The NCERT's discussion document on a National Curriculum Framework has sought to garner all shades of opinion.J.S. RAJPUT
EDUCATION rarely receives adequate space in the print media, particularly in the national dailies and periodicals. The National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has certainly succeeded in achieving this near miracle through its Discussion Document on National Curriculum Framework for School Education. This document, released in January 2000, has been extensively discussed among intellectuals, educationists, teachers, professional organisations including parent-teacher associations, and other voluntary organisations. More than 16 seminars have been organised by various institutions, and those interested in education on their own. The NCERT has received inputs from most of them, and these are being analysed and studied. The outcomes will be professionally examined before the curriculum framework for school education is drawn up.
The earlier Framework for School Education was developed by the NCERT in 1988, and it was followed by a new generation of textbooks for school education. These were generally appreciated and accepted by schools affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education, the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan, the Navodaya Vidayalaya Samiti and also by the Boards of School Education in the States and Union Territories. All State-level agencies, however, had the option of either adopting or adapting, or making necessary changes incorporating the local and regional inputs. NCERT books are also utilised by several other sections of young persons who have completed their schooling but find these beneficial to them. The books were also criticised for their inadequacies, curriculum load and quality of paper and production. The NCERT has taken these in the right spirit and has regularly tried to make amendments, corrections and changes.
It is generally accepted, professionally and also as a matter of policy stipulation, that the curriculum for school education has to be reviewed at least once every five years. Anyone familiar with the system of school education will agree with this stipulation. Textbooks in geography, science, social studies or any other area prepared in 1988 cannot respond to the learning requirements of the children in 2000 and ahead. School education cannot be kept alienated from the changes of the recent past as well as the perceived changes, which are coming in at a very fast pace in every sector of human activity and process of social, cultural and economic transformation. Today every child has additional sources of learning, and these are pretty effective sources. Not all of these provide only positive inputs, but their presence cannot be ignored; the school alone is no longer the repository of providing the entire learning in addition to the family and the community. The curriculum has to be pragmatic, responsive and flexible enough to cater to the local and regional requirements as well as incorporate new technologies, techniques and methodologies for learning as also teaching.
The NCERT, realising its accountability for having delayed the process of renewal five years after 1988, initiated the process of curriculum renewal in the last quarter of 1999. In order to keep the process transparent and consultative it decided to develop a discussion document and not the curriculum framework itself. The discussion document attempted to raise all the issues which were highlighted to the NCERT through its own research studies, surveys, as well as through regular interactions with school teachers, teacher educators, educational administrators and planners. They regularly came in contact with the NCERT through seminars, workshops, committees and advisory boards throughout the year not only in Delhi but also at the four Regional Institutes of Education located in Ajmer, Bhopal, Bhubaneswar and Mysore. The NCERT also has its own faculty consisting of nearly 200 school teachers in addition to more than 350 professors, readers and lecturers. All of them were consulted, as were other teachers and invited experts. The discussion document is the outcome of this process.
The media have been very supportive and have provided enough coverage to the document, highlighting the issues that it projects for seeking viewpoints, comments and suggestions. These include the need to reduce curriculum load; establish synergy with the local, regional, national and international components of the curriculum; issues of work education, work experience and vocationalisation; implementation of the three-language formula and the medium of instruction at the primary stage; approaches to the teaching of science and the possibility of developing the mathematics course, which may not lead to alarming levels of stagnation resulting out of failures.
The NCERT also highlighted the need to ensure that at least now, after five decades of Independence, the nation develops a sound system of indigenous education in schools firmly based on the contributions of Indian thinkers and educationists. It has explicitly mentioned the names of Gandhi, Zakir Hussain, Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Rabindranath Tagore and Gijubhai. The document also highlights the need for value inculcation through education, the concern for which is being expressed by every section of society as everyone suffers due to the erosion of values in practically every aspect of human life.
The document realises that achieving social cohesion and learning to live together will be the outstanding objectives of school education in the 21st century apart from nurturing the creativity of every individual learner. It also raised the possibility of making children aware of the basic philosophies behind the principles of all religions of India. This, it was felt, would lead to a sound appreciation of the pluralities and diversities that form the inherent strength of India as a nation.
