NCERT has rendered a valuable service to the country by bringing out a discussion Document on National Curriculum Framework for School Education. The last document on the curriculum was developed in 1988. It should have been reviewed much earlier, since it is best to renew the curriculum at reasonable intervals. But the effort that has been deployed in producing this new document appears to be very laborious and bears the imprint of latest development of educational thought and of the lessons that can be derived from the experiences not only of the last twelve years but right from the time when NCERT entered into the field of educational research. Moreover, the present document has produced a curriculum framework for all the stages of school education ‒ from elementary to the senior secondary. All those who have participated in conceiving, writing and bringing out this document deserve our congratulations.
It is not necessary here to dwell on the merits of the document, since they are quite obvious. First of all, it is a frank document, and it confesses the failures that our educational experiments and practice have registered, and the questions which it has framed for eliciting the opinions of the readers bring out the earnestness of NCERT to find remedies so that in the future we can minimise the incidence of failures. Secondly, it expresses the aspirations to develop in the country a truly national system of education. In doing so, the document underlines the concern for a cohesive society, education of the girl child, and providing special measures for children with special needs and for children from disadvantaged groups. The document has also done well to emphasise the need to strengthen the national identity and to highlight our cultural heritage and India's contribution to mankind. Thirdly, the document is fully aware of the need to respond to the impact of globalisation and the need to convert the information-society into a knowledge-society by utilising the revolution in new technologies. Fourthly, the document rightly focuses on the education for value development and for imparting to the students the message of fundamental duties of citizens, — a subject on which the Verma Committee has made valuable recommendations in two volumes which have been presented to the Government in October 1999. Finally, the document has also underlined the need to make our education child-centred in the context of the ideal of unending education with due emphasis on non-formal processes of teaching and learning and on some innovative ideas connected with work education, aesthetic education, physical education, and a new system of evaluation.
It has been suggested that curriculum development is essentially a process of qualitative improvement. This is, of course, true; but what the country needs most urgently today is to liberate the educational system from the Macaulyan mould in which it has been so rigidly fixed that we need to propose to the country some radical strategies which would show how a new mould can be created, which would reflect the results of experiments which are going on since the last 100 years in certain progressive corners of India and the world. Indeed, it may be argued that this task could legitimately fall outside the purview of the exercises involved in the development of a national curriculum framework. But this argument is indefensible, since it is necessary to point out how the present mould of education prevents the implementation of some of the innovative ideas which have already been pronounced in the past, and which have been repeated also in the present document.
The discussion document frankly admits that the three-language formula exists “only in our curriculum documents and other policy statements”. (p.39) The document points out that some States follow only a two-language formula, and that where even three-language formula is followed, there is no unanimity as to what should be the third-language. But having studied all the relevant facts, and even when pertinent questions have been raised, the document does not come forth adequately in respect of an important and urgent issue. This issue relates to the study of Sanskrit.
Indeed, the document advocates the cause of cultural heritage, not only because it is a part of fundamental duties but also because every educational system must necessarily be the carrier of the cultural heritage, for building the bridges between past, present and future. But how can, it may be asked, this aim be realised without Sanskrit? For in any impartial view of our culture, Sanskrit stands out prominently as a language that has in India a history of more than five thousand years and has even a distinction of being even today a pan-Indian language and also a living language, since it even now continues to grow and develop, absorb modern idioms and is vibrant in the air and atmosphere of Indian cultural life which is shared by the largest masses of common people. One does not know how the aim of the duty that has been cast by the Constitution to preserve and nourish the cultural heritage can be fulfilled if we are to neglect the study of Sanskrit. In addition to the Constitutional duty, Sanskrit needs also to be taught on the ground that greatest stores of knowledge concerning self-culture and self-perfection are to be found in Sanskrit, and the new scenario of knowledge that we want to build up demands the recovery of that knowledge so as to synthesise it with and even illuminate the modern trends of knowledge. Moreover, several disciplines of knowledge which were developed in India in the past, such as astronomy, mathematics, natural sciences and medicine need to be brought to the attention of the scholars of modern knowledge with living sharpness. One is, therefore, compelled to conclude that Sanskrit needs to be taught not only at an elementary level but even at higher levels of competence.
