, family and career pressures, opt for the natural sciences. It is as though the choices are being dictated by the market.

The NCF document explains why the study of social sciences is important. It says: "The social sciences carry a normative responsibility to create and widen the popular base for peace-oriented human values, such as freedom, justice and respect for diversity." The teaching of social sciences should be aimed at investing moral and mental energy, which enables the child to think independently and deal with the social forces that threaten these values without losing his/her individuality. This would also involve a critical reflection of social issues in a non-coercive and participatory mode.

There is a paradigm shift as far as teaching is concerned. The NCF strongly feels that an interactive approach in the teaching of work would be desirable as opposed to an instructional one. It envisions the participation of "out of school" agencies who would provide "work benches" for children. This would not only inculcate a healthy attitude towards all kinds of occupation but also enhance the overall skills of children across the board and instil respect for all kinds of work. Egalitarian in form, this approach, if carried out, has the potential to kick-start social transformation as it strikes at the very root of the occupation-based system of social stratification.

Critical pedagogy is an area that the NCF document dwells upon in detail. It entails the acceptance of multiple views on social issues and a commitment to democratic forms of interaction. The underlying understanding is that a critical framework will enable children to look at social issues from different perspectives and how such issues are connected to their lives.

The NCF deals seriously with the prevalence of stereotypes as far as certain groups like Dalits or tribal people, children with disabilities and even girl children are concerned. These learners are historically viewed as slow, uneducable and fearful of learning. If there are biases against such groups, then there are biases against certain minority groups as well.

The NCF points to the fact that the constitutional value of equality can be upheld only if teachers are trained to treat all children equally. For this, teachers need to be trained on the cultural and socio-economic diversity that children bring along with them to school. The NCF considers the school environment as a place where the constitutional norms of democracy, equity and secularism can be imbibed early on, irrespective of the environment that the child comes from. Rather than "mainstreaming", the NCF says that there is a need today to encourage and support the development of plural identities along with one's identity as an Indian, bounded by a universal culture of rationality, mutual respect and peace.

The NCF is inclusive at all levels, including all kinds of knowledge. It does not celebrate "local" knowledge as one that is superior to other forms of knowledge. The local is a natural learning source; but this does not mean that only local things ought to be discussed in the classroom. An illustration would be introducing children studying in a school in Kerala to a habitat in Rajasthan. Here it suggests that descriptions be imaginative and rich so as to go beyond stereotypes of Rajasthan being a place of sand dunes and camels only. "They should wonder how in a place so hot, people wear more rather than less clothes," states the document.

Murali Manohar Joshi, former HRD Minister.-RAJEEV BHATT

The approach continues to be radical in other streams as well, including mathematics. Recognising the innate fear that most children have for the subject, the NCF recommends the importance of systematic reasoning. A drawback of the existing curriculum, states the NCF, is that it is illogically sequenced, with abrupt shifts from primary to middle to high school in terms of levels of abstraction. Problems, exercises and evaluation methods were mechanical and repetitive with too much emphasis on computation; teachers by and large lacked confidence, preparation and support.

In science education, too, the NCF recommends a strong paradigm shift. Rote learning should be discouraged, it says, and information and communication technology should be used more for demystifying scientists and their work.

The NCF document is holistic in every respect. NCERT director Krishna Kumar and the team of academics who comprised the various groups have produced a document that has a great potential for change. The HRD Ministry will now have to chalk out a comprehensive plan of action to enforce the NCF's recommendations.

INTERESTINGLY, the publication of the NCF draft document almost coincided with the revelations of the inquiry committee report submitted by S. Sathyam, a retired Secretary to the Government of India. Among other things, the one-man committee probed specific complaints and allegations - of administrative lapses, financial irregularities and so on - levelled against NCERT staff.

It was also supposed to undertake a "review of the structures and systems and recommend modifications bearing in mind the basic principles for governance enunciated" and also find out whether proper procedure had been followed before the release of NCF 2000. The report has established that NCF 2000 was finalised without following correct procedures and its release had the concurrence of neither the Executive Committee nor the Governing Council of the NCERT; the 2000 draft was not placed before the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) for approval.

In all, there were 201 complaints against the NCERT and its former Director, J.S. Rajput. While the committee found 69 complaints to be baseless, it has recommended action in the remaining cases. The charges against Rajput included nepotism, irregular appointments, authoritarianism, vindictiveness and arbitrariness.

NCERT Director Krishna Kumar.-D. GOPALAKRISHNAN

Among the various appointments that were made during his tenure were those of his wife, brother-in-law, daughter and son-in-law. In fact, the report states that Murli Manohar Joshi's nephew, Vineet Joshi, was accommodated as an Assistant Editor even though he was not qualified to hold the post.

Seven instances of arbitrariness have been cited, including the publication of textbooks even when they were "under attack". Other irregularities include the appointment of Atul Rawat as a consultant where norms relating to job description and specification of terms and conditions were brushed aside; the transfer of D.K. Sharma, Reader in Sociology, to the Regional Institute of Education (Mysore) when the RIE required a Reader in English; the transfer of P.C. Acharya, Reader in History, to RIE (Bhubaneswar) when there was no vacancy.

The committee also examined cases relating to the "reckless decisions" of the Director. One of them was the hurried introduction of new textbooks under the National Curriculum Framework for Secondary Education (NCFSE) 2000 without checking for errors in the draft: it had resulted in a huge stock of unsold books.

In the case of the "irresponsible use of NCERT funds", the Sathyam Committee found that the NCERT printed 500 copies of one Dr. Makkhanlal's book and made it an unpriced publication; it also incurred an expenditure of Rs.3.5 lakhs in appointing a consultant, M. Namboodiri, without following proper procedures.

Former NCERT Director J.S. Rajput.-M. LAKSHMANAN

The Sathyam Committee report runs into four volumes totalling 1,000 pages. There is documentary proof to substantiate its conclusions.

Meanwhile, Murli Manohar Joshi and National Democratic Alliance convener George Fernandes have come to Rajput's defence. Declaring him innocent, Joshi has alleged that Arjun Singh was acting as "a tool of communist vendetta" and was imposing a "fraud" on the education system by reintroducing "old and discredited" books in the history syllabi.

The draft NCF was to be discussed threadbare and passed at the CABE meeting on June 7. However, as there was a serious attempt to disrupt the meeting by Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activists, who demanded that the textbooks introduced during the NDA's time be brought back, nothing conclusive could be decided. Ironically, most of the textbooks prescribed during the NDA tenure are still being used. Moreover, the Education Ministers of BJP-ruled States, led by Ghanshyam Tiwari of Rajasthan, decided to boycott the meeting. Last year they had staged a walkout after protesting against the efforts to "detoxify" education. The States have now been asked to send in their responses on the draft NCF by August this year.

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