The National Curriculum Framework (NCF) India document and the new syllabus can be
accessed at the website

 Prof. Krishna Kumar is the Director of National Council of Educational Research and Training
(NCERT). In his distinguished career, he has also been Professor of Education at the University
of Delhi and Head of the Central Institute of Education (1988-91), besides having been a UGC
National Lecturer and a Jawaharlal Nehru Fellow. His literary contribution include Raj, Samaj aur
Shiksha; Vichaar ka Dar; School ki Hindi; Learning from Conflict ; What is Worth Teaching ; The
Child’s Language and the Teacher; The Social Character of Learning ; and Prejudice and Pride:
School Histories of freedom Struggle in India and Pakistan. A columnist and a short story writer in
Hindi, Professor Kumar also writes for children.


Making education reforms more meaningful
By Krishna Kumar

Nearly two decades after the National Policy on Education was approved by
Parliament, the school-going child's life continues to be afflicted by rote
methods and the chronic fear of doing badly in examination.
FEW CAN distinguish between the terms `curriculum' and `syllabus.' The
tendency to view both in the context of examinations is rampant. For
teachers, the prescribed textbook serves as the de facto curriculum. As for
the National Curriculum Framework (NCF), hardly anyone outside the limited
world of professional pedagogues and planners can recall what role the
National Policy on Education (1986) intended to assign to this invention. It
was designed to bring systemic coherence and parity in quality standards
across the country. It is widely misconceived as an instrument of uniformity;
in reality, it was meant to serve as a reminder of core national values and
priorities around which diversity and flexibility in curriculum and syllabus
could be structured to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding system.
The 1986 policy stressed the need to make education child-centred. Nearly
two decades after the policy was approved by Parliament, the school-going
child's life continues to be afflicted by rote methods and the chronic fear of
doing badly in examination. Yes, there are plenty of people who feel
unmoved by this reality. But R.K. Narayan did succeed in touching the
nation's heart when he made his maiden speech in the Rajya Sabha in 1991,
inspiring the Ministry of Human Resource Development to set up a committee
under Professor Yash Pal to prescribe remedies. Its 1993 report gathered
dust while the problem got increasingly worse. One terrible symptom is the
increasing number of children who contemplate or actually commit suicide
during examination time.

The 1986 policy assumed that India would universalise elementary education
before the end of the century. That did not happen. Today, as high a
proportion as 53 per cent of our children are eliminated by the system before
Class 8. That terrible figure should drown the nation in embarrassment,
triggering emergency measures, but we all have got used to it. When I
mentioned the number at a recent TV show on the National Curriculum
Framework, no one responded, as if it was irrelevant to the discussion. Most
of the show time was spent on allegations about the lack of participation in
the NCF revision process. Not many could recall that the National Council of
Educational Research and Training (NCERT) had set up a large steering
committee, chaired by Professor Yash Pal, and as many as 21 National Focus
Groups. It also invited public opinion through advertisements in 28 national
and regional dailies, organised regional seminars, and meetings for
consultation with the States and rural teachers. And now the document is
with CABE (Central Advisory Board of Education), where the previous NCF
was never discussed.

This recent history of eight months of intensive nation-wide deliberation
among professionals and other stakeholders appears to have been drowned
by weightier subjects such as Ambani's inheritance, Jinnah's role in Partition,
and the difficulties in tracking black buck shooters. Suicide by farmers
arouses no one's interest. So why should we be surprised that Gokhale's
move to make primary education free and compulsory evokes no awkward
memory or enthusiasm 94 years later? The children that Gokhale's legacy
asks us to worry about are poor and mostly rural. Their high dropout rate, as
it is officially called, is a key symptom of the system's inability to reform
itself. If an intrinsic urge for reform is a measure of systemic quality — as a
recent UNESCO report suggests — then we deserve to be rated poorly.
Indeed, resistance to reform is so high that you are forced to wonder why
the system attracts any criticism at all.

The new NCF discusses quality in terms of the resources available for
infrastructural needs, professional training of teachers, and provision for
monitoring. It relates quality to the experiences provided to children to
enable them to construct knowledge. This approach calls for the recognition
of children's creativity and motivation to learn. The belief that every child has
a personality and a unique potential is fundamental to the development of a
democratic system of schooling.

Four decades have passed since the Kothari Commission recommended a
common school system. That vision is a shambles today and cannot be
resurrected magically in the middle of sharp socio-economic contradictions.
What is possible and important is to initiate long-range reforms, starting with
steps to improve systemic efficiency and accountability.

The new NCF focusses attention on two sets of challenges for reform:
pedagogic and systemic. The first set includes rational designing of syllabi
and textbooks, teacher training and examination procedures. The second set
calls for more resources for school infrastructure, and a change in roles and
power relations from the ground level upwards. Both sets of reforms have
been appreciated for long, and in stray pockets — usually with NGO
involvement — have been successfully tried out. Numerous innovative
projects have established that school functioning can be improved with
community involvement. NCF recommends that the approach used in such
experiments be mainstreamed. Among pedagogic reforms, an important one
recommended is the involvement of school teachers in the preparation of
textbooks, not merely in reviewing them after they are written.

The most urgently needed pedagogic reforms are those related to teacher
training and examinations. Institutional structures available for these two
sectors need to be strengthened, which means that the National Council for
Teacher Education and the various examination boards need to be given
considerable academic support. NCF proposes delinking competitive entrance
tests from school-leaving examinations. A nodal agency is suggested for the
former so that children are saved from the ordeal of endless entrance tests
and to discourage coaching. In Tamil Nadu, the Government has already
taken an important step towards reducing the role of coaching in children's
lives. Hopefully this step will lead to greater consensus on ways to select the
most creative, rather than the most expensively coached, for professional

In the context of examinations taken at the end of Classes X and XII, the
NCF suggests many radical remedies for reducing stress and importance of
rote memory and speed. As for work-related knowledge and skills, the NCF
asks us to recognise out-of-school agencies capable of providing `work
benches', using local resource persons and practitioners of heritage crafts.
The new NCF also recommends art in different forms to be made a necessary
part of children's education. NCF 2005 is firmly grounded in the
Constitutional vision of India as an egalitarian and secular society, committed
to self-transformation towards social justice in all its dimensions, covering
gender and caste disparities.

In the grip of negativity
Today, the entire system of education is in the grip of negative and cynical
feelings. The dignity of teaching has been violated, provision for health and
education in villages has reached minimalist levels. At least one State has
declared career teachers a `dying cadre'; contractual appointments are being
made in other States as well, and training has been turned into a transparent
ritual. Civil society seems determined to ignore the health and education of
rural children. Voices like those of Jean Dreze and P. Sainath are far too few
to make an impact. Professor Yash Pal's idea that we should cultivate a child inspired, and not
merely a child-centred, approach deserves political
attention across ideological boundaries. There are plenty of cynics who say
nothing much can be done, that all the ideas recommended in the new
document have been discussed earlier, that the system is far too complex
and sick to be reformed, and so on and so forth. Then there are people who
associate quality with private initiative and have no faith in the state's ability
to sustain a long-term reform effort.

