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National Curriculum Framework 2005

Pious intent of liberation charter

Given the pathetic condition of contemporary India’s schools, the passions aroused by the draft National Curriculum Framework 2005 are rather modest. Because for the nation’s 415 million grossly neglected but high-potential children, the content of the finalised NCF 2005 will be of make-or- break significance. Dilip Thakore reports 

It’s an indicator that even if belatedly, the vital but unsexy
subject that is education is beginning to arouse violent passions. On May 7 an estimated 100-strong group of youth identified as members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), stormed a joint meeting of the National Council for Education Research & Training (NCERT) and Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE) in Delhi, breaching the security perimeter of Vigyan Bhavan, the massive conference centre which is the preferred venue of important seminars and conferences in the national capital.

Vigyan Bhavan: orchestrated vandalism
Once inside the centre, the youth shouted slogans against the draft National Curriculum Framework (NCF) 2005 for school education authored by NCERT which was formally presented to CABE for study, debate and approval on that day. Quite obviously the vandalism was orchestrated by the BJP which during its period in office (1999-2004) under its hardline Union HRD (human resource development) minister, Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi had insinuated far-reaching changes in the national school curriculum completely bypassing CABE and arousing a storm of protest within the intelligentsia. Still smarting under the unexpected and humiliating defeat in the general election of May 2004 and the incumbent Union HRD minister Arjun Singh’s top priority ‘detoxification’ drive within NCERT, ICHR (Indian Council for Historical Research), ICSSR (Indian Council for Social Science Research) etc, the BJP leadership has been itching for a confrontation with Singh.

EducationWorld’s Delhi correspondent Autar Nehru who was present and correct at Vigyan Bhavan on May 7 describes the mayhem. "The drama began soon after Arjun Singh reached the venue around 2.30 p.m. As planned, the ABVP activists immediately began raising slogans against Singh which was a cue for the education ministers of five BJP ruled states and its allied BJD minister of Orissa to stage a walkout of hall No. 5 where the NCERT-CABE meeting was being held. The mob crashed through the gates and smashed everything from glasspanes, flower-pots to paintings on the walls. In the melee, theatre personality Habeeb Tanveer suffered a fall and fractured his arm. We heard later that a wordy exchange between the ABVP activists and CISF (Central Industrial Security Force) personnel had sparked off this ugly vandalism. Delhi police reinforcements arrived 15 minutes later and arrested 58 ABVP activists," reports Nehru.

Though Arjun Singh and members of the newly-revived CABE which comprises some of the most distinguished names in Indian education including Anil Sadagopal, Prof. P.V. Indiresan, and Azim Premji put a brave face on it, the ABVP agitation wasn’t entirely unsuccessful. It prompted the board to give time until August to the BJP-ruled state governments to study the draft NCF and formulate their responses to it.

Singh: more study time
"The NCF 2005 draft will be translated into all (23) languages listed in the eighth schedule of the Constitution and sent to state education ministries by end June. Thus the state governments will have time to organise debates, seminars and discussions and to formulate their suggestions and comments which should be returned to the HRD ministry or CABE by the end of July. CABE will meet in the first week of August to discuss the states’ suggestions and finalise NCF 2005. Thereafter NCERT will commission new school textbooks as per the new curriculum guidelines and make them available at the start of the next academic year," said Arjun Singh in the hastily convened press conference after the fracas.  

Ex facie it is difficult to comprehend why the draft new school curriculum should arouse such hysteria. Its prime objective, to reduce the "curriculum load and the tyranny of examinations" is unexceptionable and certain to strike a responsive chord in every student, teacher, parent and educationist. Following the disastrous five-year reign of Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi in the Union HRD ministry, an era marked by ad hoc rewriting of history texts from the perspective of Hindu mythology and a whimsical attempt to pack the boards of the world class IIMs and IITs with hand-picked cronies, one of the first priorities of the Congress-led UPA government was to revise the BJP-sponsored National Curriculum Framework for School Education (NCFSE-2000) devised by NCERT then headed by the controversial right-wing academic Dr. J.S. Rajput.

