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Smriti scan on NCERT syllabus revision

Smriti Irani

New Delhi, July 27: The National Council of Educational Research and Training’s move to start revising its widely used school curriculum appears to have come under the new government’s glare because the process was begun just a few months before the general election.

Union human resource development minister Smriti Irani is being nudged by Sangh parivar activists to revoke the process because it might otherwise deny the BJP-led government any major say in the curriculum’s final shape.

It was during the last months of UPA rule that the NCERT picked the 21 expert panels guiding the revisions — one panel for one subject — and the new government would not want to create a controversy by replacing the experts with its favoured academics.

Irani is to preside over a meeting of the NCERT executive committee sometime soon. Senior ministry sources said she was likely to grill the council authorities about their “hurry” in taking up the curriculum revision.

Allegations of irregularities in the NCERT’s appointment process and charges of extravagance on the refurbishment of its director’s bungalow can provide the government with opportunities to pressure the council.

Most Indian schools use the NCERT curriculum, from Class I to Class XII. The Central Board of Secondary Education and some 15 state boards use the council’s textbooks, while about a dozen others follow its curriculum with minor tweaks.

It was Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh member and education activist Dina Nath Batra who drew Irani’s attention to the revision process, accusing the council of starting it “in a hurry” instead of waiting for the new government’s directions.

Batra publicly advocates the inclusion of teachings from the Vedas and the Upanishads in school textbooks. He recently got leading publishers to pulp books that have annoyed the Sangh parivar —such as Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History — by filing lawsuits.

Batra has alleged the revision process was started “without approval of the (UPA) government” — a charge denied by council spokesperson Hemant Kumar.

Kumar said the council had done nothing wrong by initiating the process to revise the current National Curriculum Framework (NCF), drawn up in 2005.

“The revision was due as almost 10 years have passed since the NCF was framed. The NCERT started the process last year with the approval of then human resource development minister M.M. Pallam Raju,” he said.

Soon after the UPA government came to power in May 2004, it had set up 21 “focus groups” — made up of educationists, academics and council officials — to prepare “position papers” that guided the framing of the curriculum.

On the basis of these papers, a steering committee headed by noted academic Yashpal finalised the NCF-2005.

Late last year, the NCERT set up the new focus groups to prepare position papers. Kumar declined to say whether the revision would lead to an overhaul of the NCF 2005.

Irani has also received complaints that the NCERT did not follow due process in forming some of its interview committees that handle appointments. She is likely to seek clarifications on this. Kumar said the charge was incorrect.

Questions have also been raised about the sum spent sprucing up the council director’s bungalow on the NCERT compound and about her continued occupation, despite this expenditure, of the quarters previously allotted to her as IGNOU teacher.

Irani’s ministry recently issued directions for a “Sanskrit Week” to be celebrated in early August by the Central Board of Secondary Education schools across India and the NCERT. Sources said the NCERT would observe it for only three days.

Kumar said the ministry had given its consent to this.