National Curriculum Framework (2005) – who’s listening?

The National Curriculum framework (2005), a watershed document, provides a basis for radical changes in the Indian education system. The Indian Education Review (Volume 44, No.2, July 2008),the latest published edition as on date of writing this blog, makes some interesting observations, recommending some radical changes from how education is imparted in Indian classrooms. These recommendations include:

i. Linking school knowledge with the child’s out-of-school experiences;

ii. Discouraging rote learning;

iii. Broadening the scope of classroom learning so that it does beyond the prescribed textbook;

iv. Making the examination system flexible and responsive to the child’s overall development; and

v. Developing a participatory [school] identity consistent with democratic governance

Those familiar with the evolution of educational psychology, philosophy and pedagogy know that none of these recommendations are new, but have been endorsed by eminent international (Bruner, Einstein) and national (Gandhi, Tagore) educationalists. It is a pity that, in India, we have at best been paying lip service these theories that have been propounded and effectively practiced around the world since the ancient times.

However, a beginning has been made by NCERT by acknowledging the merits of child centered approach to education and the framers for the NCF 2005 should be commended for vocalising some of the problems rooted in our system. As they say in India Der Aaye Drust Aaye (better late, than never), even though, in this, case we are struggling to reach the start line, while other countries started on their journey a long while ago.

If we were to evaluate the changes that the schools have tried to bring about in their classroom practices in the past three years post the acceptance of the recommendations of NCF-2005, we would get to know the progress we are making towards creating a student centric classroom. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any statistics or research on implementation practices or know of any school that is actively and consciously seeking to implement such a classroom environment. If you have any information related to this I would love to hear from you.

In my assessment, the challenges of moving away from a “prescribed textbook, the traditional methods of teaching which encourages rote learning and the examination system which ignores individual interest and profile of [student] competencies” , cannot be overcome without paying special attention to the needs and mindset of the 3 influential stakeholders of the Indian education system.

The School – The primary consideration for schools in India is performance in 10th and 12th class examinations. The performance of schools is purely judged by how well the students have done in these examinations and the breadth of success achieved. All classroom activities and teaching methodologies are dictated by how much they contribute towards students scoring high in the “boards”. Child centric teaching practices and the development of creativity is not a consideration; nor a priority.

The Parents – The primary criterion for the selection of a school by a parent for his child is the school’s ability to prepare the students for the 10th and 12th class examinations, i.e. if the school has a good track record in producing students who score highly in these examinations; it is considered a good school. This is because these examinations are milestones in a child’s life and have an unduly high weightage on career options of the child and/or the quality of the institution for higher studies that he/she would attend. All other factors like inculcation of values, emphasis on creativity, co-curricular / extracurricular achievements, and social involvement are inconsequential in the selection of a school.

Institutions of higher learning – The majority of higher education institutions in India grant admission on the basis of board examination results and consider performance in these examinations as the summation of student’s accomplishment till date and a proxy indicator of his future potential.

As evident, the common thread between the stakeholders mentioned above is performance in board examinations, which is considered a measure of success by schools, parents, institutions of higher learning and society in general. As a society we know better, but as individuals we fail to take cognisance of the fact that there are many qualities that define a person and his ability to achieve success.

I would think that if we as a community continue to treat board examinations as the holy-grail of education, it would be extremely difficult to change the mindset of schools and parents. For any changes to occur, it is important that reforms be initiated and at the onset be implemented at the level of institutions of higher learning as well. It is crucial to make systemic changes at this level as this group has significant influence on the thought process of the other two significant stakeholders (parents and schools) and has the added advantage of being more independent in its decision making. The institutions of higher learning would also benefit by selecting a diverse-ability group of students on parameters beyond board results.

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