To the argument that the three-language formula does not permit any direct entry to Sanskrit in our educational system, one sharp answer could be that if a language formula does not serve the real purpose of education that is being conceived and advocated, then it is high time to review that language formula. The discussion document could have at least brought out forcefully the need for such a review. At the same time, the following three constructive suggestions can be put forth, even in the context of our present disabling condition:
a) Sanskrit could be made a part of the curriculum of the study of the cultural heritage of India;
b) Sanskrit could officially be encouraged as an optional extracurricular language throughout the entire system of school education; and
c) The country should establish institutions or schools exclusively devoted to the teaching of those languages which foster the preservation and transmission of our cultural heritage. (We may note that such schools have been developed by the British Council and Alliance Francaise, which are open both for the students and members of public.) Proficiency acquired in these schools could also be given recognition by boards of examinations, colleges and universities.
In addition to Sanskrit, I should also like to add another important concern. This is regarding the study of an additional international language, apart from English which is being studied everywhere in the country. The world is becoming one global world, and the discussion document itself has spoken of the impact on our educational system on account of growing globalisation. One of the important consequences of this impact will be a new awareness of the need to learn additional international languages. We shall need to select at least one such additional international language apart from English for special concentration. At present, United Nations has recognised six international languages, namely, Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. From among these languages the one language that will be easiest for us to learn will be French, since French is not very distant from English and a large number of words in both the languages are common. Indeed, this has to be presented as an optional language, and it can also be developed as an extracurricular language.
My third remark relates to a very important area, namely, the area of value-education. My feeling is that this entire area has been dealt with in the document in a piecemeal manner. In the first place, the idea that value education should be dovetailed into curricula of different subjects needs to be reviewed. There is no doubt that value education can be integrated into the study of various subjects, provided that this is properly balanced by developing a special curriculum for value education as a full-fledged discipline. This would mean that there should an integrated curriculum from class I to class XII which would have three interconnected component parts:
There is, I think, an important segment in the curriculum presented in the document which can easily be integrated and expanded into the proposed special interdisciplinary subject.
This refers to work education, art education, health and physical education. The new proposed subject could very well be termed: value-oriented education, and under this subject all that is being proposed for education pertaining to fundamental duties can also be integrated. Great care should, however, be taken to ensure that value education does not become education for do's and don'ts but rather a veritable process of value-oriented education, methods of which should be exploratory rather than prescriptive.
My fourth remark is related to the area of examination or evaluation. Some of the suggestions which have been made in regard to this area are truly refreshing such as those connected with grading and marking system, maintenance of reports and reporting, and education testing service. It may, however, be remarked that the idea of continuous evaluation has a danger of encouraging a development of a system in which students are constantly harassed by the bugbear of examinations. We should ensure that the testing system does not compress the student's horizons within the boundaries of prescribed curriculum but, on the contrary, stimulates students to widen their interests, their scope of inquiry and development of skills and abilities relating to a number of areas which are not covered by the curriculum.
We also need to spell out in greater detail the idea of educational testing service. It is appropriate here to mention that the evils of examination system are not necessarily tied up with tests as such but with the nature of testing, frequency of testing, purpose of testing and relationship of testing with the overarching concern for permitting the growth of students' abilities, skills, value-orientation, aesthetic tastes as also the integral development of personality.
When the idea of National Testing Service was suggested in 1986 it was to be a measure to secure the following three aims:
It was also emphasised that the National Testing Service should maintain very high standards of testing, and therefore, the tests should be so designed that they really test the level of excellence and that nobody can pass these tests if one has merely learnt anything mechanically, without adequate comprehension.
It should be obvious that if such a national testing service is developed, students who succeed through this test, will naturally gain higher credibility and will also gain higher preference in regard to employment opportunity. As a result, the national testing service can be a remedy to numerous evils which are at present to be found in the current system of examinations. A time can come when the entire system of education gets liberated from the present system of testing and its numerous hardships and defects.
I feel that the present moment is propitious to work out in detail the idea of national testing service, so that it can be implemented in the near future.
There are many other remarks which one can make, but for want of time I shall restrict myself to only one more additional remark. This relates to the first terminal point in our educational system. There is, one feels, a kind of ambiguity which affects adversely the clarity in regard to the curricular framework in respect of the aims of class eight and class ten.