The result is the compact draft National Curriculum Framework 2005, the outcome of a mountain of labour spread over ten months of 21 national focus groups supervised by a National Steering Committee chaired by well-known scientist and former chairman of the University Grants Commission Prof. Yash Pal. The steering committee comprising 35 highly respected educationists — professors, NGO leaders, school teachers and intellectuals from across the country — edited, abridged and incorporated the recommendations of the 21 focus groups into the draft NCF 2005. Brilliantly written (reportedly by Dr. Krishna Kumar, hitherto professor of education at Delhi University and currently chairman of NCERT), NCF 2005 which acknowledges having been influenced by Yash Pal’s monograph Learning without Burden (1993), is driven by four "guiding principles", viz "connecting knowledge to life outside the school; ensuring that learning is shifted away from rote methods; enriching the curriculum to provide for overall development of children rather than remain textbook centric, and making examinations more flexible and integrated with classroom life".

Box 1

DRAFT NCF 2005 highlights

The draft National Curriculum Framework 2005 which is the labour of love of a national seering committee of 35 eminent educationists and 21 national focus groups comprising teachers and educationists from across the country, is perhaps the most comprehensive recommendation for school education reform in Indian history. The brilliantly phrased, well indexed and summarised 112-page draft which is mandatory reading for all educationists and social scientists, contains important recommendations. Excerpts:

Introduction. There is a deep disquiet about several aspects of our educational practice: (a) the school system is characterised by an inflexibility which makes it resistant to change; (b) learning has become an isolated activity which does not encourage children to link knowledge with their lives in any organic or vital way; (c) schools promote a regime of thought which discourages creative thinking and insights; (d) what is presented and transmitted in the name of learning in schools bypasses vital dimensions of the human capacity to create new knowledge; (e) the "future" of the child has taken centre stage to the near exclusion of the child’s "present", which is detrimental to the well-being of the child as well as the society and the nation.

Basic questions. This document seeks to provide a framework within which teachers and schools can choose and plan experiences that they think children should have. In order to realise educational objectives, the curriculum should be conceptualised as a structure which articulates required experiences. For this it should address some basic questions:

(a) What educational purposes should the school seek to achieve?

(b) What educational experiences can be provided that are likely to achieve these purposes?

(c) How can these educational experiences be meaningfully organised?

(d) How do we ensure that these educational purposes are indeed being accomplished?

National framework. The term National Curriculum Framework is often wrongly construed to mean that an instrument of uniformity is being proposed. This intention as articulated in the NPE, 1986 and the Programme of Action (PoA) 1992 was quite the contrary. NPE proposed a national framework for curriculum as a means to evolve a national system of education capable of responding to India’s diversity of geographical and cultural milieus while ensuring a common core of values along with academic components.

NCF guiding principles. We need to plan and pay attention to systemic matters that will enable us to implement many of the good ideas that have already been articulated in the past. Paramount among these are:

• Connecting knowledge to life outside the school.

• Ensuring that learning is shifted away from rote methods.

• Enriching the curriculum to provide for overall development of children rather than remain textbook centric, and

• Making examinations more flexible and integrated with classroom life.

Aims of education. Educational aims turn the different activities undertaken in schools and other educational institutions into a creative pattern and give them a distinguished character of being ‘educational’. An educational aim helps the teacher connect her present classroom activity to a cherished future outcome without making it instrumental, and therefore, give it direction without divorcing it from current concerns.

Recreating knowledge. Areas of knowledge such as crafts and sports, which are rich in potential for the development of skills, aesthetics, creativity, resourcefulness and capabilities for teamwork, also became sidelined. Important areas of knowledge such as work and associated practical intelligences have been completely neglected and we still do not have an adequate curriculum theory to support the development of knowledge, skills and attitudes in these areas.

Language education. The three-language formula is an attempt to address the challenges and opportunities of the linguistic situation in India. The following provisioning of language learning oppor-tunities may help us achieve its aim:

• Mother tongue(s) of children should be the medium of instruction in schools.

• If regional language is not the learner’s mother tongue, the first two years of education must still be covered through the mother tongue.

• At the primary level, children will study the state or regional language as a compulsory subject.

• In the middle school, children continue studying the state language(s) and also study English.

• In the non-Hindi states, children learn Hindi. In the case of Hindi states, children learn a language not spoken in their area. Sanskrit may also be studied as an MIL in addition to these languages.

Mathematics education. Developing children’s abilities for mathematisation is the main goal of mathematics education. The higher aim is to develop the child’s resources to reason mathematically, to pursue assumptions to logical conclusions and handle abstractions. Therefore:

• Children learn to enjoy mathematics rather than fear it.

• Children learn important mathematics: mathematics is more than formulas and mechanical procedures.

• Children see mathematics as something to talk about, to communicate, to discuss among themselves, to work together on.

• Children pose and solve meaningful problems.

