National Curriculum Framework: What the curriculum panel must keep in mind

Prior to the national curriculum framework 2000, and since, there has been a sharp ideological divide on what is to be taught in schools; the panel must rise above this

The composition of the committee is stunning in the total omission of experts from the domain and discipline of school education.

By Janaki Rajan

The NDA, in 2014, appointed a committee chaired by TSR Subramanium, former Cabinet secretary of GoI, to draft a National Policy on Education (NPE) that was submitted in April 2016. After much public reaction, another committee for the preparation of a draft NPE (DNPE) was appointed, chaired by scientist K Kasturirangan; this committee submitted its report in May 2019. The government invited views from various stakeholders and the public, and got lakhs of responses, the collation of which is not in the public domain. A special meeting of the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) was held to seek views on the DNPE 2019. A meeting was also held with the Parliamentary Standing Committee on November 7, 2019. However, neither meeting resulted in the approval of the DNPE 2019. As education is on the concurrent list, any NPE requires consensus of Centre and the states, done through approval by CABE which is a federal body, Parliament and the National Development Council (NDC). NPE 1986 was approved by all these bodies.

Due to the lack of such approval of DNPE 2019, NPE 1986 remains the valid policy as of today. On September 21, 2021, the Cabinet approved a curriculum committee to design four national curriculum frameworks (NCFs), as a follow-up to the DNPE 2019. Both the DNPE 2019 and any forthcoming curriculum frameworks would require formal approval by CABE, Parliament and National Development Council. The framework committee’s work has to be reviewed through this lens.

The curriculum panel has 12 members: Indian space scientist K Kasturirangan, National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration chancellor Mahesh Chandra Pant, National Book Trust chairman Govind Prasad Sharma, vice-chancellor (VC) of Jamia Millia Islamia Najma Akhtar, VC of Central Tribal University TV Kattimani, Indian author of French origin Michel Danino, Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry founder Milind Kamble, Central University of Punjab chancellor Jagbir Singh, American mathematician of Indian-origin Manjul Bhargava, social activist MK Sridhar, retired bureaucrat and author of books on primary education Dhir Jhingran, and entrepreneur and marketing professional Shankar Marwada.

The composition of the committee is stunning in the total omission of experts from the domain and discipline of school education. Eight members have held high administrative positions in universities, two are entrepreneurs, three are experts in science, mathematics and Indian literature at higher and research levels—with these credentials not being mutually exclusive in some cases. Without taking away their undoubted merit in respective fields, their capabilities for the specific role of drafting school curriculum seem a question mark. Children’s education and pedagogic domains are rigorous cross-disciplinary areas that take decades of intense teaching/learning experience, study of subject domain at university level, rigorous research on how children and youth learn, understanding how language and cognition are embedded, how to engage with children critically. Members must keep in mind the following:

— Acknowledge their lack of in-depth knowledge and expertise in the disciplinary domain of school education and induct 12 members including authors of children’s literature, research practitioners with proven success with educational materials and curricular transactions in key subject areas.

— Prior to and since the national curriculum framework 2000, there have been sharp ideological divides on what constitutes knowledge and what is to be taught in schools. The panel must rise above ideology and find consensus in selection of curricular content and materials and provide critical understanding that is free from bias, and based on facts drawn from multiple sources with space for multiple interpretations.

— The trend to view science and technology as superior must be reviewed. The committee must situate each subject domain in a knowledge matrix that acknowledges the vital nature of each subject domain for building aesthetic, ethical, knowledgeable, creative children who are curious about diversities and learn across cultures with inclusive worldviews. As Zakir Hussain points out in Nai Talim, we need a kind of education “in which one community will trust another… so that different cultures may flourish side by side and each bring into relief the virtues of the other; where every citizen may be able to participate in society with full resource of his/her personality”.

— Frameworks become banalities when tied to authority of textbooks, regurgitated in examinations, sanctified through marks as gateways to success. The panel must study why developed countries don’t adopt such practices. The terms ‘testing’ and ‘examination’ reflect philosophical differences. To test is to learn what children know and how to teach them better. Examinations label them.

— Advanced countries use standards in education which are conceptual, qualitative statements of what children are expected to learn at key stages. The committee may consider reviewing the term ‘syllabus’ which constitutes mostly a list of contents that get reduced to data points and suggest standards.

The committee must reflect on epistemologies—both of knowledge and the way children generate their own knowledge through subjective encounters with objective realities. Very young children develop topological sense and then projective sense and only much later logico-mathematical sense. Each stage is a high-quality epistemology comparable to most rigorous research anywhere.

To draft a succinct curriculum framework that will shape 41% of India is a herculean but richly rewarding task. It needs to be a text across a matrix of goals to prepare children for the future, developmentally and cognitively appropriate, conceptually rooted with clear guidelines for teachers, material makers and testers with no room for ambiguity.

Retired professor, faculty of education – Jamia Millia Islamia

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