Add one more section — which smells politics in everything — and you get a
panoramic view of the crowd which does not want to believe that NCF 2005
might mark a beginning of something positive. As Professor Yash Pal says in
his foreword to the NCF, India's educational adversity is self-imposed, and it
can be overcome if we learn to appreciate children's own capacities. Once
that message begins to sink, a lot of things will show signs of change.
(The writer is Director, National Council of Educational Research and Training.)

Democracy without democrats?

There never was much room for free – that is, fearless – speech and moral choices in the district
towns. Between the collector and the police superintendent, the two prime symbols of the law-
and-order state, the power to monitor life in the basti stayed finely tuned to the perspective of the
local notables. That fine tuning has loosened a little as a result of the local notables getting
somewhat diversified. The loosening, however, has brought no relief to the limited tribe of the so-
called local intelligentsia who yearn to exercise their right to free speech and association.

An unprecedented increase in the number of guns of every variety over the last two decades or
so has made the district towns altogether unsuitable for the practice of enlightened enquiry into
matters relevant to public welfare. Both administrative and political life in the district, at least in
northern India, are steeped in corruption and civic disorder patronized by the powerful. None of
the instruments of civil society have strength to subject either power or authority to any kind of
public scrutiny.

It sounds melodramatic and totally unacademic to say this, but the truth is that someone who
lives in a district headquarter and does not appreciate the stringent limits within which the
constitutional guarantees of free speech may be enjoyed, pays by getting roughed up or killed.
Why many more are not killed is because life in a district town quickly socialises you to apply
good sense. The stringent limits within which fearless speech can be practiced are the four walls
of your home.

 Modern communication should have changed this picture for the better, and it has, so far as the
exercise of brute force during elections is concerned. The possibility of sending a message to the
chief election commissioner by phone or fax has curbed the earlier enthusiasm with which polling
booths were captured. However, when the elections are over, the technology of speedy
communication ceases to matter, for no one knows who in Bhopal or Delhi would bother.

The only institution which routinely uses communication technology is the local press, but it is
hardly an institution in any serious sense. The local man who acts as correspondent to a regional
or national daily is chronically under pressure to abandon every controversial matter after
touching it once. In any case, there is no news in civic disorder, for it is a daily cycle. From a girl
getting kidnapped to selection of teachers on bribe, no information is weightier than the
subsidised newsprint that carries it to the saturated reader who does not even hope, anymore,
that the collector or the chief minister will read it and bother. As for the locally published
newspapers – there are literally thousands of them – they are much too dependent on the mercy
of the local notables to enjoy or provide what we may call a liberal space.

 District India has to stage a massacre, an epidemic, or a successful blockade of inter-regional
transport to figure in the liberal space that our country has been lucky to have at the national
level. Several historical struggles and breakthroughs are responsible for the creation and
maintenance of this space, and we have every reason to be proud of it, especially if we look
around for parallels. It is not just Pakistan and Iran that one thinks of as being less lucky than us,
but the richer countries of South East Asia too, which subsist on narrowly defined civic freedoms
even as they boast of more open economies.

I feel similarly sorry for those who compare China with India and pronounce China has done
better. I suppose civic freedom is a possession one appreciates only when one begins to see the
danger of loosing it. This is why I secretly feel happy when I hear people saying with anxiety that
the liberal space is shrinking. I almost feel like saying, ‘I’m glad it is, for now you can notice what
we had.’ I also feel like saying, ‘Are you surprised?’ Of course I say no such thing and be
mistaken for a cynic.

As a true metropolitan, unlike a migrant from the hinterland which I am, you are supposed to say,
‘Isn’t that terrible.’ The usual point of reference is one or the other news, such as the attack on
that remarkably dull film, Fire, or the digging up of the Kotla cricket pitch. ‘How objectionable!’ you
are supposed to exclaim, and get on with more substantial issues like why Murli Manohar Joshi
does not want to win the hearts of college teachers or how The Hindu is now the only Delhi paper
you can read.

It is indeed alarming how trivial an issue we make of the rapid erosion of the freedom of
intellectual and moral choices, speech and association. Why I am not surprised by the erosion
itself is on account of four trends that I have been aware of for some time now. The first of these
is the only one to have surfaced in the recent past, especially since the display of unreluctant
patronage of globalisation policies by the Rao-Singh regime. The other three trends have been
around for much longer, though two of them were not as perceptible earlier as they are now. The
fourth one is still quite invisible because it stays hidden in every child’s schoolbag which is quite a
treasure of national security secrets in our country.

 But let me start with the first reason which I wish to call the commoditization of the media. It is
distinct from commercialisation which is a part of life, monetized life at any rate. Commoditization,
on the other hand, is new and sinister, an aspect of neo-colonialism inasmuch as it denies us the
right to choose and apply our minds.

The slogan of globalisation symbolizes a new incarnation of the European psyche, this time under
American command. The incarnation has two faces. One is the intellectually and ethically tired
face, showing that the white man now wishes to drop his burden, more out of a desire to enjoy his
own life fully with his two boxes, tv and pc, than out of any moral realisation of odium in the
burden or a recognition of the futility of carrying it. The other is the face with sophisticated
aggression, conveying the right of property over all sorts of resources that can be bought and
ideas that can be sold for money. This second face is cruder than the plunderers of the age of
mercantile colonialism might have had, or so it appears to us who had not imagined that the
West, with its great universities and museums, could come to this, again.

The degree of consensus there is about globalisation having become man’s destiny now, from
company managers to human rights groups in the West, is quite amazing, though it is in keeping
with the European world’s compulsion to invent something to get euphoric about every couple of
decades. What this consensus means for us is a denial of choice in everything, including
globalisation itself. We are being told that this time there is no getting away with selective
absorption, that everything comes with everything else, that we must sit back and be happy that
we can at least manipulate the mouse in our right hand.

Commoditization of the media is a component of this latest round of the West’s chronic obsession
with new toys and slogans on one hand, and of a distinct move by a handful of corporate interests
towards consolidation of their dominance on the other. Our media managers and state media
bureaucrats cannot contain their excitement. They now see their primary role in acting like
conduits for advertising. As CNN does day and night, most of our newspapers and glossies are
using bits of news to sell advertising. They are using precious newsprint to promote every object
there is in the dung heap – from cigarettes to junk food, from systems of music our walls have no
substance to contain inside buildings to cars our cities have no space to park or drive with safety.
Both news and views are treated as commodities in these publications; therefore, a debate on
public health or destruction of the environment must compete for space with Coca-Cola and car
advertisements. A large section of the press now regards sustained debate on issues of public
importance as being marginal to its main business which is to push the induction of Indian elites
into global consumerism.
One might have seen this as a matter of choice on the part of our media owners and bureaucrats
had it not been obvious that global media and communication barons have been specifically after
us. On the other hand, I wish I could say that our people have been forced into submission, to
reprint or adapt junk writing from the American or British press and trivia from the fashion
industry. Unfortunately, neither version of what happened is adequate. An ethos existed which
made commoditization of the media acceptable. That ethos made elaborate debates or enquiry
look boring. Once that ethos started to grow, few seemed to have the strength to resist it.