• Children use abstractions to perceive relationships, to see structure, to reason out things, to argue the truth or falsity of statements.

• Children understand the basic structure of mathematics: arithmetic, algebra, geometry and trigonometry, the basic content areas of school mathematics, all offer a methodology for abstraction, structuration and generalisation.

• Teachers engage every child in class with the conviction that everyone can learn mathematics.

Science education. Looking at the complex scenario of science education in India, three issues stand out. First, science education is still far from achieving the goal of equity enshrined in our Constitution. Second science education in India, even at its best, develops competence but does not encourage inventiveness and creativity. Third the overpowering examination system is basic to most, if not all, the fundamental problems of science education in India.

Social sciences. It is important to reinstate the significance of the social sciences by not only highlighting its increasing relevance for work opportunities in the expanding service sector, but also by pointing to its indispensability in laying the foundations for an analytical and creative mindset. The tendency to treat the social sciences as being less important or challenging than the natural sciences or mathematics needs to be questioned.

Health and physical education. Access to basic needs like food, safe water supply, housing, sanitation and health services influences the health status of a population and these are reflected through mortality and nutritional indicators. Health is a critical input for the overall development of the child and it influences significantly enrollment, retention and completion of school. This curriculum area adopts a holistic definition of health within which physical education and yoga contribute to the physical, social, emotional and mental development of a child.

Under-nutrition and communicable diseases are the major health problems faced by majority of the children in this country, from pre-primary through to the higher secondary school stage.

Sports education. It should be possible to organise the utilisation of school space at the block level at least, for a special sports programme both before school and after school hours to enable children with special talent for sports to come here for special training, and during vacation periods. It should also be possible to develop these sports facilities so that many more children come here for leisure time sports activities and engage with team games such as basketball, throw ball, volleyball, and local forms of sports.

Vocational education. We propose that we move in a phased manner towards a new programme of vocational education and training (VET), which is built on the bedrock of a 10-12 year programme of work-centred education in the school, and which is structurally located outside the school. VET would be designed for all those children who wish to acquire additional skills or seek livelihoods through vocations. This would serve as a ‘dignified’ rather than terminal and ‘last-resort’ option.

Peace education. We live in an age of unprecedented violence with constant threats posed by intolerances, fanaticisms, disputes and discordances. Ethical action, peace and welfare are facing new challenges. Peace education must be a concern that permeates the entire school life — curriculum, co-curriculum, classroom environment, school management, teacher-pupil relationship, teaching-learning processes and the entire gamut of school activities.

Assessment systems. Education is concerned with preparation for meaningful life and evaluation should be a way of providing credible feedback on the extent to which we are successful in implementing such an education. Seen from this perspective, current processes of evaluation which measure and assess a very limited range of faculties are highly inadequate and do not provide a complete picture of an individual’s abilities or progress towards aims of education.

Nurturing enabling schools. As public spaces, schools must be marked by the values of equality, social justice and respect for diversity, as well as of the dignity and rights of children. These values must be consciously made part of the perspective of the school and form the foundation of school practice. An enabling learning environment is one where children feel secure, where there is absence of fear and is governed by relationships of equality and space for equity.

Teacher education. In reality, however, teacher education programmes today train teachers to adjust to the needs of a system in which education is seen as the transmission of information. Attempts at curricular reform have not been adequately supported with efforts at teacher education. Large-scale recruitment of para-teachers has diluted the identity of teachers as professionals. Most initiatives of the 1990s focused on the in-service training of teachers. This has accentuated the divide between pre-service and in-service teacher education.

Examinations. Under no circumstances should board or other kinds of whole-block, district or state level examinations be conducted at other grades of schooling such as class five, eight or eleven. Indeed even the class X examination can be made optional, only for those who wish to continue to class XI, and others may receive a certificate from the school.

New partnerships. One of the distinct features of the last decade is the increasing involvement of Non-Government Organisations and civil society groups in education. NGOs have played a major role in creating innovative models of schooling, training of teachers, development of textbooks and curricular materials, community mobilisation and advocacy. Their formal association with schools and resource centres would be extremely important for curriculum development, academic support as well as monitoring and research.

