National curriculum framework: what the curriculum panel should keep in mind

The composition of the committee is astonishing in the total omission of experts in the field and discipline of school education.

By Janaki Rajan

The NDA, in 2014, appointed a committee chaired by TSR Subramanium, former GoI Cabinet Secretary, to draft a National Education Policy (NPE) which was submitted in April 2016. After much public feedback, another committee for the preparation of an NPE project (DNPE) was appointed, chaired by scientist K Kasturirangan; this committee submitted its report in May 2019. The government sought the opinions of various stakeholders and the public, and obtained thousands of responses, the compilation of which is not in the public domain. A special meeting of the Central Advisory Council for Education (CABE) was held to gather opinions on the DNPE 2019. A meeting was also held with the Standing Parliamentary Committee on November 7, 2019. However, neither meeting was held. ‘resulted in the approval of the DNPE. 2019. As education is on the concurrent list, any NPE requires Central and State consensus, obtained through the approval of CABE, which is a federal agency, Parliament and the National Development Council (NDC). The 1986 NPE has been approved by all of these organizations.

Due to the lack of such approval from DNPE 2019, NPE 1986 remains the policy in effect to this day. On September 21, 2021, the Cabinet approved a curriculum committee tasked with designing four national curriculum frameworks (NCFs), as part of the follow-up to the 2019 DNPE. The 2019 DNPE and any future curriculum framework would require formal approval of the CABE, Parliament and National Development Council. The work of the framework committee must be reviewed from this angle.

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

The composition of the committee is astonishing in the total omission of experts in the field and discipline of school education. Eight members have held senior administrative positions in universities, two are entrepreneurs, three are experts in science, mathematics and Indian literature at senior and research levels, these qualifications are not mutually exclusive in some cases. Without depriving them of their indisputable merit in their respective fields, their capacities for the specific role of writing school curricula seem a question mark. Children’s education and pedagogical fields are rigorous interdisciplinary fields that require decades of intense teaching / learning experience, study of the field at the university level, rigorous research into how children and youth learn, understanding how language and cognition are integrated, how to engage with children critically. Members should keep in mind the following:

– Acknowledge their lack of in-depth knowledge and expertise in the disciplinary field of school education and induct 12 members, including authors of children’s literature, proven research practitioners with educational material and curriculum transactions in key areas.

– Before and since the 2000 national curriculum framework, there have been clear ideological divisions over what constitutes knowledge and what should be taught in schools. The panel should rise above ideology and find consensus in the selection of program content and material and provide a critical, unbiased, fact-based understanding from multiple sources with space for multiple interpretations.

– The tendency to regard science and technology as superior must be reviewed. The committee should situate each domain within a knowledge matrix that recognizes the vital nature of each domain to form aesthetic, ethical, knowledgeable and creative children who are curious about diversity 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 can flourish side by side and each one brings out the virtues of the community. ‘other ; where each citizen can be able to participate in society with the full resource of his personality .

– The executives become banalities when they are linked to the authority of the textbooks, regurgitated in the exams, sanctified by the marks as gateways to success. The panel should investigate why developed countries do not adopt such practices. The terms “test” and “exam” reflect philosophical differences. Testing is learning what children know and how to teach them better. Reviews label them.

– Advanced countries use education standards which are conceptual and qualitative statements of what children are expected to learn at key stages. The committee may consider revising the term “syllabus” which is primarily a list of content that boils down to data points and suggests standards.

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

Writing a succinct curriculum framework that will shape 41% of India is a Herculean but very rewarding task. It should be text through 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 without any ambiguity.

Retired Professor, Faculty of Education – Jamia Millia Islamia

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