Post-Rajiv political happenings played their role (some might say, post-Indira); economic forces
supportive of the change had been active since the mid-seventies. By the beginning of the current
decade, political consensus had been established that colonialist modernism was the only choice
left for us to follow. I believe this consensus had its basis in the loss of popular mandate suffered
by all national-level parties, but that is a different issue. For the construction of the ethos which
made commoditization of the media acceptable, we must turn to the next two reasons which, in
addition to their ethos-building role, were directly responsible as well for the shrinking of the
liberal space.

When Salman Rushdie wrote in The New Yorker’s special issue on free India’s golden jubilee that
he reads no Indian language well enough to read its literature, but, never mind, he knew that
nothing worthwhile had been written in any of these languages in recent times, he was saying
something I could have associated with some of my colleagues and friends whose reading for
news and pleasure is confined to English. It is just nice that they lack Rushdie’s arrogance.

Growing up in an Indian city without having any substantial exposure to the literature of the region
to which the city belongs was a familiar feature of the public school student’s personality, but the
walls dividing the English-educated intelligentsia and its vernacular counterpart have got thicker
and taller of late. The vernacular media have virtually no place in the institutions serving the
English educated intellectual elite who depend on English both for receiving news and for
responding to it. They have no direct access to the articulation of the public mind which takes
place in the vernacular media and literature. Of course there are famous exceptions, but they are

The gap between English and the vernacular is perhaps wider in the Hindi heartland than
elsewhere, but it exists in other parts of India in varying measures. It is related to the trend
towards divisiveness we see in other contexts too, but it has special significance because of its
function in shaping the flow of information. I recall the sudden despair into which a number of
English-dependent social analysts were thrown by the events that preceded and followed the
Ayodhya disaster. I generally find it a waste of time to look at an English newspaper to find out
what is happening in Uttar Pradesh. On the other side of the language wall, I miss the generation
of Rajendra Mathur, Raghuvir Sahay, Agyeya and S.C. Dube, who wrote in Hindi with a vast and
confident awareness of what was being written in English. Liberal press and scholarship in Hindi
stand greatly impoverished by the absence of such people. On the other hand, the lack of direct
and habitual access to the vernacular world limits both the knowledge and the sensibility that the
commentators writing in English can put to use in their professionally and socially significant
The wall that divides the intelligentsia is symbolic of the divisions that have been growing in the
larger urban middle class, irrespective of where it resides. Its upper layers, which include those
with power and status as well as the upwardly mobile, have lost all but ritual links with the
vernacular world to which they once belonged. This is evident from their orbits of awareness,
interests, reading, child-rearing, and objects of desire. The areas where they reside in cities have
hardly any trace of the local literary milieu.

If you were to make a foolish query at Teksons in Delhi’s South Extension market for Krishna
Sobti’s Dilo Daanish, you would be looked at with contempt and not just surprise, unless you
were a foreigner who did not know that bookshops in Delhi are not like the ones in Rome which
mostly stock books in Italian. Down at the district level, you can guess who gets the few copies of
the English original of India Today. The collector and some of his colleagues are sometimes the
only ones who keep in touch with the English media.

If they also keep an eye on the local and regional vernacular press, it is mainly to equip
themselves with the knowledge of ground reality which they are literally supposed to control as
custodians of law and order. For status-maintenance and mental nourishment they depend on the
English media which inevitably provides them the lexicon of current civil dialogue. This lexicon is
rather distant from the world of their ‘grassroots’ subordinates, such as members of the
panchayat, primary school teachers, health workers, and unemployed youth acting as volunteers
in a state programme. These subordinates inhabit a purely vernacular world which generates, off
the numerous cutting edges of development, a lexicon of its own. The collector and his
colleagues inevitably have a hollow ring in their utterances when they address these armies of
development. Many civil servants are nowadays writing about their ‘grassroots’ experiences in
journals like the EPW, and there too the hollow ring dogs their words. They lack the language
capable of sizing up the corruption, the fear, and the silent violence that surround the sundry
initiatives taken by the state to get closer to the people. The interface between the authorities and
the state’s own modest instruments of serving the people messes up the little liberal space there
is in district headquarters. And we are not even talking about the guns and the goons monitoring
the financial flows for welfare.

Let me turn to the third and the fourth reasons, both of which have to do with the general erosion
of educational values. Especially relevant to my present theme is the decline of higher education
and the use of school education for ideological propaganda. Active political misuse of provincial
universities is now an old story. But it gives us a framework which is still relevant for looking at the
systemic neglect of post-secondary education. Apart from motivated misuse by politicians, higher
education has also suffered the spread of poor quality primary and secondary education.

The thin layer of free and somewhat informed dialogue that the college teacher and students had
sustained in places which had no bookshops, vanished during the Emergency of the mid-
seventies; it never materialised again. Radical budget cuts of the eighties made a vital
contribution to the dismantling of the college ethos, particularly by affecting library supplies.
Today, a working library is a preserve of privileged universities; others must do with the oral
tradition and baazar notes. During a recent visit I realised with dismay that an old, highly
respected institution like Allahabad’s Ewing Christian College was not even expected to have a
decent library.

India’s higher education establishment, oversized though it was in relation to the sea of illiteracy
surrounding it, had produced since its inception in colonial days a great body of men and women
who acted as conflict-managers in a diversified and segmented society. As lawyers, civil
servants, teachers, journalists and members of voluntary groupings, they oiled the wheels and
gears of our difficult democracy during its formative phases with their skills of civil disagreement
and representation of positions. Financially depleted and poorly governed, higher education still
produces any number of qualified young adults, but these skills have become rarer. And now,
under The World Bank’s persuasion, an argument has gained ground that India needs literacy
and elementary education more urgently than it needs serious higher education.

  Pernicious as it is, this argument ignores the social history of our democracy. Of course our
universities have a lot to answer for in the stagnated frames of knowledge they continue to
maintain. Nor can we say that as institutions they have rendered meaningful service to the recent
processes of social change. But their presence in a society with so much fighting has been a
stabilising and nurturing influence. One can say that democracy does not depend on them, for the
norms and procedures of democracy have struck deeper roots. However, democracy without
democrats to defend it will always remain fragile. It may not die, but it will waste a lot of energy in
survival alone. It may not die also because democracy has proved the most convenient form of
governance for India, but its survival as a form of governance is not enough to make it a way of

 Finally, the use of school education for promoting mindless acceptance of the stated. Who is
behind it, I wonder, but it is happening all the time. Most probably no one in particular is behind it;
our schools are merely transmitting what is supposed to be a dominant ideology. It is the same
ideology that Aakaashvani and Doordarshan transmit in a more concrete sense.