"In the present context there are new developments and concerns to which our curriculum must respond. The foremost among these is the importance of including and retaining all children in school through a programme which reaffirms the value of each child and enables all children to experience dignity and confidence to learn. Curriculum design must reflect the commitment to Universal Elementary Education (UEE), not only in representing cultural diversity, but also by ensuring that children from different social and economic backgrounds with variation in physical, psychological and intellectual characteristics are able to learn and achieve success in school. In this context, disadvantages in education arising from inequalities of gender, caste, language, culture, religion or disabilities need to be addressed directly, not only through policies and schemes, but also through the design and selection of learning tasks and pedagogic practices, right from the period of early childhood," says the well-phrased NCF 2005 which makes several intelligent and overdue recommendations for a major overhaul of post-independence India’s moribund school education system (see box p.24).

Yash Pal: consensus confidence
Despite the strident protests of
ABVP youth at Vigyan Bhavan, and the walkout of education ministers of five BJP ruled states from the CABE meeting convened to discuss the NCF 2005 draft, Prof. Yash Pal chairman of the 35 strong steering committee which shaped the new curriculum, is confident of building a national consensus in its favour. "The existing school curriculum with its overwhelming emphasis on information storage and reproduction is a barren, non-fertile load on children. It gives prime importance to the passing of stressful examinations rather than learning through understanding, and has precipitated the proliferation of private tuition and coaching schools which are a cancer within the system. NCF 2005 proposes a revised curriculum for schools which will connect education with the world outside; discourage rote learning; make curriculums holistic rather than textbook centric and reduce the stress of terminal examinations. This draft is an unprecedented effort to transform Indian education to enable it to meet the needs of the 21st century. Initially there will be a level of discomfort with this proposed radical break with the past. But I’m sure once the draft curriculum is discussed, debated and explained to the state governments, its logic will prevail and a national consensus on its guiding principles will emerge," says Yash Pal a former director of ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) whose paper Learning without Burden (1993), cold storaged during Dr. M.M. Joshi’s stewardship, has heavily influenced NCF 2005.

Although the new draft curriculum represents a sharp departure from traditional norms, it’s important for teachers, parents and students to appreciate that its defining principles are hardly novel. According to Dr. A. S. Seetharamu, the erudite professor of education at the Institute of Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bangalore, NCF 2005 has loud echoes of the empirical and experiential learning pedagogies advocated in the 1930s by Frederich Frobel, Maria Montessori and our own Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore, all of whom were votaries of activity-based child-centred education or the play-way method, which espouses learning in an atmosphere of joy and spontaneity. "The central recomme-ndation of NCF 2005 — that school curriculums should progress beyond knowledge-centred education and become more relevant, flexible and less examinations conscious, is welcome and overdue," says Seetharamu.

Seetharamu: fudged issue
However the learned professor warns against the "flexibility recommended by the new draft curriculum easily transforming into laissez faire". Moreover he is of the opinion that the steering committee which drafted it fudges the issue of the "appalling quality of the school system and its lack of basic infrastructure". "More than 100,000 schools across the country are run on shift systems and completely lack playgrounds, play equipment, libraries, toilets, drinking water etc and in several states of the Indian Union, teacher pupil-ratios exceed 1:60. In such environments where already there is little learning, there is no room for activity-based learning. Regrettably NCF 2005 is completely silent about the infrastructure investment required to make joyful learning a reality. There is a danger that unless this issue is clearly addressed, the proposed school curriculum will widen the rural-urban divide and increase education-led inequalities within society," warns Seetharamu.

The complete side-stepping of the massive investment required in the school — especially government school system in which 90 percent of India’s 200 million primary school children are enrolled — by NCF 2005 is certainly disturbing. Indisputably child-centred, activity-based learning is a tall order within a school system in which one-fifth of government schools are single-teacher institutions; another 200,000 lack a proper school building; 58 percent can’t provide drinking water and 700,000 schools lack toilets and sanitation — a major contributory cause of 53 percent of children who enroll in primary classes dropping out before they enter secondary school. Nor is the national teacher-pupil ratio of 1:63 (as assessed by the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai) not unconnected with the astonishing phenomenon that 1.25 million teachers across the country absent themselves on any given day, conducive to child-centric learning.

Consequently there is an intensifying national debate whether substantially greater investment to upgrade the dilapidated infrastructure of the school system should precede, or follow, curriculum reform. One school of educationists (EducationWorld included) believes that annual spending on education (Centre plus states) should immediately be raised to 6 percent of GDP to improve and upgrade the education infrastructure which is the precondition of attracting and retaining more students in school (see cover story ‘Why India’s most pro-education budget is not good enough’ —EW April). The other school of educationists — members of the NCF 2005 steering committee included — quite obviously believes that curriculum reform is the first priority.