In order to clarify the situation, it seems that the end of elementary education, that is, end of class eight, should be regarded as the first terminal point, so that the curriculum of first eight years of schooling should so self-contained that one can join, if so required or desired, after class eight the world of work. This is also logical from the point of view of the fact that our Constitution has laid down that education should be compulsory and free up to the age of fourteen. It will be seen that age of fourteen corresponds roughly to class eight. This means also that the Constitution considers that children should be so educated in the first eight years that if they want to join the world of work at that stage they can do so with necessary equipment to find employment or self-employment at some minimum level. In consideration of this, the aims of elementary education should be to equip the student with the knowledge of at least one language at a considerable level of proficiency to speak, read, and write, as also the competence to calculate in terms of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, competence to learn further by self-help, and adequate grounding in the science and art of life, coupled with general or special knowledge or ability in regard to several or specialised subjects of personal interest.
It would be seen that if this aim is adopted, what is generally suggested for work education will need to be modified. The level of work education at the terminal of elementary education should be such that one can perform competently duties or responsibilities in respect of various kinds of work which are available to individuals of the age of fourteen.
Again, if elementary education is conceived as a first terminal point, value education should have been so provided within the eight years of schooling that one can perform intelligently the duties that have been laid down in the Constitution and also show minimum maturity to pursue the ideals of multisided personality.
The discussion document contains a number of suggestions concerning the need for innovations. The underlying premise for these innovations is the aim which has been laid down for education, namely, "enabling the learners to acquire knowledge, develop understanding and inculcate skills, attitudes, values and habits conducive for the all round development of that personality.” (page 29) Twenty-three clusters of qualities, abilities, skills, attitudes and states of consciousness have been listed, that need to be generated and promoted among the learners. It has also underlined the need to provide remedial teaching as well as counselling services for carrying out the diagnosis of learning problems and providing support to the needy learner groups. It has also pointed out that instead of using one uniform, mechanistic way of learning, cultural practices such as story-telling, dramatics, puppetry, folk play, community living, etc., should become a strong basis of pedagogy.
The document has also recommended the need to shift from traditional-oriented cognitive approach of education to a more holistic education which places learning within the context of learners' total experiences. In this connection, it has suggested that aesthetic approach to education strives to restore appropriate balance to the learning process by giving equal status to experience, imagination, creativity and intuition, as it does to knowing, thinking, remembering and reasoning.
It also recognises the need to incorporate sound components of work education in the entire process of education interspersed throughout the ten years of schooling.
In the context of the need to convert the information-society into knowledge-society, the document advocates a shift from traditional learning atmosphere to a climate of values that encourages exploration, problem-solving and decision making; a shift from didactic classroom teaching to participation, decentralised, interactive group learning; from traditional instructional methodology to strategies that unify knowledge; a shift from mastery of fixed body of knowledge to understanding of a web of relations between parts of a whole; and a shift from linear sequential reasoning to search for patterns and connections and a shift from collection of information to processing of information.
While emphasising the new roles of the teachers, the document suggests that the teacher will have to play a catalytic role, entirely different from what he or she is used to at the moment. It further points out that it is the acquisition of learning skills, ability to explore, observe and discover the unknown and facility in analysis, synthesis, critical thinking and decision-making that need to be the watchwords of curriculum transaction under the supervision of the teacher who should essentially be a facilitator of learning.
These and other similar suggestions and recommendations are highly commendable, and they all need to be implemented. Unfortunately, the document does not suggest any strategy as to how the salutary changes which are entailed can be effected.
It must be admitted that the task is not easy and probably NCERT has to constitute a special committee at the earliest which would examine in detail all the proposed innovations and recommend to the country some practicable strategies to make our entire education programme innovative.
My own feeling is that innovations cannot succeed if they are sought to be enforced from above without creating a favourable climate in which teachers feel greatly inspired to implement innovations and to devote enough time to develop and accomplish the new tasks which are implied in innovative processes of teaching and learning. It would, therefore, be desirable to institute a scheme of innovative schools in the country under which the schools where the teaching staff is enthused by the proposed innovations could be selected for special help, both academic and financial. This scheme should be monitored by a group of distinguished academics, who could also provide leadership and guidance. These schools could also provide materials and ideas that could enhance the value of the national testing service as an alternative to the present system of examination, the deficiencies of which have been brought out quite clearly from time to time by teachers, students, educationists and various committees and commissions.
It is fortunate that NCERT has shown great earnestness not only in preparing the discussion document but also in following up that document with seminars and consultations. A new climate is being created in our country for a new break-through. The two-volume report which has been recently submitted by the Verma Committee on Fundamental Duties of Citizens will also contribute to strengthening the efforts which NCERT will make to give a bolder and more innovative curricular framework to the country. Let us, therefore, give best co-operation to NCERT and its allied agencies.