Some important features of this ideology can help us recognize it, and they are as follows. The
government knows best. It is following the best possible choices, especially in the context of
India’s development and security. Development generally means making India look like a copy of
the West. If some part of a city begins to look faintly like a western city, it can be seen and used
as a symbol of development. Similarly, if agriculture gets firmly plugged into industries that
produce chemical fertilisers, pesticides and harvesters, this too is a sign of development. Poverty,
the ideology says, is related to the outlook of the poor, their lifestyle, commitment to traditions and
superstitions. Generally, the poor, rural folk are to blame for their own condition.

This brief sketch should suffice to indicate the contours of the propaganda that schools are
making all the time. It is not so much in the success or failure in this job that the problem lies;
rather, it lies in their ignoring the other job, that of enabling children to make sense of the India
that is unfolding. In that systematically ignored India, it is the rural masses who determine the
outcome of elections; they resist and campaign against the unfair policies and one-sided
initiatives of the state, thereby acting as correctives to state policy; they force development and
modernisation to take a specifically Indian shape. Our schools fail to present to the young an
India which is an exciting place to live and work. On the contrary, they put across an image of
India where only statesmen, civil servants, and scientists who act like civil servants matter. I recall
the biography of a Nobel laureate Indian scientist which emphasised, for the benefit of
elementary-level children, the fact of his being so brilliant that a commissioner of income tax
decided to choose him as a son-in-law.

We can read deeper meanings – class hegemony and sinister foreshadows – in the school
curriculum and the textbooks produced by the NCERT and the state bureaus. What is more
important for now is to notice that the system is not designed to make children think. The
approved policy of packing the maximum number of facts in the minimum space also gives a valid
excuse to textbook-manufacturing bodies to leave no clues or room that might allow a young
reader to stop and wonder about something.
The implied reader of these textbooks is someone who finds the world too cumbersome a place
to make sense of; so it is best to leave it to the state to manage. Can we call such a reader a
‘good citizen’? Such readers will undoubtedly be loyal to authorities, but they can hardly be
trusted as guardians of our turbulent democracy. If the liberal space has shrunk on issue after
issue, good citizens of this kind and the system which produced them must take some

Guarding the school gates
Left response to NCERT’s draft national curriculum framework is disturbing
Today, as students, my children face the same learning experiences as me 20 years ago.
Everywhere around the world new methods of teaching and evaluation are being practiced, but
our children continue to just copy exercises from the board, mug them up and reproduce them in
the exam. Children now have access to more information channels, yet more and more subjects
and contents are added to the school bag...

Sounds familiar? This is Neeta Mohla, a Mumbai-based teacher and mother, one of the many
who was interested enough to write to the NCERT in response to the draft National Curriculum
Framework for School Education (2005) document. Many, and not just those involved in
preparing the draft — soon to be debated in the Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE) —
felt relieved that the experts had finally made a serious effort to take on board the concerns
of parents, teachers and children about how classroom practices are transacted and textbooks
prepared, taught and read. Clearly, the relief was misplaced. The error in not paying sufficient
attention to the new guardians of public interest — not the now discredited ideologues of the
Sangh Parivar but those of the Left — is likely to prove costly. The recent collection, ‘Debating
Education’ brought out by SAHMAT (August 2005) makes for instructive and disturbing reading.
Leading from the front is senior historian Irfan Habib. He charges the policy document of “evading
real issues and making room for obscurantism”. In foregrounding ‘learning without burden’ and
‘child-centred education’, he writes that the draft completely sidesteps the concern of
ommunalisation of education under the erstwhile NDA regime, in particular of social science and
history. As proof, he bemoans that, “one fails to find any admonition that no religious song be
recited or sung at the morning assembly.” Shades of the Saraswati Vandana controversy? Why,
he goes on, is there no attempt to completely rubbish any notion of religious, spiritual,
transcendental or value education?

If the demand was only for a radical secularisation of public space, in particular schools, it may
have been possible to engage in a debate with these critics. But, as Habib and associates, all
worthy notables, allege, this is only the thin end of the wedge. Instead of “tailoring the entire
exercise in terms of the requirement of national development and supremacy of rationality and
the scientific spirit”, the document gives primacy to the “individual development of the child”. They
(the drafters) seem to believe “that children come to school with an innate wisdom of their own
which it is the business of the school to reinforce and nourish.”

Evidently the effort to foreground local and experiential knowledge, decentre the privileging of
NCERT books, and encourage the production and use of a multiplicity of texts by different
agencies so as to celebrate and accommodate the country’s diversity is, according to this Left
view, a dangerous and regressive trend. “In any case a grave danger lurks behind the glorification
of primitive beliefs contrasted to scientific concepts, and in indulging in it one would open the
gates to all kinds of superstition infiltrating school education.” Why, we might be folded with a
glorification of sati! The tirade does not end here. Everything child education pedagogues have
valued and fought for — how to lighten the textbook and place greater emphasis on the role of
the teacher and classroom interaction, encourage analysis and problem-solving as against
memorisation of facts by making the texts open-ended, incorporate the local environment and
traditions in the classroom to both encourage school-society interchange and reduce the
obsessive reliance on the textbook as the primary source of knowledge and, above all, look for
and experiment with a plurality of paths and methods so as to include the widest diversity of
children and experiences as a resource base — are seen as recanting from the true path:
secular, rational and national.

What is one to make of such a critique which questions the very presuppositions of the National
Curriculum Framework exercise, characterizes it as evasion, and worse, and asserts that it, if
approved, will dumb down and destroy our school education? In other times, it may have been
possible to ignore it. But, in today’s charged times where both discourse and policy have to
contend with “politically correct posturing” (and what can be more correct than secularism and
nationalism?), these charges, coming as they do from a credible source, can well seal the fate of
this otherwise worthwhile exercise. It is instructive that a recent CABE expert group has already
recommended that every school textbook be vetted by an expert group before being permitted
entry in schools. Equally, the draft bill on Free and Compulsory Education, currently under
preparation, goes on to define what is a proper school and teacher. No shoddy pretenders like
the education guarantee or Shiksha Karmi schools for our worthies!