Government school children in Delhi
"NCF 2005 is silent on the issue of investment required to attain its recommended objectives because it is an academic document, not a financial planning paper. There was a consensus within the steering committee that we should leave the issue of finance mobilisation to Dr. Manmohan Singh and the finance minister. I don’t believe that finance is a constraint for introducing the proposed national curriculum which is desperately required to keep Indian education abreast with rapidly changing knowledge systems in today’s media-rich world. In his budget speech in February the finance minister confirmed that the outlay for education will progressively rise to 6 percent of GDP. Therefore I have great hope that NCF 2005 which is an important instrument of change in India — in fact it’ll change India — will be accepted across the country," says Marmar Mukhopadhyaya, director of the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA), Delhi and a member of the NCF 2005 steering committee.

Perhaps the only proposal of the draft curriculum which is likely to arouse opposition is the one which reiterates the old nostrum that in the initial years of primary schooling, the sole medium of instruction should be the mother tongue and English should not be taught until class III. Re-endorsing the three language formula (mother tongue, regional language and English), the draft curriculum admits that the "current demand for teaching of English as a subject from class I is a reflection of new aspirations and a changing political scenario". But nevertheless it warns: "If we compel children to give up their own language early in life and fill that space, say with English, we make them incapable of relating to their Indian surroundings as the words at their disposal are only the (sic) English ones."

Box 2

Draft NCF 2005: What educationists say

Every child matters to India
whatever his level, background and distance. The NCF 2005 draft is an attempt to reconceptualise our approach to education and knowledge so that classroom boredom, stress of evaluation and burden of school bags become things of the past — Dr. Krishna Kumar, director NCERT

It is welcome and extremely significant that school education will now be getting out of the four walls of classrooms. Art academies, theatre groups and training institutions should be made partners in facilitating art education — Habib Tanveer, theatre personality and CABE member

Education as a means of a silent peaceful revolution for ending discrimination has not achieved its goals even after 60 years of freedom. A classless, casteless and just society was envisaged by bringing about attitudinal changes through education. That hasn’t happened… I am hopeful some of these evils will be reversed by this new curriculum — Meira Kumar, Union minister for social justice

This is a good curriculum and will change the educational environment, but lack of teachers will take away all goodness from it. We haven’t recruited a single teacher during the last three years. The funds under various Central schemes should include provision for teachers also — Harnam Dass Johar, education minister Punjab

U.R. Ananthamurthy
Government schools are closing down.
It is happening in Kerala, Karnataka, and elsewhere. We need to empower them. Otherwise, we will have new divisions in society. Schools for every class in society. Children will never mingle and get to know each other. At least government schools are bringing children from different backgrounds together and it is healthy for society — U.R. Ananthamurthi, litterateur and educationist

War and military conflicts need to be included in peace education. Otherwise how will children develop a perspective of the damage that wars do? Peace education learning needs to be holistic — Praful Bidwai, columnist

I don’t subscribe to the view that information should be drastically reduced from school curriculums. The whole burden will pass to colleges and universities. Information is necessary for debate and discussion which is part of the learning process — Zoya Hasan, social scientist, JNU

Material reward and profit are at the bottom of education today and let’s recognise it. We need to assure equity in quality of schooling. Unless the vast middle class has a stake, things won’t move. We need bare policy changes like a common schooling system — Teesta Seetalvad, CABE member

Teacher absenteeism, poor quality teaching has made the education system poor. Today’s educated are self-centred, more corrupt, manipulative and more insensitive than the uneducated. We have to have systemic changes — Sandeep Pande, social activist, Magsaysay awardee and CABE member

DIETS (District Education Training Services) must be roped in to take the draft curriculum into the public domain. It will add momentum to this new thinking in education. Vocational education as envisaged in NEP 1986 is nowhere near its target of 25 percent. It should be integrated into the curriculum and geared into mission mode — Anil Sadgopal, professor of education, Delhi University

D.P.N. Prasad
While the mother tongue has to be learnt
, in my opinion the medium of instruction, especially for subjects like mathematics and science has to be English. Look at China, Japan and Russia — all of them have opened their doors to English. Indian educators must open their minds and the system to English medium education —  Dr. D.P.N. Prasad, Principal, Bombay Scottish School, Mumbai

The framework is specially relevant to India’s most populous state and stresses decentralisation of education. It also discusses the role of panchayats and civil society for making education a vehicle of social change — Dr. Rashmi Sinha, Member NCF 2005 focus group on distance education

