Panel must create space for Indian knowledge systems without becoming a vehicle to push ideological predilections
The 12-member panel tasked with developing four national curriculum frameworks—for school education, early childhood care and education, teacher education, and adult education—needs to update the curricula while avoiding becoming a tool to further the ideology of the ruling political dispensation. Given the current national curriculum framework dates back to 2005, the new one must take into account the developments across academic fields as also technological advancement over the last decade, and those that would unfold in the future.
The committee features, among others, author Michel Danino, with an academic background in mathematics and engineering, whose writings on ancient Indian history (contested by some) are in harmony with many of the ruling dispensation’s ideological positions, and Govind Prasad Sharma, National Book Trust chair who has been a president of the RSS-affiliate Vidya Bharati and currently is a member of its central executive committee. The committee must walk a tightrope, given the national curriculum framework will serve as a guideline for syllabus, revision of textbooks, as well as pedagogy. The committee is headed by former ISRO chair K Kasturirangan, who also headed the committee that drafted the NEP 2020, which is progressive in parts. The shift away from the 10 + 2 school education system to the 5+3+3+4 design—integrating a focus on foundational education with school education for the first time while balancing the curriculum load across three other stages (preparatory, middle and secondary)—is a more effective way to look at school education, based on the latest understanding in cognitive science.
The NEP 2020 prescribes the reconfiguration of the pedagogical and curricular paradigm to serve this model. Also to be celebrated is the fact the NEP envisions no hard separation between curricular, extracurricular and co-curricular learning and subjects, while bringing vocational studies within the ambit of the school curriculum. To be sure, early “vocationalisation” may impede a more all-round, traditional-subject-based learning, but vocational learning has largely been ignored in schools and is badly needed. Moving education away from rote learning to encouraging creative and critical thinking is a much-felt need for India, too.
The draft NEP submitted by the Kasturirangan committee in 2019 talked of incorporating Indian Knowledge Systems through the curriculum. No one disputes that there can be welcome additions from the knowledge bank developed throughout India’s history, but the intent and scope needs to be spelled out clearly and the eventual inclusion must withstand globally-accepted methodological scrutiny.
The final NEP that the government released says, “All curriculum and pedagogy, from the foundational stage onwards, will be redesigned to be strongly rooted in the Indian and local context and ethos in terms of culture, traditions, heritage, customs, language, philosophy, geography, ancient and contemporary knowledge, societal and scientific needs, indigenous and traditional ways of learning etc.” Deliberately nebulous articulation can’t be allowed to serve as a backdoor for indoctrinating children. The fact that the frameworks will be developed in consultation with states, following wider consultation at the district and block levels should help bring in important checks. A proposed tech-platform to facilitate this is welcome.
Given the panel has a three-year tenure (extendable), there is still a long way to the bridge that needs be crossed, but educationists and other stakeholders must ensure we have the correct map to get there.