There are indeed many significant issues that need debate in the NCF document and no one,
least of all those who have participated in the exercise, can lay claim to truth and infallibility. But,
seeking to ram through a national system of education with a centrally defined and prepared
curriculum and textbooks encoding “correct knowledge and orientation” by delegitimising, if not
squeezing out, all other alternative pathways — public, private, communitarian — is surely not the
answer. One can only hope that the general assembly of the CABE scheduled to meet in early
September does not fall prey to such reasoning. Surely there is life beyond the project of BJP
The writer is associate editor, Seminar

The problem

THE occasion for this issue of Seminar is the publication of a document called ‘National
Curriculum Framework’. The publishers, NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and
Training) calls it a ‘discussion document’, suggesting thereby that the responses elicited by it will
be used to produce a final version. Such an intention raises hopes, apart from indicating faith in
participatory democracy. By the same token, it carries the burden of responsibility. A document
designed to arouse a national debate must show that it has been written with consideration. This
one, on the contrary, announces that it was written in a hurry. The preface refers to ‘certain
compelling circumstances’ which meant that ‘it could not afford the luxury of taking a very long
time in its preparation’ (sic).

The reason why taking sufficient time, so that an announcement of this kind would not be
necessary, looked like a ‘luxury’ is said to be ‘obvious’, namely that ‘it would have further delayed
the much needed renewal of syllabi and the new generation of textbooks.’ We are not told what
the ‘compelling circumstances’ are, but we can make a guess by reading on. After giving the
‘obvious’ reason for the hurry, the pre-face says: ‘It may be made absolutely clear here that as far
as some basic philosophy and guidelines are concerned, we are still guided by and also
committed to the policy formulations made in the NPE (National Policy of Education), 1986 and its
review in the year 1992.’ The three segments of this quotation which have been italicized give us
a basis to guess what the ‘compelling circumstances’ might be. In all probability they were
created by the pressure of the new government at the centre.
The new government, or at least the party forming the biggest part in the patchwork alliance, feels
uncomfortable with some of the basic ideals expressed in the Indian Constitution. It has an
ideological problem with the cultural underpinnings of the nation state which emerged from the
anti-colonial struggle. In brief, to use Sunil Khilnani’s title, its ‘idea of India’ is different. That,
indeed, is one of the main reasons why this party has such a profound interest in education,
unlike other political parties, including the left parties, who treat education as an expensive and
tiring chore. Education invokes images of the future; it also promises control of the future. A party
which aims to remodel the India built during and after the freedom struggle, and whose
ideological ancestry lies in a fundamental contestation for hegemony, not just the power to
govern, understandably wants to move quickly towards redirecting education, particularly its
curriculum. Speed is crucial because the political mandate this party has received is tenuous and
may prove brief. As a ready-to-use tool of the government, the NCERT has no choice but to hurry

At the same time, NCERT must allay fears that the very mention of curriculum renewal under a
BJP-led government raises in the public mind, given the record of Uttar Pradesh (see Seminar
400), Gujarat and the thousands of schools run under the umbrella of the so-called Sangh
parivar. The NCERT also has a professional conscience to appease. Set up in the early sixties, it
carries the stamp of Nehru’s commitment to modernity and secularism. Given these external and
internal compulsions, it makes sense why the present document must make ‘absolutely clear’ that
it is ‘still’ guided by and ‘also committed to’ the basic philosophy enunciated in the mid-eighties
when the Congress was in power.

The need for this historical awareness notwithstanding, we must ask what that ‘basic philosophy’
of the mid-eighties document on education policy was to which this present document makes
such a loud, approving reference. The NPE did name all the values one associates with the
Constitution, but to say that it had a philosophy is both an exaggeration and an example of
memory loss. The NPE document assembled all manner of statements to cover the violation of
integrity committed during its inception. Few today might remember that the Rajiv government
had initiated the debate on education policy by releasing a document called ‘The Challenge of
Education’. Before the debate could mature, this document was suppressed. Its candour and
professional directness were not acceptable to all in the government. The eventual NPE
document failed to address a vast number of issues and facts which were listed for debate in the
previous document. Barring a few statements of intent, such as the creation of a separate cadre
of civil servants for education and a national testing service – neither of these intentions have
been pursued so far – the NPE presented little that was either professional or relevant to the
salient ills of the system.

Why the NCERT should refer to the NPE while justifying the present exercise of curriculum
renewal may be politically clear, but the attribution of a philosophy to the NPE may have a
narrower professional explanation as well. Philosophy of education is one subject that the
NCERT has consistently neglected in the nearly four decades of its existence. Indeed, the
Council has actively discouraged philosophical reflection on education by institutional
mechanisms such as the wholesale adoption of behaviourist psychology as its primary orbit of
research and publication. In the early years, sociology had some place in the Council’s sphere of
activities; later on, that too disappeared. Intellectual or reflective activity that might put a break on
the obsessive urge to dip every aspect of education in behaviourist solutions was shunned. The
MLL (Minimum Levels of Learning) approach, fashioned out in the early nineties, was the ultimate
achievement of this urge. It set to rest any desire or inspiration there might be among curriculum
designers to refer to the ideas and legacy of teacher-philosophers like Tagore, Gandhi, Sri
Aurobindo and Krishnamurti.

For the NCERT to claim that its National Curriculum Framework stands committed to the
philosophy of the NPE and another document that followed it only shows that the Council has
forgotten what it means to have a philosophy to be guided by. Repeated contradictions and the
chaos of arguments and theories, not to mention the weight of platitudes one finds throughout this
new document, bear testimony to this suspicion. The nine quotations of Gandhi used in the
document tell the same story, in addition to indicating the advantage Gandhi’s name offers as a
cover for political hypocrisy. As a professional body, the least that the NCERT might have done
was to acknowledge that Gandhi’ educational ideals are intertwined with his social ideals, and
that – apart from the backlog of our neglect of Gandhi – makes it extremely difficult to draw upon
his ideas in any practical and honest sense in a social ethos marked by competitive

There is little sign indeed in this document that the Council wants us to notice the professional
challenges it faces in the task of modernising curriculum designing and pedagogy, let alone share
these challenges. Throughout the document one confronts remarkable verbosity and smugness.
The lack of context is also sharp. One finds no reflection of the India where children must beg or
toil to supplement the family’s income, and where a meagre mid-day meal has been known to
make a bigger impact on attendance than any reform in curriculum or teaching. Equally, the
document pays little attention to the wealthier Indian where the IIT’s name is freely used by
coaching shops to earn large sums of money in exchange for skills to excel in the IIT entrance

Even the blatant correlation between family income and success in examinations does not figure
as a debate-worthy point in this discussion document, though it has a section on ‘evaluation’.
Indeed, by pathetic strategies like avoiding the term ‘examination’ in the title of this section, the
NCERT indicates its continued adherence to the practice of staying above the day-to-day reality
of the system rather than engaging with it. Neither the tools nor the mood to engage with reality
are in evidence in this document. Its lack of discourse of engagement, apart from its refusal to
prioritise the numerous tasks involved in curriculum renewal in an unreformed system of
education, are perhaps the two most important reasons why this document looks so mediocre.
The quality of production does little to hide its mediocrity, and perhaps we should be thankful for
that. In these respects, and not just its alleged philosophy, it is like the 1986 NPE. This continuity
would bear a misappropriation of the poet’s metaphor: governments may come and go, but the
neglect of education remains.

