Part-I can be found here.
Back in 2018, the Hon. Minister of State for Human Resource Development, Shri Satyapal Singh, was quoted saying, “Darwin’s theory is scientifically wrong. It needs to change in school and college curricula.” At the time, in response to this, three prominent academic organisations in India issued a statement condemning Satyapal Singh’s Statements; it said, “it would be a retrograde step to remove the teaching of the theory of evolution from school and college curricula or to dilute this by offering non-scientific explanations or myths.” Ironically enough, the National Educational Policy 2020 states that “the purpose of the education system is to develop good human beings capable of rational thought and action, possessing compassion and empathy, courage and resilience, scientific temper, and creative imagination, with sound ethical moorings and values.” A question that would naturally arise is whether politicians like Satyapal are capable of influencing India’s education policy. It seeks to answer this question by examining the National Council of Educational Research and Training [“NCERT”] procedure for school curriculum framing and the National Curriculum Framework, 2023 [“NCF 2023”] released on 6th April 2023.
NCERT and NCF 2023: Slouching towards more Centralisation?
The National Curriculum Framework [“NCF”] prepared by the NCERT serves as a “guiding document” for educational institutions, outlining the content, pedagogy, and assessment methods. Although, under the framework, there are independent State regulatory bodies for curriculum development, they are answerable to the Central Advisory Board on Education [“CABE”]. The government appoints these committees’ members, and the individuals picked are typically chosen based on their ideological preferences. The policy documents, in turn, reflect these beliefs, and the textbooks follow. Previously, questions have been raised about the NCF’s effectiveness in fostering inclusive and holistic education.
Until now, NCERT has published five NCF documents: in 1975, 1988, 2000, 2005, and most recently, in 2023, after an 18-year hiatus. Since education was essentially the responsibility of individual states until 1976, the 1975 report was comparatively of little significance. The NCF reports show an evolution in both content and process. The 1988 and 2000 reports, which internal NCERT committees created, shared much of the same information. The 2005 report, however, signalled a break from this trend, with a committee comprised of participants from several professions, including people outside the NCERT. Numerous position papers, national focus groups, and internet input from the general public were all part of the transparent process. The NCF 2005 was said to be a mature and inclusive document because of this democratic approach.
But, the recent NCF 2023 has reversed all the progress made by NCF 2005. It seeks to micromanage education to the smallest, even insignificant detail. In contrast to the 125-page NCF 2005, the document is over 625 pages with nine more volumes to follow! NCF 2023 gives a comprehensive plan outlining topic categories, interdisciplinary areas, and transversal themes, in contrast to prior NCF reports that just offered guiding principles. The NCF 2023 even goes so far as to allocate specified durations for particular school activities, such as permitting a 25-minute assembly and a 5-minute transition for pupils to their classrooms. This highly centralised strategy contradicts the concurrent federal nature of Indian education and the state’s responsibilities to preserve cultural variety.
The Case for Decentralisation
As was discussed above, the CABE is essential in determining the curriculum and pedagogy used in Indian schooling. Romila Thapar’s 2005 article titled “Knowledge and Education” for the Frontline holds relevance even today. I will be building on some of her suggestions, focusing on the significance of the CABE’s role, the necessity of its transparency, and legal standing.
- Empowering CABE as a Statutory Body
Granting CABE statutory status is essential to guaranteeing the efficient development of curricula and educational frameworks. With legal standing and the ability to choose educational frameworks and practices, the body would be able to independently decide what is best. Involving the participation of educators and experts from many fields would increase CABE’s autonomy and expertise, ensuring the calibre and applicability of educational policy. Around 2004-2005, there was political advocacy for the same, but it has died down, and there haven’t been any recent happenings since then. Holding frequent meetings also becomes crucial. It is highly concerning that the CABE hasn’t met since 2019 and hasn’t provided any reasons for the same.
- Balancing Membership and Autonomy
The composition of CABE should prioritise a significant representation of educationists and professionals to avoid the unwarranted influence of ex-officio members. This balanced membership would encourage the active participation of academic specialists and prevent a takeover by government officials. To guarantee the best results for students, it is essential to maintain a positive relationship between the academic community and state entities in charge of education.
- Transparency and Responsible Schooling
The ideas and concepts presented in textbooks significantly influence students’ thinking and help build their beliefs and worldviews. Consequently, choosing and approving textbooks should be a transparent procedure. Accuracy must be ensured, false information must be avoided, and ideals must be instilled in order to promote informed civic participation, a thriving civil society, and respect for human rights. Open discussions on the subject of textbook pedagogy and content are necessary for responsible education.
The Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 in the United States is an interesting parallel. It revolved around the teaching of evolution in public schools, pitting modern scientific knowledge against religious beliefs and it exemplified the tension between maintaining educational rigor and appeasing conservative sentiments. While the Indian context differs from the Scopes trial, the underlying conflict between scientific progress and traditional values is relevant. It highlights the challenge of reconciling diverse perspectives within a singular education system, and the delicate balance that must be struck to ensure comprehensive and unbiased learning.
The term decentralisation is used in two senses here – one is regarding the federal aspect of moving it back to the State list, and the other is regarding decentralising the current infrastructure in place. The second option that was discussed in this part of the blog is the relatively more feasible option. The shortcomings and criticisms of the NCF call for a decentralised paradigm shift in Indian education. Hence, empowering CABE as a statutory body, involving professionals and experts in curriculum development, and promoting transparency in textbook selection would be steps in the right direction.
Fathima Rena Abdulla is a third-year law student at the National University of Advanced Legal Studies, Kochi.
[Ed note: This article has been co-edited and coordinated by Eeshan Sonak, Archita Satish and Nupur Barman from our student editorial team.]