Autar Nehru (Delhi)
On august 23, india began a new progression to ‘decolonise’ its school education system with the release of the National Curriculum Framework for School Education (NCF-SE), more than three years after the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 was promulgated on July 29, 2020. The pre-draft and draft NCF-SE presented for public discussion on April 6, 2023 (see EW cover story, August) were quickly formalised into the final NCF-SE 2023 which is a detailed teachers manual to teach, monitor and assess eight major schooling areas/subjects, viz, language education, maths, science, social science, arts education, inter-disciplinary linkages, vocational and physical education for class III-XII children.
According to Union education ministry sources, the 13-member Steering Committee chaired by eminent outer space scientist Dr. K. Kasturirangan prepared NCF-SE 2023 after evaluating 1,500 specific and detailed suggestions from over 100 institutions and educators, consultations with boards of school education and higher education institutions.
Although this 600-page curriculum framework has been criticised for being too extensive and detailed, it is easy to navigate and contains numerous stage-by-stage curricular goals and illustrative outcomes which makes it easy for teachers to monitor and continuously assess children’s learning attainments. “Since the explicit objective of this NCF-SE is to help improve the practice of education in the reality of our schools, it has attempted to be as relatable as possible to the practitioner — by the use of illustrations, by going into details, and other methods. It is this choice that has made this volume fairly lengthy,” explains the finalised NCF-SE 2023.
Although ex-facie a forbidding 600-page curriculum framework, NCF-SE has been widely welcomed by experts as a step-by-step roadmap for teachers to teach the eight core subjects specified by NCF-SE and thereby achieve the broader goal of replacing rote learning with critical thinking, learning by understanding and conceptual clarity. In EW’s comprehensive 11-page cover story (August) your editors welcomed NCF-SE for providing a clear roadmap for teaching eight specified core subjects, although we entertain reservations about implementation of the national curriculum by the country’s largely indifferent and low productivity teachers, especially in government schools. “NCF-FS (NCF for the Foundational Stage) and NCF-SE are comprehensive teachers’ manuals that can enable realisation of the goals set out by NEP 2020. The large number of CGs (curricular goals) and ILOs (illustrative learning outcomes) set out for eight core subjects and classes XI and XII explain the prolixity of NCF-FS and NCF-SE (360 and 684 pages) cf. the single volume NCF 2005 (159 pages),” wrote your editors.
Nevertheless, the detailed guidelines provided to school teachers — especially government school teachers who need a lot of hand-holding — is perceived as the infirmity of NCF-SE by some knowledgeable and respected educationists. “Importantly, NCF 2023 is not what a ‘national curriculum framework’ is meant to be — a guiding document, for NCERT and the state nodal institutions to develop their own curricula, syllabi and textbooks. Indeed as NCF 2005 (with 125 pages) had pointed out, the term ‘National Curriculum Framework’ can be wrongly understood as an instrument for imposing uniformity… Worryingly, NCF 2023 lays out an extremely detailed plan, through a micromanaged design for the entire spectrum of school stages — with details of the subject areas, the interdisciplinary areas and the cross-cutting themes it proposes. Spelling out a syllabus outline with sample lesson plans, it delineates learning standards, curricular goals and expected outcomes,” writes Dr. Anita Rampal, former professor of education, Delhi University and chairperson of the NCERT Textbook Development Committee under NCF 2005 in the online publication The Wire (April 19).
Quite obviously the major reason why NCF 2005 failed to improve learning outcomes in K-12 education was that it over-estimated the capability of “state nodal institutions” and the teachers’ community to reform the school education system. This time round the NCF-SE Steering Committee taking “the practice of education in the reality of our schools” has opted to provide detailed guidelines to state governments and hand-hold teachers, to implement the curriculum to attain the goals and objectives of NEP 2020. As such NCF-SE is a welcome innovation and departure from NCF 2005.