We may be stung and pained by such an unabashed national display of callousness towards
children, but we have no choice in taking the occasion of this document’s appearance seriously.
Hence this issue of Seminar.

                                                                              KRISHNA KUMAR
                                                       NCF DEBATE

       1. On A Recent Critique of the Draft National Curriculum
          By: Dr. Yash Pal

       2. To Accommodate the Curious Mind
          By: Nivediata Menon
          (Telegarph: 25 August, 2005)

       3. Guarding the School Gates
         By: Harsh Sethi .
         (Indian Express: 27 July, 2005)

       4. Shaikshik vimarsh ki apni zameen
          Raghvendra Prapanna
          (Hindustan: July 7, 2005)

       5. History Textbooks: the need to move forward
          By: Sumit Sarkar
          (The Hindu : July 6, 2005)

       6. Making education reforms more meaningful
         By: Krishna Kumar
         (The Hindu : July 2, 2005)

       7. For a new Paradigm
          By: K. Ramachandran
          (The Hindu : July 1, 2005)


A few chapters short
The new National Curriculum Framework has put the child firmly at the centre of its proposals.
But critics point out that it has overlooked many problems, such as the lack of infrastructure,
inadequate teacher training, and continuing social biases. Some provisions have also been
attacked as obscurantist. Deepa A reports.

07 December 2005 - Textbooks and tests have long been the two words that defined the Indian
education system, but now the National Curriculum Framework 2005 is doing its utmost to
change that perception. The 124-page document, prepared by the National Council for
Educational Research and Training (NCERT), emphasises the words learning without burden and
child-centred education repeatedly. Its volley of suggestions, already reflected in the new NCERT
syllabus for classes one to twelve, includes cutting down on the number of textbooks, making
assessment methods flexible, and promoting more inclusive learning.

More dramatically, it makes a case for doing away with stereotypes based on gender and caste.
Perhaps the spirit of the document (the NCF and the new syllabus can be accessed at the
website is reflected in the many examples for innovative teaching suggestions
that pepper its pages. For instance, one illustration titled Talking Pictures, recommends: "Show
the class a picture of a household with various members of the family performing various tasks.
The difference is the father is cooking, the mother fixing the light bulb, the daughter returning from
school on a bicycle, and the son milking the cow ... the grandfather is sewing on a button and the
grandmother is doing the accounts. Ask the children to talk about the picture ... Do they think that
there is any work that these people should not be doing? Why? Involve them in a discussion on
dignity of work, equality and gender ..."

By breaking away from established notions and prevalent teaching practices, the framework has
laid the ground for making learning a more exciting experience. As NCERT Director Krishna
Kumar explains, the NCF is "sensitive" to the needs of children and understands that the ultimate
goal of education is to "motivate". And even its critics agree that this NCF takes a step forward by
recognising the importance of the child in the school education system. The new NCERT syllabus
shows a "marked departure from earlier ones", according to Kumar.

                                    Illustration: Farzana Cooper

A new beginning

A fresh look at syllabi is certainly required in many states in the country, where changes in
curricula sometimes occur only every 10 years. "Central boards of education, such as the CBSE
(Central Board of Secondary Education) and the ICSE (Indian School Certificate Examinations),
revise textbooks more frequently. States are more conservative, and revisions of curriculum
happen slowly," says Kulbhushan Kushal, regional director of the DAV Group of educational
institutions in Maharashtra and Gujarat. While modifications are expected to take place according
to new education policies, it is only CBSE schools, and states such as Uttaranchal and Jharkhand
that immediately follow the NCERT syllabus.

The need for change is accepted widely. "Discussions have centred around the relevance of the
present education system - there is a feeling among teachers, parents and children that the
system is irrelevant," says V. Madhusudan, additional project coordinator, Sarva Shiksha
Abhiyan, Hyderabad. According to Krishna Kumar, the Goa government has been the first to write
to NCERT expressing a desire to adopt and implement the new national framework. "We have to
start taking decisions (based on the NCF), and identify resources (to implement it). It is today or
never," he says. But the new framework is still being debated in many states in the country.
Educating the educator

The framework suggests that students should be able to "connect knowledge to life outside
school" and "ensure that learning is shifted away from rote methods". It recommends that
teachers should encourage children not just to answer questions but also to frame questions
themselves, and "plan lessons so that children are challenged to think and not simply repeat what
is told to them." By stressing on these methods, the framework emphasises not just the role of
the child, but also that of the teacher.

Its path-breaking suggestions notwithstanding, there are questions about the extent to which the
framework can be translated into reality. When many schools have no infrastructure to speak of,
when teachers are hired on contract to teach for a few hours daily, will it be possible to make the
child the centre of learning, as the framework whole-heartedly recommends? Critics point out that
the NCF does not adequately consider the teacher training processes that need to precede the
classroom reforms it preaches. The framework does have a section on Teacher Education for
Curriculum Renewal, which, among other things, admits that, "Attempts at curricular reform have
not been adequately supported by teacher education. Large-scale recruitment of para-teachers
has diluted the identity of the teacher as a professional." Also acknowledging that "any curriculum
renewal effort needs to be supported with well thought-out (sic) and systematic programme of in-
service education ...", the framework suggests strategies for organising teacher training

Yet, though the framework has taken a positive step by recognising the importance of teachers, it
"could have taken a clearer view and made a series of policy recommendations on the subject,"
says Poonam Batra, professor in Delhi University's Department of Education, who has written a
paper on the subject for the Economic and Political Weekly. "If education is empowerment, then it
cannot talk only of students' empowerment. It should include teachers' empowerment," she adds.
A redesigned curriculum will not be imparted through textbooks alone - the teacher will be the one
conveying it to students; and, however well a textbook is written, it should have clear "pedagogic
methods", says Batra. As she writes in her piece, "In the present form the NCF 2005 does not
take a clear position on the current state of teacher education, the dying cadre of the trained
elementary government schoolteacher and the increasing reliance of many state governments on
a fast growing cadre of para teachers."

The framework should also have made clear the kind of interventions required to implement it
fully, says Batra. In particular, the NCF does not offer suggestions on how experiences and
voices excluded from the classroom till now can be brought in. It is wrong to assume - as the NCF
does - that teachers will be far removed from their own socio-political context, where biases and
discrimination against people, based on their backgrounds, exist, she adds. "Teacher education
is an isolated process not linked to other departments," she says, "as a result, academic debates
on equity and gender seldom enter the insular world of teaching educators."