Such reasoning while appealingly nationalistic, is an indicator of how divorced even erudite academics are from the real concerns, hopes and aspirations of the people and their ignorance of marketplace realities where English fluency has become the prerequisite of business and professional success in the rapidly crystallising global economy. Surely the learned members of the steering committee are not unaware that in the People’s Republic of China there is a stampede within academic institutions of all types to learn English any which way? Moreover they can’t be unaware that back home as well English fluency — spoken and written — is the distinguishing characteristic of all successful businessmen, professionals and academics? Or that fantastically expensive, thoroughly English medium schools are mushrooming across the country in response to rising demand from the country’s new upwardly mobile middle class? In the circumstances what is the logic of opposing the teaching of English at least as a second language right from kindergarten so that children become incrementally familiar with English words right through their scholastic years?

Francis Fanthome, MP and secretary general of the Delhi-based Council for Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE) — the curriculum setting and school-leaving examinations board most preferred by India’s top-rung private schools (Doon, Mayo, St. Paul’s among others) — is disappointed that the NCF 2005 draft which re-endorses the three language formula hasn’t broken new ground on the status of English in primary education. "English — (Goddess) Saraswati’s gift to India — needs to reach all children if they are to meet the challenges of the 21st century. I hope the final draft of NCF 2005 will acknowledge the reality that unequal and selective access of children from economically strong households to English medium schooling creates an opportunity divide that will need to be bridged through other means. Parents should be free to choose the medium of instruction and languages they want their children to learn at any time in their academic careers. There is now a general awareness that all children can succeed in the new digital technology age with capability in the English language. Education needs to liberate and create, not hinder and restrain," says Fanthome.

Rural school children: over-emphasis on mother tongue
Likewise M. Ramji, trustee
and secretary of the century old Chennai-based P.S. Educational Society which has promoted and manages seven education institutions including one CBSE and four matriculation/ state board schools; a Sanskrit pathshala and an institute for propagating music, arts and culture, warns against fudging the English language issue which will perpetuate the education-led divide in Indian society. "There is a familiar over-emphasis on the mother tongue as the medium of instruction in NCF 2005 which if accepted, will prove counter-productive in the context of India hoping to play a larger role in world trade and geo-politics. Moreover while the broad objectives of NCF 2005 are acceptable, desirable and even welcome, lessening the so-called burden of textbooks is also a dangerous adventure in this era of knowledge explosion. The antidote to the burden is to commission attractive, student friendly textbooks which hold the attention of children. One hopes that the finalised NCF will strike a balance which will make it nationally acceptable," says Ramji.

Indeed striking a fair balance between the traditional knowledge-based and the new acitivity-based, experiential education biased NCF 2005 draft is the mandate of CABE, when it meets to debate and finalise the national school curriculum early next month. Although post-independence India’s knowledge accumulation oriented school system with its rigid insistence upon all children learning core subjects in the arts, science and maths upto class X has been universally criticised, in the nation’s better administered public and private schools it has produced millions of well-rounded professionals who are giving the world’s best businessmen, techies and other professionals a run for their money. Against this backdrop, the learned members of the 75-strong CABE who will finalise NCF 2005 will need to blend the liberal recommendations of the new draft curriculum with the best practices of the suddenly unfashionable knowledge-centred curriculum. They will also need to take a clear and unequivocal stand on the status of English within the proposed national school education system.

In the final analysis given the pathetic condition of contemporary India’s primary schools which prompts over half the children enrolled in them to quit before they graduate to secondary education, the passions aroused by NCF 2005 are rather modest. Because for the nation’s 415 million grossly neglected but high-potential children below 18 years of age, the shape and content of the finalised NCF 2005 will be a matter of make-or-break significance. Of course in the past several new education policies, curriculums and syllabuses have been formulated by heavyweight committees of social scientists and educationists and then have been heard of no more. Meanwhile post-independence India’s public (i.e government) school system characterised by obsolete syllabuses and curriculums, grossly overcrowded classrooms, deficient infrastructure and teacher absenteeism has gone from bad to worse.

But in the new millennium and the new knowledge era, the worth of sound, globally acceptable education is being valued as never before. Therefore this time round public opinion is likely to prove unforgiving if the wise men of CABE and the education establishment fail to design and prescribe a holistic national school curriculum which is a fundamental, but long denied right of youthful India’s uncomplaining and deserving children.

With Autar Nehru & Neeta Lal (Delhi); Gaver Chatterjee (Mumbai); Hemalatha Raghupathi (Chennai) & Vidya Pandit (Lucknow)

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