New values in education: Cutting back on themes of democracy and diversity in the curriculum
Since curriculum guidelines of the National Council of Educational Research and Training have remained unchanged for 14 years, a review should be truly welcome. Particularly as all reports on achievement levels up to 2018 have laid bare a crisis in education. In Class VIII, up to which education has been made free and universal, a little over 70 per cent of the pupils can read a Class II text and around 56 per cent cannot do a simple division sum. Something is terribly wrong. Infrastructure, which has improved in some places with the introduction of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, is still far from ideal; teachers’ appointments, training, accountability, incentives and number of posts need to be reviewed urgently too. Enrolment has increased, drawing in students from different segments of society, for whom lessons must be so designed as not to seem totally foreign to their experience. Teachers must be trained not to show or communicate prejudice. This is a huge task, and needs imaginative and dedicated engagement. A review of the curriculum guidelines is an important first step.
Only nothing is simple in India. The 2005 curriculum guidelines, which will now be reviewed, had laid stress on ‘learning without burden’. That has already been interpreted by the Union human resource development minister, Prakash Javadekar, as ‘lightening’ the burden, with a promise to prune the syllabus to almost half its size by 2021. That exercise has already begun — notably by the Central Board of Secondary Education in many cases, not the NCERT, although all the board is empowered to do is conduct examinations. The net result so far is the dropping of chapters on themes such as democracy, diversity, caste conflict, popular struggles; the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government oversaw a total of 1,334 changes in textbooks till 2018. No government is free of the taint of tinkering with textbooks; the BJP believes in being larger than life in all things. Hence, instead of satisfaction at the news of the curriculum review, there may be nervousness among the few to whom education is a serious matter, not a method of indoctrination that politicians will guide. The ‘lighter’ syllabus will bring in, according to current wisdom, value education. Perhaps that strikes the most ominous note of all.