Shailendra Kumar Sharma, senior programme coordinator of Pratham, a non-governmental
organisation that works on education issues, says that interactions with teachers reveal that they
are not ready to implement the changes suggested by the framework. "Is adequate support being
provided to teachers to effect this paradigm shift?" he wonders. There is cynicism among
teachers, especially in government schools, and besides, there's a considerable amount of divide
between teachers and children from the marginalised sections of society, he adds. Teachers
sometimes simply don't understand, or do not care to understand, where the child is coming from,
says Sharma.
Krishna Kumar, on the other hand, says that the National Council for Teacher Education, a
statutory body that lays down guidelines for regulating teachers' education in the country, has
welcomed NCF 2005. The council has agreed to reorganise Bachelor of Education (B.Ed)
programmes on the basis of NCF, he adds. The NCERT is also looking at conducting brief in-
service programmes and release audio and video programmes to supplement its framework.

Reality bites

The NCF has devoted a chapter to School and Classroom Environment, mentioning that "not
enough attention is paid to the importance of (sic) physical environment for learning". It says that
classrooms are overcrowded and unattractive, despite the fact that children want to be in a
colourful, friendly and playful space. The framework suggests ways to make school buildings and
classrooms attractive, and says that heads of school and block functionaries should focus on
ensuring that at least minimum infrastructural requirements are met. It also mentions that the
ideal number of students in a class should be around 30.

The NCF has, however, shown a marked reluctance to ask the government to ensure better
standards in its schools, many of which are crumbling and lack everything from teachers to
toilets. It is also silent on how schools dealing with such basic infrastructural problems, with just a
couple of teachers for 500-odd students or so, can implement its suggestions. Anil Sadgopal,
member of the National Steering Committee that framed the curriculum, points out, "No
curriculum reforms will be meaningful without systemic reforms in the school system." The NCF
does not present a clear view on the government's role and has, instead, opted to say what the
government wants to hear, he adds.

More concrete policy changes need to be initiated to implement the suggestions made by NCF,
says Madhusudhan. Writing in the Social Scientist's issue on 'Debating Education', historian Irfan
Habib points out that "almost every proposal it (the NCF 2005) makes is only practical - if at all! -
for elite schools. Its insistence on "individualised attention" to be given to all children, or
multiplicity of subject choices, or two levels (standard/higher) of teaching, are all possible only for
highly privileged schools. In other respects too the proposals in NCF-2005 would disadvantage
the poor."

Call for clarity

Some of the framework's proposals have evoked despair, and even anger. Two of these, in
particular - the glorification of 'local knowledge', and a proposal to do away with examinations as
the chief assessment tools, have come in for severe criticism. Drawing a halo around "local
knowledge" could lead to obscurantist ideas, fears Rajan Prasad of Sahmat. The NCF states,
"The child's community and local environment form the primary context in which learning takes
place, and in which knowledge acquires its significance ... In this document, we emphasise the
significance of contextualising education: of situating learning in a child's context." Children
should be encouraged to learn from communities and knowledgeable individuals who are a
storehouse of information on India's environment, says the framework. The only caveat
mentioned here is that "all forms of local knowledge must be mediated through Constitutional
values and principles."

In a note critiquing the processes, Teesta Setalvad, editor of Communalism Combat, points out
that the overemphasis on "diffused local knowledge" could be "dangerous". " ... If implemented in
the current form, the NCF 2005 would be a continued invitation to dubious, hugely-funded non-
governmental organisations to continue to operate freely in the area of mass education and even
draw government funds where politically sympathetic regimes exist," she writes. The document
itself is not cohesive, and merely talking of equity as a token gesture is not sufficient, says
Setalvad. "There is inequity of caste in our system, but liberals resist from admitting it," she adds.
The plan to dilute the role of examinations has produced sneers as well. The framework
"attempts to remind teachers that assessment techniques have to be evolved to recognise
children's success, rather than find ways to fail them," says the NCERT director. Those are the
very points that critics like Habib question, fearing that educators will be coerced into regarding
even non-performing students as successful by some yardstick. As he writes in his piece, How to
evade real issues and make room for obscurantism, "The one way, however defective in actual
practice, that may still be employed to keep a check on actual content of teaching in schools, is
the system of examinations. NCF-2005 is, however, intent on reducing these to mere farcical

No verdict yet

The bottom-line question for such proposed reforms is 'will it work?' Indeed, can one expect the
NCF to work magic in schools where even a blackboard is a scarce commodity? Krishna Kumar
points to roles that have to be played by others, saying, "The NCF recognises that a complex set
of factors is necessary for educational reforms - and civil society is a major factor." The way
governments act will depend on civil society and the societal pressure on them to perform, he
adds. The NCF, approved in September by the Central Advisory Board on Education in
September, presents just one "aspect of educational reforms", he says. When economic reforms
are still continuing after 14 years, educational reforms would clearly take much longer, he
explains. "The document shows the direction ... at best, it can be a starting point," he adds.

The framework's positive attributes, the director points out, include the fact that it acknowledges
the child's primacy and does not impose a straight-jacketed, narrow notion on children. Krishna
Kumar claims that the new teaching methods will also contribute to stemming the current drop-out
rate - as many as 53 percent of the children drop out by the time they reach class eight now. "It is
the biased nature of the present curriculum against girls and marginalised groups that's partly
responsible for making present-day education an alienating experience," he says. ⊕

Deepa A
07 Dec 2005

Deepa A is a New Delhi-based journalist. This article is the third in India Together's multi-part
series, "Lens on Education", and is funded through support from the Indian American Education
Foundation (, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to supporting the
education of children with disabilities in India. IAEF additionally works to educate mainstream
America about the Indian American community and its heritage.

URL for this article:

Sex education still off the charts
Students must feel comfortable seeking counselling on sex-related issues. Each of their
questions, no matter how private, needs to be answered. Experts argue that openness in
conversation would decrease frustrations and aggressions linked to sexuality amongst youth,
says Parul Sharma.
Education policy | HIV/AIDS
December 2005

A few chapters short
The new National Curriculum Framework has put the child firmly at the centre of its proposals.
But critics point out that it has overlooked many problems, such as the lack of infrastructure,
inadequate teacher training, and continuing social biases. Some provisions have also been
attacked as obscurantist. Deepa A reports.
December 2005

India's unchecked textbooks racket
The dimensions of the open, continuous and unchecked textbooks publishing rackets have
recently come to light following the defeat of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance
government in the general election held last year. Srinidhi Raghavendra reports.
February 2005

Classes everywhere, not a stop to think
Many teenagers in Mumbai are spending their evenings on the "untiring toil" of tuitions, trying to
learn what their teachers should have been teaching them in junior college but are not. This is a
system that unthinkingly takes away kids' leisure time, says Dilip D'Souza.
Dilip D'Souza | Education | Maharashtra
December 2004

Vital reform agenda for education
Leaders write prescriptions for a renaissance
Education Policy
December 2004

Her mind, her country
Gender sensitivity in curricula.
Children | Women | Delhi
October 2004

Science education on a slippery path
Low rating for India's best shatters assumptions.
Education policy
October 2004

For a new paradigm
K. Ramachandran
THE TAMIL Nadu Government decided this month to do away with a proven
system — the Professional Courses Entrance Examinations. The affected
students knocked at the doors of the Madras High Court, and it found the
decision to be unacceptable in law. The matter has now gone before the
Supreme Court.