The use of the words 'culture', 'heritage' and 'religion' has given rise to serious apprehensions among some intellectuals, who proclaim themselves the torch-bearers of secularism and expect everyone to follow them blindly. To them anyone who uses these terms must be an agent of saffronisation. They do not care about the credentials and contributions of individuals and institutions. Their own interests are uppermost in their minds, leading to illogical and irrational interpretation of facts and figures. They are afraid that a mere acquaintance with religions, if provided through school education, would lead to disastrous results. It is not understood how they would discard Gandhi, Radhakrishnan and Zakir Hussain, apart from the recommendations made by various committees and commissions, including the Kothari Commission, in this respect. To quote from the Presidential address delivered to the All India Educational Conference in 1952 by Dr. Zakir Hussain:
"Instead of making the ramifications of theology and jurisprudence the focus of religious studies, we have to provide in our syllabus those aspects which would strengthen the foundations of life, which would give the right direction to thought and action, which would harmonise life with laws of nature, which would stir the soul and move the hearts, and which would offer morality to character and strength to personality. It appears necessary to bring out these qualities through religious education.
"Religion, then, would not be a weapon to fight but would give to life a purpose and a meaning. It would provide a moral and spiritual asset for it. It would establish a link with the longing for higher values."
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, chaired by S.B. Chavan, in its 81st report on Value Based Education, presented to the Rajya Sabha on February 26, 1999, highlights the need for value inculcation and acquainting students with the basics of all religions:
"Truth (Satya), Righteous Conduct (Dharma), Peace (Shanti), Love (Prema) and Non-violence (Ahimsa) are the core universal values which can be identified as the foundation stone on which the value-based education programme can be built up. These five are indeed universal values and respectively represent the five domains of human personality: intellectual, physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual. They are also correspondingly co-related with the five major objectives of education, namely, knowledge, skill, balance, vision and identity.
"Another aspect that must be given some thought is religion, which is the most misused and misunderstood concept. The process of making students acquainted with the basics of all religions, the values inherent therein and also a comparative study of the philosophy of all religions should begin at the middle stage in schools and continue up to the university level. Students have to be made aware that the basic concept behind every religion is common, only the practices differ. Even if there are differences of opinion in certain areas, people have to learn to co-exist and carry no hatred against any religion."
The mere mention of the word 'religion', its acquaintance to the future citizens of the country, perturbs those who have no appreciation for the Indian psyche and ethos. Every sensible citizen would like to develop a sense of belonging to the country, a sense of self-esteem in Indian contributions in the areas of science, medicine, health and others. None can deny the existence of the great Indian scriptures in various Indian languages, which indicate a highly developed process of understanding among Indian scholars far ahead of those who have a history of a couple of centuries. It is a fact that the progress of the Indian ethos in various sectors, including education, remained suffocated for centuries under alien influences. Which child in India would not value with a sense of pride the contributions of Brahmagupt, Charak, Shushurut, Aryabhatt, Satyendranath Bose, Ramanujam, Homi Bhabha and Abdul Kalam?
The NCERT has developed a professional document. It is neither assertive nor prescriptive. It raises relevant issues in school education for a national debate. Its final curriculum document will be within the frameworks specified by the Constitution of India and the National Policy of Education 1988 and its revised version of 1992. It will be developed by professionals of the NCERT based on the wide-ranging inputs received.
The NCERT, as the apex resource centre in school education established by the nation, has developed expertise and understanding of the various aspects of school education over the last 40 years. National institutions and their professionals deserve trust and support. Their intentions need not be viewed with prejudices, apprehensions and fears.
Further, while the NCERT welcomes all suggestions in all humility, as is evident from its strategy to consult as far and wide as possible, it also would like to point out, to those who pronounce without preparation and proclaim without understanding, that education is an issue of critical national significance. They may like to remember the famous statement of Peter Drucker: 'Intellectual arrogance cause disabling ignorance.' The NCERT has opened its doors and windows to receive inputs, suggestions and guidance even from its known proclaimed critics. Their inputs are also valuable and are being studied with due respect and regard by the NCERT.
J.S. Rajput is the Director of the National Council for Educational Research and Training.