The NCERT changes are welcome, but what will they mean for the curriculum burden for school students?
When Union HRD minister Prakash Javadekar spoke last year about the need for school textbooks to give students a better understanding of India’s “glorious past”, there were apprehensions that the government will try to “saffronise” textbooks. Instead, the NCERT textbooks for history, geography, science, English and political science—from class 6 to 10—have been revised to provide greater space to knowledge and philosophies from ancient India. An analysis of 25 new NCERT by The Indian Express shows that the books carry new/additional information on ancient Indian philosophy, ayurveda, yoga, and scientific knowledge believed to have been prevalent in the period.
For instance, while there is more information on Aryabhatta, the ancient Indian mathematician/astronomer, in the class 6 geography textbook than there was in the earlier textbook, the class 10 science textbook discusses his work on calculating the Earth’s diameter, etc.
Familiarising students with ancient India is indeed desirable, although it isn’t quite clear how some additions benefit students—the class 8 science textbook mentions that “According to ancient mythology the seven sages who form the Saptarshi (the constellation Ursa Major), preserve the eternal knowledge of Vedas and explain it to people in every new age.”
The question is how does the revision square with the HRD ministry’s goal of reducing the curriculum burden. As per the Express report, NCERT has made over 1,300 changes in 182 textbooks. Do students at the primary and secondary levels really need to be taught the history of science in India as part of their science education?
Would it not be better to teach what is essential and leave the rest to extracurricular interest or include it in higher education where the student must tackle a narrower breadth of subjects, but each one in greater depth? Studying about different ancient Indian philosophies will no doubt impart a new perspective, but whether or not students will be able to cope with the increased curriculum burden is a different matter altogether.