But some of the social and academic questions involved are being neither
raised nor debated. Politics that has held centrestage in every aspect of life
in Tamil Nadu, including in films and the entertainment industry, has now
encroached into the academic space. Academic decisions are being taken in
the name of representing certain sections. Arbitrary changes are being
sought to be effected without even a semblance of academic inputs. The
biggest stakeholders, the students, feel left out.
The common entrance test (CET) system for admissions to professional
courses was introduced in 1984. That was the point of time when higher
education was formally opened for private players. A need arose to infuse
transparency in the admissions process, at least with regard to the
government quota seats in unaided professional education institutions.

The CET system evolved over time and got its present structure in the early
1990s. Admissions to courses in medical, paramedical, engineering,
veterinary and agriculture and allied sciences are based on a combination of
marks obtained in the higher secondary examinations and the CET. The
proportion was 4:1. Then it came down to 2:1. The methodology in Tamil
Nadu of combining the marks obtained in the qualifying examination and the
CET is widely seen as an ideal one. The Plus Two, or higher secondary,
examination evaluates a student's knowledge of the syllabus content. The
CET, by means of its objective methodology, tests a student's problemsolving
capability, speed, memory and understanding of the fundamentals in
science and mathematics.

While scrapping the CET system the Tamil Nadu Government gave a reason:
that it put rural students at a disadvantage. Urban students, it was stated,
had the advantage of getting coached in tuition centres.

However, rural Tamil Nadu's biggest provider of higher secondary education
is public-funded — institutions run by the Government and the local bodies.
Privately funded schools account for only a third of the entire higher
secondary system. These are urban-based.

If the rural students feel deprived, the blame must go to the Government
and local body schools in the hinterland. Some of the so-called rural schools
are also institutions that levy high levels of fees. Their students are from the
elite sections, coming from all parts of the State to study Class XI and XII.
By no means can they be called rural students.
Social differences in access to education, as in other domains of life, are a
reality in Tamil Nadu. The surest means of bringing in equity here would be
to infuse more money into the government schooling system.

The CET system brought in equity and parity. It remains the only gateway
that can evaluate a student's ability and aptitude objectively, compared with
several other methods. When the system is removed, students from other
streams, especially those run by the all-India boards, feel disadvantaged.
But the State has a counter-argument. The national level CETs are based on
the CBSE syllabus. This proves a disadvantage to students from the State
Board stream seeking to enter the Indian Institutes of Technology or the
National Institutes of Technology. A majority of the aspirants to higher
education cannot compete with a minority that gets trained in premier
academic institutions to enter the IITs. When an entire nation turns its back
on a majority coming from humbler backgrounds, what is wrong in the State
reciprocating the gesture? This is one line of thinking among different
political parties in Tamil Nadu.

But is there not a way out of this competitive chauvinism — State vs Centre;
Urban vs Rural? Or the Elite vs the Humble?

A possible solution
Experts and academicians show the way: build on the strengths of the CET and simply
add it to the higher secondary examination system. Out of the 200 marks given for each
subject in the Class XII examinations, questions that carry 100 marks can be in CET
style: make these objective-type. The rest of the theory papers could be in the existing
subjective or descriptive style. So an examiner can evaluate a student's knowledge, on
the one hand, and the crucial life skills, on the other, all in one examination.
How do we build a consensus on this? Political parties need to remove themselves from
the scene and let the academics decide on a scientific methodology that is enduring.
Perhaps, a committee can thrash out the details. It can produce a report in the next three
months so that a new and reformed examination system could be put in place at least
from the next academic year. It can make life simpler for the poor urban learner, who
now has no support from any quarter.

Signs of reform

Kamala Balachandran
Taking a cue from the film Iqbal, the NCERT has decided to introduce sign
language to students of Std III.

It is common knowledge that young people often imitate the styles and mannerisms of characters
from box office movies. However, the idea of educators drawing inspiration from commercial
cinema seems quite far-fetched! But that unlikely connection has been made with the NCERT
taking a cue from the Subhash Ghai’s 2005-release movie, Iqbal. To quote the exact words of
Professor Krishna Kumar, Chairman, NCERT, “Iqbal has not only inspired us but it has also
explained what we want to achieve, so simply!"

Nagesh Kukunoor’s latest directorial venture Iqbal, is a gritty tale about the rise of an underdog.
The movie tells the story of a deaf-mute boy who harbours a dream of making to the Indian
cricket team as a pace bowler. The protagonist’s sprightly ten-year old sister, Khadija has total
faith in her brother’s talents. She speaks not only for her brother but also to him in his language.
Director Krishna Kumar said the example of Khadija who plays a crucial role in her brother's life
because she knows sign language, prompted the NCERT to take a step wherein sign language
will be introduced to children of standard III, right across the country. Besides, NCERT has also,
for the first time, introduced a poem written in Braille script for Class VI students of Hindi. A
chapter on Helen Keller, the deaf and blind American woman who became a role model for
millions of people, will also be added. Though the idea was already in the pipeline, “the movie has
strengthened the belief,” said Professor Krishna Kumar.

The National Council for Educational Research and Training was established to provide a
framework within which teachers and schools could choose and plan experiences that they think
children should have.


An important guiding principle of the NCERT is to maintain
equality of all children and uphold the value of every child. It also
aims to ensure that learning atmosphere is such that all children
experience the dignity and confidence to learn. A direct corollary
to this commitment is that children with disabilities be given
inclusive education. That is, they should be allowed to join the
mainstream school and not excluded from the normal atmosphere
of a generalist school. For when segregated in specialist schools, these children remain hidden
from the eyes of the community. Ignorant of the ways in which the disabled cope with their
handicap, the society’s stigmatising attitudes and negative value dispositions stay out dated and
hardened. This in turn, pushes the disabled into remaining second-class citizens.
Another important guiding principle of NCERT is to “remove prejudices and complexes (in the
children’s minds) transmitted through the social environment and accident of birth.” Hence,
parallel to including the disabled children into the main stream, educators feel, it is necessary to
sensitise the normal children to the needs and problems of the disabled.

Inclusive education

The introduction of sign language and Braille is a part of NCERT’s approach towards such an
inclusive, integrated education. Experts are convinced that when normal children learn to
communicate with a hearing impaired child in sign language, the latter’s integration into the
school environment will be total.

"As a parent of a deaf child I was terrified when I first saw sign language. But if you teach children
what it looks like at a young age, then by the time they are 25 they will think of it as normal," says
Arun Rao, Director, Deaf Way.

The new idea of NCERT is simple and yet so potent that it could revolutionise the way the next
generation of children look at a disabled person. It is extremely heartening to know that we have
an original idea that promises to humanise the face of education.

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